The Important Role of the DEI Leader in Our Schools

Hannah Wilson portrait

Written by Hannah Wilson

Founder of Diverse Educators

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder last summer many people from my network started disclosing that they were feeling compromised – they had been approached to lead DEI in their context, but they knew it was because of their lived experience ie they identify as belonging to one of protected characteristic groups. 

Each person shared how they felt the burden of responsibility but also that they were acutely aware of the visibility and the vulnerability of this position. Moreover, most of them had been asked to take on this role for free (ie for love and for passion). They were not being offered additional time, additional training nor additional money.

We created a DM group that soon filled up on Twitter so we created a 2nd one – nearly 100 people who are leaning into leading DEI work in their schools, colleges and trusts. It is notable that the vast majority of these individuals were assigned female at birth and identify as being women. Many have an intersectional identity and are women of colour, women of faith, women who are LGBTIA+ and women who are parents/ carers. An important factor to consider as we bang our drum about asking people to do this work (ie burden and additional load) for free.

In response, Angie Browne and I developed the DEI Leaders Programme to support each individual on their journey to combat the fear, to address the isolation and to create a safe space to explore the vulnerability of this important work. We have both led this work on our own career journeys and navigated the systemic, structural and societal barriers that come with the territory. We have stories to share and war wounds to lick, but we can also share how we shaped our strategies and illustrate the impact we had and the legacy we created.

In addition to the programme, through the #DiverseEd network I created a space each half-term for DEI leaders who are not formally working with us through the programme to come together informally to form a DEI Leaders Network as an opportunity to connect, to collaborate, to peer support and to share the learning. We are also planning an annual DEI Leaders conference to share best practice and deepen knowledge and understanding in June.

I have also begun to collate a recruitment pack of DEI leaders job descriptions, person specifications and adverts so that each individual can negotiate the framing of their role in their school/ trust. The title of the role is up for debate and varies from setting to setting. I share in my training sessions that a trend I have observed in my cross-sector LinkedIn network is that in corporate settings mande D&I/ EDI leads are now being called Head of Belonging. I love this reframe and personally think that the education sector should adopt it too.  

It has been heartening to see a flurry of tweets in the last few months of people from our network and from our programme being formally appointed and properly remunerated for this role in our schools. Congratulations to those who have successfully been appointed and those who have negotiated a defined role. This is still the minority but there is a glimmer of hope that organisations are recognising the need for a defined role and remit for whoever is leading DEI.

Our provocation to the school system:

Would we ask a SENCO or a DSL to strategically lead their whole school responsibility without framing their role, giving them additional time, adequately resourcing their area (budget for books/ training) and elevating their sphere of influence to at the very least associate senior leadership?

For all of the schools leaning into DEI work we encourage you to review your infrastructure. The DSL and SENCO do not carry the burden of all of the safeguarding and all of the SEN work on their shoulders – they have a team of people they can distribute the load across, but moreover the collective responsibility of the whole staff team is expected. We believe that DEI needs to be framed in the same way.

We would not ask an adult who had been vulnerable to lead safeguarding based on their lived experience nor an adult with an additional need to lead SENCO without the framing, the training, the support and the accountability around them, once they had been identified as the most appropriate person to lead this work and fulfil the responsibilities of the role. So we should not be approaching the staff of colour, the staff who are LGBTQIA+ to do this work, simply because of their identity, and moreover we should not be asking them to do it without a formal process to identify they are the person who is best-positioned to lead this work, and thereby appointing them, announcing them and  appropriately remunerating them.

The role of the DEI Leader in our schools is an important one as it embodies our commitment to this work, it elevates the status of the strategy, it creates visibility in the school of diverse role models, it amplifies the voices of diverse stakeholder groups and it centres belonging in the culture, the curriculum, the policies and the practices throughout the school. 

So we need to be very careful that through our DEI strategies we are intentionally dismantling barriers instead of further perpetuating the glass ceilings, the concrete ceilings, the glass cliffs and the pay gaps that already exist in the school system. Formally appointing and remunerating the people leading this work is a great place to start as our schools continue on their journeys to unlearn and relearn why and how representation matters.

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#DiverseEd’s Top 10 Blogs of 2020-21

Hannah Wilson portrait

Written by Hannah Wilson

Founder of Diverse Educators

We love to amplify the voices, share the journeys, and celebrate the stories of our community.  Our blogs vary from sharing lived experience, to reflecting on classroom practice and curriculum design, to evaluating the impact of policy changes. We published 150 blogs from our network last academic year. You can meet our bloggers here and you can review our collection here.

Deepening our thinking around DEI starts with who and what we are reading, helping us to develop our confidence and our competence, both individually and collectively. Reading the blogs by our community provokes reflection and stimulates conversations to help us all understand the breadth and the depth of issues we need to develop an awareness of. 

Themes explored in the 2020-21 blog collection include: allyship, belonging, careers, coaching, commitment, community, curriculum, culture, governance, HR, identity, ITTE, language, leadership, policy, recruitment, reflection, representation, research, safeguarding, strategy, teaching, wellbeing. 

 

Here are our Top 10 Most-Read #DiverseEd Blogs in the 2020-21 academic year:

  1. How do we deal with racism in the classroom – Hannah Wilson 
  2. How to promote an anti-racist culture in social work – Wayne Reid 
  3. Interactive diversity calendar 2021 – Carly Hind/ Dual Frequency 
  4. How does material deprivation intersect with ethnicity to understand the variations in the achievement among BAME students – Nicole Edwards 
  5. Don’t tuck in your labels – Bennie Kara 
  6. Dear Secretary of State – Hannah Wilson 
  7. Gender is wibbly wobbly and timey wimey and gloriously so – Matthew Savage 
  8. Engaging with diversity – giving pupils a voice – Gaurav Dubay 
  9. Black lives matter, then now always – Wayne Reid 
  10. Breaking the cycle anti-racist plan term 1 – Dwain Brandy 

Thank you to everyone who has contributed to our #DiverseEd date and please do get in touch if you would like us to publish you. You can find out more about how to submit here.

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Reflections on the Edurio EDI Summit

Iona Jackson portrait

Written by Iona Jackson

Iona has 10 years of experience providing data, insights and research projects across several industries. Now heading up Edurio’s research team, comprising of education and survey specialists. Iona leads on turning Edurio’s national datasets into useful and impactful insights for trust and school leaders.

On June 21st, my colleagues and I hosted the Edurio EDI Summit, a day dedicated to promoting equality, diversity and inclusion within schools. Throughout the day we had guest speakers sharing their experiences in school as people with a range of protected characteristics, ran masterclass sessions with experts in equality, diversity and inclusion, and launched the first report from Edurio’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Review. 

Among our guest speakers was Amy Ferguson, a female, lesbian, Black school leader, who explained her experiences at the intersection of multiple protected characteristics. We also heard from Abed Ahmed, a Muslim teacher with a stutter. We learned from Abed about the challenges of interviews when fluent speech is a challenge, and how the “usual” model of interviewing could be limiting the talent pool by assessing people on attributes that don’t dictate how well a person is able to teach young people. 

The masterclass sessions covered topics from diversity to religion. Mandy Coalter encouraged attendees to understand the context using both individual stories and data when building action plans. We heard from David Hermitt about the changing role religion plays in the lives of White British/Irish children, and how that compares to their BAME peers. In another session, Jerrel Jackson talked about problems with labels, both the ones assigned to us by others and the ones we assign ourselves. We wrapped up the day with a close look at intersectionality, with Hannah Wilson (Diverse Educators) and Angie Browne. The session shone a light on the challenges that come from thinking about people based on one characteristic they may have, as humans are made up of a number of characteristics and experiences. 

The event also featured the launch of our report, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Among School Staff. It’s the first of many reports from our EDI Review, the largest dataset on EDI issues within English schools. 16,500 school staff took part from 380 schools in England, discussing their experiences relating to recruitment, on-the-job issues of equality, diversity and inclusion, and opportunities to advance within their school or trust. We found that, overall, staff felt that their workplace was committed to promoting equality, diversity and inclusion. Four in Five staff said they felt their workplace was ‘quite’ or ‘very committed’. However, there were material differences among how staff with certain protected characteristics experienced their time in schools. 

The first report offers an overview of some key learnings across the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Review. But it is just the start – in the coming weeks and months we’ll be sharing deep dives into particular protected characteristic groups, and looking into particular areas of the school experience in more detail. As our data set grows, our representation of smaller or more marginalised groups will continue to grow, and we will be able to provide a voice to people who have struggled to have their views heard. I’m excited about what is to come as we continue on this long journey towards creating equal, diverse, and inclusive workplaces in education. 

Edurio is a survey platform for schools to quickly and easy gather feedback from staff, parents and pupils. Our EDI Review is one of a number of surveys created by Edurio in partnership with education researchers and practitioners. To find out more, or book a consultation, head to home.edurio.com 

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Coaching and Mentoring Diverse Leaders

Jill Berry portrait

Written by Dr Jill Berry

Thirty years teaching across six different schools in the UK, state and independent, and was a head for the last ten. Has since completed a doctorate and written a book.

Since I finished headship in 2010, I’ve spent a fair amount of time working with aspiring and serving leaders at all levels, supporting and challenging them to step up, to be the best leaders they can be and to fulfil their personal and professional ambitions.  It’s been a hugely satisfying and energising part of this ‘post-career’ phase of my life.

I was involved in and supportive of #WomenEd from the very beginning, and as initiatives like #BAMEd, #LGBTEd and #DisabilityEd have come on-stream, and as our awareness of the crucial importance of diversity, equity and inclusion has grown, I’ve been committed to supporting diverse educators, and this has involved my learning more – reading more, watching and listening more, in an attempt to raise my awareness of the perspectives and experiences of those whose lives may be quite different from my own.  I’m committed to being an ally, and to encouraging all educators to be allies – and to exhorting all those with leadership responsibility to use any influence they have to empower others, especially those from under-represented groups.

We need strong leaders at all levels – Middle Leaders, Senior Leaders, Heads, Executive Heads – whether you’re leading a specific team, a school or a group of schools.  And we need a diverse and inclusive workforce which reflects the communities we serve, and the world we live in, so there are role-models and high profile examples of what our pupils can achieve, and so that we make the most of the strengths and the range of talents of absolutely everyone.

So in terms of coaching, mentoring, supporting and developing leaders – whatever their background, their identity and their lived experience, these are three things I think are especially important. 

  1. Leading is about getting the best from others, and to do that we need to ensure we can see the best in them, and that they see it themselves.  Strong leaders can spot potential in those who don’t yet believe it themselves, so that’s my first point.  Can you help those you lead to give themselves credit for what they have achieved and, crucially, what they could achieve in the future? Find the bright spots, and ensure they don’t undervalue themselves, or their potential.  Show them you value what they are now, and what they are capable of becoming.
  2. Secondly, but clearly closely related to the first point, this is about building the most positive, mutually respectful and trusting relationships, and communicating.  Really listening, being receptive, showing empathy, and trying very hard to understand each other’s point of view.  To borrow Nancy Kline’s words: “seek to understand” rather than “seeking to convince”.  When you’re working with others, focus on building bridges and not walls.
  3. And thirdly, finally, never lose a strong sense of hope and a sense of the possible.  It’s ten years old, now, but back in the early days of my headship I read a book called ‘The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life’ by Benjamin and Rosamund Zander, and I did FIND it transformative.  We need to see what’s possible, for ourselves and for others, and to help them to see it, and to believe it too.  We can be constrained by our fears, our anxiety about facing failure, or disappointment, our aversion to risk.  If you are coaching, mentoring and developing diverse leaders, you need to have a clear sense of, and commitment to, what is possible.  I recently supported a woman who was applying for an Assistant Principal role in her own school.  She almost didn’t apply, and when I asked her why, she said, “I don’t like to fail.”  No one likes to fail, but if we aren’t prepared to risk failure we won’t achieve success.  What made a difference to her was her 13 year old son saying to  her, “But, mum if you don’t apply, you HAVE failed…”  And she applied.  And it was a really rigorous, robust, challenging process, and she got the job.

So if you’re supporting diverse leaders, remember:

  1. Find the bright spots – and help them to see them too
  2. Connect and communicate
  3. Have hope and see what’s possible.

You can read more blogs by Jill here: https://jillberry102.blog/2021/06/12/coaching-and-mentoring-diverse-leaders/

You can watch Jill’s input at the #DiverseEd event here: https://youtu.be/wnanDncf6Xc 

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Bitter Sweet Sugar

Caroline Verdant portrait

Written by Caroline Verdant

Higher Level Teaching Assistant (HLTA) and Performing Arts Co-Lead. 40+ years of performing arts and dance choreography experience and 20+ years of experience teaching children.

After our London City Airport campaign win, the door opened for my school, St. Antony’s Catholic Primary, to engage with Tate & Lyle, where I found myself sitting at the table with Britain’s most iconic sugar company, based in our borough of Newham.

 

What immediately comes to mind when you hear the word ‘sugar’?

 

Sweets? Chocolate? Dessert? Perhaps, a diet.

 

For me – it’s sugar cane.

 

At the age of 4, I remember once standing in the middle of a field, watching my dad chop sugar cane. It was my first trip to Barbados, where sucking on fresh and raw, sweet sugar cane is one of my fondest memories. “White Gold” is what they called it; named so because of the great wealth, fame and status it produced for Barbados – the richest of all European colonies throughout the West Indies. However, I also learned many horrendous stories – about the treatment of my forefathers, who worked as slaves on plantations. Slave labour was of course the cheapest way to produce sugar, and turn a profit.

 

During the 18th century, sugar was a powerful commodity which came at a great human cost. Chained and crammed onto slave ships for journeys that would last anywhere between 6 to 11 weeks, it was expected that some slaves would die during the voyage from Africa. For those that made it to the cane fields of the Caribbean, they would be branded and spend the rest of their days beneath the hot West-Indian sun, planting and harvesting sugar cane, from dawn to dusk. Whilst suffering from malnutrition and tropical diseases, slaves were often whipped for not working hard enough. As the most labour intensive crop, 70% of slaves brought to the ‘New World’ were indentured to producing sugar. For this reason, it’s hard to separate sugar from slavery.

 

Even though the UK abolished slavery 188 years ago, its legacy still lives on to this day. It was only in 2015 where the debt incurred by compensation to Britain’s slave owners was finally paid off, at cost to the British taxpayer. This is a debt that I have contributed to settling for the past 32 of years of my life; a legacy I was born into, as a British-Bajan woman.

 

Being the only black person sitting at the table with the leaders in the UK’s sugar industry (since 1878), Tate & Lyle’s commitment towards paying the Real Living Wage speaks volumes to me. Their accreditation is far more than just a positive step towards economic equality, but very much also a step towards racial equality—a step towards reversing a cycle that has lasted for centuries by ensuring every worker is lifted up from in-work-poverty, and given back a sense of dignity.

 

While our students weren’t directly involved in this campaign, they were recognised by Tate & Lyle’s director and Local Affairs Manager; who both praised the children’s performance of their song ‘Realise’ and their campaign achievements. For my role as a mother and a teacher at St. Antony’s, it is essential that every child learns there are no barriers to what they can pursue or accomplish. By leveraging the power and unity of voices through Community Organising, neither their age, colour, cultural background or socio-economic status can dictate which path in life they choose to take.

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