Diversity is a well discussed issue amongst HR professionals, a hot topic and something we love to shout about when we get it right. We understand and embrace that that a culturally diverse team is more creative than a homogenous team (Collett 1999) and we all acknowledge that diversity encompasses not just differences in race and gender but also disability, educational background, sexual orientation and demographics. I could also go on to discuss diversity relating to values and opportunity. In short, surely we could conclude that with so many factors ‘diversifying’ us that we are none of us the same?
We are very used to examining the business case for diversity in private and public enterprise but does this differ in education? The supplier-client relationship still exists, the customers are the children who are in turn the leaders, entrepreneurs and parents of the future. Surely the message we send to the leaders of tomorrow is as important as that which industry sends to the customers of today. How can we change attitudes if our education system doesn’t lead the way?
Research carried out by MIT suggests that teams operating in a homogenous environment may lead those employees to assume that their surroundings are more predictable and controllable than they really are. This surely can equate to children’s learning experience where a homogenous environment lulls them into a false sense of security. We want our children to become resilient, problem solving individuals with drive who learn by their successes and failures, rounded individuals that strive to understand the world and their role within it and we want them to start this journey at school.
The STAR experiment in Tennessee found that the achievement of ALL students in a class was raised if the teaching body represented the diversity of the student body, not just the attainment levels of children in the minority groups. We also understand that acceptance is fostered more easily during childhood and as the global workplace gets progressively closer, thanks to information technology, we need to equip our children accordingly for today as well as tomorrow.
OK so we know that a truly diverse teaching body benefits our children and their learning and also the learning of all staff and leaders alike. Exposure to a more diverse face of teaching helps challenge preconceptions, promotes empathy and encourages curiosity. So should we ask; is our teaching body not already a diverse group of individuals?
The diverse nature of the staffroom is usually dependant on the surrounding area and generally reflects the surrounding community, however this is less reflective in the independent sector in the UK, as far as race is concerned anyway. Of great interest however, is that the diversity of pupils in the independent school classroom is actually increasing! According to the Independent Schools Council (ISC) 29% of its pupils are from a minority background – far higher than the 14% of BAME (Black and minority ethnic) citizens in British society as a whole.
The range of staffroom diversity in the independent sector is increasing slowly but major disparity can still be seen in senior leadership positions. School workforce data continues to show an under-representation of women and individuals from black and minority ethnic backgrounds in school leadership positions. The latest available figures show that just 2.4% of head teachers are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, and only 36% of secondary school heads are currently women.
The government are taking steps in order to address this in the public sector. Schools are invited to bid for grants of up to £30,000 from the government’s Leadership, Equality and Diversity Fund to support local, school-led initiatives that will help boost the diversity of their senior leadership teams. Anecdotally, however, there are only a handful of black or ethnic minority head teachers in the independent sector.
Could it be also that the nature of an independent school system is a barrier to a diverse teaching body? Then we must also look to promote the changing face of the independent school and build employer brand to attract a diverse array of talent and to develop and nurture that talent in the longer term. Schools must design far reaching recruitment campaigns and could look to improve CSR strategies and state-independent collaboration to dissolve stigma and perceived class barriers.
There is a huge responsibility for school teachers and leaders to act as role models to empower all of their pupils to aim high and to challenge themselves, a set of values that the independent sector professes to instil in their pupils. How better to illustrate this than by showing an increasingly diverse group of children an equally diverse set of leaders to aspire to.
I look forward to hearing any of your thoughts or experiences encouraging diversity. Thanks. Natalie