Acknowledging difference and diversity for BAME student teachers: what’s wrong with not wanting to be White?

Naziya O'Reilly, Stephen Campbell

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


That there is a widespread overrepresentation of white teachers within all areas of the UK education sector has not gone unnoticed (Crozier, 2023; Ahmed, 2012; Bhopal and Rhamie, 2013). And yet despite high application rates by BAME students (Black and Asian Minority Ethnic, itself a contested term (Bunglawala, 2019), by the time candidates have enrolled, completed their training, and achieved qualified teacher status, this demographic is grossly underrepresented (Smith & Lander, 2022). The causes of this gap are varied as is the need to understand more fully the contributing factors that may explain this cultural anomaly. While many universities are presently taking steps to embed explicitly anti-racist approaches, there are varying levels of knowledge and confidence in ITT/E educators that inhibit either its implementation or other meaningful interventions. The focus of our research was to explore how professional practices influence the experience of BAME student teachers at a small university in the north of England. Qualitative data was collected from 11 staff and 14 trainees via one-to-one interviews and focus groups. Questions were developed across themes of inclusive practice, curriculum design and achievement.

Our initial findings indicate rather significantly a default setting amongst academic staff of treating everyone 'the same.’ This effectively exacerbates any division that is felt by BAME trainees and reinforces a lack of belonging. There is presently, running like a vein throughout the British education system, a white cultural influence that has taken hold of every aspect of education - so perniciously indeed that its pre-eminence, if not experienced directly, nonetheless frames the lived experiences of BAME teachers and students in often quite profound ways (Arday, 2019; Brookfield, 2019; Eddo-Loge, 2017; Bhopal and Maylor, 2014; Allen, 2004).

The focus for our discussion lies in tackling racism in a setting which identifies as non-racist. White cultural hegemony is so pervasive that in a profession often criticised as being ‘woke’ or too fixated on performative curricula decolonisation (Leonardo, 2016), instances of racially influenced practice amongst white staff regularly go either unnoticed or unacknowledged. Our research uncovered that when attempting to address racism a common mistake is to assume that the discrimination under focus is the sort of thing done by others to others. In other words, white professionals who identify as non-racists or allies of the BAME community force a paradox into any attempts to push progressive policies and practices forward. This inevitably establishes an ontological stranglehold on the sector. Gaining entry as a trainee teacher into such a closed, hermetically sealed profession requires of the BAME candidate so much more than that of their white counterparts. A hidden cultural curriculum exists that must be not only quickly discerned but adhered to at all costs.

We put forward this requires far more than mere training for unconscious bias. Instead, we conclude firstly that the sector requires a focus on many of the academic decisions that are consciously made and that are influenced by the inner dynamics and practices of initial teacher education. Secondly, we state that there is a tacit acknowledgement that to be a student is to be a white student; to be a trainee teacher is to be white trainee teacher; and to be a teacher is to be a white teacher. Which is to say, BAME candidates should be all these things in their views, attitudes, beliefs, and values. To put it simply, BAME candidates must understand whiteness in ways that are not understood by white colleagues or peers.

One solution is to bring to the forefront the act of acknowledging difference and diversity. Beyond the act of human relation (Cavell, 1979) how we acknowledge difference brings into focus the historic and current systemic role of marginalisation in teacher education and the deficit narratives that sustain them. In order to overhaul to the lens of Whiteness that dominates current approaches to the teacher education curriculum we reveal how our research has led on developing formal mentoring pathways for BAME student teachers. Our inclusive mentoring framework provides a practical strategy with which to acknowledge difference in a way which is culturally sensitive to all backgrounds. This serves the purpose of validating ‘whole self’ identities of BAME student teachers, affording a way to legitimately bring lived experience to their professional identity, without ambivalence or discomfort, and to reframe essential conversations about race. Our framework has significance for improving anti-racist practice and for the future engagement of BAME trainees in co-creating such practices (Dingyloudi et al., 2019).
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - Sept 2024
EventBERA conference 2024 and WERA Focal meeting - University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom
Duration: 8 Sept 202412 Sept 2024

Academic conference

Academic conferenceBERA conference 2024 and WERA Focal meeting
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


Dive into the research topics of 'Acknowledging difference and diversity for BAME student teachers: what’s wrong with not wanting to be White?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this