Positive discrimination

FJM's picture
by FJM
Sir Michael Wilshaw has suggested positive discrimination in favour of ethnic minority teachers to ensure that they reflect the ethnic balance of the school. What do others think of this? Would it be legal? On a minor detail, the lady who complained about the school in Gravesend claimed that most of the pupils at the grammar school were black, which is emphatically not the case in any of the town's grammar schools.
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FJM's picture
Tue, 13/01/2015 - 22:16

The link does not seem to have appeared, so here it is:

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 14/01/2015 - 10:55

FJ Murphy - the link has been embedded in your article. If you click on the words 'positive discrimination' highlighted in blue, the linked article will appear.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 14/01/2015 - 11:16

The problem with positive discrimination is that it can be perceived as negative discrimination. Sir Michael argues that if two candidates have equal merit then the job should go to the one which best reflects a school's ethnic make-up.

However, this can have unintended consequences. For example, if two candidates (one white, one black) are after a job in an all-white school, should the black candidate be denied the opportunity of working there?

In the case of Gravesend Grammar (one in four pupils are from ethnic minorities, overwhelmingly Indian, according to Ofsted), Sir Michael's ideas could result in further confusion. Suppose the two equally-qualified candidates are both black but one is from an Indian background and one from a Pakistani heritage. Which one gets the job? The parent who complained said her son was mixed-race - would that mean the school must try and recruit a teacher with a mixed race background?

And why stop at ethnicity? Sir M's logic could be extended to gender or religion. So staff in an all-girls' school should reflect the intake ie all be female.

Schools can only recruit from candidates who actually apply to a school. It's not possible to manipulate staff intake in the way suggested by Sir M.

mistemina's picture
Wed, 14/01/2015 - 13:03

We can all agree, there exist massive imbalances. I agree, the complexities of positive discrimination are big and real. However, either positive discrimination or another way must be found to rectify this problem.
I think Sir M is asking us to be aware of imbalances.

May I will add in passing that the top jobs in Education appear to go predominately to white male..................or at least in my LA. This leads to culture that is unhealthy for any organisation.

There is an urgent need to rectifying all this imbalance.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 14/01/2015 - 13:34

John - you're correct there is an imbalance and jobs at the top of any organisation tend to go to white males. But the reasons for this are complex and can include blinkered recruitment procedures, 'looking after one's own' (especially true when the white males come from the same small group of schools), a narrow range of candidates, subtle (and not so subtle) barriers in place which deter certain groups applying for jobs etc. When I organised work experience, some firms said they couldn't have girls because they hadn't got separate loos, for example, or they couldn't take a boy in a wheelchair because the office wasn't accessible (that's an anecdote and might not be general).

But this is better dealt with by increasing awareness, encouraging minority groups and women to apply for jobs, attacking entrenched attitudes and ensuring recruitment procedures don't discriminate, directly or indirectly, against particular groups.

The downside of positive discrimination is that if a member of an ethnic group, a woman or disabled person is given a job in an organisation where positive discrimination takes place then they are regarded as 'token' even if they were better qualified that other candidates.

Barry Wise's picture
Wed, 14/01/2015 - 14:58

I'm far from convinced there is, in fact, any significant imbalance at all. There is certainly not a "massive" one.

The proportion of teachers who are White British is 88.4% (2012 School Workforce survey for England), which isn't far off the figure for the general population in the 2011 census (86% White, 80% White British in England & Wales). The proportion of headteachers who are White British is 90.4%. Given that the BME population is skewed towards the younger end, the figures for both teachers and heads look to be likely to show a good fit with the proportions for working-age adults and/or persons of seniority to qualify as potential heads.

Far from top jobs going 'overwhelmingly to white males', most (>65%) headteachers are female , though that isn't surprising as the proportion of teachers who are women is close to 74%.

I think it would be better for BME teachers to teach in all sorts of schools all over the country (including rural areas with few ethnic minority students) rather than being corralled into areas with high ethnic minority populations.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 14/01/2015 - 15:03

I think positive discrimination in employment is always a mistake. It brings all those from minorities that have been, or are appointed, no benefit at all, by raising the suspicion that such appointees don't get their jobs purely on merit.

Andy V's picture
Wed, 14/01/2015 - 18:00

With you all the way Barry.

Purposeful recruitment and selection starts with the job spec and then turns to the person spec, and this is before any advert is placed. In terms of the drawing up a list of candidates from those who applied it is driven by a comparing the details of each application package to the job and person specs. Thereafter, it should be based how each interviewee performs on the day (including the illusive factor that can only be determined at interview, does the interviewee appear to possess the perceived personal attributes and qualities to be a good fit; not just for the position but for the company/school. The reverse is also true: does the interviewee feel that the school/company is right for them).

It is then about the right person with the requisite qualifications, employment credentials (e.g. employment record and performance) characteristics and attributes. What it is not about is positive discrimination, which within the employment setting is a wafer thin line from socially engineering employment by dint of race/colour/gender driven recruitment (e.g. Black African only, Pakistani or Bangladeshi only, Caucasian only, Geordie or Scouser only).

For me this is an interjection too far by SMW. Meritocracy wins my vote = best person for the position but if the field of applicants it too weak then exercise strong leadership and defer appointing. Painful though it can be it is better to carry the gap and opt for temporary or interim option than appoint the wrong person and have the tribulations of either living with the decision or moving them on/out.

mistemina's picture
Fri, 16/01/2015 - 14:01

Roger, Barry and Andy,
I feel you three to be naturally fair minded balanced gentlemen.
The argument is not with you or your thinking, it is with those of a different, lazy mindset. Those in a position to, and take the opportunity to practice 'passive discrimination'.
I perfectly accept you will not see 'Females, Black African, Pakistani or Bangladeshi, Geordie or Scouser'. Unfortunately, some do. Wilshaw asks that we are vigilant.

Andy V's picture
Fri, 16/01/2015 - 14:20

John, What I am more taxed and vexed by is the HT/Principal who deliberately skews the detail and wording of the job and person specs to create - how dare I even think this - either a shoe in or at the very least a somewhat advantageous situation for the internal or preferred applicant. I have known Heads that have done this (including effectively head hunting an external candidate) :-(

mistemina's picture
Fri, 16/01/2015 - 17:22

Very dangerous practice indeed.
Any Head that feels they can get away with this, even with the best intentions, is on a hiding to nothing. This is not legal, it is a dubious practice and it is inefficient, it stores up all manner of unnecessary problems for the future.
Not to mention the power it hands to the hunter candidate!

FJM's picture
Sun, 18/01/2015 - 21:03

Is it really a problem? Chinese pupils do very well but I don't think I have ever worked with a Chinese colleague. I don't think there are many Chinese teachers at all.

mistemina's picture
Mon, 19/01/2015 - 10:24

Chinese and Indian children do very well, this is a recognised stat in the UK. Parental and cultural aspirations is a major factor here. Is this parental pressure healthy for the child? (I suggest that entirely another debate.)
Also a glaring fact is that Poor White English, and now in the past 25 years African, Caribbean and Pakistani children perpetually underachieve. In Bucks we have had a steady -27% BME Gap for 25 years, the largest in UK.
To add:
The BME Gaps in achievement for London Inner Cities areas and other cities are reducing. This takes a effort by those authorities (and their politicians) to recognise and apply solutions.
I know in Birmingham one of the solutions was to inspire and empower parents there.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Mon, 19/01/2015 - 11:29

None of these groups significantly underachieve their Cognitive Ability Test (CAT) scores. The problem is low CAT scores. Only the right kind of developmental teaching (not cramming for exams) can address this. This is a major theme in my book.

mistemina's picture
Mon, 19/01/2015 - 14:23

Hi Roger,
'Learning Matters' was recommended to me by a local Bucks academician, you may know her. I must spent £9.90 and get your book.
Out of respect, before i went any further, I speed-read the synopsis of your book.
I agree, The ‘gap in attainment’ can’t be ever be closed.
However, in Bucks it has been allowed to get out of control. Apologies in advance if you already know, the headline Gap in Bucks is the largest in the UK, bouncing around 34-40+% figure, depending on which figure you look at. The BME Gap is 27%, unwavering fixed at this level for 25 years to my knowledge. This is unacceptable, particularly considering your comments on CAT Scores and that Inner Cities are very close to going into single figure BME Gaps.

Some of us are and have been making a noise about this in Bucks for 10 years, we have increased this 'noise level' 4 fold recently. We cannot get politicians and leaders to take ownership of this problem. All politicians (with notable exception of 2 from a minority party) believe addressing the underachievement problem is a vote loser.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Mon, 19/01/2015 - 16:37

Hello John

The publisher's price for the book is £10.52 However Amazon currently have a New Year promotion, so for now you can get it for £7.26. I don't know how long this will last.

You will find some extracts from my book on this subject on my website (apologies as it is still being developed and is far from perfect.


The main thrust of my argument on 'closing the gap' is that it is 'cognitive ability' that is the main driver of school attainment and this is true for all social classes and ethnic groups. It is CAT scores that count most. Socially deprived pupils with high CATs scores perform as well as rich kids with the same CAT scores (in a good comprehensive school). But rich kids with low CATs scores do not have their low CAT scores significantly compensated for by their affluence (contrary to popular belief).

The core argument of the book is that this is not a pessimistic scenario because cognitive ability (general intelligence if you like) is plastic and can be significantly developed but only with the right kind of developmental teaching. There is nothing new about this - it has been around for decades, but it can't boost Es and Ds to Cs 'just like that' thought short term cramming, teaching to the test, bribery, early entry etc.

On 16 Jan I attended the 'Mathematics Resilience' symposium at the Shard. I will write more about this shortly both here and on my website. Sue Johnston-Wilder and Clare Lee (the Mathematics Resilence leaders) make the same arguments as I do. Maths capability is flexible but requires the right sort of teaching. This is not the sort of teaching that desperate schools are forced to resort to in order to meet high stakes KS2 L4 or GCSE Grade C targets. This could be regarded as 'cognitive abuse' rather than cognitive development.

Teaching for cognitive development is counter intuitive in all sorts of ways. For example it requires pupils being asked to attempt things they can't do and it requires them to struggle (but only with the right kind of support). Such teaching REQUIRES pupils to get things wrong and make mistakes. Johnston-Wilder and Lee have a section in my book devoted to them in Part 5.

In relation to 'closing the gap', my argument is that it is counter productive to get obsessed with social class and ethnic inequalities because remedying these, even if possible, would not improve school attainment much. It is the right pedagogy that is needed, not social intervention. There is no quick fix. All children should be taught in cognitively developmental ways (not coaching to pass exams) from infancy. This will not close the gap either, because all children from all cognitive starting points benefit, but crucially ALL pupils will make life and learning enhancing progress.

I am hoping that my book may stimulate and help the many teachers that want to rebel against cramming for high stakes targetry and maybe help draw us like minded educationalist together.

mistemina's picture
Mon, 19/01/2015 - 17:13

Roger, thank you for the free private tutorial. I will allow this to sink into my brain. And buy the book ‘Learning Matters’

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