Rosie Peters portrait

Written by Rosie Peters

Has been in education for over 20 years and is currently working as a Deputy Head Teacher.

As educators, what do we owe to our children? Surely it should be an education where each and every child feels represented within the education system and the curriculum.

An early-years setting that says welcome, I hear you and I see you, instantly communicates to the child that they belong.  In turn the child recognises and sees familiarity within the physical environment, the faces they encounter, the words that they hear.

For a child that has little English, a simple hello in their first language can make a world of difference. Books opened and read aloud, bridge reality with the imaginary with ease because someone has taken the time to check there is true  representation of the children entrusted to them as they embark on what should be a wonderful adventure of education, full of excitement and discovery.

We want all our young people, regardless of colour, class religion, gender or ability to experience a shaping of belonging and identity that is positive, clear and authentic.  We are responsible for shaping their views and attitudes of self and others.

Pupils should be made aware of the true contributions made by their ancestors and the ancestors of their diverse peers.

Starting with a Primary History curriculum that gives the full story by bringing back the erased and forgotten:  the Aurelian Moors who were Roman soldiers based in Britain; the Ivory Bangled Lady; Septimius Severus a Roman Emperor.  ‘We can be certain that people from Africa lived here more than 1,700 years ago.’  (Black and British, a Short Essential History; David Olusoga 2020.)

In history wonderful websites such as ‘Another History is Possible’ or ‘Meanwhile Elsewhere’, gives insight to other equally important global events that took place at the same time as the eras covered in the national curriculum.

A curriculum that allows different perspectives to be taught – from the point of view of, for example, race, gender, class, religion, disability and age, would give a strong message that diversity is not only accepted but essential.

A curriculum that develops and champions critical thinkers who are able to question, to ask why, is essential.  Why, for example, during the VE Day celebrations in the summer of 2020 Black and Asians soldiers were barely mentioned.  Why, in certain professions, there is little or no representation from non-white communities.

Let’s empower young people by ensuring that the curriculum and experiences they encounter are reflected through the role models we choose, the places we focus on and the cultural connections we celebrate.  There is no subject in which diversity and inclusion cannot be embedded and made the norm.  With a bit of time and effort it is amazing what can be achieved.

Educators need to be supported and provided with CPD to enable them to become ‘racially literate’ and able to talk openly about racism; in other, words not shy away from uncomfortable discussions. They need to be aware that terminology is forever changing and that it is better to ask someone what they prefer to be called: Black, Black British, Black Caribbean, Roma or Romani … rather than avoid it.

Teachers that go all out to make sure that someone’s name is pronounced correctly show children that their name is important; it is part of their history and culture. ‘It is not the first mispronunciation that stays with the student, it is the failure to learn how the name is pronounced and then the continued incorrect pronunciation on the second, third, fourth attempt. The unfortunate consequence, witnessed first-hand, is that students with names from different backgrounds start to hide their names.  Their pride in their own heritage is eroded. (Diversity in School, Bennie Kara 2021)

We all have the responsibility to engineer change. Lack of knowledge of different people causes a lack of trust, fear, conflict and animosity.  Educators need to be instrumental in changing society in a meaningful way.

The pandemic has highlighted the inequalities that exist in our society and the mistrust that some communities have in our institutions such as the justice system, the police and the medical profession. This is built on decades of negative experiences and unfair treatment endured by marginalised communities.  One only has to look at key data sighted in the Office of National Statistics 2017/18: 

  • Fifty-five percent of Black Caribbean pupils achieved the expected standard in reading, writing & maths (The lowest percentage out of all ethnic groups after White Irish Traveller and Gypsy Roma pupils.)
  • Three times more likely to be permanently excluded than their white peers. 
  • Forty-five percent of Black Caribbean live in rented social housing, compared with 16% White British (2016/17)
  • Black Caribbean women are five times more likely to die in childbirth than their British counterparts.   

This lack of trust can have a devastating impact on minority groups.  A prime example can be seen in the low rate of uptake for the COVID-19 vaccine amongst the Black and Asian communities.  This surely has to change.

We need to come together and work for the common good.  It should not be the responsibility of one community, usually the community being most affected.  It has to be the responsibility of everyone; the majority: white allies, working alongside the minority.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to produce children who have a full sense of belonging; knowing where they have come from and where they are going and, in equal measure, hold the same knowledge of their diverse peers.

Imagine if this were the reality, there would be less racism, prejudice, unconscious bias and the inequalities we see today.

Agency would be for all and not the chosen.

The decision makers of tomorrow would mirror the richness of society’s diversity and therefore decisions on a local and global scale would recognise and address inequality and bring equity where required.

Some educators have already started this journey; a journey we should all embrace in order to bring into being a more equal society for our children, the leaders of tomorrow.

The green shoots of change can already be seen.  Let’s hope they fully blossom.                                            

Teaching is a great profession especially when we recognise that education is a powerful vehicle for creating better human beings.

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