World Teachers’ Day is a special occasion that allows us to express our gratitude and appreciation for the incredible individuals who dedicate their lives to education. Teachers play an indispensable role in shaping the future by imparting knowledge and values to the next generation. However, teachers do much more than just teach subject matter. They are also responsible for instilling important life skills, values, and character traits in their students.
As I reflect on why I do my job, I think back to my days at school. I grew up in a single parent household for a significant period of my childhood, lived on a council estate in West London, and went to a school which served a diverse community of students from disadvantaged and low socioeconomic backgrounds, including myself. My chances of social mobility were limited. The odds were stacked against me.
“In European OECD countries, children with the greatest socioeconomic disadvantage grow up to earn as much as 20% less as adults than those with more favourable childhoods. Across OECD countries, it takes nearly five generations for children from low-income families to approach the average income in their country.” (OECD, 2022) Five generations? This is a staggering number. However, education makes all the difference. A good education is a driver for social mobility.
I was lucky enough to buck the statistics. I went to a school that transformed over the years I studied there, and I can name numerous teachers that I saw as role models who had a positive influence on me. But unlike many Black young females growing up in our education system today, I had one Black female teacher and senior leader that made all the difference. Ms Sheel was formidable. She led with authenticity and confidence. She was proud to be Black and African. She was my role model. In fact, she was a role model to countless others. However, Ms Sheel was rare. Only 2.5% of classroom teachers in state funded schools are Black or Black British. Only 0.6% of Assistant Headteachers are Black African and 2.1% are Black (DfE, 2023). I repeat, Ms Sheel was rare.
Good schools and teachers can transform the lives of children. However, there is little research that looks at the potential disproportionate impact of the lack of diversity in the teaching workforce on the social mobility of children from Black and Brown communities. Research from Durham University published this year, demonstrates that research into a causal relationship is sparse, but that there is some evidence to suggest a correlation between exposure to teachers from ethnic backgrounds and pupil outcomes (Routledge Open Research, 2023).
At the moment, too many children from diverse backgrounds do not see themselves represented in the teacher workforce during their formative years. At a national level there is still significant underrepresentation of key ethnic groups and worse still when we look at school leaders (NFER, 2022). Mission 44 is committed to seeing a change in this area by partnering with organisations like Teach First and The National Foundation for Educational Research. I am proud to have joined the organisation as a Trustee and particularly excited to see the outcomes the research they have recently funded.
On this World Teachers’ Day, let’s take a moment to appreciate the vital role that teachers play as role models in the lives of our children, particularly those representing a wide range of nationalities. As we celebrate and thank our teachers, let us also commit to supporting efforts to make our education system more diverse, inclusive, and equitable. And finally, thank you Ms Sheel.
Mission 44, Trustee