Black and minority ethnic (BME) leaders are greatly under-represented in English schools compared with the number of BME pupils. This paper reports the findings from research with BME leaders in 2004–2005 and links them to insights from a systematic literature review. The paper shows that BME teachers experience many barriers in developing their careers, including family and community attitudes, unfair recruitment and selection processes, and both covert and overt discrimination. The participants in the research demonstrate qualities of determination, resilience and hard work in overcoming these barriers, leading to the conclusion that these pioneers are ‘exceptional’ people.

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