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Key Recommendations for Formal Meetings Where You Are Concerned About Bias or Discrimination

Formal meetings are a natural part of a teaching career. Whatever your stage in your career, you may find yourself facing a formal meeting you are concerned about.

Key Recommendations for Formal Meetings Where You Are Concerned About Bias or Discrimination

By Daryl Sinclair


Formal meetings are a natural part of a teaching career. They may concern annual reviews, regular observations, performance, professional development, and incidents at school. Whether you are a student-teacher, a newly-qualified teacher, or a well-established teacher, you may find yourself facing a formal meeting that you are concerned about. Alternatively, perhaps a colleague or a friend has approached you with a situation they are experiencing. Your concern may be due to how the institution handles the situation, the focal topic or elements of bias or discrimination that make you feel vulnerable. It is essential to be informed during formal meetings to ease some of your fears and ensure that proceedings are fair. The following article considers formal or arranged meetings initiated by or overseen by leadership. Although this article speaks to disciplinary hearings and formal meetings, once a situation becomes a hearing, it is crucial to seek specific and personalised professional support via a union or other professional body.


The advice below takes reference from the UK Government’s guidance; Teacher Misconduct: Disciplinary Procedures[1] and Teacher Misconduct: Information for Teachers[2]. Further supporting evidence includes research from Unions and organisations such as the NASUWT[3] and BAMEed[4]. The advice attempts to cover the significant considerations that may increase your confidence and ability to represent yourself accurately in a formal meeting or hearing. The advice also contains information and techniques concerning your rights and expectations for the meeting.

When preparing for a formal or disciplinary meeting, working with a union rep or staff liaison at your school is always your best option, as they should have experience working through these situations. They will work specifically within your context and be familiar with the leadership and best approaches such as those detailed in this article. Though this article offers guidance and advice, no list is perfect, and all situations are unique. Specific expressions of discrimination experienced by LGBTQ+ and neurodivergent members of staff may benefit from specialised consideration. Many structures in place for racial and gender-based discrimination are not as developed for these communities. Thus, consider your experience and think critically about what you believe will work best for you.

Don’t go to the meeting alone

Have a union rep - Union membership is a must for all teachers, but if you do not currently have a membership to a union, stop reading and do it now! Depending on your situation, you may also enlist the help of a staff liaison or a confidant/ally with you, whether for moral support or to be an active participant.

Make sure you are on the same page before the meeting and work together - having conflicting points/understanding or not having a clear ‘main’ speaker can weaken your points. It is essential to be clear, concise and targeted during the meeting.

Further to this, advising your school that you have enlisted the support of a union or that you have discussed the incident in order to receive guidance is a powerful step that may mediate their response. Concern about reputational damage or escalation can encourage more critical and measured proceedings. There is no requirement for you to tell the school who you spoke with, you may have simply done your research through articles like this, the key point is to communicate that you are prepared and are not entering the meeting blindly.

Ask for a detailed agenda before the meeting

The meeting organisers should give you an overview/agenda for the points they will address during the meeting including who will be present and their roles. If this is not the case, immediately ask for one. Any disciplinary proceedings should have a typed document provided well in advance of an engagement or ‘hearing’ so that you can prepare.

If your situation is not disciplinary, you are still welcome to ask for written details (it can be considered a professional expectation though not a legal right). Asking for an agenda is strongly recommended if you are concerned about potential bias or discrimination. The written records can be referred to in the future as necessary based on the outcome of the meeting.

The agenda also enables you to prepare for the key points and see the language they use. It is not uncommon for a ‘secondary issue’ to mask any bias for scenarios that may involve discrimination. Typical examples include ‘professional dress’ as code for ethnic hair/clothing styles, ‘argumentative or difficult behaviour’ for someone standing up for themselves for legitimate perspectives, or simply accusations about quality of work that has previously been an issue.

Within the context of disciplinary proceedings, expectations can vary by school/organisation, so double-check your staff handbook, contract and the UK Government’s guidance; Teacher Misconduct: Disciplinary Procedures[5] if you are unsure. It is a requirement that the details of any allegations or concerns are written (digital or printed). This information should be provided to you by the school or overseeing leadership member before the first meeting as a part of any disciplinary proceedings.

In a disciplinary proceeding, the school or disciplinary authority (which may be the school board) should also provide details of the disciplinary procedure to you. These details are for transparency and to allow you to prepare and organise having someone (See Point 1), such as a union rep, with you.

Write out a response to the agenda

This step is for you rather than for anyone else. It is essential to write down our thoughts and ideas during high-stress situations to quieten the anxious thoughts that may be taking place in our heads. Write down what comes to mind, whether evidence, counter-evidence or simply your feelings, as you read through the agenda. These notes can help to organise and calm your thoughts. Once written, your response can be an excellent source to organise yourself with your union rep/ally and for the actual meeting.

Evidence is King

Developing the work from Point 3; create a detailed list (or whatever format works for you) of all the ‘red flags’[6] and events (preferably with dates or times) that caused your concern about the meeting agenda or any accusations.

Nothing is too small - It is unlikely that you will read through this list during the meeting but having it can indicate the scale and severity of what has been taking place. Also, this may help to refocus the meeting on the root issue in scenarios (as detailed in Point 2) where a secondary issue has become the focus.

You will also want to list evidence of your work and success, projects and field trips you completed, positive feedback from leaders acknowledging your work, communication from parents or proof of student progress. This evidence can strongly support your stance and credibility in the meeting while challenging discriminatory statements about you.

Everything is made more impactful with evidence.

It makes refuting false accusations simple while also reinforcing your points and counter-points.

Be aware of the professional expectations of conduct at the school/from your institution

Your staff handbook, contract, or any information regarding the disciplinary procedure is essential. In scenarios involving elements of discrimination, any stances that the school/organisation takes on equality may be of use. This includes discrimination based on gender, race, sexuality, neuro-diversity, and more.

It is essential to show where the school or institution may have broken their own rules. This evidence helps to prevent your concerns about being a target of discrimination from being dismissed in the manner of ‘of course it’s not about your race/gender/sexuality’ or ‘we are handling this the same as we would for anyone, and it has nothing to do with XYZ’. Your notes from Point 4 will be invaluable in these situations.

Your emotions are valid

For each flag or concern that you noted for Point 4, write how it made you feel, why it was a concern or a red flag[7] for you, and how it does not align with the professional conduct and philosophy of the school.

Sharing the feelings you experienced during the events that you describe help to humanise the scenario. Presenting personal level experiences provides rich context to the discussion. This humanising element is crucial when dealing with decision-makers who may not inherently see the issue with what is taking place. Concepts such as ‘it was just a joke’ or ‘when you defend your arguments, you are quite aggressive’ often need contextualisation. Discrimination often hides in the coded meanings of such statements. The actual impact such statements can have on minorities who have endured these dismissals and stereotypes for a lifetime is undeniable. Bringing these emotions to the table may support a fairer resolution to the meeting.

Supporting your notes and statements with examples of other staff members treated differently in the same or similar scenarios will further validate the feelings that you communicate.

Contrasting your experience to that of white (or the hegemonic majority) colleagues is essential. But, it is also important to steer away from the emotions of indignance – ‘They get to do this so why can’t I’ – and instead focus on concepts of – ‘The school is not treating me equally to my peers and colleagues as detailed in your commitment to equality and diversity’.

This technique helps prevent high frustration levels and venture into ‘complaining’ rather than seeking a resolution.

Be aware of ‘White Fragility’

Though the term ‘White Fragility’ is complex, and there are some critiques of it, being aware that identifying systemic injustices may lead to defensive responses can help you to prepare.

‘Of course I’m not a racist/sexist/ableist, and the fact that you even make that accusation is a further example of why we need to handle this scenario severely’

This is a stance that can lead to challenging meetings and is not rare within professional settings.

Professional expressions of ‘White Fragility’ and offending schools, organisations, or leaders can have a strong reaction. Your institution may blindly, or even aggressively, not want to consider the potential for any discrimination, and their aggressive defence may be to your detriment.

Unfortunately, there is no direct response for this, but the points and preparation above should put you in the strongest position possible to navigate such a response successfully.

Remain calm and be clear about your points; having your union rep/ally should be a great support and help prevent any discussion from being derailed or diminished.

Never forget your safety, stamina, and longevity

Our main priority is getting you through this situation fairly, with confidence in the continuation of your career. Although there are important battles to be fought, and it can feel at times like your situation might be a great jump-off point to ‘cure’ your institution or leader of their biases, don’t bite off more than you can chew.

These situations are critical so remember that even the smallest, quietest ‘victory’ can support long-term change. But, feeling an obligation to fight beyond the scope of your situation can be incredibly taxing. No one person is responsible for everyone else grouped under the label they are identifying at that time. I encourage people to take on these situations, but only with appropriate consideration, planning, and strategising.

Even with all the planning in the world, the outcome may not be what you were hoping for.

All you need is a fair and equitable resolution. Though it is unfair that you may face a formal meeting or disciplinary hearing which shows discrimination or bias, the strategies above will support you in surviving the experience.

As a long-term consideration, being at a school that makes you feel unsafe or discriminated against does not gain you any awards and does not provide additional bragging rights. My union rep advised me when traversing a formal hearing early in my career:

‘If the school does not support you or acknowledge its faults, leave and find a school where you are seen and appropriately valued.’

This advice rings true for all teachers; there is no shame or ‘loss’ in making that decision. Choosing to leave a school DOES NOT mean that ‘they’ have ‘won’. There are no winners in situations regarding discrimination, only losers, and the faster you can leave or overcome those situations, the faster you can go back to winning.

The cultures and tides of the education system will change as more people, like you, who have experienced these situations occupy the space. Intentional and meaningful actions are required, but that doesn’t mean that every instance needs to be a headliner; never underestimate the impact that your existence and continuance have on people around you, whether as an inspiration or a challenge to their status quo.







[6] Any event or occurrence which indicates more serious problems i.e ‘my colleague would never respond directly to me in meetings. It made me uncomfortable and minimised and was a ‘red flag’ for their attitude towards me.

[7] Any event or occurrence which indicates more serious problems i.e ‘my colleague would never respond directly to me in meetings. It made me uncomfortable and minimised and was a ‘red flag’ for their attitude towards me.

[8] ‘White Fragility’ is a term coined by author Robin DiAngelo concerning the discomfort and strong defensiveness that can arise in white people when presented with information concerning racial inequality and injustice, notably that which may have been performed by them or the organisation they are a part of. I use this term as many people are familiar with it but apply it in a more general sense of the fragility and defensiveness faced when confronting any person with inequality and injustice they are involved with.


I hope these points are a helpful starting point for anyone unfortunate enough to be experiencing a situation like this.

All constructive feedback is welcomed at or his rarely used @dsinclair17 Twitter handle.

Daryl completed his PGCE at UCLIOE and has worked in both the private and public sectors in the UK, Europe, and Asia since 2011. He completed a further MA in Development Education and Global Learning, receiving a Merit and received the 2014 Jack Petchey Award for Outstanding Leader due to Outstanding Service To Young People.

As a member of the BAME community and ally to the decolonising education movements, Daryl has experiences with different realities and expressions of work cultures, bias, discrimination, and how they intersect with people’s interpretation of his ‘identity’. Daryl hopes to share some of his knowledge and insight to support other teachers wherever they are on their journey. Daryl attempts to provide clear and applicable guidance and questions that can support the consideration and navigation of challenging scenarios that we may face during our careers. Ultimately, Daryl views culture as dynamic and knows that we are always making progress; ‘we must move forward aspirationally, intentionally moving toward the changes we want to see.’