My Journey to Belonging

Meirion Lewis portrait

Written by Meirion Lewis

Assistant Principal at UAE Southbank, South London and #BigLeadershipAdventure participant.

A few weeks ago I was participating in a fantastic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) session by Adrian McLean (@character_guy) and Hannah Wilson (@ethical_leader) as part of the Big Leadership Adventure by @_bigeducation and we were challenged to write a blog.  I have to admit to having become an avid blog reader over the past few years due to delving into the twittersphere but have always found the thought of writing one myself as an utterly terrifying experience.  Who on earth would want to read my inane ramblings when there are so many incisive, phenomenal musers and blog authors currently out there.  I definitely don’t feel like I belong in that sphere but the challenge was there and began worming its way into my brain. The biggest issue was what on earth I would write my first blog on. I have been reading Brene Brown’s ‘Braving the Wilderness’ recently and this idea of ‘belonging’, what it means to belong and the importance (or not) of belonging to something really resonated with me and chimed with my growing discomfort of seeing Edutwitter becoming more and more tribal.  Massive thanks also has to go to my wonderful colleague and friend Hannah Dalton (@DoddsyInit) for her feedback and suggestion that I turn this blog into a trilogy (what have I let myself in for).  So here goes nothing…

 

What does it mean to ‘belong’?

The Oxford English dictionary defines belonging as ‘the feeling of being comfortable and happy in a particular situation or with a particular group of people’.  Sounds simple enough but how easy is it to feel like you truly belong somewhere and is it actually that important in the grand scheme of things?

 

To put this in some sort of personal context, I have suffered from massive ‘imposter syndrome’ for most of my teaching career and reflecting back on the past 20 odd years, it has definitely affected my sense of belonging, and as a result, my self esteem and ability to do my job at times. I didn’t exactly fall into teaching but it was never part of my career plans growing up.  My dad was a Deputy Head and, whilst he loved his job, I could see how hard he worked and thought it looked like way too much effort for me.  However, a girl I fancied in Uni was working in a youth club on the weekends so I ended up doing the same. Whilst the relationship was short lived, the desire to combine my love of Science along with the real buzz I got from working with the teenagers from the estates of Cardiff propelled me into applying for a PGCE (plus, if you had seen how bad I was at Lab work, it was obvious that a career in Biochemical research was never going to work!).  I was pretty driven in the early days to both do the best by my students and move up the responsibility ladder and I definitely felt like I belonged, both in the profession and in the different schools I worked in.  

 

After 8 years, I found myself as Head of Science in a great school and that’s when the imposter syndrome hit me, and hit me hard. I constantly questioned myself and whether I belonged in the role and in such a successful school.  It even got to the point where I was questioning whether I belonged in the teaching profession at all.  Looking back now with a (relatively) dispassionate eye, I think I was a pretty decent HoD.  Results improved (from a fairly high starting point), retention into 6th Form classes increased significantly but could I have done better – most definitely.  I could, and should, have learnt more from my mistakes, been a more reflective leader and listened to my staff more but I was so preoccupied with the issue of personal belonging and all the baggage that went with it that it clouded my ability to think clearly at times.  

 

This feeling of not belonging in leadership dogged me for the next decade and it is not until the last year or so that I have started to shake it off (I suspect it will never completely disappear and that is probably not a bad thing as it provides a critical lens to be self reflective through).  What changed to allow me to begin to move on?  In its simplest form, I rediscovered my values and began to truly understand what sort of leader I wanted to be.  This has not been easy and I can’t honestly say I made a conscious decision to go on this journey but it has happened nonetheless.  It comes down to a combination of factors but the main ones are:

  • I stumbled upon a school that is full of people that share my values (although I didn’t realise this when I started).
  • I have colleagues that have shown me, by their actions, the importance of developing yourself as a leader and that it is ok, normal even, not to have the answers to everything but that you should be striving to constantly reflect and improve.  They have shown me that being clear about what you believe in and living your values out in your everyday life are probably the most important things you can do.  This may sound obvious to you, dear reader, but it hasn’t always been to me.
  • I have found a group of people through ‘Big Education’ that I admire beyond words and am privileged to be able to learn and grow with them over our two year Leadership Adventure and, hopefully, beyond.  I definitely still feel imposter syndrome when I am with them! 

 

Brene Brown talks about belonging in the following way: ‘belonging is about being accepted for you… if I get to be me, I belong.  If I have to be like you then I fit in’. That encapsulates where I am in my journey perfectly – I now get to be me, so I belong.  

 

Part 2 of this blog series will look at the pitfalls of belonging and Part 3 will discuss why it is important for schools to foster a sense of belonging amongst their students and how they can go about doing this.  I need to actually get around to writing them now!

Supported by


A Curriculum for Diversity and Inclusion

Andi Silvain portrait

Written by Andi Silvain

Andi Silvain and Sarah Seleznyov are co-headteachers of School 360, a brand new primary school in Newham that is part of Big Education.

What if you could tear up your curriculum and start again?  What if you could design a curriculum from scratch that had inclusion and diversity at its heart?

As Co-Headteachers of a brand new school, School 360, we are lucky enough to have this opportunity but we have to admit, it has been a complex and challenging process.  We don’t think we have all the answers, but we do hope we are asking the right questions.

Question number one: What do we each bring to the table, both in terms of experiences and biases?

We come from two very different backgrounds.  Sarah was brought up in a tiny village in Wales, went to a very ordinary comprehensive school, and then ended up as a fish out of water at Oxford University.  She is passionate about breaking the cycle of elitism and sees education as a way to empower disadvantaged communities, and to enable social change.  Andi was born in Newham and raised in East London. She faced a number of challenges to achieve academic success in an education system that was not designed for her to do so.  She has a vision for an education system that is equitable. One that recognises, values and rewards students as multifaceted human beings.

As Co-heads we do what it takes to ensure that our vision is clearly understood and shared between us. We openly acknowledge and respect that we approach issues from different life experiences and will therefore have different perspectives and different levels of objectivity.  However, one thing is clear to both of us: we want to make anti-racism a priority, and set it at the heart of the school’s mission.  If it’s a half-hearted add on, it will fail.

Question number two: How can we avoid systematic bias in our recruitment of teachers and other staff?

Andi’s experiences as a black school leader and Sarah’s work on the Stepping Into Leadership project, have helped us reflect on how we can avoid bias in our recruitment and promotion processes.  We are currently recruiting for a teacher and have taken steps to ensure our job advert encourages diverse applications, by including a specific statement of intent to welcome applications from black and minority ethnic applicants, and those seeking job shares.  We want to listen and find out what a safe and welcoming environment feels like for black and minority ethnic teaching and support staff.  We are considering a stage in the interview process that looks at commitment to antiracism, equity and inclusion.  We have noted that eyes tend to focus on the name of the university that an application attended, and feel this may be limiting our openness to good candidates, so are keen on university-blind applications.

Finally, we are keen to have our application process critiqued by a wider group of teachers in the black and minority ethnic community once it has been put in motion, to see if we succeeded in our goal to be inclusive, and to generate ideas on what more could be done.  But the work won’t end at recruitment.  We know that bias demonstrates itself in progression to leadership, since school leaders often rely on the ‘tap on the shoulder’ approach, nudging people they recognise and can relate to, into leadership roles.  We know we need to keep this in check and plan to offer training for staff on recognising and avoiding bias, and how to have proactive discussions about race.

Question number two: How can we avoid systematic bias in our relationships with families?

Step one for us with this goal is to create an action plan with short, medium and long term goals for becoming an anti-racist school, like the one being developed with the School 21 team. As Big Education grows the number of schools in its family, this work should really expand to a working group across the Trust, ensuring the schools learn from each other and can hold each other to account for progress and setbacks.

As we take in our first cohort of children, we plan to survey parents to understand the experiences they have had so far with schooling either for themselves or their children.  Once we know about what brought them joy, the challenges they faced and what supported them in moving into successful adult lives, we can develop a curriculum that supports them and their children in moving forwards.  

We have a purpose built parent room and community kitchen in the new school, and are carefully considering how we might use this space to promote social cohesion, changing the narratives of class and race and individual potential and thereby truly enabling our students’ futures. We are exploring the possibility of a Community Cafe: a place at the heart of the school creating a heart for the community, a place to both meet the needs and realise the gifts of the community. 

Whatever happens in that space, and in our wider work with parents, we need to operate on the principle of mutuality. The name School 360 captures our intent to be at the heart of the community, both inward and outward facing, both offering and receiving from the community.  We are keen to engage parents and community partners in all aspects of the curriculum.  Local residents could host a talk, lead a course or put on a special event.  We have as much to learn from the community as we are able to offer them.

Question number three: How can we make sure every child feels equally valued and included?

Andi watched this Ted Talk by author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and she was struck by how much it resonated with her own philosophy about storytelling.  Chimamanda speaks about stories as the connection between humans as equals, which is at the heart of humanity.  She sees the dominant story being told as a manifestation of power, and articulates the danger of only hearing a single story.

As one a family of schools focused on oracy, School 360 wants to place a particular emphasis on storytelling.   We want our curriculum to ensure that children’s home cultures are integrated with school culture and for children to develop empathy and understanding of different cultures.  This will be deliberate through the books we choose, the  representations we share, the pride we instil and the stories we share. Storytelling as a pedagogy will help facilitate this, as children are supported to explore, articulate and share their own stories with the passion and enthusiasm these stories deserve.  Inspired by the award winning Ancestors Unknown project for secondary schools, we want children and families’ stories to sit at the heart of our curriculum.

School 360 children are the decision makers of the future.  We want the education we provide to be transformational in a positive and long lasting way. We need the right team to bring this vision to life, and that team has to represent the community we serve. It’s a project in process, but watch this space – School 360 has grand and important plans!

To find out more about the new school, join one of our New School, New Thinking sessions, sign up for our newsletter, respond to our consultation, or apply to teach at the school.

Supported by


DEI: An Anti-Racist Approach

Hana Malik portrait

Written by Hana Malik

Hana Malik is currently an Associate Senior Leader, Head of English with a passion for social justice, diversity and equity.

It is rare that a school staff body will arrive at the same conclusion, at the same time, but it does happen and when it does, change becomes a moral imperative. Almost one year ago now, the majority of staff at my school met over zoom to discuss what could be done to move forward from the point at which we had arrived: the undeniable lived facts of institutional racism, which had been reiterated through the shocking and inhumane murder of George Floyd. Although our experiences, and that of our students, of living within a society whose structures determined obstacles, interventions and successes are different to that of our allies in the US, the moment we were now in was not too dissimilar. Disbelief. Exhaustion mingled with renewed faith. A quiet hope that this time, maybe, things would start to change. Perhaps, starting in our corner of East London, we could start to rebuild and begin to see a more equitable reality. 

Getting People Talking

A few years ago, myself and a few close colleagues made the trip up to Aureus School for our first Diverse Educators conference. Inspired and buoyed, we quickly established a ‘#DiverseEd’ discussion group at our school. This has been running since then and last year it provided the platform for all staff to get talking.  

The #DiverseEd session we facilitated soon after George Floyd’s murder is something I will not forget. Staff shared their personal experiences: there was no diversity in our leadership; there was sadness in delivering a curriculum to young people which was not representative; there was disillusionment that an inequitable education system could not be changed and there were many silences – heavy realisations that we had all been aware of these issues, and yet had not done more to improve things for our students or our colleagues. Important as well was the presence of the range of stakeholders including support staff, deputy headteachers and middle leaders. 

These conversations have continued with staff members not afraid to sit for a while with their discomfort. As well as the #DiverseEd discussion group, we run an Anti-Racist Reading Group and each half term we encourage staff to read (watch or listen) to a key thinker. So far, we have explored ideas from individuals such as Kendi, Akala, and Eddo-Lodge. Highlights are shared with staff and students so that we can constantly underscore the importance of listening, questioning and unlearning. And, as the work, while incredibly difficult and often nebulous, continues, we know that if we keep listening and learning, we will continue to move forward. 

Keeping People Working 

Our East London school is a place where teachers are proud to work, and students are inspired to flourish. This has never been truer than in this last year. We have introduced new initiatives to establish DEI as part of our everyday practice and care. 

As part of the pastoral curriculum, we have introduced a Community Calendar. This additional provision works on several levels. Not only does it expose students (and staff) to a range of celebrations and events, but it also encourages students to lead on sharing elements of their identity thereby feeling more and more like they belong. For example, we have collectively recognised Diwali and World Hijab Day; students got involved in creating assemblies, resources and leading their forms in celebrations. Within this we have also explored anti-racist vocabulary (such as privilege and microaggressions), run extra-curricular activities working with external parties such as The Black Curriculum and undertaken readings of ‘Black and British’ by David Olusoga to create a shared timeline of history. 

While the pastoral curriculum offers regular and meaningful touchpoints to diversity and inclusion, heads of department have also begun reviewing their curriculum and teaching and learning (T&L). An evaluation of KS3 has led to changes to texts being taught as well as additions to texts (parallel or juxtaposing) to ensure students see learning as a supporter of diversity. Integral to this has been establishing a clear approach to DEI. We ensure our provision Represents, Reframes and empowers us to be Anti-Racist. This is supported through weekly T&L tips, specialised coaching, an action research group and DEI Champions. 

Overall, we have seen an increase in student achievement points, student leadership points, development in schemes of learning, teachers feeling more confident in delivering and talking about key issues, and increased collaboration amongst staff. However, the most important thing we have achieved this year is putting into action some of the things we discussed last year. We have managed to find a way to keep DEI at the heart of what we’ve done (while also juggling all the usual school balls). We were clear about our commitment to change and we have remained committed to that change, and although there is a lot of work yet to be done, I know we will keep talking and working in our corner of East London. 

Supported by


Free Palestine

Zahara Chowdhury portrait

Written by Zahara Chowdhury

Wellbeing and education coach. She is founder of a new digital platform for students, www.schoolshouldbe.com and www.zenworkhub.com supporting professionals with their wellbeing.

We cannot champion diversity and inclusion in our schools if we do not champion the history of Palestine too. 

In light of the recent atrocities in occupied Palestine, I must admit that as a teacher who always championed diversity in her classroom, in schemes of work, in my own university dissertation where I referenced the wonderful Edward Said, I am wholeheartedly ashamed. I am ashamed and baffled by my ignorance and my lack of discussion about Palestinian history with my students. 

For a school to fully represent and embrace diversity, inclusion, equity and global humanitarianism, it must feature lessons and conversations on Palestine. Without lessons on Palestine’s place and context within the Middle East, its culture, its history, its place within The Ottoman Empire and so much more, a school’s approach to D&I is all but lip service, performative; without these lessons, along with lessons about Myanmar, Columbia, the Uyghur community,  D&I will yet again be another box to tick, which will just perpetuate the accepted lessons of a curriculum narrative. And, every day we learn that narrative can be anything but ‘rich’. 

Let me clarify that I do not say the above lightly. Instead, I want this blog to be a lesson plan it itself and an uncomfortable one at that:

If you are angered and triggered by the statements above, if you think they in some way imply notions of racism, prejudice, hatred or any such negativity, ask yourselves why? 

  • Why is the mention of Palestinian legitimacy, identity, culture and history such a threat?
  • Why is the outcry of freedom for Palestine such an institutional taboo? 
  • Why is it that when it comes to the history of Palestine, to the occupation, to the Gaza strip, to the Middle East, our knee jerk reaction is, ‘it’s complex’ and we need to ‘move on’? 
  • Why do we shut down these conversations when, by their very nature, they have the power to educate peace, solidarity, change and perspective? This is everything we aim to teach our students – so why are they so non-existent in our schools? 

Last week, a student was excluded for saying ‘free Palestine’ from a school.* Recently, an Instagram post has attracted over 10 000 people as a student was allegedly told she committed an ‘act of terror’ as she cut off the Israeli flag and replaced it with the Palestinian flag.  Whilst there is more context to both events, one thing that screams through these incidents is the lack of education and conversations on how to have uncomfortable, moral and ethical conversation. Students are crying out for conversations about these worldly events and if we do not enable them in the classroom, through research, solidarity, compassion and a listening ear, schools are in danger of fuelling the polarisation and disillusionment we see in the world today. 

How do we education students about the Palestinian history and the creation of Israel? 

  • Spend time researching and looking for unbiased sources that can teach you and your students about the history of Palestine. In my dismay and horror as I watched the atrocities in Gaza last week, I pulled out my university copy of The Penguin History of The World. I flipped straight to the chapters about The Ottoman Empire, Palestine’s presence in the Middle East and Britain’s involvement in creating Israel. It’s heavy going, but of course it would be – it’s a narrative mainstream media purposefully complicates due to its uncomfortable history. As educators, it is our job to make these lessons accessible for the sake of all students. 
  • Share the history of Palestine and what is was like pre-1948 – representation is everything. It can be difficult to find these images online. Now, and even when I was at school, students associate protest, poverty, violence and rubble to name but a few things, with Palestine. But, its history is so much richer than that and the beautiful architecture, the people, the culture and place can make great research projects, interesting discussions and dispel prejudices and inaccuracies that are in constant circulation about Palestine. There are also websites dedicated to lessons and resources about Palestine – share them, use them and create schemes of work around them. 

Does the word Nakba feature on your curriculum? Do your students know about the dispossession and displacement of thousands of Palestinians who still live in diaspora over 70 years later? Do you refer Mohammed Abdel Rahman Abdel Raouf al-Qudwa al-Husseini (Yasser Arafat) in your lessons on Middle Eastern History? Do your students know he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to bring peace to the Middle East? I didn’t and still have so much more to learn – but like we all aim to do in teaching, we must make space, the time and the resources necessary to teach our students different sides of the narrative. 

If we teach and encourage our students to read The Diary of Anne Frank, we must also include books about Palestinian teenagers and their childhood. Why is it that these books don’t roll off the tongue as Anne Frank does, or even as Noughts and Crosses does? I am so guilty of this, but I am grateful for the opportunity to fix it too. 

And, it doesn’t stop there. We have seen how powerful social media is and for once, I disagree with the fake news argument. If we look carefully enough, we will find truth, the raw, painful, lived experiences of the voices we need to listen to and share with our students. 

There are freely shared book lists about the history of Palestine – music to a bursars’ ears! There are accounts such as @drsofia_reading and @ilhamreads sharing some very thoughtful and nuanced perspectives of literature and history – exactly what we want our key stage 5 students to experience and learn. This is a perfect opportunity to build a healthy relationship with social media – and to learn with your students too. 

The uncomfortable lesson that needs no discussion: advocating for the freedom of Palestine does not take away the human rights of others

If you disagree, if you flinch or hesitate as you read this, or if your mind is somewhat preparing rebuttal arguments – there are lessons in unlearning you must take to be a teacher for all of your students and colleagues – perhaps with them too: 

  • All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 
  • The discussion of religion is an extremely sensitive one. it is important to teach students that whilst the history and origins of Islam, Christianity and Judaism in some way are rooted in the places and narratives of the land, discussions about Palestine and Israel are not religious. They are not prejudice or racist. They are absolutely not anti-Semitic. They are simple discussions about basic human rights. 

As teachers, it can be really scary to address these topics in the classroom. Teachers are vulnerable and become the unnecessary targets of criticism and sometimes resentment and negativity too. However, if we admit to this vulnerability, if we tell our students we want to learn and unlearn with them, that we will make mistakes along the way – we are likely to gain their trust. We are likely to get them talking and learning with compassion, integrity and empathy too. 

As Adiche tells us, we have a huge opportunity to change the narrative and facilitate the learning of our students. We must work towards teaching them to learn through different perspectives, voices and histories. Above all, we must teach them to be just, confident activists, to be kind and compassionate – it is everything the world needs right now. 

*Although it has since emerged the context of this particular incident was allegedly antagonistic towards the teacher, the language used in the letter to parents is what I draw attention to here, in that parents were initially informed their child was excluded for saying ‘free Palestine’. It is the use of language that we need to be more informed about and mindful of.

Supported by


Dear Secretary of State

Hannah Wilson portrait

Written by Hannah Wilson

Founder of Diverse Educators

Context:

Since July 2020, we have held a quarterly Diversity Roundtable with national stakeholders invested in, and committed to, a system-wide strategy for collaborating on a DEI strategy in our schools. We collectively wrote to the DfE, the SoS, the NSC and the Equalities Team on March 1st. We are yet to receive an acknowledgement to our concerns. We have agreed to publish the letter as an open source, in the hope that we can move this conversation forwards.

The Diversity Roundtable: https://www.diverseeducators.co.uk/diversity-roundtables/

March 1st 2021

Dear Secretary of State,

We are writing to you publicly as The Diversity Roundtable, a collective of professionals and specialists working in the field of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), to express our alarm at the recent withdrawal of funding in multiple areas in schools and Further Education. The cuts include: The Department for Education’s Equality and Diversity fund for school-led projects, to accelerate the diversification of protected characteristic groups in school leadership; English Second Other Language (ESOL) funding reduced by 50% in Further Education; and Equalities Office fund cut for anti-homophobic and anti-trans bullying. The lack of action concerning the Gender Reform Act has been disappointing, considering the anti-trans rhetoric nationally.

Now is a critical time for the Department for Education to enable schools and colleges to address structural inequity. We ask for a staged approach to impact on the sector to apply and embed professional learning from research specifically around race; embed best practice to update policy enactment; facilitate organisational change through specialist intervention and apply DEI sector knowledge to increase recruitment and retention both in leadership and the wider teacher workforce (see Appendix A).

The current situation suggests nationally and internationally discourse about and impact on protected characteristic groups has been the most significant in a generation. Events such as the brutal murder of George Floyd by a representative of a public sector organisation and subsequent Black Lives Matter protests have influenced the direction of the country underlining significant inequity in the structures of our institutions. Currently schools and colleges face these challenges without any funding to address legacies of inaction.

We feel it is highly problematic not to address such concerns when research identifies schools as sites where racism is grown through structures (Warmington, 2020; Callender, 2020; Callender and Miller, 2019; Lander 2017; Bhopal, 2018; Gillborn, 2015; Parker and Roberts, 2011; Marx 2016; Ladson-Billings, 1999; Williams 1991). Racism is fostered and, at best, passively nurtured through professional gaps in knowledge and skills of DEI, uncritical pedagogic and curricula approaches and a limited range of lived experiences in leadership to address such practice. In addition, schools and colleges face historic bias in curricula, unchallenged majoritarian attitudes in the workforce and are now responding to families demanding change for their children.

We believe inequity in our schools presents a national challenge that needs to be addressed with national funding. It is our hope that in accordance with the Equality Act and 1 Public Sector Equality Duty (2010) all families, teachers, support staff and children, regardless of where they live, how many schools are in their Trust or the funding situation of their Local Authority, be protected from systemic inequalities in schools. We therefore ask for specific DEI funding for schools and colleges in order to provide geographical parity across the United Kingdom. We believe action is required in the following areas:

  1. Funding to address lack of racial diversity in leadership;
  2. Funding and training to protect students and staff from inequity in schools through addressing gaps in Teacher Standards;
  3. Funding to support serious focus on those with protected characteristics in the recruitment and retention strategies both in school and in Initial Teacher Education;
  4. Funding for schools and colleges to address professional gaps in curricula knowledge and skills.

The government has a responsibility to ensure that the Race Relations (Amendment) Act (2000), the Equality Act and Public Sector Equality Duty (2010) are upheld. School and college leaders have taken seriously and demonstrated agency in their responsibility to challenge structural discrimination and inequality for many years; examples such as Anderton Park Primary in Birmingham demonstrate the cost, time and nuanced complexity of this work for staff and the wider impact of upholding the law for communities and families.

The social and educational impact of COVID 19 and wider effects of the pandemic on people from different social class and Ethnic Minority backgrounds has underlined outcomes gained by structural privilege and laid bare the failure of our institutional structures to support children adequately at the point of need. It will be these families further disadvantaged by a workforce representing, interpreting and enacting policy by privileged groups in society.

It is our hope the Department seize this opportunity to provide funding and a structured approach to supporting schools and colleges to manage change. The teacher workforce is ready, invested and motivated to address structural inequity but needs funding and guidance in order to impact on children and staff as well as the communities they serve.

We extend an invitation to meet with the Diversity Roundtable by contacting the Chairs at
hello@hannah-wilson.co.uk  and hello@angelabrowne.co.uk to co-create ways forward.

Yours Faithfully,

Co-organisers of the Diversity Roundtable:

  • Angela Browne, Director, Nourished Collective
  • Claire Stewart-Hall, Director, Equitable Coaching
  • Hannah Wilson, Co-Founder and Director, Diverse Educators

Members of the Diversity Roundtable:

  • Adam McCann, CEO, Diversity Role Models
  • Aisha Thomas, Director, Representation Matters Ltd
  • Professor Dame Alison Peacock, CEO, Chartered College of Teaching
  • Allana Gay, BAMEed
  • Ann Marie Christian, Child 1st Consultancy Limited
  • Dr Anna Carlile, Head of the Department of Educational Studies, Goldsmiths, University of London
  • Aretha Banton, Co-Founder, Mindful Equity UK
  • Dr Artemi Sakellariadis, Director, Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education (CSIE)
  • Beth Bramley, Gender Balance Manager, Institute of Physics
  • Daniel Gray, Director, LGBTed
  • Diana Osagie, CEO, Courageous Leadership & The Academy of Women’s Leadership
  • Domini Leong, Chair, BAMEedSW
  • Elizabeth Wright, Editor of Disability Review Magazine, DisabilityEd Ambassador
  • Emma Hollis, Executive Director, NASBTT
  • Emma Sheppard, Founder, The MaternityTeacher PaternityTeacher Project
  • Hannah Jepson, Director, Engaging Success
  • James Noble-Rogers, Executive Director, UCET
  • Kiran Gill, CEO, The Difference
  • Laila El-Metoui, Founder, Pride in Education and Educating Out Racism
  • Liz Moorse, Chief Executive, Association for Citizenship Teaching (ACT)
  • Lorraine Hughes, Director of Education, Chiltern Learning Trust
  • Mareme Mufwoko, Steering Group, WomenEd England
  • Marius Frank, Director, Achievement for All
  • Nadine Bernard, Founder, Aspiring Heads CIC
  • Nicole Ponsford, Founder, Global Equality Collective (GEC)
  • Pat Joseph, ARISEtime
  • Paul Whiteman, General Secretary, NAHT (National Association Head Teachers – school leadership union)
  • Ruth Golding, Founder, DisabilityEd
  • Sharon Porter, SPorterEdu Consulting
  • Professor Emeritus of the Harvey Milk Institute, Sue Sanders, Schools OUT UK
  • Sufian Sadiq, Director, Chiltern Teaching School Alliance
  • Susie Green, CEO, Mermaids
  • Professor Vini Lander, Director, The Centre for Race, Education and Decoloniality, Carnegie School of Education
  • Viv Grant, Director, Integrity Coaching Ltd
  • Youlande Harrowell, Co-Founder, Mindful Equity UK

Appendix A:

Increasing Recruitment and Retention:

Currently processes of recruitment and retention have led to a national figure of 14% of teachers from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds (sic) teaching in schools (DfE, 2020). Under 5% of Head Teachers come from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds, despite areas with significantly higher numbers of people from ethnic minority backgrounds in the wider population (DfE, 2020). This has been consistent for some years without much scrutiny from the Department for Education; it was sadly not addressed specifically in the DfE Recruitment and Retention Strategy (2019). It remains less likely that people with protected characteristics will be able to join the profession or be retained in schools without cultures, processes and practices actively challenging existing structural barriers that lie within school structures (NEU/Runnymede, 2020). In addition, there remains a persistent lack of diversity in school governance, which contributes to and sustains the status quo in appointment to posts. The Equality and Diversity fund: for school-led projects recognised the underrepresentation in leadership providing one avenue for schools to address inequity. Without such funding,
schools will continue to enact practices that exclude and maintain majoritarian cultures as the ‘norm’ thereby families, children and staff will continue to feel marginalised and discriminated against.

Diversity as a Business Model:

The McKinsey report (2020) demonstrates that as an organisational business model this approach is flawed. There is now a plethora of reports, including from national government, outlining the business case for wider diversity and representation in organisations as means to meet demand and increase success rates (McKinsey, 2015; McGregor-Smith, 2017; Diversity at the Top, CIPD 2017, Ethnic bias in recruitment, CIPD 2019; Breaking Barriers to Inclusive Recruitment, CIPD, 2018; Recognising the bias in recruitment, CIPD, 2018). Past experience shows the sector that unless equity safeguards are consciously included, the effect of new policies is frequently to reinforce existing gender, race and class inequalities (Gillborn, 2014). In light of the Department for Education’s role in leading expectations for schools, fair and equitable working environments and creating a world class education system that actively prevents discrimination, we would ask that this decision is reviewed immediately.

Supported by


My experience of geography fieldwork as a trans kid: a call for reflection

Kit Rackley portrait

Written by Kit Rackley

Kit (they/them) identifies as a trans non-binary demigirl and taught high school Geography in Norwich for 13 years. Kit now works for the UEA as a Higher Educator outreach officer.

Kit (they/them) identifies as a trans non-binary demigirl and taught high school Geography in Norwich for 13 years. They have a degree in Environmental Sciences from the University of East Anglia (UEA), specialising in meteorology, climate change, environmental risk and scientific communication. Kit now works for the UEA as a Higher Educator outreach officer, but is still a member of the geography teacher community via their website Geogramblings.com and continues to run CPD for teachers at all stages of their careers.

I want to share it in order to encourage all educators who engage in fieldwork, field centres and tutors to reflect and consider the extent they create a safe environment for all children, in this case, gender non-conforming and transgender children. I won’t be delving into the ‘debate’ about trans kids: they exist, and they deserve support, respect and safety not just because it is our safeguarding duty to do so, but because it is also the right thing to do. A content warning before you read on regarding social trauma, abuse and bullying. 

I’ve been proudly visible and vocal throughout my education work, including this blog. So most reading this already know I am transgender. But if you are new here, then hello! The vast majority of my work on Geogramblings doesn’t centre around my identity as a trans person at all, but rather my identity as a geographer and educator. But from time to time, those identities do intersect for the purpose of writing an article, and this is one of those occasions. I, like all transgender people, don’t owe anyone any information about my personal life other than what I am willing to share through self-consent. But in order to communicate my experience better, I do need to give a little context: I did not know I was transgender until I reached my thirties. However, I have always been transgender and what I am about to share are just droplets of evidence in a whole sea of tell-tale signs that I’ve now come to recognise. 

I loved Geography in high school. It was one of my favourite subjects, and although cliched as it is to say, one of the reasons was because of the field trips. My first residential field trip was to Bude at the end of Year 7. It was the mid-1990’s and I was exceptionally excited but I felt very unnerved by the prospect of sharing a room with boys. I figured it was totally down to being bullied a fair bit by boys in school and never felt totally safe – and of course, I was technically at school on the trip 24 hours of the day. So there was not the safe haven of getting home when the bell rang at half-3. I was too shy or nervous to ask any adult if it was possible to sleep in my own room, and I just thought that it would be a stupid thing to ask since it must be the case that boys must share a dorm, segregated from the girls who have their own. I didn’t want to share a room with the girls, either, that felt just as weird but for other reasons. I managed to muddle through that field trip. I enjoyed myself enough despite making sure I was the last to fall asleep and the first to wake up. I didn’t feel comfortable at all at night.

Fast forward a few years and I’m now in Year 10. I’m taking a GCSE Geography and we’re on a residential field trip to Bradwell in Essex. With the exception of the precious moments when I was able to go out and do my data collection or squirrel myself away in some study room to work on my coursework, I hated every minute of that trip. I had deliberately chosen a topic that was as divergent as possible from all the other students just so I had as much peace as I could. That was easy enough, as the ones that gave me the hardest time had their clique and were doing more or less the same thing amongst themselves. My topic instead overlapped a little with one of the girls in my GCSE class, so we worked together a bit. We weren’t friends but I felt so much safer and comfortable with her. And because we were doing our coursework, at least I had a water-tight reason for hanging out with her during the day. But, it was the social and evening hours which were the problem. My ‘study partner’ was off with her clique of friends and so I was left to try and look busy on my own with my work or hang out with the boys. 

The bathrooms and the dorms were the biggest issues. When we first arrived at the study centre I was actually very relieved to find that there was a room, with a door, with one bunk bed in it, while the rest of the dorm was open-plan. I figured it was for staff but the lead teacher (who I got on very well with and still think fondly of) said it was free and my ‘closest friend’ and I the time can use it. So we popped our stuff in, went off to do other bits as instructed, only to come back and find all our stuff tipped out onto one of the beds in the open-plan area. I’ve suppressed much of the memory of the hateful abuse that was arrowed towards us by our peers; towards me in particular. But us attempting to take the one room that had a door, well… you can guess. I didn’t complain to the teacher, for fear of reprisal from my peers, but I did manage to move to a bottom-bunk bed in a corner and find a spare blanket which I tucked into the frame like a screen so I had some sense of privacy. I cried myself to sleep that first night. No one mentioned it the next morning, maybe because it must have been in the early hours of the morning when I did eventually drop-off; maybe I did what I could to muffle my moans – all I can remember about that particular detail are the tears and no one noticing. After all, it’s not very ‘manly’ to cry, right? I did get as far as asking the teacher if I could use one of the staff bathrooms, so long as I checked in advance before I needed to go relieve myself or take a shower. At least that was one place I could feel safe and on my own. 

I often think about how things might have been different if I had known I was transgender back then. Perhaps things wouldn’t have been much better, or perhaps even worse, given it was the mid-1990s. Instead, I like to think if I was that kid today in 2021; not only would I have known more about myself and all the confidence and security that comes with it, but I probably would have had some allies amongst my peers. I probably would have been able to have a conversation with my teachers about the real reasons why I wanted my own room and bathroom, or at least share one with a friend I felt comfortable and safe with. I would have been able to solely focus on the geography in my work, rather than use my work as a means to escape. That leads me to think how much better I would have done overall in school, in that respect. 

I feel like I shouldn’t end this by giving suggestions or recommendations about what teachers, educators and field centres should do. Instead, I would ask all to reflect on what they have read, which is a very real experience, by someone who knows that the crux of much of the issues is related to their gender identity. And I would ask that everyone make efforts towards creating learning environments, be it the classroom, the playground, the field centre or beyond, that are safe for transgender kids. Share this article with the Educational Visit Co-ordinator (EVC) in your school, or the field studies centres that you regularly use. The bare minimum is to know that trans kids exist; that their experiences are real and if they approach you at the height of their vulnerability, then they should be listened to. Each trans person’s experience is unique to them. Listen and be guided by them.

Further reading

While explicit and comprehensive guidance on supporting transgender children with fieldtrips is rather thin on the ground, here are some useful documents regarding supporting school students:

Citing this post:

APA: Rackley, K. (2021, April 4). My experience of geography fieldwork as a trans kid: a call for reflection [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://geogramblings.com/2021/04/04/my-experience-of-geography-fieldwork-as-a-trans-kid-a-call-for-reflection/

MLA: Rackley, Kit. “My experience of geography fieldwork as a trans kid: a call for reflection”. Geogramblings. 4 Apr. 2021, https://geogramblings.com/2021/04/04/my-experience-of-geography-fieldwork-as-a-trans-kid-a-call-for-reflection/.

Harvard: Rackley, K. (2021). My experience of geography fieldwork as a trans kid: a call for reflection [Online]. Geogramblings. Available at: https://geogramblings.com/2021/04/04/my-experience-of-geography-fieldwork-as-a-trans-kid-a-call-for-reflection/ (Accessed: day month year)

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How does Social Work regulation perpetuate White Supremacy?

Wayne Reid portrait

Written by Wayne Reid

Professional Officer & Social Worker

Morality cannot be legislated, but behaviour can be regulated

 

The Black Lives Matter movement casts a revealing spotlight on how White supremacy permeates society and influences the policies in ‘modern institutions.’  An immediate example is Social Work regulation.  In this article, I outline how Social Work regulation perpetuates White supremacy.  My premise is that “morality cannot be legislated, but behaviour can be regulated.” (Martin Luther King).

 

My mantra is “pure, proactive and unapologetic anti-racism,” which underlines my militant spirit when it comes to ‘Anti-racism in Social Work.’  My mentality is influenced by the hostile environment inside and outside of Social Work.  I hope any readers resist the urge to ‘tone police’ my opinions.  My observations reflect my environment – the ‘hostile environment.’  My motivation is for the cause, not applause – and the cause is Black Lives Matter.  

 

My narrative reflects my lived experiences and those of people like me who are routinely judged, based on their skin colour.  I write this article from both personal and professional perspectives.  I use the terms ‘people of colour’ and ‘Black and Ethnic Minority people’ interchangeably for ease.  I do not speak on behalf of all people or Social Workers of colour – as we are not a homogenous group.  My writing here may not represent the views of my employer (BASW).  I’m one of many Black voices in the profession.   The prelude to my current thinking is outlined in my previous articles here: 1, 2, 3 & 4.  

 

In my work, I’m able to act as an Anti-racism Visionary for Social Work across England.  I utilise different strategic approaches including: shock and awe; edutainment; collaboration and allyship.  My knowledge and expertise relates to anti-Black racism.  Since George Floyd’s murder, I’ve reported widely on the lack of protections and support for Social Workers of colour; their over-representation in fitness to practice panels and their disproportionately negative outcomes on Assessed and Supported Year in Employment programmes. The coverage and prominence of anti-racism in Social Work in recent months has been inescapable.  However, the silence from Social Work England (SWE) (and MP’s) is perplexing.                                 

 

Tools that discriminate and oppress

 

The Social Work standards (nor their associated guidance) make no reference to Social Workers or service-users of colour.  In a previous article, I emphasised my disappointment that: “neither [the] education and training standards for 2019 or 2020, nor the professional standards for Social Workers, explicitly refer[s] to anti-discriminatory (ADP), anti-oppressive (AOP) or anti-racist practice (ARP).”  And: “Their omission in Social Work regulation is a travesty of social justice in itself.”  Yet they are considered as ‘accepted wisdom’, ‘normal’ and ‘respectable’ – even though they implicitly convey that “White is best.”

 

I’ve commentated widely on how many Social Workers of colour feel unsupported during fitness to practice investigations.  Indeed, their statistical over-representation implies the current standards overtly dominates and punishes them.  At best, the standards are non-racist (or neutral/colour-blind), but definitely NOT anti-racist.  Due to the omissions of ADP, AOP and ARP, I conclude that central aspects of the education, training and the professional standards in Social Work are inadequate and unfit for purpose.  Perversely, the standards risk being perceived as tools wielded to discriminate and oppress Social Workers of colour (and consequently service-users of colour).

 

Community Care articles (from February 2021 and March 2021), have reported on the “delays in fitness to practise processes having ‘life-changing impacts.’”  Social Workers of colour are over-represented in these cases.  Therefore, it’s probably safe to assume these are the same unfortunate people being disproportionately affected by the delays. Another article (from July 2020), cited the lack of ethnic diversity within the SWE workforce.  Confidence is not instilled when there is no transparency about how this is being addressed/reversed.  I’ve previously queried whether this was being treated as a priority, as this could be mistaken for ‘pigmentocracy vs meritocracy – but I’ve had no response. Also, I’m concerned that SWE does not appear to have 1 designated Equality Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Lead Officer.  I do wonder how incidents of racism (and other forms of discrimination) are being properly resolved.  Interestingly, even the Royal Family plan to recruit a ‘diversity tsar’.  My hope is this will be replicated swiftly in Social Work regulation.  

 

I’m pleased SWE have developed a Professional Experts Panel and appointed members with backgrounds in social justice and workforce development.  However, I was unable to find any information about panel members (including their backgrounds and careers in England, UK and overseas) on their website.  It is important the panel can reflect with insight, the diverse range of backgrounds and experiences of those within the workforce.  Also, transparency about the panel’s membership would be welcome.  My hope is for improved partnership working with BASW and myself on related matters.  I expect many social workers of colour (and their allies) will be disappointed if SWE don’t revisit the above issues, once their panel of experts have reviewed it.            

 

Patiently waiting

 

In collaboration with allies and colleagues (inside and outside of BASW England), I’ve amplified the voices of Social Workers of colour in OUTLANDERS.  I’ve published an anti-racist Social Work framework and outlined readily deployable strategies.  I’ve developed a comprehensive ‘Anti-racism in Social Work’ presentation and delivered it at nearly 100 online events internationally (since May 2020).  I founded the BASW England Black & Ethnic Minority Professionals Symposium (BPS), (which is a multi-talented network of professionals across England).  I was joint winner of ‘Author of the Month’ in December 2020 for Social Work News magazine.  I’ve created a repository of anti-racism resources, which is utilised by thousands of Social Workers, organisations and stakeholders across the UK.  Here is my ‘Anti-racism in Social Work’ portfolio.  

 

Despite my prolific work in this area, I’m disheartened to have not been approached by SWE (or responsible MP’s) to explore my ‘Anti-racism in Social Work’ solutions.  I fear losing any momentum we have.  I remain patiently waiting for any opportunity to progress this work meaningfully.  Admittedly, I’m crestfallen, because I do not want to interpret the lack of responsivity as denial and rejection of my knowledge, expertise and lived (personal and professional) experiences. I don’t wish to appear populist or journalistic in my observations, but I genuinely don’t know whether some of the senior personnel at SWE are unaware of my work or just ignoring it.  I would prefer transparency and to be told that my efforts are not in accordance with their perceived vision – if that is the case.   I recognise there are minefields and pitfalls in embedding anti-racism in Social Work.  However, my door has remained metaphorically wide open for months.  

 

Those who govern the profession’s policies must do more than just be seen to acknowledge the advent of another social justice celebration (ie. Black History Month, Holocaust Memorial Day etc). These occasions are often met with bland blogs and ‘toxic positivity’ (if it all).  There is rarely accountability, substance or, more importantly – action.  My intelligence feels insulted when I read comments like: “…our statement of intent and inclusion shows how [anti-racism] is part of our core business.”  How can that be, when no actual proof is presented or when ‘anti-racism’ is only mentioned (fleetingly) once within the entire document?  This can easily be mistaken for brazen performative allyship.  Just so we are clear, suppressing racism does not mean racism does not exist.  

 

Sadly, none of the ‘Anti-racism in Social Work’ activities that I’ve been involved in have generated endorsement or support from SWE.  I sent an invitation for SWE representatives to view an online presentation I was delivering at the Anglia Ruskin University on 25/03/21.  Unfortunately, I did not receive a reply.  I shared a draft version of this article (with my portfolio and presentation) to offer them the right to reply and/or shape the final versions.  I received the following reply: 

“[We do not wish to make any comment at this point.]  We will continue our dialogue with the sector more broadly, as well as various representative groups within it, on all matters relating to equality, diversity, and inclusion (including anti-racism) as we continue to develop our work and approach. The strategic conversations we are involved with at a national level will also drive conversation and change.  Good luck with the article and your portfolio.” 

I’ll continue working effectively with organisational leaders and relevant stakeholders nationally to integrate anti-racism into Social Work at every level.  I will genuinely engage and collaborate with authentic allies and professionals who want to improve the circumstances of Social Workers and service-users of colour.  Preferably, with people who are honest about where they (and their organisations) are at on their anti-racism journey               

       

Social work remains institutionally racist

 

Sir William Macpherson (RIP) coined the term ‘institutional racism’ when reporting on the racially motivated murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1999.  In 2019, Ibram X Kendi (in his book ‘How to be an Anti-Racist’) suggested substituting the term ‘institutional racism’ with ‘racist policies.’  I understand and appreciate both positions and their contemporary relevance to Social Work.  My previous article on this received widespread agreement (and acclaim) from my peers.  However, sadly, it failed to generate any response from SWE – the very institution responsible for policy changes in Social Work. 

 

I’m pleased the Chief Social Workers for Adults and Children & Families have acknowledged their previous shortcomings and re-emphasised the importance of anti-racism.  Hopefully, this will involve the Workforce Race Equality Standards (WRES) becoming mandatory and universal across the profession (with a sense of urgency) and supplemented by other national initiatives from key Social Work stakeholders and policy makers. Black human rights activists are rarely welcomed by ‘the establishment.’  The obstacles Social Workers of colour face are simply the latest manifestations of what people like me have battled against continuously for centuries.  Opponents of ‘Anti-racism in Social Work’ must be mercilessly spotlighted, shamed and subverted.  

 

Clearly, some readers might take delight in labelling me as an ‘extremist’.  I admit, I’m extremely anti-racist.  If at this juncture, the message requires ‘tub-thumping’ – so be it!  Social justice must prevail. Let’s not forget, “when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression”. I remain convinced the 2 main obstacles to progress are ignorance and ‘wilful blindness’.                         

 

The OUTLANDERS anthology

 

OUTLANDERS: Hidden narratives from Social Workers of colour, is an anthology of essays, stories, poems and other miscellaneous works – which I co-edited and compiled in collaboration with Siobhan Maclean.  I’m proud to have been involved with OUTLANDERS and the richness and uniqueness it exudes.  People have enquired whether I will profit from the book.  Definitely not!  The profits will go to the Social Workers Benevolent Trust (SWBT).  At the time of writing, the book has sold 1000 copies and raised £700 for the SWBT.  As far as I’m concerned, OUTLANDERS is a legacy piece of Social Work history and literature.  Siobhan and I’s ‘labours of love’ for OUTLANDERS is an eternal gift to the Social Work profession.   

 

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The Problem with Diversity

Shonagh Reid portrait

Written by Shonagh Reid

Shonagh Reid is a former secondary school senior leader. She is now a Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Consultant and Coach.

After the awful events of last summer where systematic and institutional racism where laid bear with the murder of George Floyd, organisations have become more acutely aware of their approach to diversity, equality and inclusion. It is easy to believe that people of colour have become more outraged by systematic and institutional racism because of George Floyd, but this is not the case. There are plenty of events here in the UK that have added to trauma and exhaustion of our ethnic minorities. A few examples:

Mercy Baguma, originally from Uganda who lost her right to work in the UK and ended up starving to death next to her baby. This case highlighted the lack of care for black people in the UK and the vulnerability of refugees, who are more likely to be black. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-53904251

The data around the impact of Covid 19 which clearly demonstrates that BAME communities have been more at risk of long term damage from the virus and death. There are lots of reasons for this including but not limited to: the high level of BAME people working in the NHS in jobs that placed them at higher risk; cases of PPE being given to white colleagues over BAME colleagues when supply was short; BAME people more likely to work in jobs that cannot be done at home placing them at higher risk.

The experience of black women in childbirth where they are more likely to be left for longer periods of time, less likely to be given pain relief and four times more likely to die. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/jan/15/black-women-in-the-uk-four-times-more-likely-to-die-in-pregnancy-or-childbirth

The handling of the disappearance of Richard Okorogheye and the lack of urgency in his search when compared to other missing persons who were of a different ethnicity around the same time. The case highlighted the feeling of distrust towards the police and the fact that not all people in the UK feel they can rely on them. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-56674932

These examples all tell us what people from ethnic minority backgrounds already know. Now that these stories are exposed more often they are quite rightly triggering leaders to take action in their organisations whether these are schools, hospitals or private companies. 

The difficulty here is that some leaders have a knee jerk reaction which then leads to a tokenistic response which can in fact make systematic racism worse and has little or no impact on long term diversity and inclusion. 

Easy Mistakes to Make

Realising you need more representation in your leadership structure and making quick appointments. 

Most people would agree that representation matters but just having someone of colour on your leadership team does not make it diverse or inclusive. Without leaders understanding that the new member of staff will need to be heard, valued and most importantly comfortable to show up as their authentic selves, they will not make the contributions they want to make, or the organisation expects. In fact, they may retreat from ‘harm’s way’, try to ‘blend in’ and suffer with mental health problems which in turn can lead to retention issues and so the problem continues. 

Assuming you already know what the problems are

Sometimes organisations will rush ahead with strategies they feel will fix the problem such as creating a network or group for BAME colleagues, asking a BAME colleague to be the spokesperson and lead on diversity often with no pay and organising ‘training’. This means that diversity feels like it is being done to an organisation rather than being an organic and meaningful process. A member of staff who is approached to be a representative or leader for diversity can sometimes feel that this in itself is a micro aggression. BAME people cannot speak for all BAME people, the term BAME has its own challenges and within that broad acronym the racist and discriminatory experiences of sub groups are vastly different. 

Creating an ethos of ‘not seeing colour’

The motivation behind this sentiment is often from a very good place: seeing people as equals, not being judgmental etc. The difficulty of ‘not seeing colour’ is that the by-product is that you are suggesting that you don’t see the person as an individual, don’t see their challenges and don’t recognise the barriers to success for them. It also means that you don’t have to challenge your own innate biases and behaviours. This can then lead people of colour feeling unseen, unvalued and ‘othered’.

Some tips:

 

  1. It is worth getting some professional support in your approach to diversity and inclusion at your organisation. Professionals will have a range of strategies to help but importantly will be able to see issues dispassionately, offer a third party that your teams can speak openly to without fear or favour and provide a critical friend relationship. 
  2. Get proper feedback from your stakeholders about what is going well and what isn’t. Listen to their suggestions about how they are made to feel by people, policies and systems in place and then respond. Ensure you have a regular and meaningful system of hearing everyone’s voice and vary how this is done.
  3. Look carefully at your data. Who has been promoted recently? Where are your pay gaps? Look at the qualifications, skills and abilities of your entire workforce, are people working at the level they really should be?
  4. Communicate openly and be honest. Tell all stakeholders where you are, where you want to be and what you plan to do to get there. 

 

It is understandable that leaders of organisations want to press ahead with ‘tackling the problem’, they don’t want to be seen as behind the times or insensitive and most people recognise the need for change, beware of rushing in without in-depth analysis and systematic change. 

The issues and tips here are just the beginning of a much wider discussion. There are a huge number of issues for diversity, equality and inclusion and an equal number of ways to approach a robust and meaningful strategy. It is very important to bear in mind that this blog has focussed on the issue of race and hasn’t discussed other protected groups which need a similar approach in any good diversity, equality and inclusion strategy.

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We All Need Inclusion

Lesley Berrington portrait

Written by Lesley Berrington

Author of the ‘Hattie and friends’ series of inclusive books.  I’m NNEB qualified and former owner of Stepping Stones Day Care Ltd. in Lincoln.

When I started searching for more diverse resources for my nurseries, it was quite easy to find books featuring children from a variety of ethnic backgrounds but disability was just invisible! I found very few story books featuring disability. The ones I did find made the disability ‘special’, I didn’t want that, I wanted to introduce disability without drawing attention to it. It was also important to me that the disability was not mentioned in the text, it was purely incidental so that the character was not defined by their disability. After further research I decided that I could meet this growing demand and Hattie was born!

 

I created ‘Hattie and friends’ around 15 years ago and, sadly, over that time I’ve seen very little change in the way we present disability in our society. Teachers and Childcare Professionals understand the need and importance for positive images of disability, so my books have been very well received and widely used by them. Unfortunately, I think we still have a long way to go to educate our wider society that books like mine are for ALL children. When I talk to people about my books they often assume that they are for disabled children until I explain the benefits for all children. Yes, disabled children need to see characters like themselves in story books, to give them a sense of belonging, make them feel valued and build their confidence and self -esteem. 

 

My message is that ALL children need to see disabled characters in story books and on television because disability is part of everyday life so it should be included in our media. There are more disabled characters in books and on television than there were 15 years ago but still not enough. I believe every child should own books which include some disabled characters, this will be a small but important step towards improving attitudes to disabled people who face daily struggles from abuse. 

Some parents may not have considered being more inclusive when they buy toys, books etc. so we need to raise awareness by having more choice in mainstream shops. How often have you seen disabled characters when buying dolls, puppets, games, jigsaws?

 

We need to raise awareness and ask – How inclusive is your bookshelf? If children see more disability and they receive a consistent message of respect and acceptance for the differences we have, they’ll see past the disability and understand that we are all unique individuals. Over 8,000 ‘Hattie and friends’ books are now being used to promote positive images of disability all over the UK. This is fantastic but I’d like to see more being bought by parents.

 

It can be difficult to answer children’s questions about disability so parents may avoid inclusive resources for that reason. We need to educate parents and help them to overcome any insecurities they may have. I’ve written some notes in the back of my book to help, support, and encourage parents to openly discuss any questions raised.

 

‘’The important message is that all children can be friends and have fun, abilities are not important. All young children accept differences, their curiosity will raise questions and they develop attitudes from the answers they receive. We must show, through our attitudes and actions, that we value all children equally.’’

 

The Channel 4 programme, ‘The Last Leg’ is a great example of presenting disability in a humorous way that is accessible to all adults. Initially this programme aired during the 2012 Paralympics and was so popular it became a regular show to discuss the news of the week. Their ‘Is it OK?’ segment encourages the public to ask questions without fear of judgement. This is a great way to educate!

 

During the Paralympic Games we all support Team GB with respect for every athlete’s dedication and determination. It’s a time when sport really unifies the nation and we’re all on the same side. Disability is exciting and cool! Every time I feel excited that this is the push that’s needed to make inclusion go mainstream. Unfortunately, a few weeks later the spotlight is turned off again. 

Progress is disappointingly slow!

 

So, what will the future bring? I truly hope there will be a massive increase in inclusive resources in people’s homes, more disabled people visible in television programmes and films. Not just as a ‘box ticking exercise’ but really breaking down barriers and changing attitudes towards disability in our society.

 

I’d love to hear your comments.

Website: www.hattieandfriends.co.uk

E-mail: lesley@hattieandfriends.co.uk

Twitter: @Hattiesfriends

Facebook and Instagram: @Hattieandfriendsauthor

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Time for Men to ‘Woman Up’!

Patrick Ottley O'Connor portrait

Written by Patrick Ottley-O'Connor

Executive Headteacher/Principal, Coach, Wellbeing Advocate and #HeForShe Ally.

The United Nations @HeForShe movement has reported that they are seeing the stereotypical gender roles of women at home become more apparent during lockdown and want to highlight positive male models with their new lockdown hashtag of #HeForSheAtHome. Globally women do more than men at home and @HeForShe are asking men to share photos to amplify support & show how you are being #HeForSheAtHome and amplify the aspiration for gender equality.

Although I agree with the aspiration, I felt a little uncomfortable simply sharing an image of me cooking and vacuuming at home, basking in the ‘likes’ and comments telling me how good I am for being #HeForShe. In recent years, I have become more comfortable having uncomfortable conversations with myself; understanding the systemic and societal issues which may have played out in my lucky career is eye opening and allows me to use this privilege to amplify those who do not have it. However, I also know that my #HeForShe allyship must not be self-defined, instead, the work and efforts must be recognized by those you are seeking to ally with.

Consequently, I asked the wonderful #WomenEd community how they think I should respond. As usual, I was not disappointed by the support and challenge that I received! Hannah Wilson, @Ethical_Leader and @WomenEd Co-founder offered support, shared some LeanIn articles exploring this, as well as providing a simple cartoon image to highlight the plight of women.

Alison Kriel, @AlisonKriel raised some important questions:

‘…it’s great that the world is waking up to the fact that most women do at least two jobs, one that’s paid and one that’s unpaid. I think it’s great to share positive images of men supporting in the home, and I’ve no doubt that it’ll be retweeted and celebrated widely. My question is, if #HeForShe is about amplifying the voice of women so that we can be heard, what can be done to celebrate women in the same way. If an image is shared of a man washing up (‘doing the right thing’ as you say), it will be ‘liked’ many times over. What can the movement do to get as many ‘likes’ for a woman doing exactly the same thing? …so how do we level the playing field? How do we highlight the disparity? How do we all become heroes for doing domestic chores?’

There is a danger that my words could sound patronising, or ‘Patrick-onising’ as Mel, my wife, likes to call it! It’s against this backdrop and advice given to me that I cautiously offer my opinion as a man who passionately believes in gender equality and genuine allyship as #HeForShe. That involves me continually investing my time in supporting others, holding myself accountable when mistakes are made, apologising and being prepared to rework my approach towards gender equality as needs change. I’m listening to women to ensure my words and actions are in sync with their message. Without this, words without actions can be detrimental and work against changing the culture.The COVID-19 pandemic has made us all reflect on life, priorities and what really matters. It’s affected all of us in some way. In addition to those who have contracted and suffered the consequences of Covid-19, many families are struggling with financial hardship, bereavement, domestic violence and mental health issues. In addition, many men are now discovering what it’s like to spend much of their time juggling work, childcare, and a household to manage! The work/household juggling challenge is nothing new for many women. Despite women being a significant proportion of the paid workforce, they still do disproportionately more than their fair share of unpaid household work and childcare.

The pandemic has closed schools and childcare providers, exacerbating the stresses and strains of home-schooling, childcare and household tasks. Naomi Ward, @Naomi7444 told me that:

‘This theme is arising in my coaching, especially for the #MTPTproject. My observations are that when this happened and all cards were thrown into the air, is when they feel we defaulted into traditional gender roles. So, caring for the children, housework and teaching / on-line learning pile up into many more hours than usual. Work is interrupted so it takes longer. And there is the mental load of keeping everything going which traditionally falls to women. It’s about communication, honesty, the vulnerability to ask for what we need. The pressure on relationships is real…I guess we all know that this is more complicated and messier than a social media campaign! If it starts a conversation, that’s a good thing.’

The increase and ease of communication, for those with digital access, has enabled working flexibility from home during lockdown’ but not necessarily made life easier when parents are juggling job responsibilities, full-time childcare, and supervision of children’s education…again, this juggling has left many women doing more than their fair share. With almost 1.6 billion children out of school globally, combined with non-keyworkers working from home, more men are in a position to do more housework and childcare during the pandemic.  What a great opportunity for men to dive into the daily routines of running a home and caring for their children. Men are increasingly taking shared paternity leave; however, most men have never worked from home for an extended period, as well as managing the housework and childcare.

The pandemic lockdown presents a perfect opportunity for more men to share more fully in-home duties for an extended period of time. This has the potential to start to turn the tide of gender inequality, both at home and work.

Men homeworking during the pandemic could grasp a greater appreciation of more traditional women’s experiences. They could develop a greater understanding of the value of flexible work arrangements. They could adapt to create a new gender balanced role model, to become more equitable gender role models for their own children. Hannah Wilson shared some of her MA research into flexible working:

‘research shows that an organisation is more likely to agree flexible working arrangements if men are requesting these adjustments to their working patterns. I anticipate a surge in requests for flexible working to include part-time, job share and compressed hours as a result of the pandemic. The business case against flexible working in schools has imploded. Perhaps more men will consider fully leaning in to domestic responsibilities?’

#HeForSheAtHome needs men to do their fair share of household tasks, childcare, home learning, planning of activities, and supporting their partner’s career. A genuine equal partnership at home, will surely support gender equality at work as well. In short, I believe that women with equal partners at home have the potential to be more successful at work. If women are less concerned with the impact of their work role on family responsibilities, they should be able to focus more fully to their work and be able to take advantage of career development opportunities.

Mel and I try to role model gender equality for our 5 sons, shaping expectations for their futures. We have to believe that our sons, who have seen us role model equal partnership in our household duties, have a perspective of greater equality for women’s and men’s roles at home and work.

Although I found it difficult as a younger leader, I am now not afraid to ask for and talk about why I need flexibility in my work schedule, e.g. with my children’s/parents’ medical appointments. If it’s only women who request and use flexible work arrangements, paid sick leave, and parental leave, it perpetuates the perception that this flexibility is just for women. In turn, this perpetuates a stigma that stops men from even asking for flexible working. If men do their fair share in creating equal partnerships at home, then we could begin to normalise flexible working for everyone.

My 10 tips for how men can help to bear the load of unpaid work and do their fair share as #HeForSheAtHome:

  1. Deliberately prioritise work and family responsibilities…and then stick to it, model being #HeForSheAtHome;
  2. Have a genuine conversation with your partner about household tasks and childcare. Don’t become defensive, but use it as an opportunity to do your fair share;
  3. Engage with the social family planning and organisation, e.g. organising birthday arrangements, holiday planning, shopping lists, medical appointments;
  4. Let go of your purely personal aspirations and make a concerted effort to support your partner’s career without reservation. Once you’ve done this build your own aspirations back up in genuine partnership, establishing a clear and shared priority for careers, childcare and household tasks;
  5. Model how to navigate the messiness of life, by openly communicating family and career goals. Life is messy, so show your kids how to disagree, respecting each other’s viewpoints. Let your children see how and why decisions are made through balance and compromise;
  6. Develop a positive attitude towards childcare and household responsibilities, to send an enduring message of commitment as #HeForSheAtHome to your children and partner;
  7. Be authentic in what you do and say. Most people are living the same reality of juggling work, household tasks, childcare, pets, sharing space etc, so avoid creating a utopian image of peace and quiet;
  8. Let people know that you are doing your fair share at home, by being transparent with your family, friends and paid work colleagues. This will help you to manage your availability and work schedule, to enable you to prioritise family responsibilities;
  9. Shine a light on what you’re doing as #HeForSheAtHome by talking about the highs and lows in achieving genuine allyship and partnership, so that others feel more comfortable to sharing their own reality;
  10. Use your #HeForShe as a badge of honour to call out unacceptable language and behaviour towards woman and be heard, don’t just leave it for women to challenge everyday sexism and discrimination.

I was once explaining a strategy to a senior group of executives, when the most senior man interrupted me and stated: “We need to man up and grow some balls!” Although several there had previously warned me about his behaviour, both male and female jaws dropped at his comment.

I paused, before suggesting that in my opinion: ‘…they were a very vulnerable and delicate part of the male anatomy, that when only slightly knocked leave a man writhing around on the floor. Why not say ‘woman up and grow a vagina’, because women seem much more resilient after passing humans out of their bodies?’

The pandemic is presenting new challenges, but the opportunities are now greater as we move forward out of the pandemic. Men now have the opportunity to reinvent their allyship and the ability to act on gender equality to create a new future. The more that men can become #HeForSheAtHome, then the closer we will get to achieving equality for women in the workplace as well. These actions will support your journey in becoming the dad and partner you know you want to be!

In conclusion, my call to men is to:

  • regularly communicate and listen to your partner, adapt your thinking, continually revisit and rework what you believe to be correct and become more comfortable being uncomfortable;
  • ‘Woman up’ and in the words of @WomenEd be 10% braver in using the pandemic as an opportunity to become more #HeForSheAtHome;
  • join the United Nations @HeForShe movement in challenging stereotypical gender roles of women and use your voice to highlight positive male models during lockdown by sharing an image and message with the world to champion gender equality with #HeForSheAtHome.

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