Leadership programme

The race for office

Dr Nicholas Taylor-Mullings

Vice Principal

Let’s be frank, when the votes have been counted and the King invites Rishi Sunak or Keir Starmer to form the next government, tackling racial inequality will not be high on the incoming administration’s agenda.

It just won’t. Race, quite simply, doesn’t matter.

Whether that be in education or any other area of public policy. That’s despite Rishi’s top team being one of the most racially diverse in history, Labour being the traditional home to the majority of votes from black and brown communities and it being just a few short years since organisations from across the public and private sectors (including schools, academy trusts and other education bodies) were falling all over themselves to proclaim that the murder of George Floyd would be the turning point in racial injustice.

Which begs the question: if race won’t be high on the next government’s agenda, what conditions will bring about change? It will be political expedience, of course. You see, every so often government policy (irrespective of the political party in charge) has been punctuated by short periods of public concern about race (e.g. after the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence and then George Floyd), but the prevailing trend has been to ignore racial injustice.

This means that the main driver for any major policy development from the next government that is directly targeted at addressing the issues minoritised groups face in education will only come about if there is a clear motive for it to change course away from the status quo (see the recent treatment of Diane Abbott as an example of a political party making an about turn when political interest requires).

Therefore, when determining who gets my vote, it won’t be the party’s stance on race that will be the deciding factor because, as yet, none of the parties has anything meaningful to offer.

That said, we should not be discouraged from demanding change from the next administration. With what little time is left during this election, I’d encourage all the political parties to give serious consideration to implementing measures in the next parliament that significantly increase ethnic diversity at senior leadership level in schools and in the wider education sector.

Too few senior teams, as well as trust and governance boards are truly diverse. Take a look at the ‘who’s who’ tabs on the websites of schools, academy trusts, Ofsted, the Department of Education etc. Even when they’re located in some of the most racially diverse towns and cities in the country, they are simply not racially diverse groups. They lack the racial diversity that a developing body of research suggests can positively influence the performance of teams.

Which raises the question, when these teams lack the benefits of being racially diverse, who’s offering the diversity of thought to strategic and operational problems? Who’s gently pointing out when policies fail to address inequities or indeed create them? Who’s offering an insight into the experiences of diverse communities if they’re not in the room when decisions are being made?

This is not to say that questions like these are not and cannot be asked and addressed without black or brown people sitting at the top tables, but it certainly reduces the chances they will. We also know that elevating more black and brown people to senior positions does not guarantee the diversity of thought and approach we should expect. For example, rather than advancing moves towards tackling racial injustice, some of the most ardent instigators of culture wars have emanated from black and brown people who have sat around the Cabinet table in recent years.

However, I believe we can expect better results if we diversify the top teams in education.

What is most concerning about this problem is that few people in positions of power and influence seem to care about it. Even during that short period following the murder of George Floyd when large swathes of the private and public sectors were signalling their intent to diversify their senior teams and boards (although, unsurprisingly, little sustained change actually materialised), the education sector came under very little scrutiny.

To be fair to our politicians, some parties have dipped their toes into the water of this problem, but they have done so without making any meaningful commitments. What this means is that, if things are to radically change, there is so much to do, but so little time to do it in.

All parties need to think more deeply and deliberately about this issue and many others on race and education, so that we have real proposals to influence who we vote for on 4th July.

Dr Nicholas Taylor-Mullings, Vice Principal of a London Secondary School

Big Education

Leadership Programme

Applications are now open for headteachers and senior leaders working across education. The programme gives you the opportunity to connect with your authentic self and equip you with powerful strategies to bring about the changes you believe in.

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applications are now open for headteachers and senior leaders working across education. The programme gives leaders the opportunity to connect with your authentic self and equip you with powerful strategies to bring about the changes you believe in.

Who Will Get Your Vote in Education?

In election year 2024, this is one of a series of fortnightly blogs – running through the year – in which we invite colleagues from across the country to answer the question: Who will get your vote on education?

Roy Blatchford is serving as convenor and editor of the series. If you are interested in writing, please contact [email protected]

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