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Black lives matter: the steps we have taken

Over the past months we’ve seen demonstrations globally in response to the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police in the United States.  We know that racism and anti-Blackness are not only an American problem, but one that is just as pervasive in the UK.

Minds Ahead is committed to addressing mental health needs in education, and we’ve been reflecting on the work we deliver in schools, our training programmes, curriculum and hiring practices.

We are a very small organisation with only 3 employees, working with around 10 consultants. We had previously had discussions about how we create and find a more diverse group of colleagues. Reflecting on our recruitment actions, our existing statement of inclusivity on job descriptions wasn’t enough and we need to be more proactive in reaching a wider diversity of people.

We also recognise that our training programmes and curricula could be improved.  We currently include content on ethnicity, race and culture within mental health, including  cultural bias in diagnosis, culture bound syndromes, how culture and religion affects access and we discuss how different cultural groups access mental health support. For example, our school leaders discuss research by the university of Oxford[1] which finds that “Black Caribbean and Mixed White & Black Caribbean pupils are substantially overrepresented for Social Emotional and Mental Health in the SEND data”, this exists even when controls for poverty, parental education and prior attainment were taken into account. We use data like this to challenge school leaders to critically reflect on the frameworks they use in their schools and colleges.

We recognise we need to improve further.  The issue was also raised by a member of the team — who comes from a BAME background — when she pointed out that some of our sources and materials had a White Eurocentric perspective.  We have since worked to change this and have undertaken additional research to deepen our understanding of race with the education system.

Government statistics on School Teacher Workforce show that of all school leaders across the UK, only 3.5% come from a BAME background[2], despite BAME-identifying individuals amounting to 11.9% of the UK population[3].  This means that School Leadership across the UK is overwhelmingly White, reflecting the broader systemic problems of power imbalances. We recognise the opportunity and responsibility we have to ensure that our school leadership programmes are inclusive to everyone.

We have identified additional actions that we will now undertake:

  • We have added to our materials by compiling a comprehensive reading list of Anti-racist & Whiteness studies literature. These are currently being integrating into our curricula. We believe it is vital for school leaders to critically reflect upon White privilege, biases and racist patterns, structural racism and white supremacy.  By doing this we hope they will ensure that BAME staff and students are heard, understood and supported in a culturally sensitive manner regarding mental health in the school setting.
  • We are going to work harder to ensure we attract and recruit more BAME colleagues given they are underrepresented in education leadership.
  • As leaders of the organisation, we will commit to our own anti-racist education to ensure we make better decisions when hiring, creating training programmes, courses and panel selections.

Our reasons for doing this are key to the purpose and values of Minds Ahead:

  • We are committed to the mental health and life outcomes for children and young people across the UK and cannot allow those from minority ethnic populations to continue to be left behind.
  • When leadership doesn’t listen, or lack the tools to know how to, BAME staff and students go unheard and unsupported.
  • There is a history of cultural misinterpretation and an increased risk of detention under the Mental Health Act amongst BAME, particularly Black, African, Caribbean, Black British, in the UK.[4]

Nothing is more important to mental health than knowing that one is valued, included and has agency. These steps will help us to play our part.

Sources:

 

[1] Strand, S. & Lindorff, A. (2018). Ethnic disproportionality in the identification of Special Educational Needs (SEN) in England: Extent, causes and consequences

[2] UK Government. (2020). School teacher workforce [Online]. Available at: https://www.ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk/workforce-and-business/workforce-diversity/school-teacher-workforce/latest

[3] UK Government. (2019). Population of England and Wales [Online]. Available at: https://www.ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk/uk-population-by-ethnicity/national-and-regional-populations/population-of-england-and-wales/latest

[4] Mental Health Foundation. (2019). Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communitieshttps://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/b/black-asian-and-minority-ethnic-bame-communities