Could the solution to the UK education systems longstanding problem of disproportionately high exclusion levels among Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) students, really be as simple as the title for this blog suggests?  In this blog we take a closer look at the facts, stats and lived experiences documented by the thought leaders and subject matter experts on this topic. 

Cross cultural context 

One of the approaches that the US education system is using to tackle the racial disparities that exist in disciplinary exclusion, is to have more teachers in a school who are from the same racial or ethnic background as the students.  

A key finding from a research study undertaken in the US that examined 10 years of data from 2007 to 2017, was that “Black, Latino and American Asian students are less likely to be suspended from school when they have more teachers who share their racial or ethnic background” (1).  

The study was carried out as an investigation to discover whether racial representation in the classroom, i.e., in the teacher workforce, (or the lack of it), had any impact on the behaviour of BAME students and the chosen disciplinary actions given to them. 

Led by Assistant Professor of educational leadership and administration, Matthew Shirrell, the research found that “though Black and Latino students comprise 43% of public school students nationwide, the teacher workforce is only 16% Black or Latino. Compared with white teachers, racially and ethnically matched teachers have been found to raise student test scores and improve the chances of graduating from high school and attending college” (2). 

Although there is a lot more research that needs to be done in this area, the study concluded that “the relative lack of Black and Latino teachers who teach Black and Latino students, then, could also contribute to racial and ethnic disparities in school suspensions” (4). 

Digging deeper into the discussion, Christopher Redding makes a strong case for the positive academic and behavioural outcomes, that have been achieved by matching students and teachers of the same race. 

A statewide analysis in North Carolina discovered that increasing the number of Black teachers decreased the likelihood of suspension for Black students” (5)  

Some questions to think about:

  • Should the UK adopt a similar approach to what has been done in the US?  
  • Could we see a similar outcome in that teacher diversity has a direct correlation on student behaviour and the level and/or type of discipline that is chosen, when both the pupil and the teacher are of a similar ethnicity or from the same racial background?  
  • Is it enough to just diversify the teacher workforce so that it reflects the student population more closely?

These findings raise some interesting questions which the rest of this blog will attempt to explore. 

What does the landscape in the UK look like? 

According to the Guardian’s analysis “exclusion rates for black Caribbean students in English schools are up to six times higher than those of their white peers in some local authorities, highlighting what experts have called an “incredible injustice” for school children from minority ethnic backgrounds” (6).  

The analysis conducted by The Guardian also found that “Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children were also excluded at much higher rates, with Roma children nine times more likely to be suspended in some areas. And exclusion rates for mixed-race white and black Caribbean students were more than four times higher than their white peers in several local authorities” (7). 

As part of his extensive research, Dr Remi Joseph Sailsbury interviewed a substantial sample of teachers who spoke of schools where the teaching force was ‘mostly white’, and in some cases exclusively white (8).  

In his report ‘Race and Racism in English Secondary Schools’, published by The Runnymeade Trust, Dr Sailsbury draws on data sourced from the Department for Education. which tells a similar story to what is happening within some sections of the US education system. 

The most recent available data on the School Workforce in England was published by and the Office for National Statistics and cites figures from the 2020 reporting year including the fact that “in 2019, 85.7% of all teachers in state-funded schools in England were White British (where ethnicity was known)” (9). Similarly, the Timpson report states that one quarter of pupils in schools are BAME, but the number of BAME classroom teachers is just 9%, and the figure for head teachers is even lower at 3% (10). 

The data presented above reveals that when you compare the make-up of the teacher workforce to the student body in schools in the UK, you are presented with an imbalanced picture. In schools where the vast majority of the pupils are from Black, Asian or ethnic minority backgrounds, the number of teachers of the same race or ethnicity is also significantly less.  

What lessons can the UK education system learn from this social experiment?  

An interesting lesson that can be taken from the US study mentioned earlier in this blog, is the fact that young people tend to respond more positively at school to teachers who look like them, particularly in challenging behavioural situations. As a result, a lot of the behaviours that black students typically get excluded for, are less likely to lead to dismissal, as the staff are better able to understand the context of and motivations behind the behaviour and opt for alternative disciplinary action. 

Previous research has shown that there are clear academic benefits when students and teachers share the same race or ethnicity, because such teachers are better equipped to act as role models, mentors, advocates and even cultural translators. The potential for these benefits to extend into producing improved behaviour and better classroom conduct is great, and as such taking steps towards diversifying the teacher workforce in the UK, should be a top priority. Championing this priority is the Timpson report which recognises the need for, and advantages of, diversity in school leadership and actively encourages it through clear recommendations to the DFE stating that “diversity within schools is valuable in fostering social cohesion and, most importantly, in supporting pupils to grow and develop in an environment of visible, diverse role models.” (10). 

In addition to providing specific teacher training on how to identify and appropriately handle the role of unconscious bias when dealing with what some may perceive as poor behaviour, several US research stories, including one carried out by Havard School of Education (11), have noted the importance of teachers learning from each other. For example, black teachers in the UK could be asked to offer guidance and advice to their non-black colleagues about some of the disciplinary choices they make and practices they use, to effectively deal with problematic behaviour in black students. 

What are the risks to change?

On the surface these solutions seem perfectly plausible. And although the evidence suggests that this course of action can help to lower exclusion rates amongst BAME students, it does have its limitations. For example, there is a risk of oversimplifying a deep-rooted problem that has existed within the education system for a long time. Recruiting more BAME teachers into schools is a good start, however it has to be done strategically and with an overarching objective to increase staff representation across all levels of seniority.  

“The whiteness of staff increases sharply in more senior and management roles (NASUWT and Runnymede Trust, 2017). As one teacher pointed out, ‘it is rare that you will see anyone of ethnic minority within a deputy headship or a headship’. Other teachers recounted how black staff were often only present in schools as teaching assistants, personal assistants or dinner-time staff, and in behavioural management and support roles” (12). 

For real and lasting change to occur, senior leadership teams across schools need to include staff with cultural backgrounds that reflect the diversity of the student population. Without the right level of authority and the ability to influence decisions around what kind of behaviour warrants fixed term exclusions and permanent exclusions, the effects of increasing BAME staff in the teacher workforce will be at best, short lived. 

Back to the original question

There are several moving parts to resolving this issue, all of which need to be given a fair amount of consideration. What is vital though, is that there is a strong collective sense of responsibility for generating creative solutions to lower exclusion rates amongst BAME students. Everyone who works with young people to equip them with the tools to become the best that they can be, should be working together to figure out a way forward. 

As Dr Sailsbury points out, “the reality is, and will continue to be, that the overwhelming majority of staff in UK schools are white. As such, it is imperative that they are part of the solution.” Similarly, this is supported by Maylor (2009) “If the challenges facing BME students are seen to be the responsibility of BME staff, then these issues will only be compounded” (12).  

Dr Sailsbury’s views are thought provoking to say the least, however it is worth noting that encouraging black teachers to offer guidance on how to deal with poor behaviour in black students is about collaboration. And through the lens of nuance, can help to provide education and context that non BAME staff may not necessarily be aware of. 

Lastly, the significance of racial literacy and a commitment to driving social change among all teachers regardless of their race or ethnicity, is another important factor that should not be overlooked. Research suggests that “it is not enough for the teacher to be someone of the same colour, but it needs to be someone that does not believe the stereotypes” (13) (Phoenix, 2014). One way that this could be ensured is through rigorous recruitment processes that seek to learn about the ingrained beliefs of staff and not just their work history or cultural fit. 

Could the solution to the UK education systems longstanding problem of disproportionate high exclusion rates among BAME students, really be as simple as the title for this blog suggests?  



Can we really say? 

Without testing the waters and without the backing of substantial research or empirical evidence, it’s really difficult to say whether what has been predicted to work well in the US, will yield the same results on UK shores. However, it’s definitely worth giving it a try to find out. 


[1] The Conversation 

[2] The Conversation 

[3] The Conversation 

[4] A Teacher Like Me: A Review of the Effect of Student Teacher Racial Ethnic Matching on Teacher Perceptions of Students and Student Academic and Behavioural Outcomes 

[5] Brookings 

[6] The Guardian 

[7] The Guardian 

[8] Race and Racism in English Secondary Schools, The Runnymeade Trust 

[9] School Teacher Workforce 

[10] The Timpson Report 

[11] Havard Graduate School of Education 

[12] Race and Racism in English Secondary Schools, The Runnymeade Trust 

[13] Race and Racism in English Secondary Schools (Phoneix, 2014) The Runnymeade Trust