Free online anti-racism training is to be made available for the first time for the 300,000 governors and trustees who control recruitment of senior staff across maintained schools, academies and multi-academy trusts in England.
The move comes amid concerns about a stark lack of racial diversity among headteachers. Only 7.3% of headteachers in state-funded schools in England come from minority-ethnic backgrounds, compared with 21.5% of the working-age population.
The National Governance Association (NGA) has entered into partnership with the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) to provide the training. It is the first time the bodies have launched a joint enterprise or provided free training.
“Our action shows how seriously concerned we are by the lack of racial diversity among school leaders,” said Emma Knight, the chief executive of the NGA. “We need to get governors and leaders to think about what they personally might be doing to create these widespread inequalities, and how they each have to change.”
The move comes as headteachers of colour talk to the Guardian with unprecedented candour about their experience of widespread and often devastating racial discrimination throughout their careers.
The ASCL and the NGA made the decision to fund the free training after giving up hope that the government would provide training. Knight said she hoped it would “send a very clear message” to governors about the importance of accessing guidance, despite the government’s inaction.
“The government provides training for other volunteers, such as magistrates,” she said.
Evelyn Forde, the ASCL vice-chair, said systemic racism was “such a massive problem in education when it comes to recruitment that we’re now putting our heads above the parapet to name it”. She added: “The issue is specifically that governing boards – which are largely monocultural – tend to choose heads who look and sound like them.”
School governors – only 4% of whom are from a minority-ethnic background – are untrained, unpaid volunteers who require no formal qualifications. The role of trustees in academies and multi-academy trusts is very similar to that of governors in state-maintained schools.
It is six years since Sir Michael Wilshaw, the former chief inspector of schools in England and former head of Ofsted, said too many school governors and trustees were not fit for purpose and called for mandatory training. Since then, he has said, not enough has changed. “I am deeply disappointed that there has been such little progress on this recommendation,” he said.
Like the NGA and the ASCL, the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) has been asking the government for years to introduce mandatory training for governors. “Despite the data proving massive ethnic under-representation among headteachers – which the government itself admits is unacceptable – they’ve resisted introducing even the most basic of mandatory training,” said Natalie Arnett, a senior NAHT equalities officer.
The education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, has admitted that there are not enough black headteachers working in schools in England. The Department for Education declined to comment on the government’s refusal to introduce training for governors, pointing instead to their programme to increase diversity among governing bodies.
But Jack Worth, the school workforce lead at the National Foundation for Economic Research, said that “before we can solve the problem of lack of ethnic diversity among headteachers, we need to know where the biggest problems lie”.
Worth said current evidence on racial equality in England’s teaching workforce was fragmented and incomplete. “Is it that monocultural governing bodies don’t select headteachers of colour – or is it that not enough teachers from ethnic minority backgrounds are being recruited and retained at the other end of the pipeline: just 14.3% of teachers in state-funded schools come from ethnic minority backgrounds?”