Everyone Matters:  Damaged histories, the UK schooling system and the myth of ‘black’ African Caribbean inferiority

What counts as cultural heritage? How is it chosen? How does this change in increasingly plural societies? How does it shape identities? How and when are different types of heritage recognised, experienced, embraced, represented or ignored? How can arts and humanities research contribute to processes which uncover hidden heritages and re-discover ‘lost’ heritages? (Vall,2017)

My research question is focused on the absence of black teachers and senior leaders in international education systems. Myresearch into the evidenced invisibility of black teachers began in 2004 when, while researching for my Masters degree on teacher ethnicity and representativeness, the data revealed that there were just 22 black teachers in the city of Liverpool (Masters Degree dissertation, 2004). My follow up peer-reviewed publications in 2011 [Journal of Black Studies 42; 3] and 2016 demonstrated that there were only 18 black teachers in a Liverpool teaching workforce of 3,380 (International Journal of Inclusive Education vol 20; 7). Throughout this 12 year time span, several research questions addressing this inequitable situation, with its inevitable detrimental effect on the learning trajectory of the black child, have become the focus of my research. These include:

Why is the UK teaching profession composed of 91% white nationally (School Workforce in England, DFE, November 2016) and registers as 98% white across regional demographics {Boyle & Charles 2016]? Why do UK students from black Caribbean backgrounds disproportionately, achieve fewer A-C GCSEs than any other group? Why is a universal starting point of black identity positioned around the history of colonialism, slavery and servitude taught as damaged histories within the curriculum and disseminated through a Eurocentric viewpoint? The intersections of ‘race’, culture, class and gender do not operate in a vacuum, and the wider scope of these implications will be considered throughout.

The purpose of the study is also to design instruments and collect data to determine how [KS2/KS3] black students perceive [their education process and progress and then the relevance or possibility of] teaching as a career for themselves. The research design will include the collection of both quantitative and qualitative inquiry data in which the theoretical underpinning is best described as the interpretive paradigm. I will draw upon several disciplines to principally examine the participants’ lived experiences: phenomenology and oral histories.  A questionnaire will be designed [piloted before ‘live’ usage] for completion by a sampleof all the black studentsand all the teachersfrom two schools.The questionnaire for the black students will include[open-ended/closed response] questions. A discrete, research basedquestionnaire will begiven to teachers to document and then correlate their baseline perceptions of the learner identities of the students’ selected for the study.

Following analysis of the responses to the questionnaire, a sub-sample of students will be approached with the aim of conducting face-to-face interviews. The data from the questionnaire and the subsequent interviews will develop a rudimentary measure of students’ attitudes and perceptions of their learner identities and career destinations. The semi-structured interviews will focus on student oral history accounts in relation to their schooling experiences and career aspirations.The combination of both qualitative and quantitative methods is influenced by Bonilla-Silva’s (2001, 2010) research which challenged the “declining significance of race”. Bonilla-Silva’s use of the interview method in conjunction with surveys empirically evidenced what many other scholars (Carr 1993; Frankenburg 1993) had been saying for some time: An ideological shift to ‘colour-blindness’ as a society does not indicate the declining shift of racism (O’Brien p,72 in Stanfield 2011). In addition, the complex interplay between the researcher in same-race dyads and groups will be positioned within  O’Brien’s (2011) ‘second moment of challenging colour-blindness’ paradigm. Here, the semi-structured interviews will be understood as social processes that are not attempting to essentialize race or reinforce the default location of colour- blind racism.

O’Brien (2011) concludes that:”Respondents know they are expected to minimize race in today’s society, and is the socially accepted position, so it is not until they are assured that they have shared racial/ideological understanding with their conversation partner that they will begin to violate the colour-blind norm.

You have to pierce through the surface to tell the truth” (James Baldwin, 1964)

Fieldwork quotations from current teacher interviews evidence James Baldwin’s statement [Boyle & Charles 2016)

“This is a bit difficult for me because when I worked in my last school I told off some children and they came out with ‘N…. you can’t tell me off!’ But I don’t mind because it is out there and I can deal with it”. I overheard parents shout ‘Oh my god, she’s black!’ when I opened my classroom door to let my new class in from the playground (Teacher S).

“A teacher, my learning mentor on my PGCE course, made a comment about monkeys, laughed and looked at me. In my present school a teacher made a comment about smiling when the lights went out so I could be seen” (Teacher A).

“In my previous school I experienced racism and I am still suffering from the effects. However, at my current school, the management have been very supportive in all areas. But there are some staff members who just seem programmed to be uncomfortable with people of another race. Staff colleagues make derogatory racist remarks directed at me, in the presence of other staff members. Some even refuse to work in a group with me but I just ignore it. It can be very painful at times but there is nothing I can do about it” (Teacher D).

“The harsh reality is that racism, prejudice and discrimination exists in the application interview process and even when you are fortunate to actually get a job as I have found to be true. The racism that I find myself in is happening all around me but it is wrong to speak out against it and you find yourself treading on thin ground. I have met colleagues that are very strong and good at their jobs who suffered at the hands of prejudice and racism” (Teacher H).

During my training I had to complain strongly about a find raising event entitled: ‘Win a slave for the day’. Posters were displayed around the canteen and college halls. I brought it to the attention of the Principal and eventually the event was cancelled. What was surprising was that the Student Union Rep could not see what the problem was either as distasteful or offensive (Teacher L).







Bonilla-Silva, E. (2010) Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and Racial Inequality in Contemporary America. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Boyle, B. & Charles, M. (2011) Tightening the Shackles:  The Continued Invisibility of Liverpool’s British African Caribbean Teachers. Journal of Black Studies, 42 (3) pp 427-435

Boyle, B. & Charles, M. (2016) How can only 18 black teachers working in Liverpool represent a diverse teaching workforce?  A critical narrative. Journal of Inclusive Education; Vol 20 (8) pp 871-888.

Charles, M. & Boyle, B. (2016) Researchers reveal that there are just 18 black teachers in Liverpool and warn of a crisis in representation. 15thFebruary http://www.tes.com