Breaking the Cycle Anti-Racist Plan: Term 1

Dwain Brandy portrait

Written by Dwain Brandy

Outstanding teacher, behaviour leader, and Race Equality ambassador. He is on a leadership journey towards becoming a Headteacher.

In 2020, I have had the opportunity to lead an Anti-Racist approach within Oasis Community Learning. The aim was to tackle institutionalised racism in and beyond our schools. Inspired by perceptions of learners, we have introduced a culturally inclusive diet that integrates multiple perspectives to topics within the National Curriculum to make it more inclusive for Global Majority learners and to ensure that whiteness is not the norm by which everything is measured. This will drive the narrative of decolonising the structures in education, focusing on Curriculum Reviews, Staff Training, CPD, Student Education, Community, and Leadership and Management.

With a wide range of different cultural backgrounds and nationalities in England, it is essential for the curriculum to reflect global society and to relate to the increasing global audience. My ethos is to implement a cultural approach that views schools through the perspective of its learners, where the intention is to challenge and change attitudes of society to accommodate an inclusive multicultural community within all schools across the UK.

It has been a challenging start to the school year, due to Covid-19 and limited time capacity to facilitate the project, where the majority of the work was completed outside of the school hours. Despite this, I’m proud to report that significant milestones have been achieved in the first term.

Curriculum Review and Adaptation

To implement an Anti-Racist, anti-oppressive and culturally inclusive diet that integrates multiple perspectives to topics within the National Curriculum to make it more inclusive for Global Majority students 

  • Audit the cultural diversity of each POS – are each POS representative of different cultures across the five years of study.  
  • Audit the teaching and learning through  an Anti-racist leans using the NEU anti-racist framework 
  • List of industry professionals , coaches and mentors that could be used for interventions via the list the race trust (launch term 2)
  • Initial meeting with Black and Global History trail, in conjunction with the UOM and the Heritage fund. UOM will find local trail blazers for core subjects (Maths, English and Science) with the aim of including these within the lessons. https://www.heritagefund.org.uk/hub/107833/news?page=9
  • Review the PSHE curriculum based on the feedback from students 
  • Anti-Racist training in conjunction with Kids of Colour and resources provided by theracetrust.org and MUSA to provide a framework lessons and a framework for the lessons 
  • Opportunity to discuss issue relating to race, politics, culture and identity with teaching staff chairing the conversations , addressing any misconceptions 
  • Diversity day, launching an racist agenda at oasis academy media city (rolled over to term 2)
  • Ensure that all cultural events are included in the calendar- for example refugee week, Diwali, Eid, Chinese new year, Wind rush day .  Robust plan for Black History Month. Use the OCL equality and diversity calendar as a framework for upcoming events.
  • Website, School Newsletters, Photos around the academy, class rooms,

Staff Training and CPD

Staff to become diversity champions, becoming experienced in an anti-racist and anti-oppressive pedagogy

  • Build in education of diversity into the yearly CPD programme.
  • Deliver a session on being diversity champions as staff
  • Anti-Racist Working party group (meeting termly)
  • Kids of colour Anti-racist training (Booked in for half term 2)
  • MUSA training introduction with all staff (Booked in for half term 2)
  • Breaking the cycle anti-racist training launch DBR

Student Education

Targeted interventions for Black and Global majority students

Review the area of concern (e.g. Careers / subject area) that needs intervention.

  • Subject specific interventions
  • Weekly / Fortnightly 1:1 tutorials with the university of Manchester and Aim Higher for Black students  interested in Optometry, Dentistry and Physics. Following students to be allocated a community mentor to hold them accountable (next term)   
  • Regular meetings with students that have been involved in racist attacks on other students. Far right extremism / anti-racism interventions Small little steps anti-racist training https://smallstepsconsultants.com/
  • Follow up Interventions focused on the impact of Hate Crime via The race Trust / Kids of colour 
  • Student ambassadors. Focused on an anti-racist approach and community cohesion  via the race Trust (Next term) 
  • Student voice (Half Termly Termly) 

Leadership and Management

Critically Review existing school policy through the lens of Black and Global Majority Learners

  • Racist incidents  is 3 days in Internal exclusion that could lead to a Fixed Term Exclusion 
  • Return to school meeting with parents and SLT
  • Incident is referred to the police, social services 
  • Repeat offenders will be Fixed Term Excluded
  • MUSA anti-racist course 6 week course to be completed 
  • Amended Anti-Racist section in the home school agreement for parents and staff to sign 

 

Community: Term 1

  • Weekly meetings with the community strategy response team
  • Collaborations with local anti-racist organisations (e.g., Anne Frank Trust, The Race Trust, Kids of Colour) 
  • Weekly meetings with the community strategy response team (Neighbourhood development officers, Salford Youth Service, Local Agencies focused on online safety , Crime and Anti-Social Behaviour Update from the local PCSO’s)

Next Steps

  • Review existing performance management content and include a target aligned with becoming an anti-racist school
  • Audit of racial indents sanctions and restorative interventions
  • Name Blind recruitment process when appointing of  new staff 
  • Positive discrimination focused on the recruitment of Good/ outstanding BGM practitioners  
  • BGM representation on the OCL equivalent of the Board of governors 
  • Clear recruitment to leadership progression for BGM teachers

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How to Talk with Children and Young People about Race and Racism

Sarah Soyei portrait

Written by Sarah Soyei

Head of Strategy and Development, EqualiTeach

The murder of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer and the subsequent protests against systemic racism and oppression will be impacting heavily on children in the UK. 

Children will be encountering information via the media, family and friends. There can be a temptation to try to shield them from complex and difficult issues, to turn off the television and shut down conversations. However, even young children will have often absorbed more than adults realise, and older children will be encountering disturbing images and text on social media. All need space to interrogate their thoughts and feelings.

Some tips for talking about race equality and racism are outlined below: 

Start from a Young Age

There can be a belief that young people don’t notice difference and that speaking about diversity and race will introduce issues where they had not previously existed. However, in reality, small babies are aware of differences in skin colour and children as young as three start to use racial cues as a basis of categorising people. Talking with young children about diversity will help them to value differences and reject prejudice and develop positive attitudes about themselves and people unlike themselves.

There are lots of lovely board books which introduce the ideas of celebrating difference such as: Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers, which has beautiful illustrations by Marla Frazee showing babies doing all the things they do best- sleeping, laughing, playing, crawling, and which represents a wide array of different families.

Ensuring that there is a diverse representation of people in books, toys and games, such as dolls, jigsaws and dressing up items introduces children to diversity and creates opportunities for conversation. 

Promoting Race Equality is not about being Colour-blind. 

Someone’s skin colour is a signifier of their history and a key part of their identity. As Kerry Washington says: 

“I’m not interested in living in a world where my race is not a part of who I am. I am interested in living in a world where our races, no matter what they are, don’t define our trajectory in life.”

If adults avoid speaking about difference, then children can erroneously grow up believing that it is rude to mention someone’s skin colour. 

Don’t Silence Children’s Questions

Don’t give a negative message by trying to silence children and not answering their questions. Young children are naturally curious about the world and differences between people. If children are told to be quiet and the subject is not something to be talked about, they will draw their own conclusions that being different is somehow embarrassing or shameful. Use questions as an insight into the child’s world and an opportunity to open up conversations. 

Talk about Similarities and Differences

Allow children the opportunity to discuss differences between people: skin colours, hair textures, facial features, temperaments and abilities, family structures and relationships, but also focus on similarities. Across ethnicities, countries and cultures there are things we all share: our common humanity, our concern for others, our need to be loved, our need to eat and sleep and play and have a home and clothes – all of which can be different and valued in their different forms.  Avoid stereotypes and generalisations; remember there is huge diversity within every ethnicity, country and culture. 

Start from Where Young People are

Young people need the opportunity to explore their emotions and learn coping mechanisms. Providing a safe environment to help children talk about issues and understand what is going on will help them navigate any confusion, distress and worries they may be experiencing.

Ask children open questions about what they know, what they’ve seen and what questions they have. This allows you to pitch the conversation at the right level,  avoiding over-complicated explanations, which could increase worry and confusion, or pitching it too low and leaving out important issues because you think that children aren’t aware of them.

Avoid exacerbating fears and upset by using graphic images or images of people in distress. If children are focussed on a specific incident or event, broaden the conversation, ask them questions such as ’How do you think the people were feeling?’ and  ‘What do you do when you think something is unfair?’. Help them to understand the wider societal context of what is happening to allow them to build empathy and understanding.

Challenge Stereotypes and Prejudice

Sometimes children may say something which is biased or prejudiced. Use open non-judgemental questions, such as ‘What do you mean by that?’ or ‘What makes you say that?’ to find out what they meant by the statement and allow them the opportunity to question what their opinions are based upon. Provide them with an alternative viewpoint and help them to recognise stereotypes and explore the difference between neutral and emotive language, fact and opinion. 

Never leave racism unchallenged, use incidents as an opportunity to educate. 

Promote Positive Action

Young people can feel helpless in the face of big world issues such as racism, but there is lots that they can do to create positive change, including raising or donating money, challenging racism and raising awareness amongst their peers, sharing content on social media, creating films and blogs, and writing to newspapers and MPs. Young people have a voice and should be empowered to use it. 

You Don’t Need to Have all the Answers

Take the time to read and educate yourself as much as possible, but there will always be times where you don’t know the answer to a question. Admitting that you are unsure is a much more positive approach than imparting information which is inaccurate. You can research answers together, which not only ensures that children are receiving accurate information but also teaches them the value of research and how to research for information in a safe and effective way.

A selection of books which provide a platform for discussions on racism are outlined below. 

My World, Your World by Melanie Walsh 

Age 1-3

A brightly coloured book celebrating the similarities and differences between people. 

What’s the Difference? By Doyin Richards

Age 3-5

A book about seeing and celebrating difference and recognising that the most important things are what we can do together as friends, families and communities.

A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara

Age 3-7

A colourful ABC board-book full of rhymes, and pictures with a cat to find on every page, this book helps to raise children to be conscious of activism, environmental justice, civil rights, LGBTQ rights and more! 

Racism and Intolerance by Louise Spilsbury and Hanane Kai

Age 5-8

A beautiful picture book that explores what racism and intolerance are and how they affect children all over the world

Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged by Jody Nyasha Warner and Richard Rudnicki

Age 5-9

The true story of Viola Desmond who refused to move from her seat in a movie theatre in Nova Scotia in 1946. She was arrested, charged and fined, but continued to fight for equality, inspiring others and raising awareness of the injustice of racial segregation. An important story written and illustrated for young people. 

What is Race? Who are Racists? Why Does Skin Colour Matter? And Other Big Questions by Claire Heuchen and Nikesh Shukla 

Age 10-13

An accessible exploration of the history of race and society, being. It looks at belonging and identity, the damaging effects of stereotyping, the benefits of positive representation and how to protect against and stop racist behaviour.

A Change is Gonna Come by Various Authors

Age 13+ 

This book is a collective of stories and poetry from Black, Asian and other Minority Ethnic authors, all on the theme of change. The stories are as diverse as their authors! 

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Age 13+

Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping story of a teenage girl’s struggle for justice.  

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman

Age 13+

A series of books exploring race, superiority and love through a world where black people (Crosses) have superiority over white people (Noughts). 

“I will not be erased” by gal-dem

Age 13+

gal-dem is an award-winning online and print magazine written by women and non-binary people of colour. “I will not be erased” is a collection of essays from gal-dem writers, using raw material from their teenage years, to share stories of growing up as people of colour.

These books specifically focus on race equality and racism. However, it is vital that this is not the only form in which young people encounter black people in literature. Make sure that children and young people have access to a wide array of literature which includes black histories and stories.  Some top tips for building a diverse and inclusive bookshelf:

  • Consider the authors: do you have books by a range of authors with different characteristics, backgrounds and experiences?
  • Consider the protagonists: are the main characters in your books all white? Do they fulfil stereotypical roles? 
  • Consider the story: will this story bring something new and different to the child reading it? Will it share a new experience, teach something about a different culture or country, or alternatively will it help to celebrate an important part of their own identity? A great bookshelf will offer all of these!

Some great independent book sellers and online services who stock and recommend a diverse range of books:

Knights Of: a bookshop and movement to support diverse authors 

Jacaranda Books: an independent publisher ‘with a dedication to creating space on the bookshelf for diverse ideas and writers.’ 

Little Box of Books: a book subscription service delivering boxes of inclusive and representative books for families and schools. 

Letterbox Library: A children’s booksellers celebrating equality and diversity. 

Tamarind Books: Now part of Puffin books, Tamarind has championed diversity in children’s publishing since 1987, helping to make sure children of all cultures and ethnicities have the chance to see themselves in stories and books.

The Willesden Bookshop: Supplies multicultural books for schools and libraries.


EqualiTeach delivers workshops for young people and adult training on all issues of equality including on race and racism. Find out more here or get in touch.

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Adapted and Inclusive sport. It’s not just about disability

Steve Morley portrait

Written by Steve Morley

Inclusion teacher, Activity Alliance Tutor, Author, Educator, Public Speaker, and Mental Health Advocate.

I passionately believe in Inclusion. First and foremost, rather than an assumption that able bodied people do one thing and people with a disability do something else. Inclusion is very much “my thing” and one way I try to achieve it is through sport. 

My vision is to see more disabled and able-bodied people playing sport together and my mission is to bring mixed ability events and inclusion to every school sports day.

In conversations with heads of sport from a number of schools, I’ve been discussing how some children find sports challenging. Working in schools my coaches and I use inclusive and adapted activities to encourage children to explore their attitudes about the nature of sport i.e. winning, taking part, competition and having fun. Many of the teaching staff applaud what we do. I often hear comments like, “I think it’s great that you are encouraging disable children into sport”, “Brilliant, disabled youngsters should have the same opportunities as other children”. However, I occasionally hear a remark along the lines of “It’s not really suitable for us since we don’t have any disabled children at our school”. 

I believe that adapted and inclusive sport is not just appropriate for traditional models of disability. The definition of Inclusion is – the action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure. 

So, what about the “non-disabled” child or young person who is un-coordinated, overweight, too tall, too small, not strong enough, not quick enough, can’t seem to hit the ball, kick the ball, catch the ball? A recent survey about why some people hated sports listed at number five that – it reminded them of childhood trauma. Their argument being that a bad youthful experience with sports affected them permanently. 

I’m sure we all know people who dreaded sports days and would have given anything to avoid the PE class. By using adaptive, inventive and inclusive activities we can often engage with children who are not drawn to, or naturally good at, mainstream and traditional sports.

To reiterate my vision, I am seeking to achieve not just more disabled and able bodied people playing sport together but to bring mixed ability events and inclusion to every school sports day; I want all children to experience the joy that taking part in sport can bring, the connections that can be made, the sense of accomplishment and the feeling of being part of something bigger. 

Most importantly, I want to take the dread out of sport and by making it “Inclusive”, make it FUN for all!

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A Rare Breed: The Lesser-Spotted Black Male Teacher

Adrian McLean portrait

Written by Adrian McLean

Education leader | Former Headteacher | Governors for Schools Trustee | Positive Disruptor

Diversity and equity is something that anyone reading this, I am sure wholeheartedly believes in, visualises and works towards creating in our education system and society. I am an advocate of all of the protected characteristics, and work to challenge the systemic prejudices we all face. My views are through the lens and experiences of a Black male in the English education system. For clarity, when I refer to Black in this blog, I am specifically talking about my Black Caribbean and my government defined White/Black Caribbean heritage. This blog shares some thoughts and musings on why there are so few Black male teachers. 

 

Firstly, we need to examine some statistics to understand how stark the reality is. The latest School Workforce data statistics (2019) show there are approximately 500,000 teachers in England. Using my Black Caribbean descendancy as a marker, the stats say there are 4889 teachers who identified in this category. Using the more accurate descriptor for my background – White/Black Caribbean- this figure comes in at 1741! 

 

When interrogating further, there is no breakdown of how these figures are then represented by gender. What I can tell you from the data provided, is there are approximately 379,000 female teachers compared to 121,000 male teachers. 4889 Black Caribbean teachers… 1740 other White/Black Caribbean teachers… 6630 (quick maths!) people who identified as appearing similar to me, of a population of 500,000 across 23,323 schools? Additionally,  that figure represents both male and females! What? Really? I am not a genius, however, it points to the probability of there being very few male Black Caribbean or White/Black Caribbean teachers. Couple this with my 20 year career in West Midlands schools where I have worked alongside less than a handful of males who look like me. 

 

If you have heard me speak, you will have heard me talk about the importance of visible role models to our young people and ‘usualising’ the presence of all people from protected characteristics in positions of authority. Representation matters. It matters to all children! My #DiverseEd Pledge  from 14/06/2020 is to continue to help, support and grow the number of Black males (from all denominations of Black) in teaching and Senior Leadership. However, 7 months on, the realisation struck me… are we treating the symptom rather than the cause? 

 

The London Development Agency commissioned a study (2004) on the educational experiences and achievements of Black boys in London schools 2000-2003, the authors of the report called for an increase in the proportion of ‘Black Minority Ethnic teachers within the educational system’. Logically, this makes sense… except right now, this is, in my opinion, a pipedream. Let me explain my theory. The experience of Black Caribbean and White/Black Caribbean male students in school is well documented. We all know about the vast over-representation of these young men in being permanently excluded (latest figures are 0.25 and 0.24%, respectively) are only exceeded by students from a Gypsy Roma background (0.27% which is also a travesty!). To me, it is obvious that the lack of Black Caribbean and White/Black Caribbean males in the profession directly correlates to the negative school experience countless reports and reviews have revealed. It is part of one big negative cycle which drives Black males away from education. 

 

From Bernard Coard’s (1971) study of how the British education system failed Black boys or the government sponsored Rampton Report (1981), which recognised the existence of racism in the British education system, through to the work of Maud Blair (2001), is that a high proportion of Black boys find their educational experience to be negative. All of these studies’ findings were perfectly brought to life in Small Axe: Education by Steve McQueen, where he made the audience feel the very real process of placing Black Caribbean children into special schools because they were disruptive or had not scored well on a ‘I.Q. test’. Education has been doing the same thing for 50 years. I’ll say that again… FIFTY YEARS! Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. 

 

Ofsted (1999) stated Black boys in primary school achieved close to the average on entry to secondary school. However, by the end of year eleven they became amongst the lowest achievers. This mirrors my own experience at secondary school… labelled with low expectations, despite being smarter than your average. Frustratingly, we are still no further along a quarter of a century later! So what changes? Is 11 the age when Black males transform from being capable, engaged students, into troublesome tyrants? Or are other factors at play?

 

Trying to specifically recruit more Black male teachers is going to be difficult when the school, and education experience is, on the whole, not a pleasant one for this demographic. When I ask my school friends and acquaintances about school, they tell me it was the worst time of their life. They didn’t fit. Told they were trouble. Told they were stupid. Labelled. Written off. Put in their place. They say ‘Why would I want to be anywhere near a system that does that to our people?’ The roles offered in schools to this demographic are stereotypically of a pastoral nature. Roles that often leave you helpless in being able to help those you set out to. 

 

You may ask, well how do we improve the educational experience for these young people? There are many tributaries that are required to come together to form the ocean that is Diversity and Equity. Diversifying the curriculum, real measures being put in place to address socio-economic disadvantage, acknowledgement and extensive work on unconscious bias to address misconceptions of behaviour and attitude issues. Work with our communities around toxic masculinity, a stereotype that is persistently put forward and perpetuated in Black communities. This is not an exclusive list, there are many more tributaries that also flow into the mix. 

 

My Jamaican grandfather would always say “Heel nevah go before toe”, and as usual, his wisdom seems apt in this situation. For us to be able to walk tall and true, we must place the heel first (school experience) before we place the toe (more Black male teachers in the profession).  Improve the school experience, the perception of education for Black males will change. Once the perception changes, education becomes an opportunity rather than a threat. The realisation of that opportunity is what I believe will be the change I, and so many others, so passionately work to see. 

 

On that note, I will leave you with 2, some may say rhetorical questions, and a third to ponder more deeply: 

 

Are we trying to treat the symptom rather than the cause? 

 

Do we need to remedy the experience of school for these young people to break the cycle? 

 

How can you be part of influencing this change?

 

References:

 

Blair, M. (2001), Why Pick on Me? School Exclusion and Black Youth, Stoke on Trent, Trentham. 

 

Coard, B. (1971), How the West Indian Child is made educationally subnormal in the British school system: the scandal of the Black child in schools in Britain, London, New Beacon for the Caribbean Education and Community Workers Association.

 

London Development Agency, (2004), The Educational Experiences and Achievements of Black Boys in London Schools, London, LDA. 

 

OfSTED, (1999), Raising the Attainment of Minority Ethnic pupils, London, Ofsted publications.

 

Rampton, A. (1981), West Indian children in our schools: interim report of the Committee of inquiry into the education of children from ethnic minority groups, London, HMSO.

 

School Workforce In England, Reporting Year 2019. [online] Available at: <https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/find-statistics/school-workforce-in-england> [Accessed 16 January 2021].

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Understanding and Challenging Microaggressions

Sarah Soyei portrait

Written by Nasreen D'Agostino

Youth Education Officer, EqualiTeach

“You Don’t LOOK Like You’re Gay!”: Understanding and Challenging Microaggressions. 

Although the term ‘microaggressions’ has been around for some time, it is emerging more regularly in conversations as people increase their efforts to engage in discussions surrounding bias and privilege as a result of movements such as Black Lives Matter. Therefore, it seems more pertinent than ever to understand what this word really means and the harm that microaggressions can cause.

What is a Microaggression?

The term “microaggression” has been defined by Columbia professor Dr Sue to refer to,

brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioural, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.” (Sue DW, et al., (2007). 

In other words, microaggressions are remarks, questions and actions which are based on assumptions about marginalised groups. Microaggressions can be based on many aspects of someone’s identity, including gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, religion and race. They can be masked as compliments but are often laced with negative undertones. They can be experienced at work, school, whilst shopping, receiving health care and even at the dinner table among family members. Microaggressions can ignite feelings of alienation, hurt and frustration in those who experience them because they are so frequently and casually deployed. 

Microaggressions can be packaged in such a subtle way that they can be seen as innocuous, and dismissed as less harmful than more overt acts of prejudice. However, microaggressions are founded upon a the very same set of generalisations and assumptions that underpin overt acts. For example, saying to someone ‘you don’t look like you’re gay!’ is linked to assumptions about Lesbian, gay and bisexual people and an idea that there is only one ‘set way’ of being gay. People who express microaggressions are not necessarily doing so with bad intent, but that is not a get out of jail free card. It is important to accept that microaggressions are harmful, to interrogate underlying biases and to explore how they can influence attitudes and behaviours towards marginalised groups or individuals. 

What are some common microaggressions that people face?

Let’s look at five common microaggressions and examine the assumptions and stereotypes they perpetuate, and what could be said instead: 

1/ To a disabled person: “I think you’re so inspiring!”

🗶 This can be patronising. Disabled people do not need to be uplifted, validated or given constant reassurances.

Say nothing! Treat disabled people with the same dignity and respect you would treat non-disabled people and that is all that’s needed. 

2/ To people of colour: “Where are you actually from?”

🗶 This can seem like an innocent question but when consistently asked to people of colour it is a constant reminder that you are not accepted as being really British by your white counterparts. This can make people feel othered and as though they do not belong.

People may wish to share their heritage at a time that is appropriate and when they feel comfortable to do so. Everyone has a history and family background to share, so consider who is being asked the question and why it’s being asked. 

3/ To someone with a ‘foreign’ name: “Don’t you have a nickname, I’m never going to remember that”

🗶 This is extremely damaging, especially when directed at young people. Since so much of our identity is wrapped up in our names, having this stripped away is extremely hurtful. 

Always take the time to learn how to pronounce new names. Write names down phonetically if you are finding a name particularly hard to remember or pronounce. 

4/ To a female colleague: “You look so young!”

🗶 Not only can this undermine your colleague’s authority, but it also assumes that the most desirable characteristics a woman can have are those linked to her appearance, rather than those linked to her skills and character – in a professional setting this is particularly damaging. 

It is fine to compliment someone’s skills or ideas but refrain from commenting on looks as this is very personal.

5/ To people of colour: “You’re really articulate!”

🗶 This comment implies that most people of colour are not articulate, well-spoken or educated.

It is fine to compliment someone’s skills or ideas but commenting on the way someone speaks is unnecessary.

What are the harms of microaggressions?

Some who are sceptical of the validity of microaggressions claim that it is just people being ‘too sensitive’. However, research has shown that microaggressions, ‘although seemingly small and sometimes innocent offenses, can take a real psychological toll on the mental health of their recipients.’ (Harris, 2015). Microaggressions can make environments seem hostile, thus affecting performance and wellbeing.

They can make people feel:

  • Frustrated
  • Drained
  • Uncomfortable
  • ‘Othered’
  • Alone
  • Angry
  • Lesser
  • Demoralised
  • Unwelcome
  • Patronised

No matter how seemingly confident or self-assured someone might be, being subjected to constant assumptions and put downs based on your identity is going to take its toll. 

How can I stop expressing microaggressions?

Since microaggressions are expressions of deeply held bias which people can often be blind to, it requires a willingness to reflect and engage to unearth them. With greater understanding and awareness of these biases, people can choose not to act on them. Here are some tips for thwarting microaggressions:

i) Be constantly aware of your biases and scrutinise them. This requires internal reflection and honest conversations with yourself which might make you feel uncomfortable at first.

ii) Stop and think before you comment on an aspect of someone’s identity. Bear in mind that microaggressions are often unnecessary comments which can be easily avoided as they serve no real purpose in conversation. 

iii) Don’t say or do things based on assumptions or bias. If you think that your comment or action may perpetuate a stereotype about a certain group of people, then do not act upon this impulse.

iv) Listen and be open if someone calls out your use of a microaggression. A commitment to unlearning microaggressions is a journey, not an overnight process, therefore demonstrating a willingness to increase your understanding and knowledge will benefit you in the long run. 

What should I do if I experience or witness microaggressions? 

  • Ask for clarification as to what was meant –Asking for clarification can help someone to go on their own journey and consider the underlying assumptions and messages in their question, comment or action. 
  • Share the impact of what has been said/done – help someone to recognise the perspective of the target and the detrimental impact of what has taken place.
  • Share your learning – we are all on a journey, speaking to someone about how you have previously got things wrong and the learning that you have undertaken can make the challenge less confrontational and support someone on their own learning journey.

The battle against microaggressions can be extremely draining for the target of incidents. Therefore, it is everybody’s duty to challenge inappropriate comments and behaviours, to reduce that burden, create environments where there are no bystanders and where everyone feels safe, included and supported. 

 

EqualiTeach offer staff training (delivered online via Zoom) on equality, diversity and inclusion, including covering topics such as microaggressions, unconscious bias and privilege. Find out more here or get in touch.

 

Bibliography:

Sue DW, et al., (2007), Racial microaggressions in everyday life: implications for clinical practice, Abstract).

Harris, (2015), Vox.com, ‘What exactly is a microaggression?’ https://www.vox.com/2015/2/16/8031073/what-are-microaggressions 

Kendi, I (2019) How to be an Antiracist. London: Penguin Random House. 

Williams, T (2019) Psychology Today: Responding to Microaggressions: Safety First. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/culturally-speaking/201909/responding-microaggressions-safety-first

Wood, J and Harris, F (2020) Diverse Education: How to Respond to Racial Microaggressions When They Occur. https://diverseeducation.com/article/176397/

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Coronavirus lockdown: radicalisation upturn?

Kate Hollinshead portrait

Written by Kate Hollinshead

Head of Operations, EqualiTeach

As the world continues to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, there is increased concern that the situation will give rise to more people being drawn into extremism. The closure of schools and youth groups has meant the closure of support networks for young people, isolation from friendship groups and increased use of the internet, often unsupervised. Those adults trained to identify the possible risk indicators of a young person being drawn into extremism – teachers, healthcare staff and social workers – are no longer spending as much time with the young people in their care. With fewer people to identify the risks and with the knowledge of where and how to access support, it is no surprise that there has been a decline in Prevent referrals since the beginning of lockdown in March (Jones, 2020). Young people’s vulnerability to the messaging of extremist groups is further exacerbated by the fear and uncertainty the pandemic has brought to their lives. In March, young people’s texting service Shout reported that 25% of the messages they received were now about coronavirus and research by YoungMinds found that the pandemic has had a profound effect on the mental health of those under 25 with pre-existing mental health conditions (Venema, 2020). 

To add to the concerns, extremist groups are actively exploiting the vulnerabilities of young people and the pandemic in general. Islamist extremist groups such as Al Qaeda and so-called Islamic State have used their propaganda vehicles to call for a change of venue for attacks, suggesting attacks on hospitals treating COVID-19 patients would have a greater impact at the moment, hoping to take advantage of over-burdened security forces and vulnerable health care systems. In addition, both extremist groups have suggested that coronavirus is ‘the wrath of Allah’ and damage to Western governments and economies should be celebrated (EPC, 2020). Al Qaeda publications are encouraging non-Muslims to use this time as an opportunity to learn more about their extreme interpretation of Islam (EPC, 2020) and it is thought that rising unemployment, strict quarantine measures and lockdown fatigue are key ingredients for online grooming tactics. While little is yet known about the full motivations behind Khairi Saadallah’s murder of three men in Reading in June, investigations are taking place to determine whether he was influenced by online material and whether this had taken place during the lockdown period (Sengupta & Dearden, 2020). 

Far-right groups suggest that governments are using the pandemic to divert people’s attention away from migration issues, have blamed ethnic minority communities for the spread of the disease (EPC, 2020), and have celebrated reports of disproportionately high numbers of black and ethnic minority people dying from coronavirus in the UK (Dearden, 2020). The Commission for Countering Extremism has recently found that far-right activists and neo-Nazi groups are encouraging followers to deliberately infect Jewish people and Muslims with coronavirus (Dearden, 2020). Conspiracy theories such as China or the US being to blame for coronavirus, or that the pandemic is a hoax created by governments have been utilised and perpetuated by groups. The newly formed UK Freedom Movement attempted to instigate mass protests against lockdown, their stance against which has been fuelled by their distrust of traditional media outlets and the government. Leaders used social media platforms, such as Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Telegram to encourage people to join their protest (Sabbagh, 2020). Indeed, there is some evidence to suggest that traffic to far-right sites has grown. The Institute for Strategic Dialogue has reported that the user base of an international white supremacist Telegram channel focussing on coronavirus grew from 300 to 2,700 people in a month (Sabbagh, 2020).

However, it is important to acknowledge that young people can stumble across information on mainstream internet and social media sites without actively seeking it. YouTube is now young people’s most popular source of news and young people now watch more YouTube than live television (BBC, 2019). This, combined with the knowledge that YouTube algorithms recommend increasingly more alternative and extreme videos the longer the user watches, which is exacerbated in turn by videos autoplaying one after another, means that it is hard to deny YouTube’s role in young people being drawn into extremism. And while some social media sites are working hard to remove extreme content when it is uploaded, the pandemic has generated a flurry of misinformation which has been hard to keep up with. The Centre for Countering Digital Hate has recently found that social media platforms are removing less than one in 10 posts spreading misinformation about coronavirus, including far-right and Islamist extremist conspiracy theories (Dearden, 2020 (2)). 

The far-right have also utilised the recent outrage at the murder of George Floyd and ensuing Black Lives Matter protests to propagate white supremacist narratives online. Police forces have confirmed that there has been a rise in political activity in direct response to the Black Lives Matter protests (Townsend, 2020). In June a Burnley FC supporter, who had previously been pictured with the English Defence League’s Tommy Robinson, flew a plane with the banner ‘White Lives Matter’ over a Premier League match. The far-right have also conducted counter-demonstrations to the Black Lives Matter protests, encouraging people to join them by perpetuating ideas that their identity is under threat, stirring up community tensions and providing drink and adrenaline at a time when young people have not been able to socialise.   

While police, security forces and schools remain resolute in their fight against radicalisation and extremism, this upsurge comes at a time when authorities are already under immense pressure. Official guidance suggests that if someone has a concern about a young person being at risk, they should visit the Let’s Talk About It website http://www.ltai.info/ for more information and help. Some other useful websites are below:

  • Childline: www.childline.org.uk/info-advice/your-feelings/anxiety-stress-panic/worries-about-the-world 
  • Educate against Hate: educateagainsthate.com/
  • NSPCC: www.nspcc.org.uk/keeping-children-safe/online-safety
  • Parent Info: https://parentinfo.org/
  • ParentZone: www.parentzone.org.uk
  • Thinkuknow: www.thinkuknow.co.uk/ 
  • UK Safer Internet Centre: www.saferinternet.org.uk

In addition, EqualiTeach has put together an e-learning course to help people understand the threat of far-right extremism, providing knowledge, skills and confidence to support people to understand what extremist groups to look out for, how they recruit online, what the possible indicators of someone being drawn into extremism are and how to access advice and support. 

‘Protecting Young People from Radicalisation and Far-Right Extremism’ is accessible here: https://elearning.equaliteach.co.uk/courses/Protecting-Young-People-from-Radicalisation-and-Far-Right-Extremism 

We also have an e-learning course which supports parents/carers to help children and young people to think critically about fake news and prejudice, accessible free of charge here: https://elearning.equaliteach.co.uk/courses/helping-children-to-think-critically-about-fake-news-and-prejudice 

Please contact EqualiTeach to find out more about the consultancy services, workshops and training that we provide to further safeguard young people from the harms of extremism: Rachel Elgy, Business Development Manager: rachel@equaliteach.co.uk 

 

Bibliography:

European Policy Centre (2020) In Chaos they thrive: The resurgence of extremist and terrorist groups. http://www.epc.eu/en/Publications/In-chaos-they-thrive-The-resurgence-of-extremist-and-terrorist-group~32c800

Sengupta, K and Dearden, L (2020) in The Independent. Reading Terror Attack: Libyan Suspect May Have Considered travelling Abroad to Join Islamist Group, Security Sources Say. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/khairi-saadallah-uk-police-terrorism-isis-prevent-a9578031.html

Jones, H (2020) in Metro. Fears that lockdown is increasing online radicalisation amongst young people https://metro.co.uk/2020/05/13/fears-lockdown-increasing-online-radicalisation-among-young-people-12698499/

Venema, V (2020) BBC. Coronavirus: ‘It’s just anxiety, anxiety, anxiety’ https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/stories-52110460

Dearden, L (2020) in The Independent. Neo-Nazis telling followers to ‘deliberately infect’ Jews and Muslims with coronavirus, report warns https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/neo-nazis-coronavirus-jews-muslims-racism-antisemitism-islamophobia-a9608851.html

Sabbagh, D (2020) in The Guardian. Police vow to break up two anti-lockdown protests in UK cities. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/may/14/police-vow-to-break-up-planned-anti-lockdown-protests-in-uk-cities

BBC (2019) YouTube is most-watched platform for young people, report says. https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/49261194

Dearden, L (2020) (2) in The Independent. Coronavirus: Social media firms only taking down one in 10 posts reported for ‘dangerous’ misinformation, research finds. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/coronavirus-social-media-misinformation-facebook-twitter-a9547446.html

Townsend, M (2020) in The Guardian. Far-right thugs exploit Black Lives Matter movement, warns UK anti-extremism chief. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/28/far-right-thugs-exploit-black-lives-matter-movement-warns-uk-anti-extremism-chief

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Diverse Educators: A Manifesto

Hannah Wilson portrait

Written by Hannah Wilson

Founder of Diverse Educators

In August 2020, at the end of the first UK lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19, Bennie and I sat in the sun in my garden, down the road from the school that we had started together a few years previous and we drafted a proposal for a book. We had met through Twitter and #WomenEd 5 years before that, we were both English teachers and secondary school leaders, we are both feminists who are passionate about diversity, equity and inclusion in the school system. When I secured my headship, Bennie applied to my Deputy Headteacher, and led on our values-based  curriculum with diversity and equality embedded across it. A regular topic of conversation in the time we worked together was about the books we were reading and the books we were going to write, individually and together. We knew it would happen one day! 

 

Many of you will know that Bennie is the reason Diverse Educators was started, she came to my office one day and shared her frustration with me at having to split herself multiple ways to go to different events each weekend to explore her intersectional identity. I checked my privilege as a heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied white woman and reflected on this. We discussed the idea of hosting one event and inviting the communities from #WomenEd, #BAMEEd, #LGBTed and #DisabilityEd to come together, at the same time, under one roof to have a joined up conversation about identity. Our inaugural Diverse Educators event was in January 2018, at which #LGBTed officially launched  and Bennie closed the grassroots event with a powerful message: ‘Don’t Tuck in Your Labels’. 

 

Fast forward three years and Bennie is now a Deputy Headteacher at an all-through school where she is leading on curriculum and I am working independently as a Leadership Development Consultant, Facilitator and Coach specialising in diversity, equity and inclusion. We launched the Diverse Educators website, with the help of our partners, in the middle of a global pandemic in response to the spotlight on racial inequities, and the amplification of Black Lives Matters, triggered by George Floyd’s murder. At our first virtual event in June 2020, we were joined by over thirteen thousand people. 

 

The world has finally woken up to the need for social justice, society can no longer ignore it and the school system can no longer not prioritise the urgent need to embed the diversity, equity and inclusion agenda strategically into our schools. Bennie has recently published her first book: A Little Guide For Teachers: Diversity in Schools and we are now inviting the #DiverseEd community to lean in and contribute to our book: Diverse Educators: A Manifesto.    

 

Our book will be structured, like our website, around the Equalities Act. There will be ten chapters, one for each of the nine Protected Characteristics (Age; Disability; Gender Reassignment; Pregnancy and Maternity; Marriage and Civil Partnership; Race; Religion and Belief; Sex; Sexual Orientation) with a tenth chapter exploring intersectionality.

 

Each chapter will have a chapter editor who will work with ten contributors offering a multiplicity of perspectives on the protected characteristic being explored in the chapter. Each submission will be 1200-1500 words long. Each contributor will interweave personal and professional narrative, framed in theory, to respond to current and historic debates. The chapter editor will write the introduction to the chapter to give context and to frame the chapter’s narratives, arguments and provocations.  

 

We are committed to capturing the collective voice of our community and to showcasing the diverse lived experiences of educators. We are keen for Diverse Educators: A Manifesto to be both academic and accessible. You can review the style guide here. We intend for the book to be solutions-focused with high-quality input on practice, pedagogy, people management and policy. 

We would love to hear from you if you would like to contribute. You can submit an expression of interest here. Thank you in advance for your time, energy, experience, expertise and support in contributing to our #DiverseEd book, we are looking forward to celebrating the collective commitment and amplifying your voice. 

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Sequencing a decolonised curriculum: using Picower’s six elements

Terra Glowach portrait

Written by Terra Glowach

Lead Practitioner for literacy and decolonising the curriculum at Cathedral Schools Trust in Bristol

I entered the classroom with the conviction that it was crucial for me and every other student to be an active participant, not a passive consumer…education that connects the will to know with the will to become. ― Bell Hooks

 

One mistake I’ve made over and over again: teaching traumatic events in history without understanding the need to embed them within a wider, and more empowering, social-historical narrative.

 

Picower’s work on the six elements of social justice has helped me understand the importance of sequencing, so that

 

  1. students do not internalise the trauma of these events, and /or
  2. see these events as the fault or inevitable condition of the victims’ existence
  3. nor do these events define a people as powerless, voiceless, or lacking agency

 

Picower’s work is open source so that teachers can access it. And unlike most EEF research, it is qualitative – looking into case-studies of elementary curriculum sequencing – to examine the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of teaching material that addresses social injustice. The American elementary context is only problematic in the respect that Secondary teachers may need to collaborate across disciplines whereas Primary teachers have more flexibility within their own practice. This limitation aside, Picower’s work is game changing for middle and senior leaders with curriculum development responsibilities.

 

Her six steps for sequencing material related to social injustice are as follows:

 

  1. Self love and knowledge: “provides students with the historical background knowledge to recognize the strengths and resiliency of their communities.”
  2. Respect for others: “students gain respect for the history and characteristics of people different from themselves. By building on the natural empathy of children, teachers encourage students to care about “unfair” conditions that have affected others.”
  3. Issues of social injustice: “a critical examination of how identities impact people’s lived and material conditions. Students explore historical and current issues of social injustice, allowing them to identify “isms” and to decide whether they find these “fair.”
  4. Social movements and social change: “teaches students about how people have fought against oppression through social movements. Students learn that things don’t have to be how they are; unfair conditions can be changed, and students can contribute to that change.”
  5. Awareness raising: “students engage in activities that increase the awareness of others in their community about the social issues they are studying.”
  6. Social action: “students have the opportunity to experience what it means to struggle for justice by engaging in social action themselves.”

 

At Bristol Cathedral, our Decolonising Hub is looking at how we can work cooperatively across all disciplines to ensure these six points are used in an order which empowers students to change their world for the better. We noticed that no 1 & 2 are often combined when we teach any of our subjects as global disciplines. History, English, Geography, Citizenship and PSHE seem best placed to address 3 and 4. Art, Drama and Music seem well placed to contribute meaningfully to no 5 and 6. This year our goal is an exhibit that celebrates student work across the curriculum following Picower’s six steps.

 

As an example of how to do this in one discipline, our History department addresses this sequence in KS3 by teaching Africa Kingdoms in year 7, the Bristol involvement in the slave trade in year 8, and the Haitian Revolution in year 9. Students first learn about the academic, artistic and economic achievements of African kingdoms before learning about how Black Africans were exploited – so the limited Euro-centric narrative of the white man’s burden is robustly challenged. We also consider the cost of choosing oppression / exploitation over symbiotic trade and collaboration.

 

With the Haitian Revolution, students understand how an oppressed people were able to overcome tyranny. Black people are not simply represented as unfortunate victims saved by British emancipation, but as having agency and preceding British emancipation with their own by three decades.

 

To apply a micro-lense to sequencing, I’ve used Picower to think about how I present disturbing context for English texts in single lessons. For example, in the EMC’s excellent collection Diverse Shorts, the story “Brownies” by ZZ Packer addresses white beauty standards and the impact on young Black girls in 1980s USA. I use a video of the doll test to help students understand and empathise with the Black characters in the story.

 

This video shows several Black children point to a white (as opposed to a Black) doll when asked which is beautiful and good. The moment when Black children each identify themselves as the Black doll afterwards is deeply upsetting, and could serve to normalise these attitudes further if not preceded by content which shows this behaviour to be the likely effect of racist representations in mainstream media – and therefore in error.

 

So this year I started with the Black Panther’s Black is Beautiful movement in the 60s, and we looked at several examples of Black beauty across film and art (Step 1: Self Love / Knowledge and Step 2: Mutual Respect). Once we had looked at the qualities of these examples and why they were so successful in influencing style, we then discussed their awareness of these movements, and the extent to which Black beauty is mainstreamed in TV, film and advertisements. At this point, I showed the doll test (Step 3: Social Injustice).

 

Students were just as visibly moved by the doll test as in previous years, if not more so. But in our discussion afterwards, there was less a sense of defeat and pity and more of an understanding that feelings of inadequacy are down to mainstream media, and how race is represented. If Black beauty and excellence were represented more in the mainstream, the doll test might yield different results.

 

This level of thinking is not only ‘top band’ in terms of contextual analysis, but empowers students to challenge unfair and harmful narratives on the basis that there are better, richer narratives.

 

Many curriculum designers now recognise the benefits of sequencing knowledge using narratives for long-term memory (i.e. evidenced learning). But Picower’s work is also needed to unlock the agency of students to use that knowledge for meaningful social change.

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Inclusion and learning disabilities

Sara Porter portrait

Written by Sara Porter

Biology tutor and an associate assessor for the T level in Lab Science

I am currently researching 18th century women and their role in society.  In the 1700s a woman was seen as an inferior being to men. She was not seen as capable of rational thought, however, if she was brought up in a forward-thinking radical household with access to learning, she could carve out a role as a female author. Ironically, this situation was faced by people with learning difficulties in the 1960s. Until 1971 people with learning disabilities were labelled as unteachable and very often institutionalised in specialist asylums. They were not seen as people with any right to education and some of  historical medical terminology makes for unpleasant reading. For me this is personal, as my daughter has Down syndrome. Kara’s certainly intelligent and at 7 her reading ability on sight words is that of her peer group. There are differences for example her numeracy is probably like that of a four year old and her speech is not fluent but we certainly have no difficulty getting her message. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is certainly met.

(http://www.open.ac.uk/health-and-social-care/research/shld/timeline-learning-disability-history).

Inclusion is a strange word in some respects as it has many different spheres. A child with a disability in a classroom could be included but if the child is not learning and not participating then is its tokenism. When my daughter was two, we attended a farm party. My daughter could walk but could not yet talk. She saw her friends feeding the animals but because she could not communicate her needs, she was excluded. At the hospital the same week, we went for her annual eye check using animal pictures. Since her birth she had used Makaton, so she could sign the different signs for what she could see.  There were no additional resources but there was specialist knowledge.

Within nursery and primary education I’ve been very determined to push the barriers back as far as I can. It has helped that my background is education and I quickly learnt the names and emails of the specialist experts in this field. The best advice someone gave me was to make sure you get to know your child’s key worker, keep an open dialogue and volunteer at the school. The school learns your name and you get a deeper understanding of the workings of the building.  The staff within all my daughter’s education settings have excelled at meeting her needs. I researched as thoroughly as I could to find the places which had an open mind and would acknowledge her value. 

As a parent of a child with additional needs,  you have to fight for help and the fight has not been helped by austerity. The resources have reduced, and you have to research carefully in order to navigate the funding system. Mainstream education is available to children with additional needs but it;s vital you have a document called the EHCP – which guarantees funding till the child is at least 18. I;ve carved out a few articles in the Times educational supplement with this battle and still have my solicitor on speed dial.  It’s not for the faint hearted as LEA are under horrendous pressure to meet demand on very limited budgets. Families form tight knit groups to help each other out and I have seen the struggle from all sides. It’s very similar to the battles faced by women in the 1700s and it is  your support structure which can help you overcome these barriers.  Lockdown has only made this situation more extreme and there is a feeling that much of the educational ground won through years of legislation has been lost.

On a positive note the role models and expectation for my daughter have never been higher. Technology and research is bringing in wonderful opportunities and choices. Her class adores her and she is accepted as Kara.  We have just been playing with her friends on the playground and she’s going to inflict more biff and chip books on me tonight.  When inclusion is done properly just like 18th century women it can open doors and allow people to blossom. It just needs funding and support.  

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Diversity, Disclosure and Invisibility

Paula Tankard portrait

Written by Paula Tankard

Headteacher and has worked as a SIP for local schools

Diversity

Diversity is often referred to in terms of ‘people who look different’. However, not all diversity is visible. This think piece is about a different side to diversity, one that is less visible. I believe that more conversations about diversity and inclusion have happened in schools in the past term than ever before – and this is great. People know more about the Equality Act (2010) and are implementing the recommendations. Many educators can name all of the protected characteristics listed in the act. There are nine, and it is against the law to discriminate against someone because of:

Age

Disability

Gender Reassignment

Marriage And Civil Partnership

Pregnancy And Maternity

Race 

Sex

Sexual Orientation

Religion Or Belief

I am a teacher and headteacher and I also happen to be gay. When a protected characteristic is visible you don’t have to include this in your introduction to various stakeholders. However, when your characteristic is invisible there is a disclosure dilemma. 

Disclosure 

When do I say it when I introduce myself ‘Hello I’m the new headteacher and I’m gay’? Clearly not, so how do I do it? Do I rely on staff room gossip to do the job for me? A casual comment to the ‘right’ person at 8:30am could mean that the whole school knows by playtime. Each time I have done it differently so clearly there is no right or wrong way and it is up to each individual to find a way that works for them. For both of my headteacher roles I told the chair of governors first and then we agreed a plan about when and who I would tell. Then I spoke to the leadership team in the first meeting and they mentioned it to others.

Who do I tell? Do I tell staff but not the parents? Should I tell the children? Some might say ‘well it is none of their business’ and to a certain extent I agree. In both of my headteacher roles it has been left up to me who I want to tell and in both cases the staff were told and as there were staff who were parents so most of the parents were aware but the children were not specifically told. I had an open discussion with the chair of governors about this decision, I explained that in an appropriate situation if a child asked that I would not lie and would talk to the child in an age appropriate manner. When I was class based, I worked for heads who put a clear ban on any staff talking about their life outside of school with any of the stakeholders, there was even a ban on personal photographs visible in classrooms. Other heads have said it is up to individual staff what they want to reveal. 

Early in my teaching career I was specifically told by the deputy head that I could not reveal my sexuality to any pupils or parents from the school. This was said because ‘Parents would not want me to be in the classroom when children are changing for PE, as I would see girls in their underwear.’ I did question if they thought being a lesbian was the same as being a paedophile, although this question wasn’t answered and I received an apology, it had still been said. The lasting effect of this statement was a reluctance for me to tell anybody at work who I am. 

Invisibility

There are many characteristics that are clearly visible, some that are sometimes visible and some that are completely invisible. So if you have one of the invisible characteristics you have to tell people for them to know. 

It has been my experience that leaders and governors have no clear plan on how to manage this. They have perhaps not thought through who and when staff should reveal their invisible protected characteristics to, and are somewhat hesitant to speak to staff about it. This may be because of the fear of offending somebody and being accused of homophobia and I understand that. I would have preferred to have been asked about it before I started work so that we were all clear. 

It would have prevented a very awkward situation for me. Before I moved into leadership I taught Year 6, during a PHSE lesson I was asked if I had got married in the holidays, to which I replied yes. The child then asked me was it to a man, or a woman? I was flummoxed. Not by the answer but by – what am I allowed to say? If this has been discussed before it would have prevented my jumbled answer of yes and then me having to go and see the head to explain that I had just ‘outed’ myself to my class. 

What now?

I have listened to various facilitators and trainers talk to school staff and leadership teams to say ‘You need to have people who look differently on your SLT, staff or governing body’. 

‘You need visible role models for the children in the school from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities’. I do not disagree, and have said the same thing myself. However, I wonder if the focus on ‘look’ means that other protected characteristics are overshadowed? 

So I ask that when you discuss diversity in school, during assemblies, staff meetings and governor meetings, please talk about people who are different not just about those who look different. Make sure you include all protected characteristics in your presentation and discussion. 

As leaders have a plan to support staff with invisible protected characteristics. Talk to them, guide them with their inevitable disclosure dilemmas and support their decisions. 

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