Championing race and linguistic equality in Scotland’s schools

Analysing racial and linguistic understanding among teachers, researchers have promoted diversity in the profession and had a pronounced impact on policy, teaching practice and professional standards.

Photograph showing teacher and two pupils

Thematic hub

Social Justice and Inclusion

Research experts

Professor Rowena Arshad, CBE

Dr Yvonne Foley

Research centre

Centre for Education for Racial Equality in Scotland (CERES)

What was the problem? 

While the total number of Scottish pupils has remained relatively constant, the number of English as an additional language (EAL) pupils recorded in Scotland’s schools increased from 741 in 2007 to more than 44,000 in the latest Pupil Census (2018). The number of black and minority ethnic (BME) pupils has also grown from nearly 30,000 in 2007 to 54,000 in 2018. However, the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Education for Racial Equality in Scotland (CERES) has found that Scotland’s teacher workforce demographics remains overwhelmingly white and monolingual.

Arshad and Foley’s research with CERES suggests teachers are inadequately prepared to meet the needs of increasingly racially and linguistically diverse pupil cohorts. This is despite the existence of national, local authority and school-level policies in Scotland and England to combat discrimination and promote inclusion.

What did we do?

Research from CERES consistently indicates that race equality is a marginalised concept within school education in Scotland and the UK, and that much more needs to be done to support racially and linguistically diverse learners. For instance:

  • Foley’s work found assumptions among teachers that those who do not have English as a first language are less able
  • Research by Arshad reveals high levels of misrecognition of Sikh and brown-skinned pupils mistaken as Muslims.

Their research suggests this misunderstanding and misrecognition negatively impacts on pupils’ experiences and life opportunities.

CERES research also demonstrates teachers’ perceptions of race equality differ from those of BME and EAL parents and pupils. These educators are mostly unaware of the lived experiences of such pupils, parents and communities, and view themselves as fair, inclusive and doing well in the area of race equality. Teachers largely have low levels of racial literacy.

This work also shows that young people would like to see far more explicit recognition and discussion of issues of race and a greater understanding of how this impacts on their security. All of which suggests the need for more training and education programmes to improve teachers’ ability to meet the needs of racially and linguistically diverse learners.

What happened next? 

Arshad and Foley have championed racial and linguistic understanding among teachers and promoted diversity in the teaching profession. Their research has had a pronounced impact on policy, teaching practice and professional standards in two crucial ways:

1. Action on race and linguistic equality in policy

Scotland’s independent Race Equality Framework Adviser, Kaliani Lyle, drew on Arshad’s work in the 2017 report 'Addressing race inequality in Scotland: The way forward'.

Arshad’s recommendations around the need to encourage dialogue about race in schools and improve diversity in the teaching workforce were adopted as part of Scotland’s Race Equality Action Plan 2017 – 2021.

[Arshad’s] advice gave the education section… an authority that was essential in… getting heard by the Scottish Government…

Kaliani Lyle, Race Equality Framework Adviser

Scotland’s Deputy First Minister asked Arshad to chair an independent group to explore how to increase the number of BME teachers in Scotland. The group’s 2018 report, Teaching in a diverse Scotland: Increasing and retaining minority ethnic teachers, included 17 vital proposals to:

  • Raise awareness of everyday racism and bias in education
  • Make teaching careers more attractive to BME students
  • Improve support for teachers who experience discrimination or harassment

The Scottish Government has committed to implement all of the report’s recommendations. In response to the recommendations, The General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) updated its professional standards for teachers to include explicit reference to race issues.

[The report] will undoubtedly create a greater awareness of race equality across the education sector and ensure greater impact of the Race Equality Framework for Scotland.

John Swinney, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills

[This work] will impact directly on the lives and practice of almost 76000 registrants… on the GTC Scotland register and all future students and teachers…

Kenneth Muir, Council Chief Executive

Arshad has been asked by the Scottish Government to continue to chair a group to take forward the report’s recommendations.

2. Action on race and linguistic equality in practice

Social Justice Re-examined, a practice-based book for teachers and education specialists authored by Arshad and based on CERES’ work, became its publisher’s bestselling book in August 2016. Four universities now include the book as a recommended text for initial teacher education (ITE) and childhood practice students. Seminars based on Arshad’s research have also increased Scottish teachers’ awareness of race.

The seminar was a good opportunity to discuss and share examples of misrecognition among other issues that still exist in educational institutions. …I’m now more equipped to recognise the problems of misrecognition and act to fix them.

Professional Learning course participant, 2016

Research on EAL learners’ experience in Scottish education led the 'National Association for Language Development in the Curriculum (NALDC)' to invite Foley to chair the organisation between 2013 and 2015.

During Foley’s leadership of NALDIC, charity The Bell Foundation asked her to develop training resources to help teachers across England better support EAL learners. The foundation later partnered with Unbound Philanthropy to commission Foley and CERES to report on the effectiveness of ITE programmes in England in preparing student teachers to support EAL learners.

…Foley was instrumental in the development of the Foundation’s Language for Results programme… [These courses] continue to receive exceptional feedback from schools, with statistically significant evidence of impact on teacher practice.

Silvana Richardson, Head of Programme Quality, The Bell Foundation