GUEST BLOG: Structural Racism and Unconscious Bias

We unfortunately, do not live in an equal society. Many people face prejudice and discrimination every day – whether open or hidden, deliberate or inadvertent – because of their race, faith, gender, sexuality, age, disability, or other aspects of their background or identity.

Racism is prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people based on their membership of a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalised.

As we work with schools and Trusts all over the UK, helping to support SBMs with HR support and software, we were very kindly invited to present to the Berkshire SBM group in January. Following the session, we were asked to follow up with a blog to help more of the SBM community look for ways they can reduce discrimination and promote diversity in the education sector.

To create a truly inclusive, anti-racist learning environment, we need to start with ourselves and reflect honestly on our attitudes and experiences. We may believe in the importance of inclusion and anti-racism, but that doesn’t mean we won’t have blind spots or biases. When we reflect on ourselves, we can work on ourselves, and ensure that we won’t inadvertently discriminate against others or limit what we offer the children in our care.

Sometimes people claim to be ‘colour blind’ – that they see the person, not the colour of their skin. Although this may come from a good place, this isn’t helpful and denies the reality of our differences. It’s much healthier for us to talk openly and positively rather than to ignore a person’s colour. Likewise, sometimes we try to protect children from difficult realities by not mentioning them. Unfortunately, racism and other forms of prejudice exist and are experienced and acted out by very young children. We need to talk about them.

Take a moment to ask yourselves the following:

When in my life have I personally experienced prejudice or discrimination? How did I feel and what effect did it have on me?

When in my life have I seen others experience prejudice or discrimination? How did that make me feel and what effect did it have on them?

There will be a number of emotions that you would describe, none of them positive!

Institutional Racism

This is defined as “processes, attitudes and behaviours which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people”.

Defined initially by political activists Stokely Carmichael and Charles Vernon Hamilton in 1967, the concept of institutional racism came into the public sphere in 1999 through the Macpherson Inquiry into the racist murder of Black teenager Stephen Lawrence.

Stephen Lawrence was murdered by a gang of white men in a racist attack in 1993. It was determined that not enough was done by the Police during their investigations to ensure justice was done, they did not investigate with the same vigour as they would have done if the victim had been white. Racist attitudes and beliefs were seen as normal by the Police and affected how they investigated the murder.

Other examples of institutional racism can include: actions (or inaction) within organisations such as the Home Office and the Windrush Scandal; a school’s hair policy; institutional processes such as stop and search, which discriminate against certain groups.

Structural racism

This refers to wider political and social disadvantages within society, such as higher rates of poverty for Black and Pakistani groups or high rates of death from COVID-19 among people of colour. In plain terms, structural racism shapes and affects the lives, wellbeing and life chances of people of colour. Our policies, practices and behaviours which may appear to be the norm can result in inequality for sectors within our society. Common examples of policies which may typically perpetuate structural racism are code of conduct (behaviours, dress); appraisal (do you value sufficiently some skills that are more prevalent within minority ethnic groups); and recruitment practices (where we advertise, published materials) among others.

What about Unconscious Bias?

Unconscious biases, also known as implicit biases, are the underlying attitudes and stereotypes that people unconsciously attribute to another person or group of people, that affect how they understand and engage with a person or group.

How does Unconscious Bias Occur?

In recruitment, this can occur when you do not stick to your essential and desirable skills identified from your person specification. You may base your decision to shortlist or appoint based on something other than the skills necessary to undertake that role. This could result in claims of discrimination, not to mention missing an opportunity to employ a truly representative workforce.

Measures to Reduce Bias

Having clear and thorough policies and procedures can help prevent unconscious bias and any damage to the organisation.

As an employer, recognise that unconscious bias can occur and ensure you have clear and thorough policies and procedures to help you. This will include removal of personal data from applications and checking appraisal processes for measures used to assess performance. Document your reasoning for decision-making and undertake regular analysis of data relating to staff turnover, recruitment, exit interviews and staff progression.

Actions for Our Schools

The responsibility is now on school governors and leaders to lead the education sector to a more representative future.

The Runnymede Trust Report Bristol noted that the current curriculum is unrepresentative and this could result in poor educational outcomes for those children from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds.

This is also mapped to the workforce in schools. In 2020, of approximately 20,000 qualified teachers from black and minority ethnic heritage, just over 1200 are in a formal leadership position.

Representation matters for the children in our schools. Not seeing ‘people like me’ in senior positions is one of the key barriers to achievements of our children and progression of our employees.

According to the CIPD, half of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic employees say that they feel the need to censor what they say about their personal lives whilst at work.

Audit your school

Look at the ethnicity data from applications for job roles. How does this compare for different job tiers within your school? Also look at the ethnicity data for UPS and TLR postholders. Are those successfully appointed reflective of the number of applications? Do these numbers reflect the ethnicity data for your school community? If so, then great! If not, you may need to take steps to address this.

Next steps

  • Set up a working party within your school. This will look at the relevant data, identify the gaps and produce an action plan
  • Consider targeted recruitment to ensure you are reaching black, Asian, minority ethnic groups. Review the way you advertise and where, is this truly representative? Whilst you will want to appoint on merit, you can target recruitment to underrepresented groups
  • Review support and access to opportunities. Ensure step by step progress is possible to help achieve success
  • Review appraisal system to ensure skills, expertise, potential are current, fit for purpose, acknowledged and rewarded
  • Communicate potential career routes within your school to provide reference points to junior staff – share personal career history of senior leaders to create that vision and demonstrate that success if truly achievable
  • Introduce mentoring from a more senior person. This needs to be someone who was once where they were and can further show their pathway. It will be someone who is a safe set of ears to advise on the day-to-day difficulties that employees face
  • Look at CPD for leadership and secondment opportunities. What further opportunities are there to learn and achieve?
  • Undertake diversity training for all staff
  • Access resources – there are many organisations providing free resources
  • Audit policies, imagery, curriculum. Is it truly inclusive and representative?
  • Review your actions and assess progress regularly. Check that the steps you are taking are moving you in the right direction.

We hope we have helped to provide you with an overview or what constitutes structural racism and unconscious bias and how you as a school, college or Trust can work to avoid it and even open up more opportunity. If you have any questions about the topic, please contact one of our HR team on 01924 827869 or go to our website for more information Throughout our group, Fusion Education People Solutions, we are always looking for ways to further help schools. We are proud sponsors of AbbLed, providing funding towards SBM training for BAME leaders and promoting diversity within the profession of school business leadership. If you need help with recruitment for senior roles, please get in touch.

One parent said, “To see a version of the world that seems to exclude you, your history and your culture, is to be confronted with a ladder of opportunities minus the rungs.”

Runnymede Trust Report

Written by Katy Davis, Senior HR Consultant of FusionHR, part of Fusion Education People Solutions, who provide HR support services and software to the education sector.

Sign up to get our


Our weekly procurement briefings just for schools and MATs are packed with advice to help you save money. Simply pop your details in below and we’ll send you our newsletter every week.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Need assistance?

Our friendly Executive Assistant, Plum Garland is here to help. Call today: 01256 213242

Not feeling chatty? Email us at