“It’s a numbers game, but sh*t don’t add up somehow.”

James Fornara portrait

Written by James Fornara

20 years of experience in teaching and runs Dpat that is engaged in education consultancy, youth work, music, production and DJing.

In the wake of John Swinney, Scotland’s Education Minister announcing that all Scottish A-level and GCSE grades will be marked exclusively from teacher predictions and coursework marks, it is worth examining what “thinking” lies behind this debacle. Sadly once again it is an example of the antagonistic and short-sighted dogma of the DfE. Any objective person would consider the best people to judge the quality of students’ performance to be the teachers that taught them, not some statistical nonsense that artificially manufacturers the data that the department wants. But teachers just can’t be trusted can they? Certainly not to stick to the constructed reality of exam reforms and the data sets created by the Orwellian fantasy of “school improvement” undertaken over the last decade. Of course if we’d stuck with modular examinations and kept significant coursework elements to qualifications we wouldn’t be in this mess would we…

And now the tarantula troubling Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson has announced a “triple lock” – which could boost the replacement grades for exams cancelled in the pandemic. It means pupils getting A-level & GCSE results can accept that estimated grade, or change it for a mark gained in a mock exam. Or they can instead choose to take a written exam in the autumn!? And this guidance comes a day before the results are released, with no consultation with the teaching profession. Furthermore schools minister Nick Gibb has the chutzpah to refuse to apologise for what he describes as “solutions” to a problem he has been instrumental in creating!?

What an absolute disgrace this all is. A perfect example of the misguided and uninformed policy credenda obsessed with a bogus improvement of “standards” and a fundamental mistrust of educators. This systematic denigration of the teaching profession is a dangerous political endeavour that is destroying an education system that used to be seen throughout the world as exemplar.

Links to some of the articles, research etc. that this blog post is based on:

ASCL Coronavirus Briefing 90 11th Aug. 2020

Not entirely sure of the veracity of this study but some interesting reading, did you know the cost of examinations has more than doubled thanks to Gove’s reforms!?Examination Reform: Impact of Linear and Modular Examinations at GCSE


Broad and Balanced


There’s some interesting observations in the work of the Accountability Commission group of the NAHT which “sought to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the current accountability system”, but there were three points that caught my eye from the excellent summary provided by Ross Morrison McGill:


Where performance is a measure, schools prioritise parts of the curriculum over others (‘teaching to the test’).


Where systems focus on “borderline” measures, targeted teaching limit pupils’ experience of the curriculum.


I am sad to say that both these observations are entirely accurate based on my experience of over twenty years of working in education in London, and particularly in my area of specialism – performing arts and creative media production. I would point out that this is not because school leaders or teachers want to but the perverse incentives of our current school accountability system force them to do so.


I was also struck by the quote below from the text of the report:

National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), September 2018 (page 35)

If Canada, Finland & Singapore do not have school inspection feature in external evaluation (I) and these countries perform better than England in PISA tests; cited as places to visit, we must question OfSTED’s future within the English system.


It will be interesting to see how the DfE will respond to the commission’s findings I do hope it will fair better than the good people at The Black Curriculum who were outrageously rebuffed by the tarantula troubling secretary of state for education who declined to meet them to discuss their most excellent work. 

Given the idiocy of the foreign secretary you’d have thought Gavin would want some help in educating his peers let alone the nation’s youth…

Thanks to @TeacherToolkit & @curriculumblack for the tweets this piece is based on.

A vision for the “new normal”

Amidst all of the tragedy of the covid-19 crisis there could be a preverbal silver lining. We have a chance to transform our education system and there is much debate about how we must change and adapt to our new reality. In particular two articles this week caught my eye. The first by Fiona Millar in the Guardian is an excellent examination of the failures of government policy over the last decade. In particular she highlights how the dogmatic promotion of “academic” subjects, academisation (privatisation in plain sight) and the misinformed notion that sees schools only “…as vehicles for the transmission of knowledge…” must change if we are to meet the challenges our education system faces. 

One of my biggest irritations working in education is the erroneous hierarchy of subjects taught in school. I bristle every time someone talks about academic subjects. Firstly, the use of the word academic to describe subjects such as maths, science, English rather than music, PE or drama is a misuse of the word. Academic means being taught in school, therefore any subject taught in school is in fact ACADEMIC! The use of the word academic as a shorthand for subjects that matter is highly revealing of the outdated thinking that has sadly dominated education policy for far too long. It is why we disregard areas of study that the UK is a world leader in. Since the introduction of progress 8 & attainment 8 there has been a reduction in the number of students taking GCSE drama of over 30%. Likewise lack of funding has led to the decimation of music tuition within state schools and despite ever increasing concern about fake news and the need to improve the media literacy of our young people, media studies is still considered a ‘mickey mouse’ subject rather than a key part of any 21st century curriculum. As Rufus Norris (director of the National Theatre) wrote two years ago we need “…an education system fit for the 21st century, one that champions this country’s creativity as the foundation of its economic health.”

The second article in Schools Week by Angela Ransby is a call to arms for schools and local communities to work more closely together. I have to confess to arching an eyebrow at a CEO of a MAT extolling the benefits of local collaboration, rather like how local education authorities used to work!? That said, Angela’s central point that alternative provision is often the crucible of innovation is one that unsurprisingly I wholeheartedly agree with. We must rebuild our current “fractured” system prioritising collaboration and local accountability and reject systems and structures that prevent this. Progress, standards and improvement do not need a marketplace, the commodification of teaching and learning or the curse of managerialism to occur. In fact they thrive when we share, collaborate and respond in a locally co-ordinated and democratically accountable manner to the needs of the communities that our schools serve.

Curriculum and what we teach our children is a thread running through both articles and a friend of mine introduced me to The Black Curriculum this week and I am very grateful. There is a long, long overdue imperative to improve the way in which our entire education system serves ALL students and I would whole-heartedly recommend the writing of Darren ChettyJeffrey Boakye and Akala for those interested in this hugely important work. Reflecting on my own education and in particular the history curriculum I followed, is it any wonder that there is a lack of understanding in the UK around issues of structural racism, intersectionality and white privilege when the history we teach our children is: the Romans, 1066, some stuff about kings and a couple of queens, skip over the savagery of the British Empire and finish off with the two world wars that we supposedly won!? We have to teach the real history of the British empire and examine some of the darker aspects of Enlightenment thinking in order to help create a fairer and more just society.

Some big ideas to transform our education system:

  • Rip up our current curriculum and replace it with a much broader one. Forget about the utterly misplaced notion of academic and vocational subjects. There must not be a hierarchy of knowledge, understanding how the plumbing works is as important as knowing what the periodic table is.
  • Dispense with almost all nationally standardised tests. We could keep something like A-Levels but any new system cannot be solely reliant on terminal examinations and must include coursework/formative assessment activities.
  • Create a national curriculum that takes account of all the cultures and history that make up our country. The diversity of our little island has always been one of our greatest resources and our schools must be the place in which we celebrate and develop our understanding of the multicultural country that we live in.
  • Place control of our school system back into the hands of local education authorities who are clearly best placed to support schools to meet local needs and increase collaboration, which in turn will drive improvement.


James Fornara is the recently resigned Principal of Wac Arts College the first alternative provision free school in the country with a specialist curriculum of performing arts & creative media production. 


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Values-based Education

Audrey Pantelis portrait

Written by Audrey Pantelis

World Values Day, 16th October 2020 – A Reflection

House with foundations

I love the diagram by Darius Foroux, who is an entrepreneur, author and podcaster. It succinctly highlights the understanding that I have of values. Some people are able to articulate their values from the get-go. I cannot say that this was the case for me – but when I was starting a brand-new school – a blank canvas – the values that I carried with me became part of the school’s mission and ethos.

Quote from the Dalai Lama

It is safe to say that change is inevitable – and living through the current global pandemic we can testify that this is the case! We have never been as tested, stretched or challenged we are right now. The education sector is undergoing some fundamental changes and its interesting to see how educators adapt. Some are attempting to apply yesterday’s rules in today’s world; some are lost and appear to be floundering – and some are standing on the rock of their values and are adapting without losing their understanding of their why. Values are, like the diagram by Darius Foroux, the foundation of our character and they define our actions. 

The seven values that I discussed as part of the Diverse Educators workshop on October 16th as part of World Values Day were (in no particular order): compassion, respect, fun, diversity, loved, collaboration and authenticity. These values were evident in the free special school that I founded and led for five years. They were incorporated into the aspirations of the school and were evident and lived for both pupils and staff. These included: 

  • Our ‘Golden Rules’ were child-centred and easy to follow; 
  • the curriculum had lots of opportunities for children and young people to learn how to work together; 
  • I composed the school song that was sung every week by staff and pupils; 
  • Every child and young person was a member of the school council. We ensured that everyone’s voice was heard and the older pupils helped to run the school council sessions each week. A weekly question was set by the senior leader. The link to setting up an inclusive school council is here: 


  • ‘Star of The Week’ certificates were awarded each week in assembly, but they were not always awarded for academic success. We loved celebrating the little wins as well as the big!

Staff are any school’s biggest resource and I was able to ensure that my values permeated their day-to-day roles. These included the following:

  • The ‘ABCD’ Awards each week – ‘Above and Beyond the Call of Duty’ – staff were nominated by their peers to be awarded recognition of when they had acted ‘Above and Beyond The Call of Duty’ in their day-to-day roles. It had power in that the staff nominated each other and it enabled staff that didn’t have a loud voice to be heard by them doing what they did habitually 
  • Staff would work in mixed groups on whole school projects – enabling collaboration and respect for differing viewpoints
  •  Success was celebrated – in written and verbal formats every week – and staff felt valued and respected for what they brought to the school community – from organising wellbeing breakfasts to supporting parents when they escorted pupils from school to parents collecting their children and young people at the end of the day
  • ‘FAF’ weeks – staff left at four each day for a designated week to enable rest and recuperation
  • We had goodies in the staff room – sweets, fruit, fizzy drinks, biscuits – not always but sometimes – just to make a week/day/term go a little easier!
  • Support staff had a voice and met with me as a group once every half term to air concerns

These small but highly important gestures enabled me to know that I was doing all that I could to ensure that the precious cargo that we were nurturing and supporting (the pupils) were valued and equally their wellbeing played a role in the growth of the children and young people that we served.

My summary of the thoughts that I have discussed are listed below:


  • Value individuality and promote it
  • Give opportunities for pupils to work collaboratively – our curriculum had lots of opportunities for children and young people to learn how to work together
  • Our ‘Golden Rules’ were child centred and easy to follow
  • Encourage laughter
  • ‘Be flexible’ with the rules from time to time
  • Create a sense of belonging – a shared experience that bonds the community

It sounds so simple – yet it is one of the first things that is overlooked when there are the daily pressures of life to contend with… and when social distancing and lockdowns weren’t a “thing”, we were driving towards being establishments that proved that “we were the best at…. None of that matters so much at the moment. It is how we connect; how we are and being enough that matters. Values are our compass – and in these turbulent waters, we need to ensure we do not hit the rocks by ignoring our values.

“If we are heard, then we can speak. If we are loved, then we can love others. If we are nurtured, then we can grow.” 

Audrey Pantelis



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Tuesday 25th May 2021

Darren Crosdale portrait

Written by Darren Crosdale

English and Media Studies-trained teacher, currently working in a large Liverpool comprehensive

This date will mark a year to the day of George Floyd’s murder. I use the word ‘murder’ deliberately because, despite the arguments that lawyers will no doubt make to the contrary, the world possesses clear, video evidence that it was murder, plain and simple. 


I still have not seen the clip. I never will. To watch such imagery is, to my mind, self-flagellation. I do not engage in that torture and warn my family – especially my social media-addicted daughter – to think very carefully about the emotional toll such images can have on our psyche. 


As the above date approaches, you can rest assured there will be blogs and vlogs and articles and news items asking how the world has “changed”. How that 8 minute and 46 second horror short and the resulting worldwide protests “changed” many aspects of society, including education. Like most teachers, I firmly believe in the power of education and I will definitely be curious about how the education world has “changed” following George Floyd’s murder. Up and down the UK, family, friends, colleagues and associates have responded to the Black Lives Matter movement with renewed vigour: change the curriculum; review the policies; train the teachers. 


But as Frederick Douglass, the former slave turned writer and public speaker said: “Power does not concede without a demand.” I am not, at all, the only person who feels that the demands of racism are being placed on the shoulders of the victims. Such bitter irony. The stereotypes that we as thinking and evolving societies ought to have defeated centuries ago, remain: lower intelligence, higher physicality, unworthy histories. The list is, of course, longer and more subtle than this. 


As an eternal optimist, I focus on the notion of things getting better in schools. I have to believe this. However, as an eternal optimist with a good memory, I recall that we have been here before. We have collectively focussed on “changing” our racist societies and racist institutions and racist individuals’ attitudes before. The whole country has been engaged in the discussion of diversity and inclusion and breaking barriers and moving forward more times than I care to count in my own lifetime. 


The UK broached the topic of change after Stephen Lawrence’s murder in 1993 and the McPherson Report, four years later, made the term “institutional racism”, more mainstream. I worked in the Merseyside school that Anthony Walker, murdered in a racist attack in 2005, used to attend. People often forget that his White killers attended the school, alongside this wonderful young man. The Department for Children, Schools and Families examined the issue of Black educational attainment in 2007. Alexander Paul, an 18 year-old student from south London, gave a powerful presentation about being stopped and searched at the 2014 Conservative Party Conference. David Lammy, MP, in 2017 reviewed how ethnic minorities fared when they came into contact with the criminal justice system. I am not even going to discuss the coronavirus. The UK, a country that likes to boast about its multi-cultural status, ended up with one of the highest per capita death rates in 2020, and ethnic minorities were over-represented in these numbers as were the poor and public-facing workers.    


Schools are especially busy as I write, early October, 2020. Most schools are engaged in some form of analysis: reviewing data, auditing curricula, employing speakers to deliver staff training. Will all these efforts to change the UK’s complicated attitude towards Black people in the education system yield results, however? There are still those on Twitter who struggle to link police brutality in the US with education in the UK (and, of course, fail to recognise this, in itself, is highly ironic.). So what if GCSE students, in 2020, do not study texts written by Black writers? So what if students do not learn the dual nature of Churchill? Wartime hero but also responsible for allowing three million Bengalis to starve. So what if students have no idea of the fuss surrounding Edward Colston’s statue being tossed into Bristol harbour.


What will schools be like by May 25th 2021? Will the government recognise that for all the past reviews and examinations of race, deep divisions and inequalities remain? Will the councils creating Task Forces to examine racial issues in their towns and cities create lasting change? Will enough school-based staff have had the necessary and uncomfortable conversations around race? Robin DiAngelo, in her best seller ‘White Fragility’ explains that middle-aged, middle-class white women are most likely to cry if their racial view of the world is challenged in any way. Will enough of these tears be transmuted into new ways of thinking and challenging the status quo?


The answers to these questions remain to be seen. We know our government has been remarkably quiet about the Black Lives Matter movement. The protests threw a much-needed light on our society and its continuing struggles with race – mostly because the education system has never properly learned to discuss our troubled history in an honest and guilt-free manner. 


I watched BBC presenter Daniel Henry’s inspirational documentary ‘Fighting the Power: Britain after George Floyd’ (directed by Eddie Hutton-Mills) and wondered about the young Black women who, with their passion and social media savvy, organised huge marches in lockdown London during the summer of 2020. Will they be disappointed in a year’s time? Will they have noticed any changes? Will prime minister Johnson’s racial disparity review (led by a controversial Munira Mirza who is not quite sure if institutional racisms exists) have reported back by then? Who knows?   


What I do know is that for the children in school at the moment – all children, not just the Black ones – carrying on as if huge protests about race never happened, as if things do not need a good shaking and sorting, as if their teachers do not need to learn about all types of inequality, is not an acceptable option.


Darren Crosdale


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Cultural Competency

Amardeep Panesar portrait

Written by Amardeep Panesar

Headteacher with two decades of experience in education

As an ethnic minority leader, many challenges and barriers do come our way. It is how you perceive them and more importantly yourself in order to be successful. I personally, do not see these as hindering barriers, but challenges that I know I/ we can overcome, depending on “how badly I want something”. A philosophy that most definitely comes from my foundation and sports participation – let your work do the talking! 

I’m writing my first blog on Cultural Competency based on a fantastic opportunity given to me by Diverse Educators in particular Hannah Wilson, following the response on social media, I’ve realised just how powerful this platform really is in developing educators! So let’s do it…

Why is it important to be culturally aware of the needs of our children?

Let us first look at the statistics:

  1. African / African Caribbean people face more ingrained pathways into the criminal justice system as a result of greater levels of disengagement and exclusion from school (Wright, Francis and McAteer, 2015).
  2. Over the last five years, the number of young ethnic minority people in the UK who are long term unemployed has almost doubled, whereas for young white people it fell slightly. 
  3. In 2014, the probability of Black African women being detained under mental health legislation in England was more than 7 times higher than for White British women.
  4. People from ethnic minorities are twice as likely to live in poverty compared to White people across Britain.

With these statistics against us and the young people we work with, it is crucial to be culturally competent when educating our young children. Both for adults who are from and ethnic minorities and those that are not, in order to give our children the best possible life chances in order to become successful citizens. 

In order to fully support and understand, it is critical to understand self and others perceptions, which can be categorised under four main areas: 

  1. Attitudes and beliefs towards others.
  2. Attitudes and beliefs towards others of the same group.
  3. Attitudes and beliefs towards members of different minorities and
  4. Attitudes and beliefs towards members of the dominant group.

As we read on, do take a moment to self reflect and and understand your own perceptions towards others, because we all have them. We are naturally hard wired to like people like ourselves, people who look like us, think like us, share similar values and visions. We need to continue to educate our staff and children on how/ why these perceptions exist and how collectively, over time, things will start to change by listening to each other. Diverse education is crucial, in all areas, especially in culturally diverse schools. 

We can all share our experiences through school leadership and educating children. For me, as an ethnic minority leader, everything I have learnt so far has only empowered me to support others in our profession and to help individuals understand culture and children! Every day we learn… 

The world assumes the young people of colour will fail or behave a certain way, we as educators, MUST do the opposite.

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Diversifying representation while working with textbooks

Chris Richards portrait

Written by Chris Richards

MEd in Applied Linguistics and currently works as a Teacher Mentor in Madrid

I have a vivid memory of being told about the importance of images in my classroom. It was 2010, I was doing my PGCE and was eager to start teaching. I remember that this was the first moment of many that shaped the way I have approached diversity and inclusivity in the classroom ever since. As this post explains, the issue of representation in the classroom has come back to me again in recent years.


When I was teaching English language and literature in England and Wales, we made very little use of textbooks. This certainly made things challenging for a newbie, but to focus on the positive, it also gave me a lot of freedom to make my own choices about which images in the classroom. I learned quickly that you have to be careful when you do internet image searches and not for the reasons we tell our young pupils to be careful. Just last week, in preparation for my contribution to DiverseEd: The Virtual Conversation, I searched for some images. With the search term ‘reading’ I found mostly kids, mostly white. The first four were of girls and the first negative image I found was a bored boy holding a book. When I searched for ‘man reading’, men from BAME backgrounds appeared just twice in the first thirty-two images, and the first appeared twelfth. 


In 2016, I moved to Spain and began teaching English in a private language academy. It was a huge change in pace, lifestyle and teaching philosophy, and was the new challenge I needed. Aside from very small class sizes (I now work with a maximum of eight), the biggest difference was the use of a course book. In the first institution I worked in here, every group has an assigned course book that we followed across the course of the academic year. Very quickly, I started to notice that representation was very narrow and, while studying for my MEd in Applied Linguistics, I decided to write my dissertation on how gender and sexuality get represented in a sample of course books. It all began with a page about “different” weddings in the UK that had four photos: four straight, white couples. To paraphrase 20,000 words, on the whole, gender was presented rather traditionally, although there were some images of women in positions of power; minority sexuality was conspicuously absent from the pages.


Whether we’re working with course books or not, we should always be ready to substitute and supplement, especially so with images as these can be a very powerful way to give, or withhold, representation. We also need to consider what texts pupils are reading, lest they are always reading the same stories and hearing the same voices. Whose stories do get told and who gets effectively silenced in our classrooms? If we give space to one image or story, we reduce the space for others. Ultimately, this is simply a question of inclusion.


Also crucial is asking ourselves what unwanted or unintended associations inclusion might bring. For example, are people with disabilities routinely referred to in heroic situations, overcoming their disability rather than as people whose identities extend beyond their differences? Are we remembering to show women in positions of power and responsibility outside the home, but forgetting to represent men in caring or homemaking roles? Are LGBTQ+ folk only shown when their minority sexuality is the defining factor?


Asking ourselves these questions initially is effort, but once it becomes habit, once it becomes part of planning and preparation routine, it becomes normal. I can’t look at a course book page now without quickly scanning it for representation. I don’t always choose to substitute and at other times I might specifically leave unrepresentative material as it is, and ask my students what they think might be missing. I turn over that critical evaluation process to them, so they can start to perform this analysis themselves. After all, I won’t always be there to recast the material they encounter in their reading and viewing lives.


My final thought is that we should always be asking ourselves who gets a voice and who gets seen in our classrooms.


Chris Richards, Teacher Mentor

Chris first taught in the UK high school system in inner city Birmingham and South East Wales, but has been working in English Language Teaching (ELT) since 2015. He holds an MEd in Applied Linguistics and currently works as a Teacher Mentor in Madrid. He is particularly interested in inclusivity/diversity, literature, and the use of first language in the ELT classroom.

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Menopausal Musings: What to expect as a Senior Leader with the menopause

Nicky Bright portrait

Written by Nicky Bright

Leadership development consultant with over 30 years of experience

A post written in response to the TES article ‘what to expect as a Senior Leader with pregnancy’.

I originally wrote this article last Easter and tore it up as being ‘too close to home’.  A taboo subject, and one that has only really been raised more widely over the last 18 months or so, I worried how it would be received, and I would be perceived.  But Emma Seith’s TES article on 19th July 2019 emboldened me to have another go.  I had only recently sought help for the symptoms I had been experiencing with increasing intensity for about 18 months, without really realising that a) they were symptoms and b) help was available.  Instead, I thought I was simply not coping well with increased pressures of work, but not wanting any signs of weakness or vulnerability to show.  How wrong I was.

Menopausal women are the fastest growing demographic in the workplace (ONS 2018) and with a retention and recruitment crisis, and our profession being dominated by women, albeit with proportionately more men in senior roles, we should take note, whether we are personally affected by the menopause or increasingly surrounded by those who are.  For every ten women experiencing menopausal symptoms, six say it has a negative impact on their work (CIPD 2019).  We cannot afford to lose highly skilled and experienced staff who simply need some support, and perhaps don’t realise it themselves.

I now realise that I was not alone in feeling like this, as the menopause was relegated to a cursory mention when I was at school.  Our biological education really only emphasised understanding your cycles sufficiently to avoid pregnancy.  The portrayal of menopausal women until recently has been derogatory and laughable, providing Les Dawson and others with endless comic material.  Women of a certain age are ‘washed-up’, ‘over the hill’, ‘a little neurotic’ and so on.  Kirsty Wark’s 2017 BBC programme on Menopause raised the tone of the debate and is one of the pieces of journalism of which she is most proud, understandably in my opinion.  Now everyone is starting to talk about it, and even more so with the announcement of a procedure to delay it for 20 years or longer (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/topics/cxwkx729dx2t/menopause).  As Liz Earle said in Stella Magazine (21 April 2019), ‘If you ask any Head of HR ‘What’s your maternity or paternity policy?’, they’ll produce a document.  If you say ‘What’s your menopause policy?’ there’s silence.’ 

As a senior leader, I’m not advocating yet another policy for us to have to update annually, but there does need to be some discussion to ensure that this vital and growing part of our workforce are not unfairly disadvantaged because of ignorance, and simply leave.  We all know women who have taken earlier retirement than they may have originally envisaged who have simply ‘had enough’ and are exhausted and don’t even think to ask for help, because they probably don’t realise that, in many cases, they can be helped.  Some women sail through without any difficulties, but if increasing numbers of women are working longer, and also reaching leadership positions, we need to help those who aren’t sailing through, so we can all benefit from their years of experience and talent.

Sleep deprivation is known as a tool of torture, and many young parents suffer from it.  However, it is less commonly known that fatigue, through disrupted sleep patterns, heightened anxiety and hot flushes, is very common to menopausal women too.  With the right support in place we can make the most of their experience and talents in the same way we do for young parents.  What about rearranging a member of staff’s timetable for a year or two, so they can come in later if they have been awake half the night, or letting them go slightly earlier if their exhaustion kicks in at the end of the day.  Not always possible or indeed necessary, but everyone is different and without a conversation who would know what might help?  Giving staff more individual control over ventilation in classrooms can be difficult in very old buildings or new ‘climate controlled’ green buildings, so providing a fan is a simple way to help.  Ensuring staff teach in classrooms close to toilet facilities is another relief for those who suffer from ‘flooding’ or need to go more regularly.  Much is made of mental health support for staff these days, quite rightly, and the increased levels of anxiety and depression some women suffer can be supported too.  CIPD and the NEU produce great guides for HR teams, people managers and materials to get people talking about their experiences so they can be helped, and direct others towards the right help for them.

With the benefit of HRT, more exercise because I have more energy again, talking therapies support and lots of reading and discussion with empathetic others about this, I am now feeling much more myself again – my new older self.  On my journey, I have come across lots of work being done in other industries and professions to support this fastest growing working demographic, and so on Monday 18th November at the GSA Head’s Conference in Bristol I will be running a seminar with Inspector Julie Knight of Avon and Somerset Police to discuss how we can better support our staff (and ourselves?) in education.  The Constabulary have had overwhelmingly positive feedback about the menopause awareness days they run, and the support networks they facilitate – we can learn from this.  Women make up nearly half of their workforce with 34% over the age of 46. They have an open and proactive approach to supporting individuals and managers in order to support and retain talented staff.

I’m pleased to hope that younger women won’t ‘not realise’ what is happening to them for as long as I did, because this taboo is now being properly discussed, and so they will be prepared mentally and physically to ask for and accept help if necessary.  I’m also hopeful that we can help to stem the loss of valuable talent to our profession, because our staff will feel respected and supported.  And who knows, perhaps younger women won’t even need to go through it at all…

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Supporting quiet shy or anxious Black, Asian and minority ethnic children with English as an additional language in the Early Years.

Dr Susan Davis portrait

Written by Dr Susan Davis

Senior Lecturer at Cardiff Metropolitan University

Many articles that have been written in relation to the Black Lives Matter agenda, state that education is key to improving Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) children’s life chances (Blair, Bourne, Coffin, Creese, & Kenner, 1998; Blair, 2002; Ofsted, 2005). However, the system itself is at fault. The UK educational system perpetuates disadvantage: from the very earliest years of schooling (Richardson, 2007; Tomlinson, 2008) children’s sense of identity may be affected by a range of factors such as their experience of being in a minority, or having a lack of BAME role models. School staff may demonstrate unconscious bias in relation to these children. There is also an impact of differing levels of staff knowledge and understanding in relation to cultural issues. We can see how inequity becomes embedded as a result.

My research on how quiet, shy or anxious children cope in the early years classroom was based on a targeted programme entitled Special Me Time (Davis, 2012) aimed at supporting quiet children in vocalising their feelings; accessing classroom opportunities; and communication and developing friendships. Evaluation of the programme was conducted in early years classrooms predominantly in south Wales. I found that this intervention especially benefitted BAME children with English as an additional language (EAL). These children worked very effectively in a smaller group dynamic with more support. It is essential to allow young children with EAL longer thinking and processing time in relation to oracy, especially when responding to teacher questions. Quiet children with EAL need additional time to formulate replies, in a busy mainstream classroom.

The taught sessions were delivered to small groups, over a six-week period. Baseline evaluations were employed. Assessments were taken at the start and on cessation of the programme. BAME learners with English as an additional language made significant gains in their personal and social development as a result of engagement within the smaller group dynamic. This was true across all settings in the research project. A year 1 teacher on the programme stated:

‘I have some very shy children in my class, many of them would play alongside others and not join in or were led by others. A BAME child with EAL – K – was the child that I noticed got the most out of the Special Me Time (SMT) programme; after taking part, she played with other children in the class much more. Now she will initiate games with the others, where she would not do this before. She really bonded with E (also BAME EAL) during the SMT programme – they had not been friends before, but they both grew in confidence and this was due to the programme.’


It became apparent that the role of the teacher or teaching assistant was paramount, in relation to supporting the children’s oracy, confidence and engagement skills. The support needed was simple, such as giving children peaceful time in the book corner of a classroom or allowing them to work alone, or in pairs rather than in large groups. Taking time to listen to the children when they were speaking, without any interruptions, and also waiting for them to offer answers to questions in their own time, rather than rushing them, was also particularly effective. The research also found that the children had improved social and emotional skills, gained within the small group dynamic and were able to effectively transfer those skills to the wider classroom, demonstrating improved confidence and communication skills.

To conclude, it is pertinent that teachers are aware of the needs of all BAME learners and support them accordingly. Brentnall (2017) suggests that we need to train teachers in diversity awareness and equip them with strategies for supporting and raising attainment across the board. BAME children with English as an additional language need to be in classrooms where the practitioner is aware of their specific needs, in order for them to thrive. In a nurturing classroom, with a high level of support, and with an intuitive and emotionally literate practitioner, this research study suggests that the child can flourish and as a result their life chances and educational trajectory will be significantly enhanced.



Blair, M., Bourne, J., Coffin, C., Creese, A., & Kenner, C. (1998). Making the difference: Teaching and learning strategies in successful multi-ethnic schools. England: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.

Blair, M. (2002). Effective school leadership: The multi-ethnic context. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 23(2), 179–191.

Brentnall, J. (2017). Promoting engagement and academic achievement for Black and mixed-ethnicity pupils in Wales. Cardiff: Welsh Government. Retrieved from https://gov.wales/barriers-learning-faced-black-and-mixed-ethnicity-learners-report   

Davis, S. (2012). Examining the implementation of an emotional literacy programme on the pedagogy and reflective practice of trainee teachers (EdD thesis, Cardiff Metropolitan University). Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/10369/3975 

Ofsted. (2005). Race equality in education. Good practice in schools and local education authorities. Retrieved from https://dera.ioe.ac.uk/5546/1/Race equality in education good practice in schools and local education authorities (PDF format).pdf

Richardson, B. (2007). Tell it like it is: How our schools fail black children (2nd ed.) London: Bookmarks.

Tomlinson, S. (2008). Race and education: Policy and politics in Britain. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

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How to promote an anti-racist culture in social work

Wayne Reid portrait

Written by Wayne Reid

Professional Officer & Social Worker

Following the constructive feedback received on my last article, I’ve been keen not to rest on my laurels.  Kind words and superlatives are, of course, pleasant and healthy for the ego – but they won’t eliminate the barrage of everyday multidimensional racism.  Whilst pausing the platitudes, I’ve been ruminating about clear actions that social work educators, employers and key stakeholders can take to promote anti-racism.  My aim in this article is to outline some practical (and skeletal) ideas for social work organisations to consider.  I will use the terms people of colour (POC) and Black and ethnic minority interchangeably for ease.  There is a multitude of live weblinks.  Again, I write this article from my own viewpoint, not on behalf of all Black and ethnic minority people or social workers – as we are not a homogenous group.  Also, I’m by no means an expert in organisational development/leadership, but I do consider myself as an ‘expert with lived experience’ of personal and professional racism in life and in social work.  These are purely my opinions.  Contemporary scholars include: @gurnamskhela, @consultancy_hs, @kguilaine and @muna_abdi_phd (Twitter handles).



Black and ethnic minority social workers cannot and should not be expected to ‘fix’ racism:


Black and ethnic minority social workers cannot and should not be expected to ‘fix’ the racism in their workplace.  However, those of us who are confident and capable enough (with the right support) can have a crucial role in educating, empowering and equipping ourselves and (potential) allies and influencers to enhance and shape anti-racism initiatives in our workplace settings.


EVERYONE has a duty to combat racism (and other forms of discrimination) in the spaces they occupy.  This includes reporting racist incidents when they occur; forming like-minded alliances with peers to tackle key issues; raising awareness and making suggestions for positive reform.  However, this article is aimed primarily at social work employers, educators and key stakeholders.


Typical organisational responses to tackling anti-racism:


From my cultured social work experience, the responses below generally indicate an organisation’s prioritisation and level of commitment (or not) to anti-racism.  However, before any meaningful change can be achieved, social work educators and employers must acknowledge the inherent and intrinsic nature of ‘whiteness’, ‘White fragility’, ‘White privilege’ and white supremacy as subconscious default positions in most (if not all) institutions, structures and organisational cultures.  Individual and organisational awareness is an imperative first step for social workers, social work employers and social work educators to address workplace racism effectively.  “In a [multifaceted] racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist.  We must be anti-racist.”


Broadly, there are 3 typical organisational responses when attempting to tackle racial inequality:


  1. Keep silent, keep things the same and “hope all this Black Lives Matter (BLM) ‘stuff’ just blows over”.  This kind of inaction and paralysis of fear correlates with and reinforces perceptions of ‘White fragility’, ‘White privilege’ and white supremacy for some POC.  This type of organisational response usually commends staff for being resilient and deflects attention away from the essential redesign of systems that routinely make people suffer.
  2. Publish lukewarm organisational statements that recycle and regurgitate previous rhetoric on workforce unity with predictable (and borderline offensive) platitudes – often proposing only superficial changes.  For example, publishing a sympathetic, but non-committal kneejerk brief statement; possibly delegating responsibilities to an already overworked Equalities Officer or proposing minor changes to already vague policies/procedures on ‘valuing diversity’ with little or no accountability.  Approaches at this level are usually well-intended, but tokenistic and overlook the nuanced obstacles and pitfalls POC face every day.  Unfortunately, this response is common.
  3. Publish an authentic anti-racism action plan outlining significant reforms that commit to specific, measurable, achievable and realistic targets (suggestions below).  For example, publishing a strong mission/position statement condemning George Floyd’s murder and racism in all its forms and committing to BASW’s Code of Ethics, anti-oppressive, anti-discriminatory and anti-racist practice.  This approach interlinks with the ‘Anti-Racist commitment framework’ (below).


The acid test is to share this article with your social work leaders and see what response you get.


Covert, entrenched and everyday racism in the workplace:


If the recent news of police officers taking ‘selfies’ beside the bodies of 2 murdered black sisters; the recent far-right violent protests in London or the racist comments by Suffolk councillors do not outrage you or alert you to the fact that racism is thriving in this country right now – then you really need to consider whether you have sleepwalked into being an opponent of anti-racism.  At the very least, we must be self-aware and honest (with ourselves and others) when our boredom threshold is reached.  This can be subliminal and counterproductive to anti-racism at every level.  Everyday micro-aggressions (including ‘banter’ in the workplace) can fuel violent racist incidents.


The covert, entrenched and everyday racism in the workplace sometimes indicates the lack of quality cultural diversity and multicultural education and training available (to all staff).  Surprisingly, it is rarely acknowledged in social work that race is simply a socially constructed idea with no scientific validity – invented and refined principally to oppress POC.  This has modern and everyday ramifications in the working environment.  Throughout the Coronavirus pandemic, Black and ethnic minority practitioners have reported to the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) that Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has clearly been prioritised/withheld on occasions for their white colleagues.  Others explained they were made/ordered to visit service-users with suspected COVID-19 (with no PPE and no guidance/support), whilst white managers stayed at the office with ‘their’ supply of PPE and engaged in racist banter.  These perverse experiences can be impossible for victims of ‘naked and slippery’ everyday racism to articulate to others or reconcile internally themselves.  Furthermore, these incidents are normalised and subsumed in many workplace cultures, with limited opportunities to ‘professionally offload’.  In some cases, it’s really not hard to see who the direct descendants of slave-owners are.  With some people, it stands out like a beacon, regardless of what they say and do.


As outlined in my previous article, there is a long [history] of atrocities and brutalities endured by Black and ethnic minority people globally.  ‘Black lives matter’ is an acknowledgment that our lives need to matter more than they have, that society should apportion them equal weighting.  That is why the retort of ‘White’ or ‘All’ Lives Matter in response to BLM is not really comparable or relevant.  Would it be right to ask: “What about colon cancer?” during a discussion about breast cancer?  Or advise a bereaved mother that ‘all lives matter’ at her child’s funeral?  “Save the whales” does not mean other sea life is unimportant.  This is not complex stuff and just requires us to revitalise our basic human qualities – compassion, empathy and humanity.  Factually, unlike the lives of Black and ethnic minority people, white lives have always mattered.  So, to keep proclaiming ‘White lives matter’ adds excessive value to them, tilting us further towards white supremacy.  In hard times, surely it is right to protect and support certain groups – particularly vulnerable ones.  This does not devalue, disadvantage or discredit any other groups; it just raises general awareness and improves the support available to specific groups that require immediate attention.  BLM has its critics, but it is unclear why a movement that promotes equality is demonised by some people who vehemently claim they are not ‘a’ racist.


Anti-racism in social work must be fully considered and dismantled through collaboration with Black and ethnic minority social workers in roles as ‘experts with (personal and professional) lived experience’.  This is the only way that Black and ethnic minority social workers’ basic needs can be properly met and their wide-ranging expertise fully utilised.  Of course, this approach can only improve the experiences of black and ethnic minority service-users too.  It really is just a question of how much of a priority is anti-racism in social work?


So, how can social work employers implement ‘anti-racist practice’ in the workplace?


What might an anti-racist working environment look like?  What can social work employers do to promote anti-racism in the workplace?  What would the experience be like for Black and ethnic minority social workers?  Here is my vision of how this might work in reality:




Anti-racist recruitment targets are set to employ Black and ethnic minority senior leaders and educators to better reflect local communities and the workforce (where necessary/possible).


The ‘Rooney Rule’ is adopted, similar to senior recruitment in American National Football League.  This involves at least one POC candidate being interviewed for each senior leader vacancy. 




Anti-racism is: explicitly promoted in mission/position statements (good example here) along with other forms of anti-discrimination; included in relevant polices/procedures and forms part of employees’ employment contracts to underline its importance. 


The data on workforce diversity and ‘protected characteristics’ (ethnicity, gender, religion, sexuality etc) informs the support available for minority groups; training for all staff and organisational policies and procedures.  The workforce is encouraged to self-declare their identity and individual/group wellbeing at work provisions are developed in partnership with them.  Creative wellbeing at work provisions are developed for those who have experienced workplace trauma associated with racism (and other types of discrimination).  This includes peer-led support groups for members to reflect fully on their personal and professional experiences.  Personal wellbeing is a mandatory agenda item for supervision meetings.  By using this ‘identity dashboard’ approach, organisational efforts are more focussed and genuine; progress is properly managed through a cycle of reviewing data output and periodic verbal/written feedback from the workforce.  


Safe and informal systems are introduced for Black and ethnic minority social workers in the workplace.  For example, discriminatory practices or constructive solutions are made anonymously in an ‘honesty box’ to empower POC without fear of reprisals.  Arising issues are then explored in supervision, team meetings or with senior leaders (if necessary).


Annual ethnicity pay audits ensure that any anomalies and discrepancies for Black and ethnic minority staff are properly reviewed and resolved.


The Covid-19 risk assessment is consistently used for all staff (particularly those from Black and ethnic minority groups). 




Anti-racist education is recognised as being at the heart of developing a more cultured and inclusive workforce and healthy workplace.  


Education providers ‘decolonialise’ social work training programmes with the input of black and ethnic minority academics, social workers and service-users integrated at all stages of programme development and delivery. 


Anti-discriminatory, anti-oppressive and anti-racist practice  

form a fundamental and mandatory requirement of social workers professional development and registration.  This includes a range of educational tools and training opportunities (for different learning styles) to ensure quality cultural diversity education is prioritised and valued.  Staff continuously learn and better understand microaggressions, stereotypes and how they can demonstrate anti-racist practice’. 


The expertise of specialist external trainers and consultants is instrumental in shaping effective anti-racist approaches – with no reliance on tokenistic online courses.  


Here are some additional weblinks to anti-racist education: 1, 2 and 3.




Anti-racist allyship is understood by senior leaders, educators and practitioners to be vital in combating all manifestations of racism.  Educating, empowering and equipping allies to actively support colleagues from marginalised and minority groups is common practice.


Allyship actively promotes ways in which managers and staff can become allies or become better allies to support their Black and ethnic minority colleagues.  Social work employers and educators demonstrate they are willing to keep listening and learning from POC to instigate any meaningful change.


Reverse mentoring:


Anti-racist ‘reverse-mentoring’ enables Black and ethnic minority social workers to mentor senior leaders and educators on anti-racism (especially those with identified ‘anti-racist needs’).  It is important reverse-mentoring allows mentors some autonomy in their approach.  Furthermore, mentoring agreements (considering confidentiality, power dynamics and conflict resolution) are agreed and signed by both parties at the outset.


Leadership programmes:


To combat ‘glass ceiling racism’, various professional development opportunities are available designed to provide advice/support colleagues from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds to enhance their career progression.


‘Positive representation’ recognises the disadvantages and obstacles for POC and provides opportunities (mentoring, nominations, secondments, shadowing etc) to support them in reaching their full potential.  


Due to the representational imbalance, ring-fenced investment and operational resources to support leadership programmes is in place.  This addresses the lack of Black and ethnic minority social workers in senior roles and provides support for those who are.  


Unsurprisingly, I cannot be detailed or too prescriptive above due to limited space.  Also, the demographics/dynamics in each work setting will vary.  However, my suggestions can be cross-referenced with the ‘Anti-Racist commitment framework’ (below).  The framework’ provides more detail on: accelerating diversity; educating, empowering and equipping people; leading by example and building transparency.  The framework is also compatible with BASW’s Code of Ethics, Working Conditions Wellbeing Toolkit and mentoring scheme.  


Ok, so what needs to happen nationally?


The existing national frameworks and initiatives to support Black and ethnic minority social workers are fragmented and optional.  This can create confusion and dilution in their coherence and implementation in practice.  Social work has a long history of committing to anti-discriminatory practice, but less in the way of practical mandatory implementation or robust challenge on these issues.  Now is the time for the profession to properly address this.  I (and no doubt many others) would welcome the prioritisation of sector leaders (including the Chief Social Workers, Social Work England, Directors of Social Services and other key stakeholders) to meaningfully and purposefully move this agenda forward to establish a mandatory ‘anti-discriminatory national framework’ that is universal across social work – in collaboration with BASW.  


An important first step, would be to explicitly reintroduce anti-discriminatory, anti-oppressive practices and anti-racist values and ethics into the professional and qualifying education and training standards.  This new regime should involve partnership working between key stakeholders to enforce these values and ethics across the professional landscape.  Key aims/objectives would be to: ensure consistency, introduce mandatory requirements, emphasise ‘anti-racist’ values and be universally applicable to all social workers like the Professional Capabilities Framework and the professional standards.


We all know that organisations can sometimes be avoidant of anti-racism, but as social workers we must recognise that silence (or inaction) on racism is complicity with the oppressors.  Unfortunately, as a profession we have been complacent and have much more to do to cultivate equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace and society.  


BASW England is able to provide advice/support; facilitate consultation and deliver training (where possible) to assist social work organisations in implementing the above approach and embedding the ‘Anti-Racist commitment framework’ (below).  For social workers, there are various opportunities through BASW to develop your expertise in this area with our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Group, events, branch meetings and training programmes.  Also, BASW England will be leading a Black and Ethnic Professionals Symposium (BPS) for BASW members from 23/07/20 and a forthcoming anthology, so do contact me at wayne.reid@basw.co.uk or @wayne_reid79 – if you are interested in any of these initiatives.  Many of you will also be aware of our campaign to change the imagery on the KCMG medal and our open letter to the Queen.  BASW will not remain silent on this issue and we implore you to do the same.   


I sincerely hope this article resonates with those with power and influence within social work to rigorously combat racism by integrating a mandatory ‘Anti-racist commitment framework’ (below).  I am confident that this will embed anti-racist values and ethics into practice (not just theory).  Also, I also hope anti-oppressive and anti-discriminatory practice can be reaffirmed generally, as sadly, these have slid off the agenda significantly in recent years.


As a footnote, the Criminal Justice Act 1991 (Section 95), contains a section requiring the Home Office (changed to the Ministry for Justice) to annually publish the results of Criminal Courts in England and Wales.  This makes it unlawful for those employed in Criminal Justice System (social work educators and employers) to discriminate on the grounds of ‘ethnic background’.  This is a powerful tool, possibly under-used, by black and ethnic minority professionals and white officers (allies) who identify racism – particularly in social care generally.  This has the potential of legislative support for operational staff who raise the issue of racist practices (where perceived).


Let’s not forget, “when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression”.  The only real enemy of progress is ignorance.  Social justice must prevail.


‘One world, one race… the human race!’


Anti-racist commitment framework:



We will build a workforce more reflective of the communities we serve by promoting opportunities for black and ethnic minority people to enter and advance within the organisation.


Create a new fast-track scheme for high potential people from ethnic minority backgrounds, fuelled by targeted recruitment for senior leadership and work with partners to help grow diverse talent pools.  Selected staff will be mentored by a member of the Senior Leadership Team as they progress through different opportunities designed to build their career foundations.  This will be maintained by ensuring there are diverse shortlists for every senior management role across the organisation.



We will transform the culture to zero tolerance of discrimination. Introducing new immersive training to enhance awareness and support, to underpin inclusive management and meet various learning styles.


Race and culture awareness training will be mandatory for everyone.  This will go beyond routine online training by: offering guidance; peer support groups; recognising local issues; providing support to equip managers to champion diversity and utilising external specialist advice/support as/when necessary.



We will ensure that every one of our senior leaders has a greater understanding of the issues faced by ethnic minority communities and are equipped to lead the fight for equality.


Every senior leader will commit to either a) to have an ethnic minority reverse mentor or provide professional support to a community organisation serving ethnic minority groups.



We will address any gaps in our own data collection, ensuring that senior leaders can be held to account for the progress made in tackling both discrimination and equality of opportunity.


Staff will be encouraged to self-declare their identity, enabling us to build a rich profile of the workforce’s diverse needs. This will underpin the introduction of an annual ethnicity pay audit, backed by any immediate action required.  An ‘ethnicity dashboard’ will enable us to track progress across the colleague lifecycle and set targets for senior leaders. This will be published internally annually.

Supported by

An Ethical Curriculum

Kate Smith portrait

Written by Kate Smith

Compassionate school leader (and former headteacher) with a passion for developing an #ethicalcurriculum.

2020 has been the year that teachers and leaders have faced a plethora of unthinkable challenges and demands. But, despite the pandemic, and the pressure of the current Edu climate, children’s social and emotional development has to remain of the utmost importance in schools. I think now is a pivotal time to be thinking about how well our curriculum is serving our young people.

I recently joined an awesome line up of educators for the third TMBuffet, hosted by the impeccable @Mr_Speighton, and organised alongside @JamesWJCain on GoBrunch. This was a new webinar platform to me, and despite my tech issues and the kids overflowing the hot tub in the garden to distract me, it was easy to navigate and I liked the visual representation of the theatre (although there wasn’t a lot of virtual social distancing going on!) so you could see who was sat in the audience, waving you on. The platform had a great chat function too, so it was easy to interact with your audience and respond to live questions. 

I spoke about why curriculum reform and evaluation is so pertinent right now; what sort of issues and themes are relevant to include when developing an #ethicalcurriculum and shared some practical steps you can use to start designing and implementing a holistic, values based curriculum in your school. We looked at the following steps as a starting point. 

We are navigating complicated times. The pandemic is now exaggerating issues that we still fighting to make headway on. Child poverty is on the rise, racism and discrimination are still rife, there’s been little movement on the gender pay gap and our planet is being neglected. Sounds stark? Well it is. And I’m an optimist! We have a responsibility to our young people to ensure they thrive both academically and holistically in their education and the time is now! 

It may not feel like it, but schools do have considerable freedom over how they deliver their curriculum. Academies, Free Schools and Independent Schools have even more than State Schools, so now more than ever, is a great time to think about whether your current curriculum is serving your children and your community. Curriculum development is a long haul task, but a beautiful one, and an ethically focused curriculum, carefully crafted with the whole team, will mean the children, and the staff and families, will reap the benefits for years to come. 

There are certain subjects in the curriculum that are naturally easier to use as a platform for teaching more ethical topics, such as teaching about climate change through geography, or LGBT relationships through RSE or PSHCE. However, because the themes that are most relevant to teach our children, in terms of enabling them to develop into compassionate, responsible global citizens, are not explicit in the National Curriculum, then it’s down to school leaders and teachers to be creative in interweaving these key themes in, to ensure our pupils are able to create a kinder and more sustainable world. 

I thank the stars the PSHCE is now a statutory subject, however, Global Citizenship is not a required NC subject until KS3. So, if you are interested in teaching global citizenship in primary, then you need to think carefully about how you can interweave themes into the subjects you already teach, or, how you can specifically carve out some time from your (already crammed) timetable. 

As often is the case, the best place to start is by using what you know about your children, your community and your context. What is it they need now, and also, what they are going to need in the future? How can you challenge and strengthen their attitudes, develop their self awareness and equip them with skills, knowledge and understanding to offer them the best life opportunities through your curriculum? 

Each school is contextually unique which I think is what is so special about curriculum development; it’s so bespoke and yet so diverse.

Why teach an #ethicalcurriculum? 

We want to ensure that we are teaching a diverse and colourful curriculum.

We want to ensure we are teaching to promote equity and inclusion for all under represented groups and all of those within the Protected Characteristics Groups

We want to be educating our young people on issues around sustainable living, and the importance of becoming globally minded citizens in order to make the world a kinder place. 

To what extent does your current curriculum amplify these themes, and therefore, how well is your curriculum serving your young people and your community?

Step 1 : Focusing on Relevant and Ethical issues

It’s important for children and young people to see the relevance of what they are being taught, otherwise, what does it all mean for them? Black Lives Matters, The Gender Pay Gap Issue and recent Australian Bushfire Crisis are all recent events to interweave into your curriculum. Teach the children about how the issues effect their families, friends and future. Be aware of what’s going on Globally, Nationally and Locally to inspire you to incorporate relevant and ethical themes into your subjects. Additionally, identify any areas that specifically relate to your context, or that you feel are valuable on a global level.

Start this by creating a list of themes that are of interest to your school’s context. If you don’t have ideas to begin with, take a look at Global Dimension’s website and use this as a starting point to research ethical themes. If you are looking to improve Diverse representation then I’d highly recommend Diverse Educators shiny new website as a one stop shop to signpost you to those who can support you with work around the 9 Protected Characteristics of the Equality Act 2010. Then, consider where these themes would fit into each subject of the curriculum. It’s important to consider the appropriateness of each theme with regards to age, or your school’s context. If you’re keen to teach about equality for example, why not start with exploring gender stereotypes in your Early Years classrooms?

Children are subjected to gender stereotypes very early on. Consider how detrimental this can be?

A basic starting point is to think about issues that are particularly relevant to the context that you are in. There can be two ways of thinking about this: firstly, looking any gaps that you need to fill to improve your ethical curriculum offer: So you might be in a school which has issues with, for example, homophobic attitudes and therefore you need to further develop the value of compassion or respect. Or, you might be in a a school with a large refugee community, therefore, you need to nourish the values of empathy and humanity. Perhaps you’re in a school which is lacking in diversity, and consequently, your values need to promote respect and equality. On the contrary, if you are a school which is doing great work on climate change, or celebrating diversity, then you might want to strengthen your #ethicalcurriculum accordingly through a focus on the values of Leadership or Service.

As a a quick example, just think about specifically teaching about Equity. There are several themes here to be addressed; gender pay gap, global inequality in education, stereotyping, rights for LGBTQI+, racism, social mobility, the justice system, poverty, ableism, the protected characteristics… there are so many imperative topics to be interwoven in the curriculum in this area. Learning about these themes develop the values of self respect, involvement, empathy and advocacy to name a few.

We can do this through the use of children’s literature; through using media and through using lived examples. If you haven’t already used or experienced LYFTA, then I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s a beautiful and interactive online platform which support values and citizenship development through exploring lived experiences from all over the world. (Currently, you can access free CPD which enables a term’s subscription for your class, plus a British Council Level 2 CPD certificate upon completion of the webinar and review session.)

Step 2: Using Values to Guide you

Think specifically about which values you want to instill in your children, to allow them to create a kinder more sustainable world for themselves and future generations. The context of the school may influence this greatly and many MATS and Faith/C of E schools often hold their own set of collective values. Values are completely universal, however, the values you choose to focus on can still be specifically relevant to your school context too. So, the best place to start is using what you know about your children, your community. Consider what they need now, and for the future. A great place to start is by inviting your community to join you on your values journey. Share lists of values and ask them to send you the three that they think are most pertinent to them and the school. Many schools have a set of values that they focus on throughout the year; by week, month or even a term at a time. These are then creatively interwoven into assemblies, lessons, conversations, long terms plans etc. In the wise words of Mary Myatt however, ‘ Values must be lived – not laminated.’ So using your values within the curriculum authentically and deeply is the key.

There are hundreds of values to choose from. Which are relevant to you and your setting?

Consider: Which values do you need to nurture in your children, and how are you going to be active in doing that? How can we use our positive influence as teachers and leaders to nurture a school’s collective values and a set of core values for each pupil?

If you are looking to achieve a Quality Award for you work on developing values, then I would highly recommend that you contact The Values Based Education Network who can support you on this process. They also run INSET on how, as a whole school, you can develop your vision and align them with your values. This is such an empowering and enlightening process!

Reframing and Renaming

Renaming the titles of your topics or schemes of work can be incredibly powerful and help you shift your mindset and focus onto the ethical and moral aspect of a topic. You might use a KS1 Geography unit of work on the physical environment to look at the impact of say, Plastic Pollution. Then, reframe the title of your topic to reflect that focus. For example ‘The Blue Planet’ or ‘Saving our planet’, which gives real scope for exploring the effect of plastic pollution on our oceans and environment. If you’re looking at teaching a unit of work on design in DT in KS2, then why not reframe the focus onto the Effect of Fast Fashion and the impact on child labour, therefore developing the value of empathy and agency. If you are teaching about Nutrition in KS3 then can you focus your work on ethical farming, or food poverty, again promoting those values of accountability and collective responsibility.

This Banksy mural, which depicts a young boy toiling over a sewing machine making Union Jack textiles, could be a visual starting point for a lesson around child labor and humanity.

The 5 year-olds we teach now are going to be our future activists, our future humanitarians, our future engineers, our future environmentalists, our future policy makers. The curriculum we teach today is about ensuring that our children and young people thrive in five years, in ten years, in 30 years time. That’s why we have to teach children about physical and mental health, about looking after the environment, developing empathy for others and a desire for social change NOW. In doing so, we will all play our part in creating a kinder, more sustainable world.

Click here to download the slides shared at tm-buffet-2






Supported by

Thank You Chadwick Boseman

Karl Pupe portrait

Written by Karl Pupé

Qualified classroom teacher with a decade's experience across the Primary, Secondary and Further Education sectors.

Before we returned to school in the midst of all this COVID madness, my partner & I planned a weekend trip to the seaside. Because our foreign holiday was cancelled due to the current crisis, this getaway was the only chance we would see some sun (maybe), sand & just have time to relax.

When I woke up that Saturday morning, looking at my beaten-up iPhone, rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I checked my Whatsapp notifications & saw the first part of a message which said “This ain’t right… 2020 is too much.”

Curious, I opened up the message & saw the soulful face of Chadwick Boseman staring at me with a heartbreak emoji next to it.

King T’Challa was dead.

Our superhero was gone.

My chest felt like an invisible hand was pressing firmly against it, like a bouncer denying me entry into a club. That bouncer’s hand didn’t leave until later in the day. I felt like I lost a friend. 

In the midst of getting my child ready, while she was determined to paint her face with her jam-on-toast & my partner forcefully cajoling me with the energy of Jurgen Klopp out the door, the news feeds drip-fed me more information about his passing.

As we know now, the 43-year-old actor was diagnosed with stage 3 colon-cancer BEFORE he took up his legendary role as King T’Challa and silently battled this scourge of a disease for 4 YEARS while filming numerous pictures – how on Earth did he manage that?

As we drove down to the seaside, I just couldn’t shake my sadness… I lightly admonished myself that I didn’t know him personally & I shouldn’t his death so much to heart, but that familiar but unwelcome character called Sadness wouldn’t allow me to drop it. Sadness stood patiently at the door of my heart, waiting for me to talk to him. 

It’s time to break bread.

His Roles Gave Black People A Sense of Pride & Hope

If you have been knocking around my blog for a while, you will realise that:

  1. I am a Black man
  2. I am a fierce believer in Equality, Diversity & Inclusion for ALL people.

While this year has been an incredibly difficult year for all of us, ethnic minorities have taken extra blows to the face in this brawl. Where do we even start?

We could look at COVID19 and how it is 3 times more likely to kill ethnic minorities compared to our European counterparts.

We could look at the murder of George Floyd & the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests that spread around the world in the wake of the baked-in institutional racism that blights the whole of modern society. 

Images of black people being brutalised & harassed are never far off our television screens and it doesn’t seem to stop.

We could look at the recent A-Level results fiasco that saw a ‘mutant algorithm’ downgrade BAME & working-class students & until very recently, threatened to destroy the lives of our young people based on their gender, race and UK postcode. We can look at the rise of the Far-Right who in light of ‘Brexit’ have taken it on themselves to hunt the ‘foreigners’ & tell them to ‘leave Engerland alone because we are ful’ up.’

It’s knackering. It’s traumatic. And doesn’t stop.

The images of the Black community that are portrayed in the media are incredibly negative on the whole. We are commonly depicted as downtrodden, poor, aggressive, unintelligent and hypersexualised. Not the people that you want to be around.

Chadwick Boseman’s roles, especially that of King T’Challa was different.

In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Boseman’s T’Challa leads the fictional African nation of Wakanda, a nation untouched by the claws of slavery & colonisation & the most technologically advanced country on the planet. 

In King T’Challa, they had a leader who was soulful, noble, shrewd, brave & when ready, a fierce warrior who would be willing to do whatever it took to protect his people. T’Challa was also open to admitting his wrongs & actually at the end of Black Panther managed to reconcile the radical views of Erik Killmonger with his own, to create a progressive pathway to uplift all the black communities on the planet.

T’Challa, unlike Killmonger, did not hate other races. He was open to others & willing to learn. Wakanda was a progressive society as the second most powerful character in Wakanda, General Okoye was a woman who could fight with the best of the Avengers. Women were not depicted as mere damsels in distress but smart, intelligent and having agency. 

T’Challa was not subservient to the Avengers, making it clear to Iron Man & Captain America that he was not a man to be trifled with & was determined to walk his own path. 

In an era saturated with black masculine images of gangsters, pimps and hustlers, Boseman presented a black image that, especially our children, had never seen before.

The Black Panther film, no matter how fantastic, was an image of what Africa could be – it was a picture of the potential that we, the Black community, could become. It was a groundbreaking film in so many ways. It gave ethnic minority kids a superhero that looked & sounded like them, proudly and confidently. 

Black Panther made being an African cool. I grew up at the height of Live Aid and Comic Relief, and their condescending images of Africa filled with poverty, malnourished children with flies feasting on their heads and crazy despots in military uniform. 

I remember other kids I grew up with saying “shut-up you African” as an insult. But Chadwick & those that worked on Black Panther changed the zeitgeist bringing African colour, music & culture to billions on the planet.

And fittingly, Chadwick seemed as heroic as the fictional King himself, spearheading & fighting for the film’s integrity and pushing back the biggest film studio on the planet to make sure that Wakanda was represented authentically & respectfully. 

Black Panther director Ryan Coogler recently confirmed that Boseman was a powerful force driving the film & even when the director had doubts about whether the film would work, Boseman’s positivity and confidence encouraged them to keep going, calling the film the Black community’s Star Wars. And that’s how it felt.

Despite being diagnosed with a debilitating and fatal illness, Boseman regularly contacted cancer-stricken kids and visited them in hospital, making them smile & was visibly shaken when they faltered. He knew how much this role inspired ALL children & saw it as a duty to use his image to uplift others. Having seen my own loved ones succumb to the grip of cancer, my mind boggles on how he kept going in the face of such unimaginable pain. That’s honestly superhuman & we can only applaud his strength.

‘We Reminisce Over You’

As I write this, I realise that I am not alone in my feelings. From the Twitter tribe, all the way up to former Presidents, sports giants and movers and shakers of society, Chadwick’s death has sparked mourning and introspection.

Reflecting on his impact on the world, Chadwick represented a possibility that the Black community never had. He helped to bring to life a world where people of colour are not limited by their skin and made us believe that somehow we had that same power within us too.

The drawing above was given to me by one of my year 12’s, a very talented young man called Yusef before he left to chase his dreams to become a comic book illustrator. He gave this to me as he knew from my lessons how passionate I was about how T’Challa should be depicted on-screen. This is now one of my most valued possessions.

We grieve for what he could of went on to achieve & how far he could have gone. Many saw him as our generation’s Denzel Washington or Sidney Poitier. We grieve because we wanted to see what more he could have done & what his artistry could have reflected about us. We all wanted to visit Wakanda with him one more time…

But it wasn’t to be.

Now, I look on that illustration with fondness, knowing that Chadwick Boseman, made this black-and-white image come alive on the big screen, giving joy to millions and still retaining his humility, grace and dignity until the very end.

Boseman is not a god – he was very much human with flaws and character quirks. But with his talent and belief, he made the world a slightly better place – and we need that energy now more than ever.

For all the teachers out there, children cannot be what they cannot see. They have to see heroes that live the virtues that we are trying to teach them. We may not be superheroes ourselves, but in our own little ways, we can shine a light of possibility into their worldviews. That’s a sacred trust that we must use wisely.

Representation matters. And Chadwick represented us to the fullest.

May GOD bless you & keep you Chadwick.

Rest in Power, King and thank you for your service.


Originally published on actionheroteacher.com on 31st August 2020.



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