Only 5% of state school governors in England from ethnic minorities – report

Just 5% of governors in state schools in England are from minority ethnic backgrounds – a figure which has remained virtually unchanged for the last 20 years, according to a new report shared exclusively with the Guardian.

A poll by the National Governance Association (NGA) found that 93% of school governors are white, while just 1% are black, a further 1% are of mixed ethnicity and 3% are Asian. The remainder are “other” or prefer not to say.

According to the NGA, the figures are almost identical to when it started to collect data in 2015 and to a government-commissioned study in 1999 which similarly found that 5% of governors were from ethnic minorities.

“The numbers are shocking,” said the NGA chief executive, Emma Knights. “I don’t think there’s any other way to describe it. I’m trying to be heartened by the fact that boards are making much more of an effort to look at this than previously. But it’s absolutely horrendous.”

According to the latest official data, 33.9% of primary school pupils, 32.3% of secondary school pupils and 30.2% of special school pupils in England come from a minority ethnic background, yet some schools serving diverse communities have all-white governing bodies.

The NGA report says the lack of diversity among governors means there is a disconnect between the demographic of the people governing schools and the pupil population they serve “which means that groups of people who make up a sizeable part of the population remain largely excluded from decision-making in schools and trusts”.

Focus group research conducted by the NGA found that closed recruitment practices, lack of visibility of governance and the low priority given to the issue of under-representation were among the factors holding back improved diversity.

“Boards need to reflect and understand the communities they serve and wider society,” said the NGA. “It is the responsibility of everyone in and working with governance to move this forward.

“There are plenty of talented potential volunteers out there from underrepresented groups; boards need to take a responsibility and change their recruitment practices to find them.”

Keith Deane is currently the only person of colour on the 10-strong governing body at Sir William Ramsay school, a secondary school in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, where 30% of pupils come from ethnic minorities and communications with parents are translated into four different languages including Urdu, Punjabi and Romanian. Another black governor is joining in September.

“I was the first non-white person on the governing body in recent years. I’m of Black Caribbean origin. I wanted to make sure there was representation of people like me on the governing body.

“It’s very hard to recruit governors, period, from whatever background. But I’m not sure that the schools particularly go out of their way to articulate the need for diversity of governance.”

He said he thought it was important for people of colour to be in positions of responsibility in a school, in part to provide positive role models for students, and also to be able to provide a different perspective and input into decision-making.

Separately, new research on the representation of black, Asian and minority ethnic authors in the teaching of English literature in schools in England has found that fewer than 1% (0.7%) of students answer a question on a book by a writer of colour at GCSE.

Analysis on behalf of Lit in Colour, a new partnership between Penguin Random House UK and the Runnymede Trust, found that exam boards were now offering books by authors of colour, but “for the most part they are not yet studied in classrooms or considered in examinations”.

The research conducted by a team at Oxford University’s department of education looked at examination data from the major boards, including an analysis of the texts studied by the 537,355 candidates who took GCSE English literature in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

Dr Halima Begum, director of the Runnymede Trust, said: “Nineteenth-century texts have a strong place in the English curriculum, and we are not arguing for their removal. But we hope this consensus around greater representation will encourage the expansion of literary texts available to students to enrich their studies.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The knowledge-rich curriculum in our schools offers pupils the opportunity to study significant figures from black and ethnic minority backgrounds and the contributions they have made to the nation, as well as helping them understand our shared history with countries from across the world.

“Teachers have flexibility to choose the books they use as part of English teaching, and the English national curriculum is designed to ensure that all pupils appreciate our rich and varied literary heritage through a wide range of texts.”

On the lack of diversity in school governing bodies, a Department for Education spokesperson said: “We recognise the importance and positive impact of a diverse board and we are committed to working with the sector on this issue.”

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