11 May 2015
Dorothy Lepkowska talks to those involved in a pioneering scheme encouraging more black and minority ethnic (BME) women to pursue leadership roles by focusing on character, resilience and self-knowledge.
Knowing what to do with her sociology degree had proved a tough decision for Tanya Douglas. She had considered law but a careers adviser at university had dissuaded her, claiming that it was expensive and time-consuming.
But the words of her own Year 11 history teacher kept ringing in her ears. “He told me I would be a brilliant teacher and I never forgot his words,” she says. “So I would like to thank that careers adviser for what he said because I now know I am in a job that is my vocation.”
At the age of just 34, and barely ten years into her career, Tanya is about to take on her first Deputy Headship, at Chace Community School in Enfield Town. She is currently Senior Assistant Headteacher, sixth-form/curriculum at Hornsey School for Girls.
Her first middle leadership role came when she was in her newly qualified teacher (NQT) year, when she became assistant head of Year 10 in a former school.
Within five years, she was considering assistant headship and had completed the leadership foundation programme run by what was then the National College for School Leadership (now the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL)). At Hornsey, which she joined five years ago, she became head of Year 8, and then Year 9, and then head of post-16 and sixth-form. Her move into the sixth-form was one full of uncertainty, but a supportive leadership team and continued professional development (CPD) opportunities gave her the courage to take on a new role. “I had no experience of this but decided to have a go,” she says. “This was the time when I really developed my leadership qualities.”
None of this may be considered in any way unusual, except that Tanya is one of relatively few senior secondary leaders who comes from a BME background, and who has enjoyed such a meteoric ascent in her career.
“I have always had very dynamic senior leaders to look up to and, crucially, people who have believed in me and my abilities,” she says. “I saw that these were professionals who were not afraid to take risks and I believe that people with ethnic backgrounds, particularly, need to take that leap of faith.”
Not all BME teachers are fortunate enough to be so well supported, however. As figures from the school workforce census show, people from BME backgrounds comprise some 6.9 per cent of the teaching workforce, yet make up only 2.4 per cent of headteachers and principals. Only 3.3 per cent of all female heads are from a BME origin, and they work mainly in primary schools.
This is despite the fact that, in 2014, 67 per cent of all pupils in Greater London were from a BME background with the figure even higher for inner London at 81 per cent.
But this may soon change. For the past few months, Diana Osagie, Head of Islington Arts and Media School (IAMS), and Ankhara Lloyd-Hunte, Principal Consultant with the Education Partnership Company, have been running the Courageous Leadership programme in North London for BME women who aspire to be senior leaders. It differs from other leadership programmes on which it is based because it carries that vital strand that teaches courage and resilience and nurtures the development of character. Currently, the scheme is funded by the NCTL and has 17 London-based participants but more funding is being sought to roll it out nationally.
“As a school leader you have to have the courage to push forward, and many leadership courses were not tackling this,” Diana says. “I remember being taught pedagogy and leadership, but not some of the emotions that come with the role, such as resilience and tenacity. These are things you’re expected to learn through experience but we teach them as part of the programme.”
One of the problems for BME teachers, and particularly women, she says, was the lack of role models in schools.
“But there are also cultural issues that have to be addressed. In many minority backgrounds, women are seen as nurturers and there is a strong ethic in the black family that the woman sacrifices for the sake of her family – and that includes her career. So having a demanding job goes against the grain in a way it might not in a white culture.”
A black woman pushing herself in her career can be seen as aggressive when she is expected to be submissive, she adds.
“But the realisation that these cultural issues exist, and articulating the challenges with other BME women, is quite a profound moment for many participants on the course.”
The scheme encourages participants to reflect on themselves and to consider how they may be perceived by others. Interview practice examines how the female BME applicant may look before a panel.
“This is often an eye-opener for participants because how they view themselves may be entirely different from how the panel views them,” Diana says. “So we look at where their hands are and how their voice sounds. They might think, for example, that they are speaking normally but the panel may consider them to be slightly aggressive.”
The programme also looks at how women can best manage work–life balance. “As a black woman, you really have to be tough as nails,” says Ankhara. “You need so much resilience to manage the demands of school, home and all the sexism and racism that comes with it all.”
The programme includes a one-to-one interview where participants discuss their career aspirations, a residential, five twilight sessions plus support from a coach or mentor. The first cohort will ‘graduate’ in June with a special celebratory event.
Claudette Bailey-Morrissey, one of the current participants, says that she found the course “inspiring and empowering”. Claudette left her job as head of department at St Mark’s Church of England Academy in South London last December to concentrate on a PhD but continues to coach and mentor at the school part-time. She hopes to secure a senior leadership role later this year.
She says that one of the “amazing” aspects of the programme was that its training activities made her step outside her comfort zone: “If anyone had told me that I would have the courage to climb a 25-foot tall pole, called the Leap of Faith, I would have said ‘no way’. But it gave me the belief that, despite my fears, I could succeed if I believed in myself,” she says.
“I have learned so much, not only about successful leadership from inspirational, principled black women headteachers, but the importance of creating and maintaining professional networks that facilitate our ability to challenge and support each other, as well as share our expertise and successes.”
Courageous Leadership has the backing and support of ASCL, which is in the process of coordinating a professional network for BME school and college leaders across the country.
Carol Jones, ASCL’s Specialist for Leadership Development and Teacher Professionalism, says, “Being a BME middle or senior leader can feel quite isolating and we know that existing and aspiring BME leaders would benefit from the support and encouragement of colleagues in other schools and colleges.
“Rather than setting up brand new courses we want to encourage and promote programmes that are proving to be effective, such as this one. There are so many able and talented BME women out there who don’t have the role models in schools and colleges to aspire to, but who would benefit from connecting with others.”
Dorothy Lepkowska is a freelance education writer
ASCL is setting up a reference group to help us to make a difference in this area. We are also developing regional equality and diversity leadership networks for specific groups of school and college leaders including black and minority ethnic (BME), lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and women, all of whom will mentor aspiring leaders. Contact email@example.com
Courageous Leadership 2015-16
The application round for Courageous Leadership 2015-16 will open shortly. Email Hayley King at Kingh@iams.islington.sch.uk for details of this London-based course.
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