Image of Russel Hobby
Russell Hobby
CEO at Teach First

George Floyd one year on: the fight for equality continues

One year has passed since the tragic murder of George Floyd. Our work on addressing diversity and inclusion internally and externally is ongoing.

The anniversary of the murder of George Floyd is a time that belongs to those with lived experience of racism. It is not a time for Teach First to draw attention to itself. But we, like many organisations, made necessary commitments in the wake of the tragedy last year. For those members of our community who might find interest or comfort in learning about our actions, we provide this blog as a matter of record in advance of the day. We will return to a conversation on these topics when the time is right.

We were slow to react to the profound and necessary re-evaluation of racial justice that followed the killing of George Floyd in May of 2020. But when we did, it opened and amplified a series of powerful conversations about race inside Teach First and between us and our trainees, ambassadors and schools. We said at the time that sentiment and affiliation were not enough, that we expected to be judged on tangible actions - and whether those actions were sustained for the long term - signalling real change rather than a public relations exercise. So, in many ways, what we are doing in May 2021 is more important than what we did in May 2020.

I believe that the momentum for change inside Teach First is as strong today as it was in the immediate aftermath and that we can point to tangible improvements. Equally, the work is far from complete, so next year must be as active as the last. We have focused on race, but we have also found that the thinking we have undertaken has benefited our approach to diversity and inclusion in general.

Firstly, I'd like to highlight some shifts in attitude underpinning our work - and in my own thinking. It is not enough to take comfort in our good intentions. The system is rigged and we have to work on the system and structures, as well as our own attitudes. We are part of that system, and bias lives within our processes, systems and even our assumptions. The Sewell Report was wrong on this front, and we have rejected its conclusions on this topic. Structural change is our work to do (those who hold positions of power and privilege) as we benefit from the system as it stands; it should not be left solely to those who are marginalised by the system to correct our mistakes by themselves. At the same time, we are not at the centre; our comfort is not a priority here. So we must listen without abdicating action. A key act of white allyship is to educate ourselves on the challenges faced by black and ethnic minority colleagues and programme members, and to consider what we individually can do. Our allyship programmes run internally have been well attended and received.

Another important lesson for me is that we have too often placed an extra burden on colleagues and community members who already carry a heavy load by treating them as experts or representatives. Many of these colleagues very much are experts, but they also have day jobs. As you'll see below, we have made significant steps to resource and pay for the support we need.

Secondly, we believe transparency is a stimulus to action, an invitation to feedback and a form of accountability. In the past year, we have gone beyond statutory guidance to publish detailed demographics on our workforce, publish our ethnicity pay gap, and we are about to launch a detailed report on our programme diversity and demographics too. Transparency is a general principle at Teach First, as well as a force for justice, so we hope to become ever more transparent over time.

It may help to divide our actions into three categories: the work inside Teach First, with our staff and on our employment policies; the work on our programmes, with trainees and programme members; and our work with our ambassadors, community and within the system itself. This has been co-ordinated in a framework for action, which we monitor monthly as an Executive Directors team. We also have targets and key performance indicators, which we report on and monitor too.

Ultimately, our goal is to become reflective of the communities we serve, which are often distinct from the working age population. In particular, as an underpinning goal, we are now considering in what timescale we could achieve a target of 50% of our training programme cohort having been to a Teach First eligible school themselves (it is just under 30% at the moment).

Inside Teach First

It is important that we begin to improve ourselves before we comment or express views about the wider system: we have much to do and wouldn't want to present ourselves as any kind of paragon. We have strengthened shortlisting rules(requiring a minimum number of candidates from backgrounds under-represented at that grade) for vacancies, which have increased our diversity. Even something as simple as publishing fixed, non-negotiable starting salaries has made a difference, as has removing much of the subjectivity from our performance management system. Speaking personally, I (and many senior leaders) have benefited from our 'reverse mentoring' scheme, and we have also set up mentoring circles to help encourage progression.

I would like to say a sincere thank you here for the work of our affinity groups, who have been a consistent source of community and connection for colleagues and who offer valued advice and challenge to the organisation.

We are in the middle of a radical change to our selection processes for recruitment, promotion and professional development. We will write about this at length in due course, but essentially we are removing line managers’ ability to independently choose candidates for roles. Selection decisions will be made by colleagues drawn from a trained (and diverse) 'assessor community' across Teach First - with each person's judgement carrying equal weight and without any attempt at consensus building. As well as improvements to diversity on race and other characteristics, I think this will change our culture: promotion prospects will not depend on relationships with managers, on who 'fits in' and who knows who. This can only encourage transparency, feedback and speaking up. It should alter the power dynamics of our organisation (if you want to know more about our overall philosophy of management authority, this Line Manager Framework should be helpful).

We have made progress. Our median ethnicity pay gap has reduced from 10.93% (5 April 2020) to 3.59% (5 April 2021); the number of colleagues who identify as Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) has increased from 15% (August 2020) to 17%, and the number in leadership roles has risen from 4.7% (May 2019) to 12%. The number of colleagues who identify as Black African-Caribbean or Black British is 4.3%. Our Board of Trustees is diverse. But our work is far from complete, those in leadership roles are not as diverse as the charity as a whole, and this is particularly true for Black colleagues, and we have an all-white executive team. We also need to ensure that the initials in BAME do not obscure the specific experiences of Black colleagues and indeed the varied experiences of all races in our society. You can find our latest demographic information published twice annually on our website.

We are not ourselves free from discrimination or microaggressions. Our stance here is clear – we do not tolerate discrimination, harassment or bullying of any kind. We must share ownership to not only report behaviours but to intervene in moments of oppression too. This year we've brought in a new mechanism by which anyone can report microaggressions (including anonymously) as well as being clearer on what happens when discrimination, bullying or harassment are reported If we're to see real progress we need to continue to actively challenge and change behaviour within Teach First.

Our programmes

We overhauled content on anti-racism on all our programmes, from initial teacher training to middle leadership to headship, and we have re-trained our staff to incorporate this more fully in our practice. We have conducted two rounds of this review, to keep up the momentum, and the training is also ongoing.

We still need to do more to ensure that every colleague feels confident to tackle issues of race appropriately. We created three new specialist roles to form a Programme Diversity & Inclusion team (aimed at our external work and in addition to our in-house HR support). This team should help ensure we have the resources and skills to sustain progress and to provide escalated support for frontline roles. They have been working on our partnership agreements with schools and on ensuring that our system for tracking incidents is more joined-up, comprehensive and effective.

These steps will help ensure we react appropriately to racist incidents and develop a better picture of our training environments to inform placement decisions. Thus our agreements with schools and our incident reporting frameworks complement each other. These were two very significant pieces of feedback from our community that I'm pleased we've included in our work. It is vital that we continue to get better at matching trainees to inclusive environments that match their career goals. We have also extended our community affinity groups from Summer Institute into permanent support networks for trainees and ambassadors. We are designing an inclusive leadership programme and interventions.

The system

It is also important that Teach First uses its voice and joins with others to create a fairer system. We published an important and prominent piece of work on representation in the curriculum - Missing Pages (the associated library and toolkit are also fantastic resources created by ambassadors and our wider community). We have run events on racial justice and becoming an anti-racist school - in collaboration with colleagues from across the sector. As well as taking a stand, this also helps us learn with others. We have sought to present and centre a more diverse range of voices from our community in our events, materials and case studies. We have commissioned work alongside partner organisations on barriers to progression into senior leadership roles for colleagues from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.

It is this latter topic that we see as significant unfinished work for the year ahead. It is evident that progression into leadership roles is unfair, and that this prevents the system from serving its students as well as it could, but pinpointing the exact barriers and the best points of intervention for us has been complex. We can, of course, track the diversity of entry and retention on to our leadership programmes, and we do, but it does not seem that lack of training is the main problem; it is a lack of equal opportunity for jobs. Fixing on our concrete contribution here is our next task.

Looking ahead, and speaking personally, I am reflecting on the journey from diversity to inclusion. The numbers matter, because they represent fair access to jobs, income, training and influence. But they are not enough by themselves. It is a question of thriving, and of contribution and growth. The definition of inclusion that I am working with is the question of how we make the most of our differences to achieve better outcomes for others and for ourselves. This begins with having differences, of course, but it also requires us to value those differences, for there to be an active debate airing different perspectives to inform decisions. It also asks us to distribute decision-making authority - formally to individuals, to collective processes (the assessor community I mentioned earlier is a good example), and in the degree of informal trust we offer to enable people to go about their work in their own distinctive way. Such distributed leadership needs to be underpinned by clarity on goals and boundaries. We intend to use this definition of inclusion to further shape our working practices in the years ahead.

I hope this is a helpful update on our work. It is not intended to be self congratulatory or to suggest what others should be doing. It highlights gaps, mistakes and areas that we still need to make progress on. In particular, I would like to say how grateful I am for the constructive advice and challenge of my colleagues at Teach First, our trainees, our ambassadors, our partner schools and dedicated colleagues across the education system.

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