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As a black leader I will use my position for change - Natalie Simmonds-Alleyne

11 May 2023

By Natalie Simmonds-Alleyne, tutorial development manager and deputy chair Black, Asian and Minority Ethnicity Network, Birmingham Metropolitan College

As a Black, British woman of proud Bajan heritage, mother to a 14-year-old black son and 7-year-old black daughter, my heart becomes heavy when I stumble upon yet another news item reporting an incident of racism against a *black student in the UK.

An all too familiar storm of emotions begins to engulf me - sadness at the thought that this could be an experience had by my own son or daughter and anger and disappointment aimed at the education establishment and others across the UK that continue to grossly let down students from black communities through their failures to create quality anti-racist educational experiences.

My thoughts move to the data, which is stark and growing increasing impossible to ignore.

  • 95 per cent of young BAME people hear racist language or witness racism at school
  • 50 per cent of young BAME people believe that teachers perceptions of them are one of the biggest barriers to them achieving at school.
  • Black, Asian and ethnically diverse college leaders have dropped from 13 per cent in 2017 to around 5 per cent or 6 per cent today.
  • 60 per cent of England’s schools do not have a single black teacher.
  • BAME senior, HE staff representation is only 11.5 per cent professors and 8.9 per cent senior management.

We may use different terminology, BAME, black (as a political term), global majority, ethnic minority, ethic majority etc. But let’s not get bogged down by terms. The most important constant here are the reoccurring themes that each piece of evidence presents.

So, as I sit in deep reflection, I reach a moment of stillness and satisfying silence. A time in which I can pause and critically reflect. And quite surprisingly, what becomes most apparent to me in this moment is my own privilege. “Privilege” is not a word I would often use when describing my position as a black woman in society and definitely not one I would have previously attributed to me as a black woman within a discussion on racism. But in this moment, I recognised the “privilege” in my position as a black woman who occupies a position of leadership within the UK education sector. A position which affords me the ability to truly influence and impact strategic change.

To borrow from Barack Obama, “change will not come if we wait for some other person or if we wait for some other time”. We cannot simply wait for someone else to do something about the racism that systemically exists throughout our UK education sector.

I have made a promise to play my full part as an expert educational practitioner, leader, role model and mother to black children. To use my position, power, knowledge, skills and lived experience to support the education sector to address race inequality and embed anti-racism, to inspire greater equity and nurture a greater belonging for all black students and staff.

Is this an easy feat? To that I say a firm no! As a black woman in a leadership position within the education sector, I continue to occupy spaces where I do not see myself reflected and sit at tables where most people do not look like me. But as long as I have a seat, I will continue to use my diverse thought to further the conversation and pave the way the way for other.

Whether it is the work I do at college in my roles as tutorial development manager and deputy BAME network chair, the work I do as part of the strategy of my organisation INCONVERSATION In Education CIC, or that of the BLG (Black Leadership Group). My list of contributions to the embedding of #AntiRacismInAction continues to grow. It is difficult to list all of the work I have done to date, but it includes:

  • Design and development of a black supportive leadership programme (one of the first in the FE sector)
  • Ensuring black staff and student representation in recruitment & selection processes
  • Collaborating to empower and create safe spaces for black staff and student voice
  • Supporting student involvement in social action projects i.e., SCRJ, Future Leaders etc
  • The development of anti-racist curriculum, racial literacy and understanding of cultural capital among staff

What is reassuring to me is that I know I am not on the journey to embedding anti-racism into education alone. Over the last few years, I have built up a network of incredible individuals and outstanding organisations, each working tirelessly across the sector to embed anti-racism into UK education.

So, although I know that this may not be the last news item I stumble across which describes an incident of racism against a black student in the UK, I suddenly notice the cloud of sad and angry emotions beginning to be replaced. Replaced by feelings of positivity, empowerment and optimism at the thought of the anti-racist future myself and many others are currently working successfully to create.

*Black is used as a political term to refer to all the people who are likely to experience racial discrimination based on the colour of their skin colour.

The views expressed in Think Further publications do not necessarily reflect those of AoC or NCFE.