Education bosses are under fire after watering down proposals to ringfence principal teacher posts for black and minority ethnic (BME) individuals.

Edinburgh Council considered the move – which would have applied to five temporary positions for the 2022/23 and 2023/24 school sessions – as part of a wider plan to boost equality, diversity and inclusion across the city.

But The Herald understands legal advice resulted in the proposals being modified to ensure they would not constitute positive discrimination. Instead of ringfencing, senior figures will expressly invite BME teachers to apply. 

Education leaders said candidates would benefit from a range of other support measures, including dedicated mentoring.

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However, the shift has been criticised by Rowena Arshad, Professor Emerita at Edinburgh University’s Moray House School of Education and Sports. She said: “It is always welcome when a public body takes positive steps to improve black and minority ethnic representation in its workforce.

“I understand the original proposal was to ringfence five temporary principal teacher posts for teachers from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. However, this was deemed to not be positive action but rather that it is positive discrimination. This is regrettable.”

Prof Arshad, one of Scotland’s top experts on education, race and equality, said the council could have “maximised” the boundaries of positive action and stressed this would be allowed under Section 158 of the 2010 Equality Act. 

“To use that part of the Act, the council would need to be able to 
show there has been persistent underrepresentation of black and minority ethnic teachers at that level,” she added. 

“The actions proposed to address this underrepresentation need to be proportionate. The advertising of five two-year, fixed term principal teacher posts specifically for black and minority ethnic teachers to assist them gain the experience to move into senior and promoted posts is an effective use of Section 158 and would, in my view, have been justifiable. 

“Diluting that original intent to now simply ‘inviting applications’ from black and minority ethnic backgrounds suggests the council might be fearful of a backlash or legal challenge, rather than being prepared to adopt radical positive action initiatives.”

HeraldScotland: Education leaders want the workforce in schools to reflect the growing diversity of Scottish society.Education leaders want the workforce in schools to reflect the growing diversity of Scottish society.

Her remarks come as efforts continue to boost diversity at all levels within Scottish education. According to figures published last year, just 1.7 per cent of the teaching workforce in 2020 identified as coming from a minority ethnic background. This compares with the minority ethnic population share of 4% that was recorded in the 2011 census.

BME teachers are also significantly underrepresented in promoted posts. The 2021 statistics showed that, in 2020, fewer than 1% of teachers employed in these roles were from minority ethnic backgrounds.

In 2018, Prof Arshad, as chairwoman of a working group of experts, completed a report that set a target of increasing the proportion of BME teachers in Scottish schools to at least 4% by 2030. However, current trends indicate that, to achieve the goal, around 200 additional minority ethnic educators would have to be recruited every year from August 2022 to August 2030 inclusive.

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A follow-up report released in March 2021 stressed that diversifying the teaching profession would be important for every part of Scotland. “Ethnic majority pupils and young people in all areas are in as much need for exposure to diversity as part of preparation for future life and work,” it argued. “Failure by those who shape, lead and provide education services to grapple with this is to limit the opportunities for these children and young people.”

An Edinburgh Council spokesman said: “We are very pleased to take positive action to support teachers from minority ethnic backgrounds take the next step in their career. 

“While we can’t take part in positive discrimination, we can support and mentor staff from minority ethnic backgrounds, by matching them with an experienced senior leader who will help navigate the path to promotion.

"This is one of many ways we are actively trying to improve the representation of all demographics across our education service.”