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REA lot of soul searching has taken place of the past month in relation to an horrific event in Minneapolis and its ramifications across the world. Black Lives Matter (BLM), at its simplest, can literally be interpreted as a life and death issue that disproportionately faces black people when compared to other groups.
It is far more nuanced. BLM is connected to the negative outcomes black people experience relative to other groups in a variety of areas.
TheMarkingProject wishes to highlight one of those specific outcomes: education.
This blog will be dedicated to those who wish to share their knowledge of the experience of black individuals in education.
Over the next few weeks I shall be giving accounts of and reflections on my personal experiences that are relevant to the general concerns of the BLM movement, in relation to education.
22 June 2020 reflection 001 Are there any winners?
During these strange times of viruses, lockdowns and conscience awakening moments such as the death of George Floyd and the growing acceptance of the inequality faced by black people globally in all areas of life, it is only reasonable that some reflection is given to personal experiences over the years.
Now, as a middle aged black man, in my twenty sixth year of teaching in London, several significant events remind me that the issues raised by a racist murder in Minneapolis are just a metaphor that reflects the everyday outcome of black people around the world, in a range or areas. I recently listened to a black male former police officer give his reasons for leaving the force due to bullying related to his race and sexuality. He took the matter before an employment tribunal; he was successful but commented “I didn’t win” This comment made me reflect on my own professional experiences and subsequent legal confrontation with a former employer.
In 2004 I complained to an employment tribunal about the behaviour of Hayes School in Bromley. I claimed that an act of unlawful discrimination on the grounds of race had taken place during the period in which I was employed by the school. The tribunal agreed and stated in its official findings:
“We concluded that the facts point to less favourable treatment of the Applicant on the grounds of his race. We further concluded that the explanation offered by the Respondent was inadequate.”
“Consequently, we concluded that the Respondent has not proved that such an act of discrimination has not taken place, or that the treatment of the Applicant was not significantly influenced by the Applicant’s race.”
The Tribunal went on to award a large five figure sum which included a rare award of £6,000 for aggravated damages because it found the school’s approach to be “high handed, insulting and, on the basis that the remedy bundle must have been produced to discredit the Claimant, malicious.” This was the highest award for aggravated damages in 2004 The report was damning no one found guilty of this behaviour was disciplined. In fact, the newly appointed headteacher, whose was not in post when these matters occurred and would therefore have known nothing of the motivation or temper of the staff he inherited, strongly disagreed with the findings of the tribunal stating that the school’s conduct had nothing to do with race.
It is worth noting that everyone who gave evidence on behalf of the school went on to secure senior leadership positions one is currently a serving headteacher the other is a CEO of a multi academy trust.
Sixteen years on the Hayes School states the following as one of its equality objectives:
“To endeavour to ensure that the staff body and representation of staff in leadership roles is reflective of the local community.”
What does this local community look like? As a black male, would I be a reflection of it? What has been learned? Would anything be different now for me?
The tribunal also noted that Hayes school did not offer an apology; no apology has ever been received.
I sincerely hope black lives matter more now than they did sixteen years ago. I remain sceptical.
Chris Mitchell JP (Lead Teacher of Citizenship)
Ask the right questions, please.
My first interview for a teaching post was in 1994 at the Ravensbourne School. It was a time when the term "black teacher" was seemingly oxymoron; Im not sure a term had been invented for “black teacher of English.” A predominantly white school (I'm sure there is a more subtle phrase). 7 white candidates and me a black male. The five interviews before me took 20-25 minutes. My interview lasted 50 minutes. So what was the sticking point? I was asked how I would challenge the attitude of a racist parent towards me? I was prepared for many questions but not that one. I did offer an answer. The interviewers drilled down on the detail. They could not have been that impressed; I was offered a temporary position. Two other candidates received permanent positions.
Few weeks went by without some reflection on that interview. I had a probation period of one year, unlike the candidates who received the permanent position.
My experience at the school did not end well.
A well-meaning colleague called me into a classroom and explained that I was the first black person appointed as a teacher in the history of the school. I couldn’t, at the time, understand why I needed to be told this. The school was in Beckenham/Bromley. The interview was clearly discriminatory and had a short and long term detrimental effect. Why? Would that question have been asked of one of the white candidates? If I didn't have to answer that question would my position have been permanent? How might my experience have ended? That's just one of at least 20 negative experiences based directly on being a black teacher. I could go on but currently my head is in a positive place.