Racial equality in the teacher workforce

Racial equality in the teacher workforce



This research used data made available via the

Office for National Statistics (ONS)

Secure Research Service, which is being expanded and improved with ADR UK funding.

Authors: Jack Worth, Dawson McLean, and Caroline Sharp (National Foundation for Educational Research)

Date: May 2022

Research summary

A research study using secure data found that there is an under-representation of people from ethnic minority backgrounds within the teacher workforce in England. This is most pronounced at senior leadership and headship levels, which is largely driven by ethnic disparities in progression rates during the early career stages. This research provides important insights for establishing a more equitable teaching profession in the future. It was cited by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Race Equality in Education, which used the research to highlight the importance of racial equality.

Researchers from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) worked in partnership with the education charities Ambition Institute and Teach First. They explored the representation and career progression of people from different ethnic backgrounds within the teaching profession in England. They focused on key transition points within the different stages of the teacher career pathway, including access to and completion of initial teacher training (ITT), entry into employment in state-funded schools, retention, and progression into leadership roles.

Hear Jack Worth and Dawson McLean discuss this research as part of the ONS Research Excellence series on Thursday 18 May, 11:00-12:00. Register now.

Data used

This project accessed the Department for Education’s  School Workforce Census and the Initial Teacher Training Performance Profiles through the ONS Secure Research Service.

The School Workforce Census is completed annually by all state-funded schools and local authorities in England. The census collects information on school staff and covers a broad range of characteristics data, such as gender, age, ethnicity, and disability. It also collects contract information such as grade, post or role, qualifications data, pay data, and contracted hours.

The Initial Teacher Training Terformance Profiles is collected each year and includes trainee-level information about personal characteristics and the outcomes of their teacher training courses in England. Information about final year trainees includes subjects, routes into teaching, gender, age, ethnicity, disability, and previous qualifications.

The following additional data sources were used:

  • Teacher training applications data from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) and Teach First
  • Combined aggregate data on the ethnic representation of school governance volunteers from a National Governance Association survey and population data on ethnicity and age from the 2011 Census.

Methods used

Researchers linked the Department for Education’s School Workforce Census data from 2010-2020 with teacher training records in the Initial Teacher Training Terformance Profiles from 2008 - 2020. This enabled the researchers to compare the representation and progression of people from different ethnic backgrounds across ten key points in the teacher career pathway. 2011 UK Census data was used to identify the proportion of different ethnic groups in the population in England. This served as a comparator to determine whether a particular ethnic group is under- or over-represented in each career stage compared to the general population. Researchers adjusted the comparator to match the age of people in each career stage. Given that the 2011 Census was conducted ten years ago (at the time of this research), the researchers adjusted the age categories in the Census data forwards by ten years to approximate the current ethnic breakdowns in England.

Progression rates were estimated for each career stage by calculating the proportion of those who progressed to the next stage within a specific time frame. The progression rate for people from each ethnic background was then compared to the progression rate for people from white backgrounds. The researchers analysed whether progression rate gaps varied across personal, school, or Initial Teacher Training course characteristics, and whether differences within these characteristics help to potentially ‘explain’ the rate of progression at each stage. However, the researchers were also cautious about interpreting differences in progression rates between ethnic groups that are ‘explained’ by differences in characteristics. They were especially cautious where there is a possibility that the differences in the characteristics themselves may be influenced by wider systemic factors affecting that ethnic group.

Research findings

This research builds on the substantial and growing base of qualitative evidence exploring the lived experience of teachers and leaders from ethnic minority backgrounds. It provides a more complete quantitative picture of the current state of racial equality within the teaching profession. Findings show that people from Asian, Black, and other ethnic minority backgrounds are over-represented among applicants to postgraduate Initial Teacher Training, suggesting that there is not a shortage of interest in joining the profession among these groups. However, by the time applicants have enrolled, completed their training, and achieved qualified teacher status, teachers from Asian, Black, mixed, and other ethnic minority backgrounds are under-represented compared to the wider population. All teachers from any ethnic group, other than white, are under-represented at every career stage, from newly-qualified teachers to headteachers. The under-representation of people from Asian, Black, mixed, and other ethnic minority backgrounds is most pronounced at senior leadership and headship levels.

Figure 1. Most English primary and secondary schools have an all-white senior leadership team, National Foundation for Educational Research analysis of School Workforce Census data for 2020/21.

Despite some progress in improving diversity at the entry point into teaching, significant disparities in progression rates from one career stage to the next remain. The most significant disparities in progression occur in Initial Teacher Training (ITT). For example, acceptance rates onto postgraduate ITT courses are 9% lower for applicants from mixed ethnic backgrounds, 13% lower for applicants from Asian ethnic backgrounds and 21% lower for applicants from Black and other ethnic backgrounds compared with acceptance rates for white applicants.

This research project found that disparities in progression between ethnic groups differ between regions and training routes, and depend on the ethnic diversity of the senior leadership team (SLT). Ethnic disparities in ITT acceptance rates are significantly smaller in London than nationally, but larger for promotion to senior leadership. The current representation at senior levels reflects the diversity of the workforce from decades before, and these cohorts of senior leaders are likely to have faced different barriers and contexts to younger cohorts. Disparities are smaller in schools with diverse SLTs compared to schools with all-white SLTs.

Research impact

Researchers worked with an advisory group that included practitioners from ethnic minority backgrounds, and teacher training and representative bodies from the education sector. They also worked with wider stakeholders to support the development of this research, including key influencers. These included headteacher associations (such as the Association of School and College Leaders and the National Association of Head Teachers), teacher representative bodies (such as the Chartered College of Teaching), and a diverse range of teachers and researchers working on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the sector (such as the Diverse Educators network, Aspiring Heads, and Runnymede Trust). These discussions provided insights into interpreting the data and shaping the conclusions and recommendations. This also helped the research reach key audiences that could bring about positive change using the insights.

After publication, the researchers had further conversations with organisations and working groups to inform them of the research findings and recommendations. These included leaders of teacher training and development organisations, chief executives of multi-academy trusts, and civil servants in government departments. The researchers also presented and discussed findings with practitioners in Teaching School Hubs, at the Fair Education Alliance’s Racial Equality Working Group, and at the Festival of Education.

The researchers made two recommendations:

  • Support leaders and decision-makers in ITT providers, schools, and trusts to make equitable workforce decisions by:
    • encouraging ITT providers in particular to review their application and selection processes to pinpoint the extent, nature, and causes of the lower acceptance rates of applicants from ethnic minority backgrounds
    • acting to address any inequalities at this crucial first stage of entry into the profession.
  • Monitor progress across the system towards equalising opportunities for progression in teaching for people from all ethnic groups.

The research team have also developed a secondary output from the research: tailored local-area level reports that help to inform practitioners working in Teaching School Hubs (a network of organisations that deliver teacher training and development) to understand the extent of ethnic disparities in their local area. This output has the potential to help drive local-level decision-making and change that increases racial equity.

The report gained extensive media attention and discussion on social media. This research was also cited by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Race Equality in Education, which used the research to highlight that racial equality is a “critical issue which must be addressed.”

Research outputs

Publications and reports

Blogs, news posts, and videos

Presentations and awards

About the ONS Secure Research Service

The ONS Secure Research Service is an accredited trusted research environment, using the Five Safes Framework to provide secure access to de-identified, unpublished data. If you use ONS Secure Research Service data and would like to discuss writing a future case study with us, please ensure you have reported your outputs here: Outputs Reporting Form

Share this: