Enhancing racial and linguistic equality in education – Scotland and wider UK

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.


Research hub

Social Justice and Inclusion

Research experts

Professor Rowena Arshad CBE, FEIS

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 diversity of the pupil population has changed. In 2010, there were 33,929 pupils recorded as not white and this rose to 57,859 in 2019.

The number of languages spoken in Scotland in 2010 was 136 and this rose to 154 languages in 2019. The number of pupils whose main home language is not English also increased from 28,610 in 2010 to 61,818 in 2019.

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.

Professor Rowena Arshad and Dr Yvonne 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 black and minority ethnic (BME) and English as an Additional Language (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 LyleRace Equality Framework Adviser

Scotland’s Deputy First Minister, John Swinney 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

Teaching in a Diverse Scotland - 2018 Report

[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 SwinneyDeputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills

The Scottish Government has committed to implement all of the report’s recommendations.

In November 2020, the Deputy First Minister described how diversifying the teaching profession to include more minority ethnic teachers has been included as an important area of the Programme for Government. The progress in 2019 and 2020 included teacher recruitment, development, and leadership:

  • The General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) updated its professional standards for teachers to include explicit reference to equality – including race – issues.
  • The role of monitoring for ethnic diversity of the teaching workforce is now embedded into the Scottish Government’s Teacher Workforce Planning Advisory Group, whose key remit is to ensure sufficient teachers within the overall workforce.
  • City of Glasgow Council have engaged in positive action in meeting new recruitment targets for BME individuals to take on early childcare positions. They recruited 40 BME staff who were appointed in August 2020 to join the early years workforce. It is hoped that other Local Authorities will take similar action.
  • A national mentoring network for BME teachers has been established by the Scottish Association of Minority Ethnic Educators, in partnership with Education Scotland.
  • The West of Scotland Teaching Education Partnership (covering 8 Local Authorities) offered a secondment to a BME teacher to develop online resources for teachers to raise awareness of how everyday racism occurs in the education sector.
  • All Local Authority probationer handbooks will, from August 2021, include references on how probationer teachers can report bullying and harassment, including racial harassment. The working group discovered that not all handbooks included this.
  • All Teacher Leadership programmes in Scotland offered via Education Scotland and initial teacher education (ITE) providers are, from August 2020, including explicit information about how everyday racism occurs within school and education settings. This directly relates to Arshad’s research findings indicating that improved racial literacy of teachers and teacher managers was required and affects approximately 700 school leaders each year starting programmes from academic year 2020-21.

Arshad’s work in this area with the Scottish Government is also setting out concrete approaches and strategies to diversify and enhance the impact of ITE programmes that should reflect Scotland’s diverse population. Further updates on this work can be found in the report Teaching in a Diverse Scotland - Increasing and Retaining Minority Ethnic Teachers: 3 Years On (Progress Report 2021).

Teaching in a Diverse Scotland - Progress Report 2021

[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 MuirCouncil Chief Executive
Used with permission from Scottish Parliament, this image was posted on 19 March 2021 in response to the publication of the Diversity in the Teaching Profession final report

2. Action on racial 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

Another standout example of impact in the form of the Teaching Profession – diversity: Annual Data Report launched in March 2021: “A tangible output has been the production of annual data by the Scottish Government that will be published to enable Scotland to analyse, inform and evaluate future work in diversifying the teaching profession. This means, for the very first time in Scottish education, we now have evidence-based information to inform target setting in terms of racial diversity and the teaching workforce.” 

Teaching Profession – Diversity: Annual Data Report - March 2021

The second report is due May 2022

In addition, the Scottish Government has funded a national programme run by Education Scotland of developing racial literacy for Scottish teachers covering all sectors from early years to secondary and across all local authorities. A key recommendation of the report was for Scottish teachers to have better racial literacy. Professor Arshad, who is credited by Education Scotland for introducing the concept of ‘racial literacy’ to Scottish education was the keynote in January 2022 launching this ambitious programme. 

Building Racial Literacy

Finally, the General Teaching Council of Scotland has successfully appointed a teacher to take forward a two-year post, funded by the Scottish Government to lead on work on improving race diversity in the teaching profession.

Related study programmes

Transformative Learning and Teaching (MSc)