White Saviour Complex / Syndrome / Trope Part 1

What is the White Saviour Trope?

Social equity should come in the form of humble support from those in power,  those in power should bear in mind that they do and will continue to benefit from the same power which they may be fighting against.

Pran Patel

‘White Saviour’ comes in many forms. I will go through these in turn:

  1. White saviour through charity work. (Part 1)
  2. White saviour in film and the wider society. (Part 2)
  3. White saviour throughout the (explicitly and implicit) curriculum. (Part 3)

White Saviour through Charity Work

Activity 1

Where are the following places?

The above pictures include Canary Wharf (UK), Mumbai (India) and Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), I think it’s pretty difficult to differentiate. I would be surprised if these images are the ones you would normally associate with South-East Asia or East Africa. This is because we have been trained to believe (through our curricula and wider societal structures) that mass poverty and starvation are synonymous with these places.

We have also been trained to believe that poverty doesnt exist within western countries. Rarely are we shown poverty here at home, the article below took some time googling.


After working in East Africa within schools and with the community, I met an awful lot of well-meaning people who I would attribute the label of the white saviour to.

By well-meaning, I am talking about (us) westerners believing that they are there to save all the poor black people of Africa (or any other people of colour in any other part of the world). This, at the risk of alienating various people, is prevalent amongst teachers and liberals with their various social media post around this very topic. I’ll point out that this is not a dig at those individual people, this is a call to action against the system which inculcates people (us) into thinking that this is at all acceptable.

‘But I was only trying to help’

‘I gave up my summer to build a school’

My charity work cost me a lot of money’

All of the above statements have come from teachers I have met. Although the statements may all be completely true, I would first ask who benefited from those experiences. If you have photographs of you ‘helping’ people of colour and are circulating them across social media, you are propagating the myth that people of colour (especially in Africa) need white people (intervention) to save them, this means you are part of the problem. The white saviour trope appears on the racist side of the racist to anti-racist spectrum.


While living in East Africa, as some of you know my mother is East African, I met some of the richest, most affluent people I have met in my life (Note: I currently live in London). The idea that these people would need any ‘help’ from anybody is preposterous, I mean preposterous!

How do we view charity work on the global scene? The idea that rich affluent people of colour spending their gap years and giving up their summers to come and work with impoverished/children in the UK is ridiculous. Let us think this through, and ask is it really ridiculous? When we have professionals, nurses and fellow teachers, who are regularly using food banks. As well as,

‘The UN special rapporteur outlines the normalisation of food banks, rising levels of homelessness and child poverty, steep cuts to benefits and policing, and severe restrictions on legal aid.’

‘In 2017, The Joseph Rowntree reported that 1.5 million people experienced destitution, meaning they had less than £10 a day after housing costs, or they had to go without at least two essentials such as shelter, food, heat, light, clothing or toiletries during a one-month period.’

Would we ever envisage affluent black Africans building a library in our local schools because they want to help/save the white population, helping out where the UK government is unwilling to fund schools properly?

This disconnect, where black people can’t possibly support white people, can only be explained through the power structures that we have all come to accept and adopt as the norm.

This may feel like a personal attack, this feeling is often described as feeling fragile. This is not useful in the slightest if anything we should evaluate the way we propagate this trope.

Remember even I (as a child of the 80s and 90s) was inculcated with the same structures and stereotypes through a colonised curriculum and toxic societal norms. I remember seeing black starving Africans children during the band-aid years and singing ‘feed the world’. As a teacher, things have changed, but only slightly we no longer sing ‘feed the world’ but those pictures and photos are prevalent in our assemblies and lessons.

STOP USING THEM NOW or consider simultaneously using pictures of starving children in the UK.

Activity 2

Analyse these screenshots of google searches, What do you notice about the pictures?

UK children.png
african children.png

This is wider society, these images are rife and we too have been subject to years of its toxic associations.

It is our duty to be different.



This is an excerpt from racereflections.co.uk by Guilaine Kinouani. Shared with permission, every educator who works in a school should read this.

Like most emotionally heavy writing, it needed that impulse and perhaps a little less head to get ‘on paper’. The threat of anger, sadness or hopelessness can make it difficult for words to come, and to make themselves heard. So I am getting on with it. As a young child, I watched my mother fight many battles. As a mother, I look upon her struggles with much sadness. I remember her standing in front of White female teachers, having argument after argument, about our intelligence and proposed trajectories for our studies. I will write below some of these experiences. As anecdotes, without much analysis.

When I was five my mother fought the primary school who would not allow me to start school. This is the first battle I remember. Being born in February and missing the official cut off point for admission by a week or so, the decision as to whether I could start or not; was at the discretion of the school and, while for White children starting school a little early was rarely an issue, the school took umbrage that my mother thought her child was sufficiently intellectually developed to start.

My entry was barred. A rare occurrence. My mother challenged the school. Mainly out of principle as she knew she and I were being treated differently. The school dug their heels in and, decided that the only way to prove I was sufficiently intelligent or ‘cognitively ready’, was to test my IQ. I was subjected to a battery of tests by a team of psychologists. Then, they wrote their report. The school’s own appointed psychologists had found I had a much higher ‘intelligence’ than average and was in fact advanced for my age. Reluctantly, I was allowed in.

Read the rest of article here.

Edu-Meet Mental Health – Autumn 2019

The Vision

To create a place where educators can get together, network and discuss the very pertinent subject of mental health within our profession. We are the foundations of modern society, we make all adults into what and who they are. Mental health is a facet rarely discussed with our pupils or ourselves and this must change for the betterment of the pupils we serve and the profession we love.

The form below is to gauge interest in different areas

By clicking submit, you agree to share your email address with the site owner and Mailchimp to receive marketing, updates, and other emails from the site owner. Use the unsubscribe link in those emails to opt out at any time.

Leadership is Influence. The Influence Framework.

I really struggled with this concept, those of you who have shared my journey will know that my aim was to stay away from leadership, my core purpose was solely around being the best teacher I could be. Early, while in middle leadership, I was told that all leadership had to be Machiavellian, the had to be manipulative, you had to get people to do what you wanted. I was repulsed I felt that my leadership style would always be around the propagating my vision and being a person of integrity, being who I said I was.

It took time to realise that the vision propagation as well as the integrity, while fundamental parts of my character, they were also forms of manipulation. Even typing that now makes me shudder, I think the negative connations around the words just don’t sit right with me. Let me rephrase, leadership is about charm.

To charm followers, you have to become adept at influencing.

Influence Framework

All leadership is around influence. Let’s start with push and pull methods of influence. In my leadership training, I stop the session and beckon people over with my hand, to this date candidates have always left their seats and come to the position I beckoned them to.

When asked why they came over often the response is

‘you asked us to’

‘I actually I didn’t.’


This type of influence is regarded as a ‘pull’ it’s an indirect and subtle method of persuasion. I then, with my most authoritative voice tell candidates to sit down, exemplifying the push method. Which is direct and assertive.

The other spectrum we need to consider is whether your technique will be logical or emotional. Together these make up the influencing framework.

influence framework

Investigators = Push + Logic

These are the numbers people, here is the data the research. This is a logical decision. In my experience, these are teachers who have a mindset which incorporates real and exclusive truths (those with a positivistic ontological stance).

To adopt this style, you should be absolutely rational in your approach, no emotion just facts and logic behind that.

Leadership Styles 

Often seen in Pace Setting and Coercive leadership.

Example: You are leading implementing a new behaviour for learning policy, the team are hesitant to the change, you start your narrative around the logic of the change, incorporating the expert opinions and the data around other similar schools who adopted the change.

Calculators = Pull + Logic

Calculators will promote the strength of a course of action and highlight the negatives of others. The arguments are logical and rational but are not as assertive as Investigators.

Leadership Styles 

Often seen in Authoritative (Visionary) leadership style.

Example: The behaviour policy will impact on you personally by … and the downsides to not adopting means more of the same.

Motivators = Push + Emotion 

Emotional awareness with an assertive nature, this method incorporates emotion at its core and justifies courses of action through the same method.

Leadership Styles 

Often seen in coaching leadership style.

Example: This is the whole organisation is geared towards … This behaviour policy fits in with our overall vision because …

Collaborators = Pull + Emotion

This method is around using the emotions and involving people into the initiative. The democratic leadership style often involves this as an aspect, it’s a team effort, the follower is valued and so is their input, whilst all the time they are buying into the change.

Leadership Styles 

Often seen in affiliative and democratic leadership styles.

Example: As this fits in with our vision, how are we going to make this work for us …

What To Do

  1. Interrogate your own preferred style of influencing, Ask yourself how would I influence people?
  2. Now do the opposite, how are you influenced by people?
  3. Evaluate the environment you are leading in.
  4. Armed with this, aim to use as many different methods as you can in your next encounter. Use your charm.


Baker, T. 2015, The New Influencing Toolkit, Palgrave Macmillan UK, London.

Baker, T. 2015, Date viewed 10th July 2019, <https://www.trainingjournal.com/blog/four-strategies-influence-learners>

Racist to Anti-Racist Spectrum in Schools

Activity One

When you hear the words ‘White Supremacist’ or ‘Racist’ which images come to mind?

Are you imagining the picture the below?


(Photo: KKK night rally in Chicago c1920, Wikimedia Commons)

A lot of people find race (actually all protected characteristics) difficult to talk about. This is (at least with race) in part due to the ‘racist bad – non-racist good’ binary.

‘I’m not a white supremacist, racists are bad people who walk around in hoods with burning crosses.’

Average Person

However, like most binary labels the ‘racist bad – non-racist good’ binary is really unhelpful. We would all be better served looking at racism as a spectrum between racist and anti-racist.

racist to antidiagram

Note: I did not say non-racist, I said anti-racist, staying non-racist leaves us on the racist side of the spectrum. Yes, being neutral makes you part of the problem. A common analogy I like to use is replacing the ‘c’ in racist with a ‘p’.

Hopefully, you are seeing the issue here; removing yourself from the equation actually doesn’t change anything. It is certainly not good enough to be a non-rapist. Every human being on this planet should be an anti-rapist. The inaction normalises the racist/rapist environment by default.

Activity Two

On this scale, place the following incidents in order of least racist to racist and then,

‘I don’t see colour, I am colour blind’. 


Ostracism of the person calling out racism.

Cultural exclusions/Hair Policies

Silence while racist jokes are being said. 


The ethnocentric curriculum.

‘All’ lives matter.

Anti-Immigration policies.

Hate Crimes. 

We live in a post racial society.

Not shortlisting a candidate based on race/name.

Far right Neo Nazi Politics


Racism Acts
Indifference We live in a post racial society
Minimisation ‘I don’t see colour, I am colour blind’

‘All lives matter’.

Silence when racist jokes are told.

Veiled Racism Ostracism of the person calling out racism.
Discrimination Not choosing a candidate based on race
Anti-immigration policies
Incitation for Violence Far right Neo Nazi Politics
Acts of Violence Hate Crimes
Murder Genocide

All of the above incidents are racist. All of them including: ‘I don’t see colour’ and ‘staying silent while racist jokes are being said’ put you on that side of the spectrum.

f you look at the table, The bottom 3 rows (and partially the discrimination row). These rows are what is (generally) socially acceptable. Think about this and reflect; most acts of racism (that people are subjected to) are socially accepted.

Fragility Warning: The above incidents (which are all racial discrimination) may not occur in the microcosm of your experience but we know systemically they certainly do. It is important to remember what racism (or any type of oppression) is.

Racism is an epistemology (the way gather knowledge) that has been inculcated through a curriculum and societal system.

Pran Patel

We should move away from individual acts and move towards dismantling the system as a whole. This concept is difficult to grasp after we have all been taught and told that this is the way things work.

I too, promote a white supremacist agenda.

Pran Patel

I will accent the ‘we’. I too, even as a person of colour, have been educated through ethno-centric curricula and subject to the same societal norms. I too am prone to the same micro-aggressions and acts as everyone else.

The spectrum is a dynamic scale where people will move regularly. Remember that the natural tendency is to fall towards the racist end of the spectrum; to move the other way takes work.

Becoming more of an Anti Racist.

When I first thought about being an anti-racist and which actions encompass this; it took longer than the above list. This exercise process was a great tool to bring clarity to my thinking. Interesting that even as an activist this was difficult. What are the elements of anti-racism? I conclude these range from Awareness to Allyship and finally to becoming an Accomplice.


This is primarily around the recognition that pupils and staff of colour will have a different experience when compared to white people in your organisation, no matter what other characteristics they have.

In schools, this is around the teaching pupils and staff about the systemic power structures and the simple fact they exist.


Systemic racism is very real. We must end it. To do this I will amplify the voices of people of colour, without raising my own profile of taking that very space.

In schools, I advocate starting with the curricula you teach, this is not including people of colour, this is teaching pupils a truer more accurate narrative of history and the achievements in our humanity.

You should be analysing your behaviour and sanctions logs, to see if you or your teachers have let racial bias into their day to day practice. A great example is the defiance sanction and the perception of tone. Concentrate on the words that are said as opposed to ‘tone’. As we know perception can impact on reality (See You are Biased) as well as a comparison of pupil achievement against pupil attainment, teacher assessment versus external examination.

Talent management; with people of colour. Are you letting leadership profiles impact on your appointments and recruitment decision? We know that leaders are more prone to bias (a future piece is being written, be sure to look out for it).


This is the aim. Where people advocate and use their privilege to amplify the people of colour without the limelight and to sacrifice. Elements of this will be around teaching pupils to empower themselves to redress the balance.

The Plan

Complete the following resource with your teams. This should give you a better idea about what racism is, then add the above 3 titles to your action plans and work out how you get there.

The Racist to Anti Racist Spectrum



Leadership Styles

Activity 1

Think of a leader you admire. Try and make this as personal as possible.

What are their personal qualities?








Daniel Goleman’s 2000 sets out 6 leadership styles.

Table 1


In schools we have all met leaders who espouse the above labels, however, should we as leaders (at any level) constantly interrogate which leadership style we are using and with who?

Leadership Style Examples of when this style be implemented?
Coercive The organisation is in disarray. Change has to come from the top down. The leader is the basis of all direction.
Authoritative Followers are pulling in different directions, or working in silos. Vision led, leaders set the vision and the vision is the basis of the direction.
Affiliative The organisation is in a toxic state where interpersonal work relationships are impacting on outcomes.
Democratic Value and input are sort from followers. This also the effect of empowering followers.
Pace-Setting High pressure; similar to coercive but is high accountability at a high pace. To use this style you must have motivated followers with high competence.
Coaching When the long term in mind; building a sustainable organisation.

There are some ingrained themes here; all styles must be coupled with essential facets; like being driven by a strong moral purpose and integrity. This is because leaders can only lead if they have followers buy in.

People within an organisation will always resist change. This inertial movement is in many cases, not a rational action. It comes from the basic reaction of fear, ‘What if things get worse?’ Or ‘Things are okay (even if they are not relatively)’.

Leaders should also be aware that these styles are interchangeable and non-exclusive. It is imperative that leaders employ different styles. Goleman makes an apt analogy with golf clubs.

Activity 2

Think about 2 or 3 actions that your chosen leader has implemented since being in the role. What impact do their actions have on the climate of the organisation (positive or negative)?



Impact on the Climate.


‘Leaders who have mastered four or more – especially the authoritative, democratic, affiliative, and coaching styles – have the best climate and business performance.’

Daniel Goleman

Pacesetting and coercive styles both have a negative impact on the climate of the organisation. This does not mean they should not be utilised. As a leader you do not serve the climate of the school; you serve the vision of all stakeholders. Personally, my core purpose always brings my actions back to the pupils. These styles must not be used for prolonged periods of time.

Sustainable Change Starts with Trust.

I have led in schools for 15 years. In that time I have learnt that for any initiative or change to be built sustainably. Your followers need to build trust, in you as a leader and in your vision.

Trust is built in 2 ways:

  1. Through your actions– do you practice what you preach?
  2. Through conversation

The first is part and parcel of professional standards and the latter is equally as important.

 ‘The conversation is the relationship’

Susan Scott

To increase trust leaders have to be able to converse articulately and more importantly listen. In our classrooms, we would not speak to our pupils with the same tone and content. This variety is equally important, organisational school systems are equally important.

Goleman describes the style and interactions should be determined through the leader’s capacity for emotional intelligence. This is to first listen, evaluate and process the situation, environment and the individual. Understanding must come before any vision or change is propagated.

The 4 capabilities are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and social skills.




Goleman, D. (2000). Leadership that gets results. Harvard Business Review, March – April, pp.78-90.


Cwalina, Wojciech & Drzewiecka, Milena. (2015). Ideal president like ideal boss? Looking for preferences of political leadership style: Cross-cultural study in Goleman’s typology. Przedsiębiorczość i Zarząddzanie. 16. 99-115.

That Poll: A 1st Class Degree Vs Struggles at School


On Friday 7thJune, I posted the above question. Contentious, yes, cantankerous probably? What is the correct answer?  Well, there isn’t one. The question is relatively balanced, it was pointed out that teacher B had more characters than teacher A. I guessed that as academia is linked to educationalism within the axis of privilege (between credentialed and non-literate) teacher B should have more words. Not scientific in the slightest, but interesting none the less.


This question was posted with completely objective intent. I should point out that this came from MT about a psychologist from linkED in. I have been asked if this is an attempt to attack TeachFirst, I can assure you it is not. As far as I understand the TeachFirst criteria is 2:1 and above.

I should point out that I am not in favour of either teacher A or B, as either facet is meaningless without context. I would also argue I have no skin in the game, as I could also fit into either/both boxes.

Over 135 replies. 30+ people explicitly mentioned them being either teacher A or B or both in these replies. Humans form personal constructs that inform their understanding of the world and the environment. This means that the same thing can elicit a different response from different people. An example of this could be Ross’s dog patch (@RossMcGill),


I see an amazingly happy and bouncy puppy where other people may see a vicious and scary animal. The same dog two different perceptions, neither of these options can be said to be correct or to be incorrect, as all human construct meaning personally. This work comes from personal construct theory (George Kelly 1950) can be formed through 2 entities which are similar to each other and different from the third.

Where do these constructs come from? Is it from behaviourism (through positive and negative reinforcements)? From the psychoanalysis (the interaction between en conscious and the unconscious elements of the mind). George Kelly posits that these personal constructs are responsible and take control of their acquisition and interpretation of knowledge, we are active in our epistemology.

Through these constructs, we form a lens at which we see and interpret our environment. This is how racism, sexism, etc. are constructed, but that is for another blog and another day. Where the question posed was simply a hypothetical thought experiment with fictional teachers A and B, people through their own lens related it to their own experience. ‘I am Teacher A’, ‘I was both’. This act of putting yourself in the shoes of the hypothetical teacher (either A or B) made you agree with one side or vehemently deny the other. Where is the rational objectivity in these decisions?

Which I suppose does little harm in a twitter poll scenario. However, when recruiting or even in working with children do we let this creep in? Do we show affinity to those who have similar traits and experiences as us? Do we judge teacher’s lessons on our own experiences? Do we treat children and their reactions based on putting yourself in their shoes and letting our own experiences guide your decision?

If we look at this in behaviourist terms. We have to ask the question of propagation, is this propagated through the cognitive confirmation bias, the personal construct may set us up to look for a certain trait and then we look for it.  When we inevitably find it’s this confirms the original construct and reinforces it. (Further information on Cognitive Bias))

Meaning structures are understood and developed through reflection. Mezirow states that “reflection involves a critique of assumptions to determine whether the belief, often acquired through cultural assimilation in childhood, remains functional for us as adults”

(Mezirow, 1991)

George Kelly in his theory postulated that humans are in control of these constructs, these constructs may happen real time but also happen later. This would be like looking at something afresh later and seeing thing differently (you have decided to use another construct).

The good news is that Kelly and other psychologists have proposed we have a choice in both of these scenarios, the choice to use different personal constructs at the time or later. With respect to the behaviourist approach, we have the choice to replace the association and reinforcement by using techniques to ameliorate your actions.

‘You are Biased’. Accept that.

I’m not Bias – What is Categorisation?

Looking at the 3 pictures below, which person is darkest?

black white am darker.png

Look again








One more time.

black white am darker

Now let’s take away the features.


‘I am colour blind, I don’t see colour, I see and treat all people as human beings’

Aside from the ableist language. The above statements are inaccurate, yes, I know your eyes see the varying frequencies of light but obviously I mean the processing of people you observe by your brain.

Holguin et al 2000 took a racially ambiguous face (one that could fit various racial types from photofit software) and assigned traditional Latinx / black hairstyles. Then groups of latinx and black candidates were presented with a multitude of various photos and ask if they recognised/remembered the faces, there was a correlation between the Latinx and black candidates and the rate of recognising the face which they perceived to be one of their ‘in group’. This shows that people are more likely to recognise those who look like them.


Dr Eberhardt’s team from Stanford looked at MRI scans of white people’s brains when shown different faces. When shown the same white face the resulting brain activity dims, this makes sense your brain is processing the mass of cognitive input from all of your senses, your brain is trying to be more efficient, it works through the analogy of it has seen this before it doesn’t need to process it with the same effort as I did before, this is process called suppression.

What is fascinating is that when shown a multitude and variety of black faces the MRI scans showed similar results, your brain goes through the ‘I’ve seen this before I know what this is’ no matter how different the faces are. Your brain is not wasting its cognitive processing power on people of colour because it has seen them before and placed them in a category. Black faces and consequently, black people have been categorised.

What is Categorisation?

This is not the result of a diseased mind (this ode to another ableist call out (thank you to Danny Baker for highlighting)) which is not the result of a racist thinking or a racist mindset. It’s how the human brain works. That is okay. Yes, it’s okay to have biases.

I refer to bias as a habit of the mind. Your brain skips to conclusions because it’s easier, more efficient and this is an evolutionary necessity. Cognitive processing capacity is a finite and precious resource, evolution has designed our brains to use it sparingly.

How many of us check the road, stop, look (both ways) and listen when the traffic lights have turned red and signalled us to cross? It’s a given that red lights mean stop for cars.

Snakes signal fear, to most people (apologies to the herpetologists I have just ‘othered’ you). Seeing a snake, means to me, move and move quickly. This may be as a seen as an irrational act; my brain could act more rationally and try to remember the book I read as a child and remember that red on black … means … black on red … and now I’m dead.

With this mind, what associations do you think that we all form with people of colour?

  • People of colour (particularly women of colour) are not featured in blockbuster films. (As shown in this blog from Serdar Ferit @SerdarFerit) 
  • Black Caribbean boys with SEND are excluded 168 times than a white girl without SEND. (Report)
  • People of colour are vastly unrepresented in our school curriculum. (Blog)
  • Black Caribbean boys are twice as likely to be diagnosed with SEMH needs. (BBC article)
  • Black men are over 3 times more likely to be sectioned under the mental health act.Number of detentions under the Mental Health Act per 100,000 people, by broad ethnic group (standardised rates)
  • Pupils of colour are regularly under assessed when compared external terminal. (Blog)


  • One in seven prisoners is a British Muslim, compared to one in twenty-five in the wider population. (BBC Article)
  • Reporting of terrorists (Article)
  • Etc. Seriously I could go on all day.

Prototyping and Leadership Categorisation.

Categorisation comes from the brain’s attempt to be more efficient by grouping information together, creating a prototype is the first stage in that process. The brain assigns certain attributes to the typical role. For example, Firefighters are male, nurses are female, Doctors are male etc.

Leadership categorisation theory in which individuals will be evaluated as most effective when they are perceived to have prototypical characteristics of leadership Comparing a person to the (leadership) prototype is a recognition based process and this can influence perception (Lord and Maher 1991).

Leadership prototypes are formed when 1. When repeatedly people learn which characteristics are central among leaders and 2. The converse when they repeatedly learn which characteristics are NOT leaders. (Rosch 1978)

It is worth noting that this leadership prototype is impacted on by

  1. Gender
  2. Culture
  3. Politics
  4. Race

Rosette et al (2008)

Empirical data

In summary, people’s brains form categories of what leaders look like and this can change the way we perceive people, this is based on repeatedly seeing leaders with those attributes and repeatedly seeing non-leaders with those attributes. What your brain thinks a good leader looks like can influence your perception of the leader regardless of their actions.

Rosette et al Participants (all at undergraduates and with a racial mix) are were asked to read a newspaper story about an interview with either a leader or a non-leader from a business, the racial composition was manipulated (either 50% or 20% white).

Here if the candidate was being influenced by their leadership prototype then the expected result would that the leaders would be presumed to white regardless of the racial make-up of the company. Even if whites were in the minority of the workforce they would still be more likely to be leaders as opposed to non-leaders.

Racism Composition Leader Identified as white Non -Leader Identified as white
No Information 72% 56%

This shows that white people are much more likely to be thought of as the standard and there is a greater effect when talking about leaders.

What Happened When they told Candidates the Racial Make-up of the Company?

Racism Composition Leader Non – Leader
50% 82% 63%
Racism Composition Leader Non – Leader
20% 50% 37.5%

White people were more likely to be assumed to be leaders than employees in all settings. Now let’s consider what this actually means when the candidate is told that the company is 50% or 20% white, the likelihood of the assumption that the leader is white considerably higher, over (or equal to) 30% higher than the base rate itself. There was no significant dependency when considering the candidates own ethnicity, this means that this is ingrained across all of society, all races and genders.

In Today’s Society who do we see as Leaders in Education? Who do we not see as Leaders in Education?

BAME colleagues make 10% of the workforce and less than 3% of headteachers. When an interviewer and chair of governors see a candidate are they comparing them to the prototype of a good leader? Is this a possible explanation of the deficit in the role?

Racism from negative racial stereotypes (aversive racism) was found to consistently impact through bias against people of colour and favour white people in non-leadership and leadership roles (Aberson & Ettlin, 2004).

What Impact does this have in the Classroom?

Remember that class/group of pupils you disliked? Where you were worried about the behaviour? Generally, you found that the behaviour is worse. There are 2 different facets to this. Let’s start with talking about the cognitive bias, confirmation bias, this is means once an association has been made people will look for the same confirmation and reject information to the contrary.

Ross McGill Morrison (@teachertoolkit describes confirmation bias in his blog on cognitive biases)

There are many other types of bias I could have chosen, but confirmation bias is vital for all teachers to know, particularly those using social media. This is when an individual focuses on information that only confirms their existing preconceptions. An example:

“We listened to what teachers said. Most of them said that there was no problem.”

Or an example, when a teacher presents an idea to a school leader: “I’d like to use virtual reality in my classroom.”

School leader: “Ooh, I’m not sure this will work well with our behaviour policy.”

When we tend to search for, interpret, focus on and remember information in a way that confirms one’s perceptions. This is an irrational decision to be able to estimate correctly what is happening.

The other cognitive bias is to do with the day to day expectations we already know that teacher judge pupils of colour lower than where they are (Blog), what we expect from pupils has an impact on their actual performance. These are called the Pygmalion and Gollum effect.

Which can be summed up as

Gollum: Expecting pupils to be more confrontational actually increases the chances of them behave more confrontational.

Rosenthal or Pygmalion: Expecting a child to do well, actually increases the chances that they will do well.

  1. Associations are made.
  2. Expectation through Pygmalion and Gollum effect causes these behaviours to exist or to do be noticed more frequently.
  3. This reinforces the original association through confirmation bias (looking to confirm your association).
  4. Go to step 2 and repeat.

How do we interrupt the cycle? That’s for another blog, but it’s coming. There is much work to do.


Brössel, P. Rev.Phil.Psych. (2017) 8: 721. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13164-017-0359-y





Eberhardt J (2019) The New Science of Race and Inequality Biased. London: Penguin Random House UK.

What to do When Your Pupils Exhibit Mental Health Issues.

I believe that mental health illnesses are exactly that, illnesses, and should be viewed as such without the fear of stigma and discrimination. As educators, it is our social, moral and legal responsibility to create an environment in our classrooms in which pupils and teachers alike feel safe in reaching out for help and support.

Recently I appeared on BBC London’s Inside Out program “Why Teaching is Making Me Ill” in which I disclosed that I, myself have suffered from bouts of depression, sleeplessness and anxiety. Since the program aired not only have I been inundated with emails from fellow teachers in solidarity but my pupils have been completely supportive and frank in their questioning. Although I do feel as though I have reduced my employment opportunities in some schools but do I really want to work for those organisations anyway, so all in all a positive experience.

Let me make a point here I refuse to be ashamed of an illness. This is my consistent response to every enquiry which errs on the side of stigma or discrimination, sometimes peoples brains don’t produce enough chemicals for them to function at a 100% all of the time and I cannot emphasise this enough, that’s okay.

Being honest as educators, schools can be pressure cookers for teachers with the inherent stresses of day to day issues of working with the volatility of pupils, unachievable numerical exam targets, incessant formal lesson observations, pay related performance management and the harsh face of accountability.

Similarly, pupils in their adolescence also have a multitude of stresses and if not checked in many cases this becomes a breeding ground for mental health issues. As leaders within schools, how do we create a safe environment within the teaching body and as classroom practitioners how do we do the same for the student body?

How School Leaders can impact on Mental well being

School leaders, senior and middle leaders should be acutely aware of the impact of their actions. When relaying targets teacher self-efficacy has to be in the forefront of their minds, when leaders and followers alike don’t believe they can do their task successfully the pressures are often passed down the chain and ultimately to this impacts on the pupils.

A protective layer of real leadership has to be formed somewhere along the chain as the number of times I’ve heard senior leaders make statements such as “just get the results” and “you’re the middle leader make it happen”. Similarly, I’ve heard teachers say to pupils “Grow up you’re in year 11” or “You haven’t started revising. What is the point of me teaching you?”. None of the phrases offers any insight, knowledge or advice to move forward however it does have the effect of making the pupil or teacher feel pressured and stressed without the tools to solve the dilemma.

School leaders need to recognise honesty and transparency are the structures which form an organisation’s foundations of culture. Within my current senior leadership team, I feel absolutely no fear of judgement or consequent discrimination as a real trust has been built through long term continuous and honest discourse.

Many teachers and pupils either fear the consequences of reaching out for help or are unaware of the symptoms and illnesses they are going through. Digging into the reasons behind this, often the stigma comes second to the discrimination around mental health. Simply creating a culture where people are not labelled is not enough, the fear of discrimination have to put to rest first.

Without the regular conversations trust around our mental well-being cannot be built, similarly, I would advocate a similar approach with our pupils. Some schools use form tutors/mentors to foster such conversations but I believe this has the most impact if we celebrate the role of the teacher in pupil well-being. Every teacher is and should be a teacher of mental well-being.

Important: Let me point out that teachers (including myself) are not trained and probably do not have the skills to treat mental illness or identify them. This is okay, accept this and own it we are not health care professionals. Direct pupils and parents to the right medical services.

“Place Mask on Securely on Yourself Before you Help Others”

I’d like to make an analogy here; on aeroplanes, the oxygen safety mask announcements always end with “Place your mask on securely, before you help others”. If I am saying it’s your responsibility to look after your pupils’ mental well-being, to do this effectively I’m also saying you have to fulfil the same responsibility to your own self.

How do you check your own mental wellbeing? I live by one steadfast rule, if there is something that has a detrimental impact on your day to day life, that’s not okay. Regardless if it is physical or mental in nature, go and seek medical help from your doctors.

Here are my 7 tips for the preparation for getting help:

1. You are not going crazy or mad (this is unhelpful). The chances are, that you are ill, accept this, you are going for treatment for your illness. You are at the doctors for treatment.

2. Doctors are often nebulous beings in our lives, they are always there but do we really know them. Think about and prepare the words to describe how you have been feeling. It took me at least 2 appointments to describe my experience clearly.

3. Get there in good time and think about asking for a longer appointment. I didn’t go to my first appointment, I was a few minutes late and it was easier to cancel than face it. The second appointment wasn’t much better, I made a sharp exit mid-appointment when I realised that time was going to be an issue.

4. Be honest with yourself and consequently the doctor. You deserve to be happy and don’t let anything get in the way of that.

5. Take someone who knows you well with you, that’s if you need to, we all get lost for words sometimes or become overwhelmed it made easier to tackle if you have back up.

6. Be open to the doctor’s advice, remember they are the professionals. Anti-depressants are often regarded as a taboo. For some people, tablets are the way forward and letting a stigma around a pill stop you from feeling better is silly.

7. Commit to making yourself healthy. This means there may not be a quick fix but a long term strategy. As practitioners we often commit to our schools and pupils, spending endless hours doing your very best for them. Do the same for yourself you deserve it.

If you are not in a position to support a pupil, do not lament, just use the structures within the school and pass it on to someone who is, Recognise you can only give when you are ready and able to give. If you feel you are in a position to support please recycle the above list, use it as script and pass it on.

Then, and this is important whether you supporting or passed it on, it is your responsibility to keep checking in with the pupil, parents, teachers and all other stakeholders, mental illnesses do not disappear after a trip to the doctors.

Telling Pupils – About Yourself or Others

The first time I told I pupil that I suffered was around 10 years ago. At the time she felt alone in the world and thought the feelings of anguish and anxiety was brought on because she wasn’t positive enough and/or appreciate her life enough.

“It’s okay {add name}, I have these sometimes too, try and breathe through it, it’ll pass, I know it doesn’t feel like it now, but it’ll pass”

As soon as I said it I stuttered, stammered and stopped, was this what I should be telling a pupil during an anxiety attack? Does this make me look weak? Will the senior leadership team find out? Is this the right thing to do?

The answers to these questions are yes. Yes, the act of sharing was an act of solidarity, she was no longer alone in the way she felt, it wasn’t just her and more importantly, maybe it wasn’t her fault. Yes, it may have made me look weaker as a person of authority by admitting weakness but stronger as a human being and I’d argue as a real role model. Yes, the senior leadership team undoubtedly found out but surprisingly no issues there either. Yes, I believe it was exactly the right thing to do.

Thankfully from her reaction, it was obvious that she needed someone who wasn’t afraid of the illness or the stigma. Someone who she could come and talk to when her friends/family thought she was attention seeking. Someone who’d been there when the doctor suggested Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and the possibility of medication. Someone to say you’re not mad, crazy or nuts you’re unwell at the moment and the medical professionals know best.

Being a Role Model

Whether you like it or not you are a real tangible role model to your pupils. They look up to you. Even on those dreary days when they are all being so annoying they still look up to you, in many cases you are the constant in their lives, not just someone but that someone for whatever reason cares about them.

What does this burden of role-modelhood entail? I’m not going to tell you that teachers must live perfect lives but I do believe as teachers we form the pillars on which societies are formed. As role models, we should share our adversities and moreover our triumphs over them.

Role models who triumph over adversity are commonplace in our schools and in wider society, whether it’s a triumph through the tribulations of living in a slum or overcoming a physical ailment for sporting glory. However triumphant roles models with respect to mental health are few and far between, this is mirrored and is culturally similar to wider society so having them within schools is an absolute must.

Where teachers are fortunate enough to have robust mental health it’s important for them to portray their understanding and acceptance of the conditions that plague some many others.

We can only hope that the next generation will live up to the values of the role models they see in our schools. Perpetuating through society, changing the world for the better.

This is from a chapter I wrote for the following book as you have made it to the end, it’s available here for a discounted price thanks to School Books Direct.

Mental Health and Well being in Schools.




What is Privilege?

Racism is not about people of colour, sexism is not about women, homophobia is not about gay people, transphobia is not about the trans community, etc. I could solve the world’s equity issues instantly if I could convince white, cis, hetero, men to give up their power and give it to the people who deserve it.

Pran Patel

Privilege is an advantage; actually, it’s more the lack of disadvantage endowed for having characteristics and/or traits.

Have a go, see how many facets you feel that you may or may not be oppressed through.


Here’s a non-exhaustive list:

1. Race (White privilege)

2. Sexuality (Hetero privilege)

3. Gender ascription (Cis privilege)

4. Gender (Male privilege)

5. Colour (lighter privilege)

6. Class (middle-class privilege)

7. Language (Native English speaking)

8. Credentialed /Non-literate (Education privilege)

9. Religious affiliation.

10. Etc

This diagram gives even more examples.

Privilege is the concept that you are given an advantage for having the perceived above traits. This is akin to walking down the street and people slipping money into your pockets. Zeus Leonardo (further reading at the bottom) goes a step further and questions where that extra money actually comes from. 

You may think that this is a little unfair as people did not choose the colour of their skin, gender, etc. I agree, lamenting over this what people are born with is futile. However, we should all remember that we are not only afforded these privileges but we are involved in the same privileges being taken from the oppressed.

We should look at privilege as a zero-sum game. This means we are afforded opportunities because other people are disadvantaged. As a result by simply existing in a privileged group, you are complicit in the oppression of others. This is uncomfortable, being knowingly or unknowingly complicit the result is the same. I am not writing this to elicit guilt but action a means that it’s our responsibility to redress the balance.


I have met hundreds of well-meaning people who have often suggested and attempted to create a hierarchy of the different types of oppression. For example:

‘Black men are more oppressed than white women.’

If your vision is live in a fair equitable society (or to end oppression), I would direct you this quote by Audre Lorde,

“I am not free while any women is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” 

Audre Lorde

Compartmentalising and then pitting characteristics directly against each other is not just pointless, it’s divisive. The aim here should be to level the playing field for everyone. After all, all oppression is *intersectional*.

What is Intersectionality?

Intersectionality can be made extremely complex. Put simply, everyone’s journey is made up of different lines of oppression and privilege these intersect to describe the greater picture. For example; yes, on one hand, I am a person of colour, but on the other, I am also a cis hetero man which makes my journey very different from the journey of a trans, gay, woman of colour (and distinctly different from black/indigenous experience). This complexity is sometimes used as a fogging technique, it is so complicated there is nothing we can do about it.

The term was originally coined in this paper, 30 years ago, by Kimberle Crenshaw.

She echos my above sentiments when asked:

Q: You originally coined the term intersectionality to describe bias and violence against black women, but it’s become more widely used—for LGBTQ issues, among others. Is that a misunderstanding of intersectionality?

Crenshaw: Intersectionality is a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects. It’s not simply that there’s a race problem here, a gender problem here, and a class or LBGTQ problem there. Many times that framework erases what happens to people who are subject to all of these things.

Some people look to intersectionality as a grand theory of everything, but that’s not my intention. If someone is trying to think about how to explain to the courts why they should not dismiss a case made by black women, just because the employer did hire blacks who were men and women who were white, well, that’s what the tool was designed to do. If it works, great. If it doesn’t work, it’s not like you have to use this concept.

The other issue is that intersectionality can get used as a blanket term to mean, “Well, it’s complicated.” Sometimes, “It’s complicated” is an excuse not to do anything.

Flipping the narrative, oppression depends on a lot of different characteristics and traits and understanding that must include recognition of intersectionality.

Privilege, in exactly the same way, is also intersectional.  I did not earn the advantages or power that come with being able-bodied, cis, heterosexual, male. However, I certainly do benefit from them. Their shackles may be very different from my own but they are shackles none the less. So, as a man, it is my duty to support women in their systemic struggle, as a cis man it’s my responsibility to support trans women, etc. 

This is redressing the balance; giving back power to the people who deserve it.

Warning: Checking your Privilege.

As privilege can only flow along the veins as power. From men to women, from white to black, etc.

When someone asks you to examine your power or to ‘check your privilege’ your response should be to tell that person you need to reflect and you’ll return with a response. Then you have real work to do. Analyse your own actions. Remember your analysis must include the contextual historic legacy of power/colonialism.

Well-meaning people often fall into the trap of lecturing/dictating the oppressed. Remember you are in guest in a world you cannot understand or experience. All actions should come with the recognition of privilege first and foremost.

How does this impact in the Classroom and Schools?

When I have worked with schools, on decolonisation of the curriculum, I have used the 3 c’s model and privilege falls into all 3.

1. Challenge

2. Content

3. Certify

 Which will flow into the ‘content’ of their curriculum. Then finally to certify. Certifying, ask us as educators to empower our pupils to challenge (respectfully and democratically) the world and power structures in society around them.


Where ‘challenge’ is equipping teachers/teaching staff to confront the hierarchy of power within their classroom by interrogating their own lens.

character ed

As educators do we teach an awareness of the societal power structure in our lessons? Do we give all pupils a fair representation of the world we live in? If that isn’t reason enough in January 2019  implicit/explicit character education curriculum was including into the OfSTED framework.

Schools will not be rated ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ in Personal Development without evidence of building character

Personally, I find it hard to see, how the virtues below can achieve without the recognition of societal power.


As educators, have we considered the content of the curriculum? I have written about decolonising the curriculum here. More than that have we, as educators, ever considered the philosophy of education and ontology/epistemology we propagate?


Yes, that sounds complicated. When teaching maths in primary school and we ask pupils to measure objects, do we teach pupils that in certain realms there are definite answers, absolute truths (positivism in the natural sciences) and in all others, the answers are dependent on who you are (postpositivism).


No matter what you think about the content of the above stories. The educators of these pupils should take a bow. It is the job of educators to empower our young people to make the world a better place for their generation and the generations that come after them. Teaching pupils about power is the first step in this endeavour. For this to happen this must be incorporated into the day to day of a school and this is every educator responsibility.


Zeus Leonardo (2004) The Color of Supremacy: Beyond the discourse of ‘white privilege’, Educational Philosophy and Theory, 36:2, 137-152, DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-5812.2004.00057.x





Diagram credit: https://www.ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sd/news_article/139052/_PARENT/CC_layout_details/false

Photo credit: https://feminisminindia.com/2017/05/22/male-privilege-entitlement-101/

Are you a Leader or a Manager? What are the differences between Leadership and Management?

These titles are often interchangeable in schools, although I have to say senior management teams in the last 2 decades have been replaced with senior leadership teams. Have their roles changed drastically or is this simply an evolution of language?

John Kotter, Konosuke Matsushita professor of leadership at Harvard University describes management as,

“… a set of processes that keep an organisation functioning. They make it work today – they make it hit this quarter’s numbers. The processes are about planning, budgeting, staffing, clarifying jobs, measuring performance, and problem-solving when results did not go to plan.”

Where educational leadership should be focussed on keeping schools on track to achieve the organisation’s vision. This means that leaders should spend time strategising and ensuring that all stakeholders are well equipped to deliver on that vision.

All leadership comes with followership, simply put you cannot lead without engaging your followers, this is rarely achieved through structural power or status (which is commonly used in management).

” [Leadership] is about aligning people to the vision, that means buy-in and communication, motivation and inspiration.”


I see the main focus of educational management as the day to day operations, the running of departments, the dealing with behaviour, and maintenance of standards. This does not improve the school per se. Management’s primary function is to maintain the status quo. Where leadership models are normally used during periods of change, as schools are ever-evolving entities this is the reason senior leaders are referred to as such.

“Leadership is always about change: it’s not about mobilising people to do what they’ve always done well to continue to do it well.”


There are obvious crossovers between the roles of leadership and management. Line ‘management’ meetings will obviously include leadership as well as their management namesakes. To make an explicit distinction between them is divisive and will hinder productivity.

“There will be senior leaders who are particularly focused on strategic aims, but it’s a great mistake to think that if you’re managing a team you’re only managing it. You’re actually leading as well.”

Dame Mary Marsh CEO NSPCC

Wallace 2004 calls the process of juggling the roles of leadership and management the meta-task of orchestration, this is when leaders step into a management mindset to reaffirm and sure up operational skills before stepping back into leadership.

For example, senior members may be able to fulfil the role of a manager in facilitating examination entries but the leader’s role should look to guide their followers’ actions toward the vision. In this case that may be to align actions to make sure that more of their cohort are accessing higher examination papers (to lead to higher outcomes).

Anyone looking to transition between management to leadership (or vice versa) should consider the time frame and results of their initiatives and actions. Management usually involves the now, where leadership looks to build towards the long term.

What to do first.


  1. What is your vision? Make sure this is the first task you do.
  2. How are you empowering your followers towards this vision?
  3. How are you supporting your followers to make strides towards your/your organisation’s end goal?
  4. Resistance is a given, as a leader, you will have to have a strategy to ameliorate this.


  1. Where is your organisation going? Are you aligned with your leader’s vision?
  2. What has to be done? How are you empowering your subordinates to complete these tasks which have to be completed (normally in the short term)?
  3. How are you supporting your subordinates to complete the tasks and goals (do they have the skills, can you provide them with the training)?
  4. Are your subordinates compliant?




Wallace, M. Journal of Educational Change (2004) 5: 57. https://doi.org/10.1023/B:JEDU.0000022844.50126.2f