Black Women’s Narratives of NHS Work-Based Learning: An Ethnodrama

The Difference between Rhetoric and Lived Experience

by Peggy Warren (Author)
©2019 Monographs XXIV, 118 Pages


This is an eight-scene drama portraying black women reliving their journey through higher education and work-based learning. Black women’s voices are the focus, reflecting on the complexities and dynamics of institutional power, professional exploitation, silencing, subordination and non-transformative education. A black feminist standpoint theoretical approach with an autoethnographic presentation invites the reader into the camaraderie, emotions, tears and laughter of a cohort of mature black healthcare workers engaging in a foundation degree with a promise of promotion. The author captures the voices of the women, weaves in her own account and sets the stories in fictional locations. Using cultural sayings, black philosophy and black music in a creative way, this work offers a platform from which to start discussions on black women’s labour in the NHS.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of figures
  • Foreword
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • List of abbreviations
  • Introduction
  • List of main characters
  • Scenes of the ethnodrama
  • Scene 1. The dreamers in Jamaica heading for the motherland
  • Scene 2. Black women, it’s time to break the silence
  • Scene 3. We really wanted to be nurses
  • Scene 4. Getting to grips with power
  • Scene 5. Did anyone think this through?
  • Scene 6. If only we had known
  • Scene 7. Bittersweet realisation – hope we are the last
  • Scene 8. Sankofa’s reflection and guidance
  • Postscript
  • Bibliography
  • Index

← viii | ix →


← x | xi →


This is a truly important book of relevance to all those working towards racial justice in the NHS and beyond. It describes Black women’s trajectories of work-based learning in the NHS from their perspectives, using their voices. It goes beyond simpler notions of understanding ‘lived experience’ as it presents their relived trajectories of extending their thinking, transforming their understanding and rethinking their possibilities. There are painful, moving accounts of oppression, disrespect and devaluing. It hurts to read some of the scenes. However, this is also a story of the heart-warming, inspirational, transformational relationships amongst Black women striving to change their life chances, as well as those of their wider families and communities. It is an inspirational read!

Black Women’s Narratives of NHS Work-based Learning – An Ethnodrama is as engaging as the best of novels. Simultaneously, it is a beautiful vehicle for understanding the self and others in relation to a colonial exercise of ‘power over’. Dr Peggy P. Warren has crafted classical academic data artistically, rendering this book accessible to many who would not typically engage with such a work. It meets, surpasses and transcends the requirements of academia. This book stands as a rich source of information, paradigm-shifting conception, new imaginings and decolonising possibilities. Drawing upon traditional, liberational and cultural traditions, the scenes are deeply educational as they delightfully and elegantly expound the women’s embedded and embodied ways of knowing.

These women’s experiences are, in many ways, a microcosm of the experiences of Black people throughout the NHS. For the wider system, it demonstrates how having good intentions without deep understanding is not enough. In the absence of committed, reflexive partnerships that transform aspirations and skills into reward systems, affective pedagogy and notions of a redefined organisational identity, nothing will change! The promises of equality all too often lead to fruitless activity that breaks hearts as it fails to deliver. ← xi | xii →

These women are not passive victims, but rich, resilient characters struggling to progress in the face of resistance whilst understanding that to progress, they need to learn much more than the content of the curriculum they are presented with. From the promise-filled rhetoric of widening participation policies linked to ‘upskilling and progression’, they experienced behaviours, practices and beliefs that denied and betrayed their aspirations and their humanity. What these courageous women expose through interrogating their experiences is of huge value to all those committed to addressing issues of racial inequality in the NHS and beyond.

This book highlights the need for Black (and other ‘non-traditional’) learners, to critically engage with education and development ‘opportunities’, and not submit naively to a process that compounds and reinforces their devalued realities. For them to engage critically, they need to have a narrative that effectively counters the dominant one. For them to have that narrative, they need to understand how racism and colonialism permeate unconscious (and conscious) societal processes. These processes result in a denial of their professional, social, educational, psychological and economic development. They need to underpin that narrative with knowledge of their pre-colonial civilisations and their significant and foundational contributions to human civilisation. They need to engage with the writings of the women and men who have studied and theorised strategies most capable of supporting Black progress in an often politely hostile organisational context. The message is clear for people from ‘non-traditional’ backgrounds; depending on the system without an informed critical perspective leaves one vulnerable to psychic damage.

This is a culturally vibrant book viewed through epistemic lens and motivated by relational ethics of care. As a narrative inquiry, it reflects a respectful collaboration between those who strive for basic progression in organisations and those who have achieved academic positions. Critical, self-reflexive conversations in safe places led both groups to ‘out’ their shared experiences of racism and institutional barriers to their professional progression. The message is again very clear: we can learn to love each other and strategise together in order to achieve the outcomes we deserve. ← xii | xiii →

Every Black person, every agent of change, every woman, every leader, every educator, everyone in the NHS needs to read this book.


XXIV, 118
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2019 (August)
Black women and Widening Participation ethnodrama NHS Black British Women and Work-based learning in the National Health Service Mature Black women in Higher Education Foundation Degrees
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2019. XXIV, 118 pp., 10 fig. b/w

Biographical notes

Peggy Warren (Author)

Peggy P. Warren is a transformative educator who is on her third career in the National Health Service. Most recently she has led in the areas of leadership and management development and diversity, inclusion and wellbeing. She has worked for decades in the field of work-based learning, supporting staff predominantly working in low-skilled, low-paid roles who were determined to make the most of second-chance educational opportunities. Her key research interests include black women, diversity and autoethnography. She is committed to making research accessible to wider communities and has had her research reworked for theatre production.


Title: Black Women’s Narratives of NHS Work-Based Learning: An Ethnodrama
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144 pages