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PhD research aims to improve education of children of colour


A classroom research project named in honour of Leeds’ first black headteacher is being launched by Leeds Beckett University.

Head teacher Gertrude Paul sitting with pupils in a classroom

The Gertrude Paul Doctoral Studentship will focus on improving maths and literacy with primary school children from mainly African and Caribbean backgrounds, while researching their wider educational experiences.

The four-year project aims not just to improve attainment in core subjects, but to inspire young people in terms of educational and career goals.

Professor Damien Page, Dean of the university’s Carnegie School of Education, said: “Gertrude Paul was an inspirational figure not just in the education system, but for society in general. She broke down barriers and became a role model for many more to follow.

“Despite many good intentions and programmes, there is still a marked difference in the achievements of children of colour compared to their peers, not just in schools, but in further and higher education.

“By understanding the education experiences of children and their families involved in the project, and by tackling core issues in maths and literacy, we can better serve learners from all backgrounds.”

“We are seeking candidates with an extensive understanding of the cultural context and the challenges faced by children of colour and their families within the education system.

“The successful candidate will be both passionate about research and its potential to challenge under-attainment and dedicated to achieving real impact within schools and the community.

“We also want someone who is ambitious about building a career within universities and so the role will also include opportunities to teach on courses across the School of Education, supported by experienced academic mentors.”

Gertrude Paul with Queen in Chapeltown community centre

Gertrude Paul with the Queen and Prince Philip at the opening of UCA House Residential Home in Chapeltown, Leeds. All pictures copyright Heather Paul.

Gertrude Paul moved from St Kitts and Nevis to the UK in 1956. Despite having completed her British teacher training qualification in the Antigua Teacher Training College, she was required to complete another teacher training course in the UK.

She pursued her dream and graduated from the James Graham College of Education (now known as the Carnegie School of Education at Leeds Beckett University) in the early 1960s.

The first black teacher in Leeds, Gertrude taught in schools across the city before becoming head teacher in 1976 of Elmhurst Middle School (now known as Bracken Edge Primary) in Chapeltown.

Besides her teaching commitments, Gertrude was a co-founder of the Leeds West Indian Carnival, President of the United Caribbean Association in Leeds, and served on the Commission for Racial Equality.

She died in 1992, and 19 years later in 2011, Leeds Civic Trust placed a blue plaque on the Bracken Edge building. It was unveiled by Gertrude’s daughter Heather Paul, who is a lecturer at Leeds Beckett University.

The initiative named in Gertrude’s honour involves a salaried, fully-funded PhD applicant working with Ujima - a community group providing tutoring and personal development for primary and secondary school pupils from Black African or Black Caribbean backgrounds in Chapeltown.

Marina Active, Director of Ujima said: “Our purpose is to support local young people to realise their fullest potential both academically and personally so that they thrive now and in their future lives.

“We encourage students to achieve their full potential academically, economically, socially and emotionally.

“With this encouragement, our aim is that these young people will be inspired to achieve the best for themselves, their families and their community, and in turn will inspire others.”

The successful doctoral studentship candidate should hold QTS (Qualified Teacher Status). The role will have two distinct but complementary elements. The first will be to manage and deliver extra tuition and mentoring to help Ujima students overcome the attainment gap faced by children of colour, working with local community volunteer tutors as well as trainee teachers from the Carnegie School of Education at Leeds Beckett University.

The second half of the position will be to conduct doctoral research within Ujima, exploring the educational experiences of the children and their families.

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