'Are You Just Helping?': The Perceptions and Experiences of Minority Ethnic Trainees on a One-Year Primary Initial Teacher Training Course

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Current political and educational interest

Issues of race, religion and culture have become major areas of concern in a number of aspects of public life in recent years. The death of Stephen Lawrence (McPherson, 1999) and the racially motivated rioting in the northwest of England in 2001 have heightened awareness of continuing, or even growing, racial and cultural inequalities in British society. In the May 2003 local elections, sixteen members of the British National Party gained seats for the first time, indicating a noticeable swing to support for extreme right-wing views. Growing concern about the underrepresentation of people from minority ethnic groups in professions such as health care and the police, among others, have served to place the issue of the educational attainment of people from minority ethnic groups at the forefront of the political agenda, both in the UK and internationally, prompting widespread debate (e.g. Green etal., 2000; Fernando, 2003; Sayce, 2003; Carvel, 2004). Targets have been set for the recruitment of ethnic minorities into training for the professions, among them teacher training (Millett, 1998; Devereux, 2001) in an attempt to increase the overall percentage of teachers from minority ethnic groups.

Over recent decades there has been considerable research into the experiences and progress of people from minority ethnic groups in teaching and on ITT courses. Poor perceptions of educational institutions, lack of motivation of members of minorities to join ITT courses and high failure rates on courses have been reported (clay et al., 1991; Robbins, 1995; Osier, 1997; Devereux, 2001; Carrington et al., 2001). Questions have been raised about how sufficient numbers of minority teachers can be provided to reflect the proportion of minority ethnic groups in society at large and also to provide an adequate role model for children being educated in the system (Clancy, 2003). Recent government initiatives have resulted in widespread funding for enquiries into the recruitment and retention of trainees from minority ethnic groups on ITT courses. However, the effectiveness of this funding in achieving any real change seems questionable.

Race and teacher education

Following the Swann report (1985), many schools in Britain today are 'multicultural treasure chests' (McTaggart, 2003, p. 5). The same cannot be said of our teacher training institutions. This problem has been recognised in the United States (Sleeter, 2001) by educationalists who have recognised that while the number of children from different racial and cultural backgrounds is increasing in schools, the teaching profession remains predominantly white. This recognition has led to the development of US teacher education courses which prepare trainees for working with children from diverse backgrounds. Some institutions have even set up separate courses aimed at minority ethnic trainees to increase participation (Sleeter, 2001; Bennett, 2002).

Data going back to the 1990s ( clay et al, 1991; Robbins, 1995) have documented the inadequate success rates of minority ethnic trainees on ITT courses in Britain. Osier (1997), among others, has documented minority ethnic trainees' views extensively, noting the overriding complacency and benevolent negligence with which their perceptions are treated. Cole (2003) has written extensively about issues of racism, identity and racialisation in British society, providing a very significant context for this study. Bhavnani (2001) has discussed changing definitions of these concepts within an increasingly global society, an important issue for the methodology of this research (see below). There is also debate within existing research about differing notions of what it is to be a teacher (Roberts, 2000). Roberts discusses the differing identities of ITT trainees when they are acquiring the teacher's role, and investigates the multiple identities they find they need to adopt. There is discussion about how learning to teach is akin to learning to talk; how a whole new language, vocabulary and dialogue has to be absorbed. …