The British Army’s Diverse Resources for the New Term

Eleanor Brown portrait

Written by Eleanor Brown

Head of Education Marketing at Capita

The British Army has developed new resources to help students aged 11-16 build their understanding of why it is important to commemorate significant groups in the history of the British Army. Focusing on diversifying the curriculum, This resource pack features Women in the Army, LGBTQ+ Voices and Black History resources with links to PSHE, History and Citizenship. 

Each of the resources are available for key awareness days in the school calendar and include ready-to-use lesson plans, assembly presentations, case studies and films to help students understand the changing roles of service people in the British Army throughout history, reflect on who we remember as a society or individuals and explore what it’s like to serve in the Army today. The resources are part of the British Army’s dedication to addressing the inequalities within the organisation and raising awareness of the contributions of service people both historically and now.

Women in the Army Resources

An excellent resource for International Women’s Day on March 8th, the Women in the Army resources have curriculum links to PSHE / Health and Wellbeing, Citizenship and History. The lesson plan offers interactive tasks to help young people to recognise and challenge harmful stereotypes and prejudice both at work and in society as a whole. Showcasing the significant roles women have played from the 1800s to today, the resources explore key terms such as feminism, gender and intersectionality, encouraging students to consider the evolving roles of women in the Army in the context of wider society. 

The assembly slides and the film builds on these key themes, showcasing the contributions and accomplishments of women in the Army and reflecting on the stories we remember. The assembly brings a specific focus to the history of women in wartime and features empowering women including Captain Flora Sandes, who was the only woman to fight on the front line of WWI, and Adelaide Hall, a jazz singer who entertained troops in WWII and was the first Black performer to be given a long-term contract with the BBC. 

LGBTQ+ Resources

Perfect for LGBT History Month 2020 in February, The LGBTQ+ Voices lesson resources show the progress made within the Army and in wider society with activities that celebrate the contributions of historical and current LGBTQ+ Army personnel, including WWI soldier Edward Brittain and Deborah Penny, the first trans soldier in the British Army. Students can also learn how they can be supportive of all LGBTQ+ people, and other groups and communities, through the allyship video resource.

By profiling six historical LGBTQ+ figures, such as the mathematician Alan Turing and poet Wilfred Owen, the assembly resource asks students to reflect on their contributions. This is followed by a film featuring current LGBTQ+ soldiers, addressing the significance of LGBTQ+ history to them and the progress that has been made by the Army to ensure everyone feels welcome.

Black History Resources  

These Black History digital resources for Key Stages 3 and 4 include an assembly and lesson plan to help students understand the stories of Black British, African and Caribbean service people who have often been unfairly excluded from the history books and help students consider some of the reasons for and effects of these omissions.

The assembly resource profiles service people from throughout history, while the interactive lesson resources offer source materials to help students build core historical skills and explore the contributions and stories of Black Britons, West and East Africans and Caribbean service people during World War One. The resources also offer examples of the impact of the war on different Black women, documenting case studies of a Trinidadian, British and an East African (from the Tanzania-Malawi border region) woman.

Questions at the end of each resource help facilitate discussions that address the significance of Black History Month and studying Black History more broadly and how this relates to modern discussions on race and diversity, including reflections from current Black soldiers to help build student’s discussions.

All the British Army resources can be downloaded for free online at: https://apply.army.mod.uk/base/lessons 

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Do This, Not That

Jaya Hiranandani portrait

Written by Jaya Hiranandani

Jaya is an international school teacher currently based in Taipei, Taiwan. She is in awe of the unlimited potential of the learning that can happen in the classroom and, as a result, is passionate about inquiry-based learning, student and staff wellbeing, and DEI.

I am from the north of India and I believe that a combination of deeply ingrained acceptance of hierarchy and authority, assumption of best intentions and sheer luck have helped me live in a foreign country and in multiple international communities relatively unscathed from the effects of overt racism. 

However, I have spent a lot of time baffled and confused by covert racism. Covert racism are often instances of racism so subtle that the victim is left wondering if they have been discriminated against. Psychologist Derald Wing Sue, Ph.D. from Teachers College Columbia University defines  “racial microaggression” as “one of the “everyday insults, indignities and demeaning messages sent to people of colour by well-intentioned white people who are unaware of the hidden messages being sent to them.”

Covert acts of racism, apart from being distressing and confusing for the recipient, can be difficult for people from the dominant culture to accept “because it’s scary to them,” Professor Sue asserts, “It assails their self-image of being good, moral, decent human beings to realise that maybe at an unconscious level they have biassed thoughts, attitudes and feelings that harm people of colour.”

When I was sidelined, ignored or marginalised, the younger me was left wondering- Was it me, them or the situation? Am I being too sensitive? Did I do something wrong? Is it just an individual personality trait or is there something bigger here?  Is this person incapable of trusting me just because I am different from them? Am I being sidelined because I am not interesting enough, or is the other person just having a bad day? Is this person not interested in knowing me because they think they already “know” how I am from their experiences with other people of my ethnicity? 

As I grew older, patterns began to emerge and I have realised that ALL these could be true in one situation or the other and I have gotten better at deciphering between my own sensitivities and other people’s biases.

Here are six suggestions I have to develop awareness about and avoid engaging in covert racism at our educational institutions: 

1. Learn how to say my name correctly, don’t hesitate to ask if needed

First things first: Yes, the names of people of colour often sound unfamiliar or sometimes, difficult to pronounce correctly. Try your best to pronounce them correctly, ask for guidance and never shorten someone’s name for your convenience before asking them first.

2. Be socially inclusive, but don’t overcompensate

You don’t need to become my friend, you just need to be friendly and considerate. 

At a previous school of mine, I was unwelcome at the staff book club for many years. There was a poster about it on the staff bulletin board and  when I expressed my interest to the book club leads, I was given sketchy details in a lukewarm tone with no invitation forthcoming. It was not until someone posted a well meaning invitation on the school’s online social messaging board that I was let in. I still can’t be sure why I was kept out of a monthly get-together based on a love for reading which I shared with the members of the group.

People of colour understand that you will be more comfortable with people who you can discuss your food with and can complain about things with; we know this because we do the same. Humans are wired to seek out people with similar experiences as theirs- it helped us during our cave-residing days when it was important to stick to our tribe to stay safe. We instinctively connect with people who share our culture and in my experience, a shared culture transcends shared race or ethnicity. So none of us should be under any kind of pressure to have diverse-looking close friends as long as we treat people fairly, equally and respectfully. 

When we value people for their intrinsic qualities, we will naturally include diverse people in our social circles. When we look beyond people’s idiosyncrasies and external looks, we find the people we share our values and ambitions with. 

3. Find diverse ways to talk to  people of colour, don’t just discuss topics related to their race or country 

I have a colleague who always talks to me about food, clothes or movies from my country. We have worked together for half a dozen years and it makes me wonder if she sees me as a multifaceted person that I am. 

Do you feel compelled to talk to ethnically diverse people only about their country or culture? Or do you plunge into awkward silence wondering what on earth you should talk about that will not be offensive and will be politically correct? Find the middle path. Yes, I am happy to talk about which Indian restaurant in town I find  the most authentic. No, I don’t want to be always seen through the lens of my ethnicity as I am so much more beyond my origins. 

4. People of colour commit racist faux pas too, don’t ignore it. 

Racial prejudice oc4urs both ways and though it cannot be termed as racism due to imbalances in power held by white people and people of colour, there is no reason to condone it. When you see or hear POC being racially biased, gently question their judgement and call it out. 

5. Talk openly about racial, cultural, ethnic differences, don’t be colourblind

Once when I mustered the courage to mention to a white male school leader that, ambiguous as it is, covert racism in international schools does exist, I was immediately and emphatically told that “no one is out there to get me” and basically made to feel that I was being too sensitive! Denying that racism in any form exists around us is colour blindness and it is a sureshot way to shut any dialogue about it.

Colorblindedness denies the prevalence of differences based on race and though it is rooted in the goal to promote racial equality based on race-neutral policies, it has led to perpetration of systemic racism. If we pretend that race does not exist, we deny the presence of race-based inequities in our communities. Open dialogue about racial and ethnic differences at your school as and when needed. A paper published by Harvard social scientists in The Current Directions in Psychological Science states that, “people exposed to arguments promoting colour blindness have been shown to subsequently display a greater degree of both explicit and implicit racial bias.”

The responsibility of open dialogue about bias, prejudice and race falls more heavily on leaders, and it’s important that schools are now developing explicit DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) policies for all stakeholders to follow.

6. Develop self-awareness about your biases, don’t equate good intentions with correct action

It has taken me years of catching myself judging people with tattoo-covered bodies to stop making assumptions about them. I recently briefly dated a person with a wing chest tattoo and a whole arm covered with a colourful assortment of motifs and images, and I learnt intriguing stories behind some of his body art.

When we observe our own thoughts and examine our biases and assumptions, we can check ourselves every time we make a sweeping generalisation in our heads about someone based on their ethnicity or physical features.

Sometimes issues will be attributed to bias even though they may have stemmed from poor communication, differences in expectation, individual personality traits and so on. Again, be curious and ready to find out more.

Most of us genuinely want to live in a diverse and inclusive world with equity for all. However, the best intentions are futile if they are not met with the right actions. Let’s marry our best intentions with wholehearted efforts and create workplaces where no one feels marginalised because of their physical features and colour.

References:

DeAngelis, Toni 2009 Unmasking ;Racial Microaggressions’ American Psychological Association Vol. 40, (No. 2) pp. 42 <https://www.apa.org/monitor/2009/02/microaggression>

Alberta Civil Liberties Research Center (ACLRC) The Myth of Reverse Racism Accessed January 2022 <https://www.aclrc.com/myth-of-reverse-racism>

Afpelbaum, E.P., Norton, M.I., and Sommers, S.R. 2012 “Racial Color Blindness: Emergence, Practice and Implications” Current Directions in Psychological Science 21 (3) pp.206  <https://www.hbs.edu/ris/Publication%20Files/Racial%20Color%20Blindness_16f0f9c6-9a67-4125-ae30-5eb1ae1eff59.pdf>

Stephen M.R. Covey May 2021, Association of California School Administrators, Accessed January 2022 <https://content.acsa.org/six-ways-to-help-your-schools-be-more-inclusive/>

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#HonestyAboutEditing - The Campaign

Suzanne Samaka portrait

Written by Suzanne Samaka

Suzanne Samaka is a 33-year-old mum from Watford. She grew up in a single parent, working class family, which has given her a strong sense of working hard to achieve. She has spent 15 years working for a high street bank in a number of roles, mainly around relationships and people.

How can I make a difference to the mental health of our young people? That was my question and it hit me like a lightning bolt one evening. To give some context to my life, I am a stepmother to four children, have a two year old daughter and have recently given birth to my second baby. I also work full time in banking.

Sadly, for the past four years a member of our family has suffered with anorexia. It is fair to say we will never know the root cause of this and maybe neither will they, but it is apparent that they are not alone in the anxiety, depression, physical and mental health challenges that they have faced in their adolescent years. I’ve been to eating disorder in-patient clinics and I have always been shocked and saddened by how full these units are with adolescent girls and boys alike.

The pandemic has meant young people have spent more time at home and online but I must stress this isn’t only a post-pandemic problem. They are seeing more content than ever that is edited or filtered and it is having a disastrous effect on their self-esteem. The statistics don’t lie and in the UK, 9 out of every 10 girls with low body esteem, put their health at risk by not seeing a doctor or by skipping meals. A survey conducted by the Royal Society for Public Health asked 14-24 year olds in the UK how social media platforms impacted their health and well-being. The survey results found that Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were all linked to increased feelings of depression, anxiety, poor body image and loneliness. More than two thirds (68%) of young people surveyed support social media platforms highlighting when a photo has been manipulated. 

I have been contacted by many teachers who have told me about conversations with their students who feel under pressure from social media perfection or crippling loneliness when they feel that their face doesn’t fit. I have also been contacted by countless parents who are terrified of how body conscious their children are, with ages starting from as young as 8. I have also spoken with many adults who have suffered their own mental health challenges in their adolescent years, signing the petition because they just can’t fathom how they would have survived against the odds that the youth of today are growing up with. The more people I speak to about the petition, the more it makes me want to ensure there is change, protection and honesty to give our young people a fair chance in today’s world.

Now there is one thing I need to make crystal clear. I have nothing against social media. In fact I think it can be hugely positive to all of our lives. I also have nothing against editing or filtering, it is completely each to their own. What I have a problem with is the lack of honesty, which is causing young people to believe they need to be flawless yet striving for this is damaging their mental health. Do I believe social media is the problem for the challenges in youth mental health? No. Does it exacerbate the problem? Absolutely. Mental health challenges can quickly become deeply rooted and leave scars for life. Our children and young people deserve better than that.

In trying to evoke change I have recently begun a petition on Change.org to amend the social media laws to state when an image has been filtered or digitally edited. This is now the law in a number of countries, Norway being the most recent. If it can happen there why not in the UK? What I am hoping this solution could do is to help our young people and next generation to understand that these posts aren’t real and their true self is more important, as well as their mental and physical health.

What I have realised is that each individual can help create positive change. It really does only take 30 seconds to put your name against the petition and then share with your own network. The momentum of this campaign has been amazing with several MPs on board, charity organisations and individuals who are experts in their fields. Collaboration is key here. If we all pull together we really can protect our next generation. I’m a parent. An auntie. A person who cares. That is all it takes. Somebody to do something.

Whilst my family has been my first hand experiences of mental health challenges in young people, I have just seen one too many examples to not do something about it. In the words of Emma Watson, If not me, who? If not now, when?

The link to the campaign is https://www.change.org/ChangeSocialMediaLaws 

The link to the details of the survey completed by the Royal Society for Public Health is available here https://www.rsph.org.uk/static/uploaded/d125b27c-0b62-41c5-a2c0155a8887cd01.pdf 

You can connect with the author – Suzanne Samaka via the following social media accounts:

  • Instagram – @protectyouthmentalhealth
  • Twitter – @SuzanneSamaka
  • #HonestyAboutEditing

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What's in a Name?

Malarvilie Krishnasamy portrait

Written by Malarvilie Krishnasamy

Mal is an education consultant specialising in leadership development, coaching in schools and SMSC (spiritual, moral, social and cultural development). Mal supports educational leaders to create a self-sustaining culture of professional development and is a Regional Leader for WomenEdSE and the Dorset Advocate for the MaternityCPD Project & a Healthy Toolkit Advocate.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet.” Juliet

Do names matter?

According to Shakespeare, not so much.

My name is Malarvilie. It may seem unusual but in India, Malaysia and Sri Lanka amongst the Tamil, Malayalam and Telungu communities (about 200 million people) it’s the equivalent of Sharon or Kate.

In my parents’ culture, the father’s first name is the family surname. My dad’s name was Krishna and his dad’s name was Rajaiyan. When the British closed down their naval base in Singapore, my dad became jobless but was offered a British passport as Britain needed workers. As he had 3 kids he jumped at the chance to work in the ‘motherland’. On his passport, the British added the ‘samy’ to Krishna. They did this often. Ever wondered why there are so many Patels in India? Much like ‘Jones’ for the Welsh and in Ireland, the English changed many names e.g.instead of Tadgh, they’d rename them ‘Tim’.

Malar means flower. Vilie means eyes. It sounded like I looked like an alien when I was born. I’ve clearly grown into my eyes. So they named me Malarvilie which together means a flower in bloom. My husband, Tim rips me to pieces every now and then about it.

When I was born, my dad wanted my grandad’s name added to my birth certificate as it’s an ancient Indian name and he was proud to have a child born in London. But my parents’ English wasn’t great in 1973. So my birth certificate says my name is Malarvilie Krishnasamy Rajaiyan. Even at my dad’s funeral, his name was wrong. When I mentioned it, a family member said ‘Oh he didn’t mind’. Is that the point? I also believe he did mind.

The Ting Tings understood!

https://youtu.be/v1c2OfAzDTI

In certain cultures they don’t correct you. In the UK there’s an awful habit of changing names to suit the English pallet. Or worse, it’s changed for you. Age 3, my childminder called me Mandy.

I’ve had a range of nicknames over the years:

– Mandy

– Malibu

– Milli Vanilli

– Mallory

My favourites are: ‘Malarvilie Christened-a-Salami’. I also found ‘Malarvilie Ham-bacon-Sarny’ amusing.

Even my parents called me Malar. Apparently by the time they said ‘vilie’, I was already there. 

But since 6th form I’ve been Mal.

Teaching

As a teacher, in our first lesson together, I’d tell the kids all the nicknames I’ve had and put on the board Krish/na/sa/my. I’d say I’ve heard all the nicknames as a kid but I couldn’t do anything then, now as a teacher I can hand out detentions! I’d also say I expect them to say my name properly and I will ensure I say their name properly. Some children would say ‘Call me whatever’. But I’d insist they tell me how to say their name. 

As a teacher in one school, on my first day I introduced myself to staff as Malarvilie. Within a few hours everyone was calling me Mal, without permission, some without trying, some with a look of panic asking ‘do you have a short version?’ It was disheartening.

Smash the Patriarchy!

We got married in September. I didn’t change my name, as it’s my name. But Tim added Rajaiyan to his name. Our 2 kids have Rajaiyan as their middle names. It means ‘victorious king’. Our eldest is named Taigh Rajaiyan McCullagh, you can see his heritage in his name – Indian Irish. I feel a sense of pride when I see my children’s names in print. 

In the last 30 years, no one has called me Malarvilie until now.

I moved to Spain. At passport control in Valencia, the guy looked at my name and said ‘Malarvilie’ I nodded in shock and he asked ‘Is that correct?’ It was perfect. The Spaniards roll their ‘r’s so it’s easy for them. They’re also not afraid of long names. Unfortunately, Mal means’ bad’ or ‘evil’ in Spanish so saying ‘My name is Mal’ would be problematic. So, I introduce myself as Malarvilie. Tim has started calling me Malarvilie too as introducing me as ‘evil’ doesn’t feel right to him.

In Spain, in a funny way I feel more whole and less apologetic for my heritage.

So, what’s in a name? A lot actually.

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An Ongoing Marriage Bar in Education?

Emma Sheppard portrait

Written by Emma Sheppard

Emma founded The MTPT Project, the UK's charity for parent teachers, in 2016 when on maternity leave with her first child. She has 12 years experience as an English teacher, Lead Practitioner and ITT Lead, and now runs The MTPT Project full time.

Of all the protected characteristics, considering the relevance of ‘marriage and civil partnership’ to our education sector might leave us scratching our heads a little.  In its most obvious form, discrimination according to this characteristic can play out in interview or progression scenarios where prejudices around employees’ stability, current or future priorities or flight risk might play in their favour, or against.  There are also overlaps to consider here with the protected characteristics of pregnancy and maternity, and sexual orientation, especially given the welcome changes to marriage law in the UK over the last decade.

However, recent research from The MTPT Project has revealed that being married or in a long-term partnership can have an impact on teacher retention, particularly amongst heterosexual mothers.  In our three-year study into female teachers aged 30-39 who had stayed in, or left teaching, relationships with husbands and partners played a part in teachers’ decisions to leave the profession.  But what nuance is their behind these findings, and what can we do to avoid discrimination towards teachers in marriages or civil partnerships if this variable seems to spell out bad news?

Firstly, it’s important to note that this research is ongoing: The MTPT Project are yet to release a report on the role that husbands or partners play in keeping teachers in the profession, or supporting their progression.  What’s more, far from instigating teachers’ decisions to leave the classroom, husbands and partners were found to act more symbolically as a mirror, or foil to other much larger issues that affect our workforce, whether teachers are married or not.

In this aspect of the study, interviews revealed the following:

Where teachers in the study were the lower wage earner, decisions around their husband / partner’s job took priority.  So when it came to relocation, reduction of hours, or taking on a heavier domestic load, a teacher was lost to the profession because… well, her husband’s job was more important – it paid the bills!  But isn’t this simply a reflection of the gender pay gap that persists both in education and British society as a whole, and the continuing likelihood for women – particularly mothers – to take on the majority of caring and domestic duties?

When teachers in the study were stressed and burnt out, it was their husbands who were both negatively impacted, and who provided the voice of reason and compassion.  Interview participants told stories of interventions around mental health, improved relationships once they’d stopped teaching and generally happier family units.  But aren’t husbands simply providing the echo here to persistent reports around poor wellbeing that pervade the entire profession?

When teachers in the study had the time – often during maternity leave or school holidays – to reflect and look for an escape route, they compared their jobs with their partners’.  Even when they saw a lower wage, they saw greater flexibility, better benefits packages, higher levels of praise, and better work-life balance.  But doesn’t this simply hold a mirror up to the rigidity and exhausting workload we continue to find in some of our schools that make life particularly difficult for the 54% of our workforce who have childcare responsibilities, and which prematurely drives our young teachers out of the profession in droves?

Just over half of our population in England and Wales are married or in a civil partnership, so discrimination against an employee or interview candidate on the grounds of marriage or civil partnership would be (to pinch a phrase from a local dad in the park) ‘pissing against the wind’.  We’d end up with very few teachers left if we discriminated in this way!  However, The MTPT Project’s study shows that the overlap between the three protected characteristics of sex, pregnancy and maternity, and marriage and civil partnership can leave women in particular needing greater systemic supports from our schools – support that would benefit every member of staff, regardless of their demographic.

Want to reduce the risk of losing the married mothers on your team?  Work towards addressing the gender pay gap in your school or academy trust; provide greater flexibility; reduce workload; listen to feedback to understand the practical steps that will improve colleagues’ wellbeing, and provide extended paternity leave packages that help to share out the domestic load from the moment that baby is born.

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We Wish You an Inclusive Christmas

Shuaib Khan portrait

Written by Shuaib Khan

Shuaib is a teacher, sociologist, poet and podcaster.

As the holiday season approaches, this can become a powerful point of reflection for schools on how inclusive their practices are. This is especially the case for how schools cater for the needs of staff and pupils who have mixed feelings about the festive period as they don’t celebrate Christmas. In this blog (originally published on the Leader’s Digest), we will be looking at ten ways your school can make Christmas celebrations more inclusive.

What is inclusion?

Diversity, inclusion, equality and equity are used interchangeably, but they have different meanings and interpretations. Many schools have their own equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) leaders in an effort to promote fairness, access and equity. During the Christmas period, there is a need to think about alternative provisions for those who, for whatever reason, do not wish to partake in festive activities. So, how do we define ‘inclusion’?

The diversity network Diverse Educators (DiverseEd) provide us with the following definition of ‘inclusion’.

Inclusion is the achievement of a work environment in which all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully, have equal access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute fully to the organisation’s success.

School communities are not homogenous and not every member of staff or pupils will celebrate Christmas. For some, the holiday season can evoke bad memories and the feeling of being excluded as everyone else enjoys school productions, secret Santa, Christmas lunch and the rest of the exciting festive activities. So, how can your school make Christmas inclusive?

DiverseEd reminds us that inclusion should not be viewed  as just  an add-on but rather as an institution-wide point of reference to meet the needs of everyone in your care. Inclusion should be practiced all year round and not just at the sight of a Christmas tree or at the smell of freshly baked mince pies. The conversation about inclusion is nuanced, requires deep personal reflection and remembering that the holiday season can bring mixed feelings. Leader’s Digest recommendations to make Christmas more inclusive is part of, rather than a substitute for your school-wide equality, diversity and inclusion ethos.

Ten ways my school can make Christmas more inclusive

Create a diverse planning committee

Planning Christmas events requires planning and preparation. As a school leader, having a  planning committee that is representative of your school community is one way you can ensure a diverse range of views, ideas and thoughts are heard. Planning committees could be made up of support staff, including teaching assistants and also staff who don’t celebrate Christmas. Your school’s Christmas events planning committee can be an excellent way of understanding the individual needs of your fellow colleagues and also of pupils. In making necessary adjustments or alternative arrangements for those who don’t celebrate Christmas, a diverse planning committee can help identify challenges and collaboratively find solutions.

Having an interfaith calendar

As the festive season approaches, it is important to remember that other faiths will have important events and traditions taking place too and these deserve to be acknowledged and celebrated too. For example, Hanukkah which is an eight-day long Jewish festival begins on November 28th and ends on December 6th. Also, Buddhists celebrate Bodhi Day on December 8th. Both of these religious events take place as the Christmas festive season commences. Your school’s interfaith calendar can be a powerful tool to plan celebrations for these respected faiths all year round and make staff and pupils feel respected and valued. An interfaith calendar can also help avoid scheduling mistakes, plan celebrations and guide your schools religious/PSHE curriculum.

Allowing staff and pupils to opt out

An important element of inclusion is offering people options. Staff and pupils should be allowed to opt out of Christmas celebrations if they wish to without fear of judgement or sanction. Christmas can be a really challenging time for some people and as a school leader, if a colleague or pupil doesn’t wish to partake, their wishes should be respected. A big part of inclusion is respecting others, their preferences and allowing them to have the autonomy to not participate.

Make events optional/voluntary

As with allowing staff and pupils to opt out, festive events should be optional and voluntary. Organising Christmas plays or concerts is often done in non-contact time and a lot of invisible labour takes place to make these events happen. School leaders should reiterate that attending events is always optional and that there will be no pressure or judgement if they cannot attend. For some staff, it is not necessarily the case of being unable to make the commitment to after school rehearsals or concert preparation, but rather they have additional responsibilities outside of work. The wellbeing of staff is of paramount importance in making festive events fulfilling and worthwhile for all.

Provide food options

Food is an integral part of Christmas. To ensure all staff and pupils feel included, just as your school canteen would do, catering for all dietary requirements and personal preferences is key. For example, a good idea would be to have separate tables with vegetarian, vegan,  gluten-free, Halal, or Kosher food. Another option would be to relay information to pupils and parents about the options and alternatives available during the Christmas period. These are small provisions which will make staff and pupils feel more welcome and included in the Christmas festivities. Going forwards, it is also a really important way of getting to know your staff and pupils. Further to this could be to avoid offering alcohol to staff who don’t drink to avoid offending or alienating them.

Ask staff what they want

How many times have you been stumped on ideas for a secret Santa gift or just unsure if a colleague will like how the school celebrates Christmas? Asking staff what they want is an excellent way to plan Christmas celebrations in your school. This does not mean you have to hand over powers to staff but rather use their intricate knowledge of the pupils to guide your decision making. As a school leader, having ideas put towards you from staff can help refresh how your school embraces the festive season. In liaison with staff, certain practices from previous years that didn’t go well can be rectified or replaced. For example, Christmas jumper day. If a significant proportion of your pupils cannot afford to participate, they will feel excluded. This could easily be replaced with something more cost effective for the local community such as a Christmas tombola. Asking staff, who know the pupils and the school community incredibly well, this can help make Christmas a more inclusive experience for everyone.

Be mindful of the cost

Recently Teaching Assistant’s Digest completed a series of articles on TA pay. Christmas is an additional cost, especially for TAs and support staff who are already facing financial hardships. A £50 staff Christmas meal may seem like a small amount but for support staff, that £50 is days worth of earnings. Part of an inclusive model is including groups who have historically been excluded and TAs definitely fit this criteria. Where possible, if staff events are free or at a reduced cost, SLT should be mindful of this. It’s all good inviting everyone which could easily be interpreted as ‘inclusion’ but what about those who cannot afford to attend? Just because everyone has a seat doesn’t mean everyone can afford to eat! School leaders should also encourage support staff not to spend their own money on school Christmas events such as parties. If they do, an opportunity to reimburse them should be available.

Offer holidays to staff and pupils of other faiths

Again, a part of having an interfaith calendar is knowing exactly when other faiths have their traditions and celebrations. Christmas is a holiday season for everyone but throughout the academic year, other faiths will have traditions and festivals that will require staff and pupils to have time off to observe and celebrate. For example, Eid or Diwaali. Staff and pupils should be entitled to an appropriate number of days to celebrate their religious festivals. As a school leader, it is important to empower your staff with the confidence to request time off and for pupils to feel as though their school values their faith. This can also be done by allowing all staff and pupils to understand the importance of different religious festivals through embedding these into the curriculum and the schools wider inclusive ethos.

Invite feedback

As a school leader, first and foremost, you are a reflective practitioner. The nature of education is that there will always be opportunities to reflect, improve and do better. If a specific event didn’t go too well, encouraging your staff to come forwards and provide feedback is how you can get things right next time. Inviting feedback is the ultimate way of highlighting what worked well and finding areas for development. Feedback could be anonymous, drop-in, staff surveys or asking the pupils about how they found Christmas celebrations at school.

See inclusive practices over Christmas an extension of inclusion

Inclusion should not be something that is centred around December or nativity. As a school leader, it is important to realise that creating a more inclusive festive period for everyone at your school is one step in the right direction. Inclusion is an on-going cultural process of learning, understanding, supporting and of course, including others. Christmas is an opportunity to embed inclusive practices which themselves should permeate throughout your school and enrich everyone along the way.

Although this list is not exhaustive, we hope that it can give you some food for thought. How are you going to make Christmas an inclusive experience in your school? At Leader’s Digest we would love to hear from you.

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Still a Challenge: Raising Awareness of and Tackling Islamophobia

Saira Hassan portrait

Written by Saira Hassan

Senior Education, Training and Strategy Officer at EqualiTeach. Trustee for CareStart. Saira is determined to create a better future for disadvantaged individuals so they can showcase their talents, always striving to pass on her knowledge, experience and expertise to others.

November is Islamophobia Awareness Month, established in 2012 ‘to deconstruct and challenge the stereotypes about Islam and Muslims’. In this blog post I will be sharing some definitions of Islamophobia, real life examples, personal experiences and my thoughts on how we can reject and tackle Islamophobia to create a more inclusive environment for all. 

What is Islamophobia?

So, what is Islamophobia? The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for British Muslims state “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness” (All-Party Parliamentary Group, 2018). Alternatively, MEND defines Islamophobia as “a prejudice, aversion, hostility, or hatred towards Muslims and encompasses any distinction, exclusion, restriction, discrimination, or preference against Muslims that has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.” Islamophobia has become a systemic and institutional problem preventing many Muslims from progressing in the workplace, having a complete sense of freedom and being able to feel comfortable within school, the workplace and general society. 

One sector where we can clearly see that Islamophobia is rampant is within the media. Miqdaad Versi, Director of Media Monitoring at the Muslim Council of Britain has singlehandedly spent many hours highlighting the gravity of the situation. Miqdaad has been described as the “UK’s one-man Islamophobia media monitor”. A 2018 Guardian news article on Versi’s fight against Islamophobia revealed that out of 24,750 articles on Muslims that he had recorded since August 2016, 14,129 were negative. A 2007 study revealed that 91% of articles on Muslims and Islam published in one week were negative painting an inaccurate and negative picture of Muslims in the minds of readers. Baroness Sayeeda Warsi has stated that the media are complicit in the increase of Islamophobic views and attacks because of the “daily poisoning” exhibited against British Muslims by the media. 

“Still a Challenge for Us All”

Often people may have an unconscious bias towards Muslim students or colleagues which clouds their judgement. The Runnymede Trust published a report in 1997 titled ‘Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All’ which highlighted the extent of Islamophobia across the United Kingdom. 20 years later they published another report ‘Islamophobia: Still a Challenge for Us All’ which reiterated the extent of the deeply entrenched Islamophobia . The report states “As with many Black and minority ethnic groups, Muslims experience disadvantage and discrimination in a wide range of institutions and environments, from schools to the labour market to prisons to violence on the street.” There are now countless case studies that highlight the mistreatment that Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim are facing. 

“As a visibly Muslim woman the shock I felt was evident instantly. I had to take a moment to absorb what I was hearing. As the workshop lead, I felt I had to pause before hearing other experiences of identity-based bullying in case I could no longer carry on.”

In the last fortnight I have personally heard examples of Islamophobia when delivering workshops in schools. Most recently, whilst discussing identity-based bullying, when asked to share an example of where they had witnessed Islamophobia, a Year 8 student revealed a time when a Muslim student volunteered to take part in a play during a History lesson, another student shouted out that the play was not about terrorism, therefore the Muslim student wasn’t required. I have since shared this example with other settings and the shock, horror and heart-breaking feeling that I experienced the first time has not disappeared. Other examples included Muslim girls having their hijab pulled off. As a visibly Muslim woman the shock I felt was evident instantly. I had to take a moment to absorb what I was hearing. As the workshop lead, I felt I had to pause before hearing other experiences of identity-based bullying in case I could no longer carry on. I did not want the students to stop sharing their experiences, but I had to take a moment to compose myself. This was the impact of just hearing the incident, I wondered how the young students who experienced these forms of Islamophobia had felt in those moments. Did anyone stand up for them? Were they confident enough to challenge this themselves? Did the class teacher step in and use this moment as a learning tool to educate the class about Islamophobia? Did the classroom teacher check-in with the Muslim student and other Muslim students in the classroom? Has the school recorded this incident? Many questions whizzed through my mind. 

What surprised me further was the lack of intervention from teachers and other members of staff, and the lack of awareness of how to deal with identity-based or prejudice-related bullying. Our advice when prejudice-related incidents take place is for teachers to always intervene and challenge, as well as record each incident to see trends and find solutions to prevent prejudice-related incidents. Each school and educational setting should have a robust procedure in place to tackle any type of prejudice-related bullying. Although there are many teachers that would intervene, it is unfortunate that many feel unequipped to do so, or simply ignore the matter. 

Islamophobia in the workplace

Within the workplace many Muslims have also experienced Islamophobia. I have personally experienced a lack of understanding of my religion, my choices to wear the hijab, and judgement for choosing to fast during Ramadan by previous employers. For example, at that age of 18 whilst working for a leading Law firm, my manager often made jokes regarding fasting and would often say no one could see me therefore I could break my fast. In another incident, a joke was made about removing my hijab to show everyone my hair. I often wonder why these individuals felt entitled enough to make such derogatory comments about my religion and religious choice. More recently in my previous position, I and other Muslim colleagues often had lengthy discussions about how we would ask for time off for Eid as there was a culture of negativity towards asking for a day off to celebrate with our loved ones. I recall many Muslim colleagues choosing to work rather than have the difficult conversation to request leave. Other colleagues were asked to cancel other annual leave to keep a day spare for Eid and many were told to teach their morning lessons then have the afternoon off. If supply staff could be called in at the last minute to cover sickness, why could supply staff not be given a few days or weeks’ notice to allow for a Muslim teacher to celebrate Eid?

A research report co-compiled by Dr Suriya Bi and Muslim Women Connect found that 47.2% of women stated they had encountered Islamophobia and discrimination as a challenge in the workplace. One woman revealed: “Colleagues would ridicule me when fasting, asking ‘are you still starving or whatever’. Colleagues would ask me to talk about Muslims and things she’d see in the media, as if I was the spokesperson for the entire religion. Colleagues would jokingly put alcohol glasses in my face asking if I wanted to drink it. Colleagues would get annoyed when I said I couldn’t go to the pub.” (Muslim Women Connect and Bi, 2020: 29).

Furthermore, members of the Muslim community are often expected to speak up when terrorist organisations misuse the religion of Islam. Speaking up for your community, or religious group, is a very personal choice, but Muslims are expected to condemn terrorist attacks as if they are to blame or have a part to play. This can have a detrimental impact on someone’s mental and physical health, as well as forcing them to question their position in the environment. 

The gravity of attacks against women and girls

Muslim women and girls are often singled out as the focus of Islamophobia rhetoric and attacks. The 1997 Runnymede Report highlighted the gravity of attacks against women. The anniversary report in 2018 further explained how Muslim girls and women continued to face even more Islamophobic hate, especially concerning their freedom of speech and dress. Often women are mislabelled as oppressed and their choice to adopt the hijab (headscarf) or niqab (veil) is framed as forced and disempowering. Muslim men are then labelled as misogynistic and controlling (Runnymede Trust, 2018). Stereotypes like this are denying Muslim men and women of their agency. Increasingly, men and women are bravely sharing the Islamophobic hate they have experienced. 

“Islamophobic comments from an impolite customer regarding the hijab telling me that she wished I wouldn’t wear ‘that thing’ as British women had fought for the right to vote and do what they wanted and not for people ‘like me’ to have to wear it.” (Muslim Women Connect and Bi, 2020: 29). 

Most recently, Zarah Sultana Labour MP for Coventry South bravely shared her experience of receiving Islamophobic hate which you can watch here. Zarah Sultana continues to fight against Islamophobia within politics and continues to encourage more young Muslim people to join the political arena to ensure there is fair representation.

From these testaments and my personal experiences it is clear that Islamophobia is still a problem. I recently read a personal account of an employee being treated unfairly because they requested time to perform their daily prayers and was timed throughout their break. The afternoon prayers take approximately 10 minutes to complete, often even just 5 minutes. The image below sums up exactly how some organisations need to change their views towards any type of religious observance, and what they should be doing to be more inclusive for their Muslim employees and Muslim students. It is extremely important that we all work together, as a collective, to undo the unconscious bias that revolves around Islam and Muslims, to work towards a more accurate understanding of Islam and Muslims across the world.

Going forward

Organisations

  • Engage in EDI training 
  • Don’t force any of your Muslim employees to be the spokesperson for their community 
  • Do ask how they are when horrific events happen where the Muslim community feel blamed or held responsible by others, offer support and guidance, they might want to discuss something but there should be no pressure for them to act as a spokesperson.
  • Evaluate your policies – are they inclusive for all? 
  • Ensure that there are clear mechanisms where employees can report discrimination and harassment and clear procedures as to how these are dealt with, which all managers are aware of and implement consistently
  • Create an inclusive environment which provides opportunities for employees to engage with their faith and accommodates time off for religious festivals
  • Engage in anti-Islamophobia events and training 

EqualiTeach can provide bespoke support for organisations doing this work. Find out more here: Workplace EDI support

Educational institutions

  • Deliver anti-Islamophobia workshops with young people
  • Create robust procedures to tackle prejudice-related incidents and bullying and ensure that all students and staff are aware of how to report incidents and have reassurance that these will be consistently dealt with and not dismissed
  • Diversify your curriculum so that it is truly representative of the wider community and allows you to address any misconceptions young people might have about Islam or Muslims
  • Ask all students if they would like to share parts of their faith and/or culture with the class – ensure this is a personal choice and not enforced on young people and that young people are not singled out or put on the spot. 
  • Invite Muslim speakers from all backgrounds to come and share their experiences with your students

Find out more about the services EqualiTeach provides to support schools with this work here: Equality services for education settings

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Groupthink is a trap: businesses do far better when there is diversity of thought

Neil Bradbrook portrait

Written by Neil Bradbrook

Neil Bradbrook is managing director of Falkirk-based Ahead Business Consulting and a Fellow of the Institute of Leadership & Management.

When it comes to running a business, nothing is more important than diversity of thought. No matter how good a leader you think you are, it is the team you assemble around you that will help you succeed. 

My business partner and I come from different backgrounds and that helps when we are making business decisions. We come to similar conclusions, but get there in different ways, challenging each other as we go. 

It is not nearly enough, though. We might have to make the decisions, but we do not have all the answers, which is why it is so important that we listen to the team around us. Only when we hear the suggestions they are making and the solutions they are coming up with can we make a truly informed choice. 

As human beings we are all social animals who like to interact and do things together. That applies in the workplace just as much as anywhere else. If you can create a working environment where people enjoy what they do and feel empowered to air their views, everybody benefits from the power of the team.

Taking on board views that differ widely from your own can be a challenge but looking at a problem from every possible angle is the way to find the best solutions. That means surrounding yourself with people from as many different backgrounds as possible rather than hiring in your own image.

That takes a conscious effort – we have all heard of unconscious bias, right? – and so self-awareness is key. No matter what position you are in – even if you are in charge of a huge global enterprise, as Elon Musk is at Tesla – you cannot ever think it is all about you. The very best senior managers are the ones that realise they might not be doing everything right.

A good manager should always be prepared to change their mind when presented with views that differ from their own. That is why listening is so important. Listen to what your employees have to say, listen to your customers, take advice. You do not have to act on every single thing but listen – and listen well – before making that call.

Trying to force people into your own mould will never work; embracing them as they are and seeking out the value they can bring, will. That can be difficult. Some team members can struggle to engage in a way you understand. They are the ones you have to invest even greater effort into listening to, because only by accepting that everyone can be part of the team will you have a truly inclusive organisation.

If you do not make an effort to show you are genuinely inclusive there are some people you are going to turn off. You will be the loser in that situation because you will be missing the opportunity to find out what they could add.

Some managers find it hard to empower the individuals in their team. That is understandable: few people are given the training they need to take on a management position, with most being promoted simply because they excelled in the role they were already in.

Without being told otherwise, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that with power comes responsibility and with responsibility comes the need to make all decisions alone.

But if team members feel they understand your organisation’s vision and their role within it – and that they have the autonomy and opportunity to contribute and make a difference – you get so much more out of them.

That is to everyone’s benefit. If you are all pulling in the same direction, and everyone knows what the effort is being put in for, it will be so much more effective than if you just have one or two people doing it. 

I have always been a firm believer that the power of the team is far greater than that of the individual; if you get the team right, collectively you will be so much stronger than each of you on your own. 

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Inclusion - A Parenting Perspective

Helen Weston portrait

Written by Helen Weston

Helen has two children with significant medical needs which has resulted in her becoming their part time nurse, teacher and advocate whilst simultaneously attempting to be a reasonable parent! Prior to this she worked in Early Years and family support.

Inclusion is a perpetual discussion amongst both teachers and parents alike. This is likely because it has a number of different interpretations which aren’t always agreed upon, it can also be both an ethos and an action. I want all children to feel safe and secure, welcome and considered whilst being educated. My son wants to be remembered that he exists. 

As a parent of two children with chronic health needs, the navigation of an equitable education for them has been incredibly challenging. During the last 11 years my children have experienced the best and worst of inclusive practices in various schools. 

Effective inclusive practice in my experience always comes from attitudes and ethos and never from  expectations of statutory requirements. Funding has been entirely irrelevant, no amount of funding can influence cultural shift. Ethical leaders create that, not money. If a Head is unable to easily explain how their policies and planning sit within the Equality Act, for example, a rigid 100% attendance award policy, yet has an inclusion poster in their reception area, then as a parent, I know my child will never feel a sense of belonging or self worth in this school. 

Schools that are child centred rather than data driven always value inclusion, they offer a genuine partnership with families and a proactive approach, again this starts with leadership and is embedded within the every day workings of the school. Teachers who are prepared to listen, reflect and act, can make a huge difference to a child’s perception of their illness or disability and reduce their feelings of difference. This enables them to be more readily able to learn. 

One of my children has only ever been able to attend school on a part time basis due to his health. For 4 years he attended his school every morning, his school thought they were inclusive for facilitating a part time timetable, yet he was never offered a broad and balanced curriculum. He was only ever taught Maths and English despite regularly requesting to learn science or do PE with his peers, but their timetable was rigid. 

 We eventually moved him to a neighbouring school, the difference in attitudes was remarkable. He was listened to and the timetable was swapped around. For the first time in his school career he did PE, science, & enrichment. He was 9 years old. He also took part in his first ever Christmas concert because the practices were moved to the mornings so he could be involved . He had real friends for the first time, adults had role modelled to them that he was an equally valuable member of the school community. His friends looked out for him, helped him, cared for him because this was the ethos of the school and these values were their norm. 

At his previous school he had had long periods of time off unwell, upon return to school, staff and children alike would rarely ask after his well-being. In contrast, in his new school his teacher set up a video call with him and his classmates so they could have a chat and check in with one another. 

She would also provide him with allergy safe treats when giving a whole class reward. He had never experienced this before. Ultimately inclusion was everyone’s responsibility and not just the role of the  ‘Inclusion Manager.’ My experience identified that by outsourcing inclusion to just one individual, others were removed from ever having any consideration for inclusion. 

School trips can be a real eye opener as to how inclusive schools are. We have had numerous experiences of schools not bothering to plan for accessibility or do risk assessments therefore having to do them myself  last minute ( and on one occasion discovering the activity was unsafe for our son’s medical condition.)

Yet there have also been examples of how early planning and communication can enable trips to be successful, not just practically, but also emotionally positive. My son attended a school residential as a day visitor. The timings of his visits were chosen in collaboration with him, myself, school as well as the activity centre, to ensure he was able to access all the activities offered at that time safely. He was still allocated a room and a bed, his tube feeds were fitted around activities, pacing was done subtly, a special harness was used. Almost three years later, he still talks about that trip with such joyful memories. 

The ‘what can we do’ approach is the best way of creating meaningful change, including the child & parents in working through solutions in partnership with schools. My youngest is now in secondary and I note with interest, their use of their term, ‘flexible’, over inclusion. Right now, this is what works best for my son, flexibility, trust and regular communication. Inclusion is not the same for every child but the essence of belonging should feel the same for all. 

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Toothless Lionesses

Bhamika Bhudia portrait

Written by Bhamika Bhudia

English teacher and lead teacher in a mixed comprehensive secondary school in North-West London. She tweets as MissMika_Eng

Does the “aggressive” Woman of Colour trope lead to a generation of toothless lionesses?

Women of colour have to navigate the western world with careful footing. Sidelined and stereotyped within the media and underrepresented at leadership tables, conducting herself in offices, classrooms and meetings is a difficult, political affair. Managing standing up for herself, being heard, demanding a seat at the table all the while not being deemed too aggressive, requires strategizing but at what cost? Surely this lack of freedom to express herself honestly and fully has detrimental effects on her confidence, self worth and identity as a whole? 

In my quest to make my workplace and environment a more celebratory and inclusive place, I have had to take a real look inwards at my role as a woman of colour (a term I am still uncomfortable with), and I have had a rude awakening!   

I have always considered myself (and I think have been considered) to be a confident woman. I am able to stand up for what I believe in, I have carved myself a seat at the table and my voice is one that is heard. But as policies are put into practice and ideologies around celebrating culture and acknowledging diversity are being discussed at that very table, I have come to question how many waves I actually make, how often I quietly avoid a stir and how many self-sabotory behaviours I demonstrate.

Diversity-hire:

According to the School Workforce Consensus (2019) only, 6.2% of assistant heads and deputies are from ethnic minorities and while women comprise 67% of the country’s headteachers, a mere 3.9% of them identify as non-white. The statistics speak for themselves, yet despite knowing this, every job and promotion I have ever gotten has been followed by inner doubt questioning whether I was a diversity hire. The odds are clearly stacked against me, but this toxic imposter syndrome based solely on my demographic is obviously very damaging. And it can’t be just me – I didn’t invent this notion or phrasing, it has to come from somewhere. I am very doubtful that I am the only one who has felt this way yet my achievements are continually downplayed in my mind because I happen to fit this box that ironically enough, isn’t actually getting filled in the real world!

Say my name!

It is now widely acknowledged that continual mispronunciation of people’s names is a microaggression and is damaging. Spending my entire life as Bhamika Bhudia has been tricky. I have always expected people not to get my name right to begin with – it’s an unusual name – and I take absolutely no offense when people don’t get it right away. I have been quick to correct them, the first, second and third time but after that, I drop it. I have worked with people for years that have continued to call me by some other moniker. Until this last year, I have let these aggressions slide for fear of being rude, making things awkward or making other people feel bad. It is not ok, and should not have taken me 37 years of life to realise this. It is my duty as a role model for children to address this but for my entire life, I have placed the feelings or others ahead of my own; clearly I did not feel my name was worthy enough of causing a stir.

Bite your lip:

On the same note, causing that stir is a real predicament for those in my demographic in far more contentious circumstances than pronunciations. I have heard many a story of meetings, conflicts and general grievances of women who look like me, shut down because they were deemed too “aggressive”. Conducting myself in sensitive circumstances is a tight-rope I tread very carefully on. I always say, with a strong hint or irony and an even stronger note of bitterness, that my life would be so much easier if I was a cryer. If, when it came to conflict, I was the sensitive one who could alleviate circumstances and even shift responsibility by showing my emotions and expressing my hurt/offense in a more “feminine” way. Now I’m not saying all tears are manipulatory nor am I condoning toxic femininity but there have been times and continue to be so where I am unable to express my offense at derogatory comments or behaviours towards me, no matter how professionally or politely I handle them, for fear of becoming the aggressor. I have bitten my lip, publicly and privately because when it comes down to it, I am afraid that I will be blamed for upsetting the other person despite being the offended party. I always assumed it was a “me” thing, perhaps even a “female” thing, but once again, this reflection has led me to connect the dots. Women of colour being branded and dismissed as “aggressive” is a historical thing; it does not stop at me nor did it begin there.

This post has been very difficult to write. I have taken a look at myself and honestly I do not like what I see. I thought I was strong, I thought I was a good role model and discovering that I am far from that has been a difficult discovery indeed. But now I have seen that despite my “aggressive” nature, I am still doing myself and every woman of colour after me, a huge disservice by bowing down, and sitting quietly. My teeth may have been blunted up until now, but at the risk of ending with a huge cliche, I will make sure my lioness comes out in full force, not only for myself but also for those I model my behaviour for.

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