GTC Scotland

The General Teaching Council for Scotland

Racism in Scottish education

The death of George Floyd challenged everyone to reflect on racism in our communities and institutions. Here, teachers from a BAME background describe their experiences.

“The challenge that I have faced over the years is not being treated like everyone else and people not understanding me as a person, because of the cultural difference,” said Arnault Bembo, a probationer teacher of a P5 class at St Patrick’s RC Primary school in Lochgelly, and originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Arnault has found that people dwell too often on the differences rather than the similarities. “To overcome this, I tell my colleagues about my culture and my story. Because I have lived in five different countries, I kind of always have to introduce myself and ensure that people have a basic understanding of my identity.”

Meenakshi Sood is in the English as an Additional Language (EAL)/Additional Support Needs (ASN) Specialist Team at Battlefield Primary. For her, the biggest misconception is that BAME teachers are only good enough to teach EAL children. But as Meenakshi points out, “BAME teachers have to go through the same processes to achieve the same qualifications as their monolingual peers, and hence are equally qualified to teach any class, with any majority, EAL or monolingual.”

According to recent statistics from Edinburgh City Council, only 2% of the city’s teachers are from BAME groups. GTC Scotland worked with the teachers mentioned in this article and edition to create a series of blogs to attract more people from BAME backgrounds into the profession.

While Nuzhat Uthmani, a primary teacher in Glasgow, hasn’t personally faced prejudice due to her ethnicity, she works closely with many teachers who have in her role in the EIS BAME Network for Glasgow. “Often the comments are based on a lack of cultural understanding and an assumption that BAME teachers have some kind of barrier that prevents them from fully engaging in school life. Many also feel that their unique experiences are ignored in schools and not valued.”

For Soma Dey, also a primary teacher in Glasgow, the misconception around teachers of South Indian Pakistani origin is that they have limited experience outwith their own families and culture. Soma explained: “There is a lack of awareness and knowledge of different cultures within our diverse community – from some of our colleagues – that can lead to ignorant and prejudicial comments, that are racist. Instead of getting to know a person, a profile based on colour is very quickly created. Sometimes you have to learn to pick your battles carefully or grow thicker skin. I have chosen to educate and empower myself so that I can now try to be a voice when faced with ignorance or lack of awareness from my colleagues.”

Meenakshi has been a teacher for over 18 years and throughout that time has become more aware of what prejudice looks like, but is still learning to recognise the various forms of racism. “There is a lot of literature online and, unfortunately, a great amount of history that alerts us to the concept of racism and bias. I’ve only recently learnt that what one would normally class as ignorance of colleagues – when they say that they can’t pronounce your name correctly and then repeatedly mispronounce it – is actually a reflection of and contributing towards the biased mindset that people hold without even realising it.”

A TRAILBLAZING TEACHER AND PIONEER IN RACE RELATIONS

Saroj Lal_Last Word (Hatton Place)_18.05.20Saroj Lal 23 April 1937 – 12 March 2020

Saroj Lal was a trailblazing teacher and campaigner in Scottish race relations. Born and educated in India, she migrated to the UK in the late 1960s. Saroj taught at Edinburgh’s South Morningside Primary from 1970 to 1973, and was among the earliest Asian primary school teachers in the city. Kathryn Wright, now Headteacher at Dean Park Primary, recalls being in her class: “I thought Mrs Lal was extremely stylish and beautiful, with her red lipstick and gold bangles. Every day I’d look forward to seeing what sari she’d be wearing – she seemed so impossibly glamorous!”

Her BAME background and experience as a schoolteacher were central to her later work in multi-culturalism and anti-racist education. At the time many teaching materials presented a rather prejudiced view of developing countries. She would challenge perceptions throughout her career at the YWCA and Lothian Racial Equality Council, fighting for equal representation of minority ethnic communities in the classroom, children’s literature and the media. She was vocal in the debate around the controversial The Story of Little Black Sambo (then widely available in school libraries) and championed the BAME cause, setting up Edinburgh’s first dedicated ethnic library, developing minority arts and expanding mother tongue teaching citywide.

Education and women’s rights remained a priority: she encouraged girls to pursue higher education by creating the Asian Cultural Girls’ Club at Drummond Community High School and the Continuation Course at Telford College. She also broke new ground with Lothian and Borders Police, defining the nature of racial attacks and encouraging the monitoring of racist bullying in schools, and became the first Asian woman in Scotland to be appointed as a Justice of the Peace.

The twentieth of August marks 50 years since Saroj began teaching at South Morningside. Her pioneering achievements remain an inspiration to many, and she leaves a lasting legacy in Edinburgh, her adopted home.

With thanks to Saroj’s son Vineet Lal

GTC Scotland Equality and Diversity Hub

Our schools and learning communities are enriched with a diverse mix of people with different experiences and from different cultures and backgrounds. As a teacher, you should strive to promote equality and diversity ensuring that everyone is treated with respect and that individual differences are valued.

Inequality against those with protected characteristics – age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation – must be addressed and prevented.

GTC Scotland has created an Equality and Diversity Hub which includes our Equality and Diversity good practice guide, modules and many more resources to provide support for teachers to reflect on their actions and consider whether they may need further advice or professional learning.
Access the Equality and Diversity Hub at gtcs.org.uk/equality-diversity-hub