An Ethical Curriculum

Kate Smith portrait

Written by Kate Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why teach an #ethicalcurriculum? 

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

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

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

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

Step 1 : Focusing on Relevant and Ethical issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step 2: Using Values to Guide you

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

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

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

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

Reframing and Renaming

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 


Student leadership programmes and celebrating diversity: students as drivers of change

Sadie Hollins portrait

Written by Sadie Hollins

Students are drivers of change. As educators I’m sure we can all think of times when students have been the key stakeholder that affected positive change in our schools, whether that be at the classroom level or at a schoolwide level. I have felt fortunate to witness a number of our students make a stand, whether it be fighting for the rights of the student body as a whole, or coming together to support a member of their peer group facing a particular challenge, such as ‘coming out’. This is student leadership.

 

I have been in awe of what our Student Council has been able to achieve in terms of the quality of events they plan and host, and the fundraising projects they have created. As well as how the Student Executive Board works together along with class and year group representatives for the Student Council to discuss ideas and how they might be implemented in the school. This is student leadership.

 

Students drive change.

 

It struck me recently that often this instinct to drive change comes intuitively to students. School is such an important and informing experience for young people to learn about leadership, and for some may be the only ‘organisation’ they experience being a part of until they reach university or work. How we define leadership, and how we lead as staff, will indirectly inform students how leadership works. For better or worse. 

 

Schools offer many leadership opportunities for students to be a part of, including captaining sports teams, editing school magazines, holding positions such as prefects, student mentors, peer tutors, Student Council members, and many more. However, a lot of these opportunities tend to be most readily undertaken by students that excel in some form, whether that be academically, socially, or physically. A lot of the time students that take on these roles are the ‘good’ students. This in turn can send a message to other students about what leadership is. Leadership is for ‘good’ students. 

 

A lot of these roles don’t come with any ‘Leadership’ training for the role, so it’s often implied that you learn by doing. Whilst I think there is a lot of merit to this approach, I feel that if we work with students to help them define what Leadership means to them and help them (all of them) develop their skills, perhaps we can empower a bigger portion of our student body to drive change.

 

Last year we started 2 different Student Leadership programmes (Level 2 and 3 Leadership programmes from Sports Leaders UK) in our school. We’ve just begun the Level 2 course with our new Year 11 cohort, and this week we got students to rate themselves according to the different Leadership skills outlined in their course booklets (communication, teamwork, organisation, problem-solving, etc). One of the areas that they had to rate themselves on, and explain a little more why they had given themselves their score, was ‘self-belief’. When going around and looking at their work I was struck by how many students had rated themselves so lowly in this area (scoring themselves less than 5 out of 10) which made me feel a little sad. How can students drive change or lead (or push themselves forward in whatever they choose) if they don’t believe in themselves? We can’t ‘magic’ ourselves into developing a greater sense of self-belief, but we can gain it through experiencing challenges and getting through them (imperfectly). I also wonder if this lack of self-belief sometimes comes from comparing ourselves to the narrow view of what a successful student (or adult) is – normally the best of the best.

 

The hope for our leadership course is that we can challenge students to redefine what a good leader is, and for them to realise their own leadership potential. We all need and want different types of leaders for all types of situations – we just need to empower students to believe that they could be the leader that someone else needs. 

 

In order to create a school (and organisation) that appreciates and celebrates diversity, we need to empower students to feel confident in who they are and drive the change they wish to see. Our job as teachers is also to be genuine and open about who we are, and model to our students that we all have the ability and power to affect positive change.


The Absence of Diversity in the Literature Curriculum – and its Lasting Impact

Anjum Peerbacos portrait

Written by Anjum Peerbacos

20 years experience as a teacher

Riz Ahmed made a powerful speech regarding diversity in the Arts: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/news/riz-ahmed-warns-parliament-that-lack-of-diversity-in-tv-leads-people-to-isis-a7610861.html Riz Ahmed warns Parliament that a lack of diversity in TV is leading people to Isis www.independent.co.uk

He stated that if young people could not see themselves as part of the narrative or the mainstream representation, they would turn elsewhere to feel that they had a sense of belonging. He said it was the responsibility of the Arts to reflect society; to reflect the patchwork that makes up a wider world, and our global community. 

In so many ways, Literature is another Art form and should be doing the same. When we study texts in class, there should be an opportunity for students to be able to see themselves in the literature world. However currently that is not the case.

 For more than two academic years now, I have taught the new GCSE curriculum for English Literature, I have taught ‘Lord of the Flies’ by William Golding, ‘An Inspector Calls’ by J.B Priestly, ‘A Christmas Carol’ By Charles Dickens, ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ by R.L Stevenson, and ‘Romeo and Juliet’, by William Shakespeare. White males that are no longer with us, have written all of these texts.

It may be that because I work in a boys school that these texts have been chosen, as the demographic of the school is largely white and male; however one could argue that in such circumstances it is vital that we expose our young people to the width, and breadth of the spectrum of the society in which we live. Students regardless of demographic and gender should be exposed to a range of writers’ experiences and Literature. It broadens their horizons, and ultimately their experiences. Students have studied the above texts, in addition to a small collection of poems largely about war, with the anecdotal inclusion of Benjamin Zephaniah and John Agard. ‘The Conflict Cluster’ largely addresses the atrocities of war, and as a result these young people have not been exposed to the wealth of Literature that exists in the world. 

 Across the exam boards, the choices have been extremely narrow. There are few women and even fewer texts from a diverse or BAME background. I appreciate the need to study the works of Shakespeare but, not counting The Bard, on the AQA specification there are 19 opportunities to explore other Literature texts and only 2 are from non-White authors. 

 On the Edexcel specification there are 15 opportunities to study a text written by a white male, there is only 1 non-White BAME author. On the Edexcel specification, all White Male playwrights write the Modern Drama Texts. WJEC offers two options which are non-White authors, however is more inclusive of female writers over time. 

 Obviously, I understand that we want children to study, learn and love Shakespeare and he is a white male and is from the 17th century. There is one re-occurring BAME author for modern prose and that is Meera Syal and her novel ‘Anita and Me’, and I can’t help wondering how much of a token of her appearance on the curriculum is. 

 My other concern regarding the curriculum is does it need to be British? And is there a place for Modern World Literature or modern world prose or drama? Why are we limiting our young people to English British largely male Literature, which is no longer representative of the global world in which we all live?

In addition, what constitutes British Literature? Is Syal considered English Literature or British Literature? Moreover, why are we not considering the likes of Malorie Blackman? Blackman is a modern Black female author and is much needed. She addresses many sensitive issues within her texts which provide the debate needed, which would also meet the Social Moral Spiritual and Cultural (SMSC) criteria, which Ofsted demands of schools.

I happen to work in a boys school, and I am teaching an entirely male curriculum, bar a few poems in the poetry anthology, and my worry is that these boys are going to live, work, learn and prosper and flourish in a world which includes men and women. A world, which includes the young and the old.  A diverse world which includes people from all walks of life. So why is our Literature curriculum not reflecting this and preparing them for the alternative view? For the different perspective? For the obscure or the distance or the far-reaching? Why is it so inward looking and insular? Surely, this is then a potential breeding ground to consider anything different as ‘The Other’? How is this progressive?

 As Ahmed stated the Arts should be a representation of the world and narrative in which one can see oneself. Why aren’t ‘we telling these kids they can be heroes in our stories, that they are valued’? Ahmed goes on even further to state that if a young person cannot see themselves in the wider narrative then ‘we are in danger of losing people to extremism’. I think he makes some valid points. If you are studying a text for six weeks in a classroom, and potentially over five years you do not find yourself represented in any of those stories, then is Ahmed making a wider point? Do we not have a responsibility to deliver a narrative which is outward looking and less insular?

The curriculum was developed under Michael Gove, https://qualifications.pearson.com/en/qualifications/edexcel-gcses/english-language-2015.html 

and I feel as though he has been able to dictate a curriculum, which he saw fit in an era, which is no longer fitting or applicable to our young people now. 

 The issue has been raised before, however I feel that now more when students are asked to regurgitate texts in exams, texts that they may not be able to relate to, or even understand, it has become a more pertinent issue. In light of recent events where we have witnessed a rise in hate- crime, communities feeling isolated and marginalised, immigrants being targeted; I think that now more than ever our young people should understand a wider broader spectrum of literature appreciating and celebrating difference and diversity. Of course, there is a place for Shakespeare and Romantic poetry, and of course, there should be an appreciation of the likes of Dickens and Austen. However, should there not be an opportunity to experience World Literature?

 Our young people are interacting on a global platform and developing a global community. If I were a young person living in 21st century Britain, I would not think the Literature that I am exposed to on the current curriculum is in any way reflective of me, or the world in which we all live.


Why Diverse Representation Matters in Children’s Books

Orla McKeating portrait

Written by Orla McKeating

Entrepreneur, coach and motivational speaker

I started Still I Rise Diversity Story Telling for Kids in 2019 as a passion project as I really didn’t see enough representation in kids’ books. As a single mother of a bi-racial child I had learnt the importance of this for the well-being, influence and mental health of this for children, but I didn’t imagine the impact this would have on so many young people around the world. Still I Rise is now a global business, lockdown forced us to do virtual storytelling sessions which has massively built our community and the feedback we have received from parents, psychologists, teachers and the kids themselves has been incredible. And having worked with hundreds of children globally we can see the impact first-hand of the importance of diverse and inclusive books, how it builds confidence, empathy skills, how it inspires and creates impact and allows for deeper connections with society as a whole.

 

I was blissfully unaware of the importance of a diverse and inclusive world having been brought up in largely white Northern Ireland into a family of privilege and shielded from the Troubles we experienced until I was in my late teens. I lived in Belgium for 10 years post university in a culturally rich and very international society and moved back to Belfast in 2012 where I began to bring up my son as a single parent. We always read books together from when he was so tiny, and I wondered was it really that great to read from such a young age? But now at 7 years old, he is such an avid reader and communicator and I can see that it absolutely did. What I did notice was that there were so few characters in the books that looked like him. This baffled me and I wondered why this was. Of course, I could find the books when I looked for them, but they weren’t so readily available as they are now. Why is this representation so important though I hear you ponder …? 

 

Well. The whole world is not white, able bodied and with a nuclear family structure. When children read books and don’t see people like them in them, they don’t feel included in society which can have a massive effect on their own confidence and self-worth. However, when there are characters similar to themselves culturally or ethnically, I have seen it reinforce a more positive view on themselves and pushes them towards goals and allows them to believe that anything is possible! How can you be what you can’t see, right?

 

Seeing characters, ideas and experiences in books that are unlike ours allows our children to open their minds and teaches them (and us for that matter) to value the whole human race and not just people who look like us. This equity within literature teaches empathy from a young age which helps them build secure and strong relationships with those around them while promoting tolerance and acceptance.

 

Being included in books and seeing other people like them facing challenges and making a difference in the world really helps kids have a deeper understanding of our world and how great things are possible. It creates impact, allows them to have role models they may never have met who influence their actions and behaviour, help them to overcome challenges and push them to their full potential.

 

Books with a diverse and inclusive representation allow a mirror or a window for what our next generation can do for themselves. They read about a wide range of human experience – familiar or strange, real or imagined and they can manifest a larger window of opportunity for themselves. This allows for authentic connections which allows them to feel less alone, more important and increases self-esteem. 

 

While embracing books within education that promote diversity, equity and inclusion it is also important to encourage our kids to see colour, culture, history, identity and acknowledge the impact it has on our lives and experiences. Encouraging an actively diverse life through books, TV, films, toys, food music and embracing curiosity, welcoming questions and having the conversations can really encourage the next generation to have a clear understanding and acceptance that every human deserves to be treated fairly and with respect no matter who they are. And imagine the possibilities in a world like that.


We Need Diverse Books

Anna Szpakowska portrait

Written by Anna Szpakowska

Professional Development Lead at Lyfta

The outpouring of shock, disgust and despair surrounding the murder of George Floyd this year rightly drew our attention to the discrimination suffered by so many on a daily basis. It also drew our attention to the institutional racism pervasive in much of our society. This heightened social awareness led to discussions of diversity in education, with calls for the history curriculum to include black British history and many English teachers sharing their recommended diverse reading lists or schemes of work online. In fact, some young people started a petition to ask the government to include The Good Immigrant and Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race  on the GCSE English Literature specification.

It was heartening to see so many educators impassioned to provide an education to young people which directly tackled issues of discrimination; it’s wonderful to work for a profession that not only wants to provide young people with knowledge and skills but also wants to make the world a better and more just place. 

This is not the first time something like this has happened. In fact, in 2019, Edexcel were forced to add more texts from black, Asian and other minority ethnic writers to their GCSE Literature specification, after complaints about there being ‘too many dead white men’ on the reading list. This decision whilst perhaps well-intentioned, was met with disappointment from educators suggesting that the choices of texts, added by Edexcel, were not challenging enough. And, as Diane Leedham pointed out ‘As with all the exam boards in 2014, it’s clear that the people choosing the set texts that they frame as ‘diverse’ don’t have much knowledge of diaspora literature’

Nevertheless, according to statistics from 2019, only 12.6% of students sitting an English Literature GCSE in 2019, sat the Edexcel qualification. In fact, the largest percentage (85%) of pupils sitting an English Literature GCSE in 2019 sat the AQA qualification. And figures from the AQA Examiner’s Report in 2019 show that of the most popular texts studied by all centres completing the AQA English Literature GCSE, all of the authors were white men, very few of the characters were women and none of the characters were black or Asian. The dilemma for educators then, is not only are the exam boards not providing enough suitable texts to truly reflect the experiences of most of us in society, but that the majority of schools themselves continue to choose to teach texts written by dead white men. 

As teachers of English literature, we are the gatekeepers of books and literature accessed by many young people. It is, therefore, our moral obligation to expose young people to a wide variety of texts that provide them with a range of experiences, voices and characters. As Botelho and Rudman explain (expanding on Sims-Bishop’s metaphor of windows, mirrors and doors): 

‘Children need to see themselves reflected so as to affirm who they and their communities are. They also require windows through which they may view a variety of differences…. Literature can become a conduit- a door- to engage in social practices that function for social justice’

Where are all the women?

For the purposes of this post, I will focus my thoughts on female writers, characters and issues of sexism and misogyny. That is not to say that I place more value on the inclusion of female writers and characters than I do on black authors and characters, gay authors and characters or authors and characters with disabilities, for example. I just feel that as a woman, I am best placed to discuss the issue of women in literature. 

So, why then, in 2020, do we have to have a discussion about young people accessing texts written by and about women? And, why is it so important anyway? Aren’t women equal after all? Unfortunately, the answer is a resounding no. Despite the equal pay act being introduced fifty years ago this year, the UK’s gender pay gap is still 17.3% with the World Economic Forum reporting that it will take 202 years to close this gap. As well as this, statistics gathered from 2019, show that the number of women and girls murdered in 2019 rose by 10% on the previous year, to take it to the highest figure since 2006. It’s clear there’s much more work to be done before we can claim our equality. 

With no shortage of female authors writing about the female experience, why do we continue to choose to teach texts written by and about men? The myth of the superiority of the ‘great’ English literary canon has a lot to answer for but what worries me a great deal is that teachers continue to buy into this myth. By continuing to teach these texts – and more often than not, attempting to mirror the GCSE curriculum at Key Stage 3 too – we perpetuate the notion that one voice (the white male) is superior to everyone else’s. 

And, yes, it’s true that children may be reading plenty of texts by women and about women in their own time. But, when they haven’t been taught the critical skills to unpick the sometimes-sexist depiction of female characters, I fear that we are at risk of inculcating a generation of young people with sexist ideals. 

Both young women and young men need to see a variety of female characters. They need to be able to discuss issues of sexism. It’s not our job to police what they read and discourage them from reading books such  Louise Rennison’s Angus Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging because, as Kimberley Reynolds explains it depicts female characters who are ‘only interested in friends, fashion and fun’. But it is our job to show young people alternatives and teach them to read critically. Characters like Starr in Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, for example show a passionate, intelligent, strong and socially responsible young woman. Or, Dana in Octavia Butler’s Kindred could provide opportunity for discussions of gender and race whilst also providing them with an insight into the Antebellum South and the science fiction genre too. For teenagers (some of whom will already be sexually active), it’s important to address the issue of sexual assault. Books like Amber Smith’s The Way I Used to Be could be helpful in achieving this. 

What’s key here is that teachers clearly have the passion, the willingness and the desire to teach a wider variety of authors and texts. I hope the passion and impetus we have garnered this year does not disappear and our calls for a more diverse reading list can be implemented. But what must also accompany these reading lists and all literacy education is critical discussions about how and why characters are presented in certain ways. 


Why Diversity Matters in Education: “The rise of an internationally-minded child.”

Fatma Khalid portrait

Written by Fatma Khalid

A lot has been written recently about diversity, especially in education. Whilst diversity has been “entertained” by a lot of administrators and specifically policy makers into bringing the novelty idea to practice, there is still a lot to be done in terms of making our society and specifically our educational sector more diverse. 

Majority of times I have seen students, even my own children, being confused about their culture and identity specifically for children who are born and raised in countries that are not their countries of origin. The implications of this reaches out to sometimes loss of identity or even worse the breed of inferiority that we find most common even here in the UAE where certain cultures and nationalities are often viewed as being better because of how they are portrayed or advocated. This is further challenged by the market niche in the UAE which gravitates towards recruiting teachers of certain nationalities further compromising the practice or need for diversity and inclusivity. Children grow up feeling that the most knowledgeable and people holding high offices are isolated to only ‘a certain kind’ which itself is a huge impediment to ambition and self-esteem.

Although schools have tried to review their curriculums to include enriched activities that promote culturally diversified programs, little has been done to support world-wide inclusiveness or build a truly “international minded” child.  Curriculums majority of times are still country bound; where they cover history or cultures to that particular country as compared to covering world history and include studying cultures of the world so children can truly build acceptance and respect and be aware of other cultures that are unique and significantly different to theirs; this is what after all is defined as an “international minded child”. How else can a child build compassion or become a global citizen if he/she spends all their lives thinking there was only one culture or history that was worth studying and understanding.

All efforts need to be in place to ensure that all children’s cultures are represented in curriculum which is highly recommended for a highly inclusive society such as the one here in the UAE.  Culture awareness cannot be left for isolated occasions such as the most commonly celebrated “international day” where children and parents are encouraged to bring their traditional food and dress in their traditional clothes, then tribute done and the rest of the year, children go back to studying the curriculum (country bound) history. When we have made technology a mandate, cultural diversity too holds importance and should be integral and be embedded in our core curriculums. 

Moreover, ensuring that our teams are made up of qualified individuals from different nationalities increases the opportunity for children to learn and understand cultures from multiple countries that most importantly also represents them. Curriculums are consequently enriched with creativity and increased global perspective for a truly diverse society that aims to understand, acknowledge and accept that although we are different, we are fundamentally the same kind…

The human kind.


What does it mean for education to be diverse and inclusive?

Jitse van Ameijda portrait

Written by Jitse van Ameijde

Social Entrepreneur and Founder of Social Change Academy

Education is without a doubt the most transformative force in society. Education lifts people out of poverty, it opens up choices with regards to the livelihoods they can pursue, and it empowers them to challenge the status quo. But education has a diversity and inclusion problem. Like any social institution, it is rooted in its history and has evolved within a system predominantly designed by white men. This means that much of the curriculum is based on the thinking, insights and mindsets of white men who were taught by other white men who came before them. There has been some progress in addressing this and making education more inclusive.

Many educational institutions have developed policies to promote equality, diversity and widening access and success, yet statistics consistently show students from a minority ethnic background are underrepresented in many disciplines within Higher Education. There is also a significant gap in the success rates with students from ethnic minority backgrounds consistently lagging behind their white counterparts. When we look below the surface of the marketing materials provided by many educational institutions – which show diverse students smiling and having a good time – these images do not necessarily reflect the experience of learners from a diversity of backgrounds. 

As the recent surge in Black Lives Matter protests illustrates, we do not yet live in a society where everyone feels safe and included. Quite the opposite, this global movement has illustrated that large sections of our society face oppression and exclusion as part of their daily lived experience, including experiences within education. The fact that this experience has remained largely under the radar of white privilege does not make it any less real and urgent. 

Now what would it mean for education to be more diverse and inclusive, and what steps can we take to move in the right direction beyond articulating policies and providing diverse images in marketing materials?

First of all, it is essential that education explicitly addresses its own biases and blind-spots and actively works to incorporate a more diverse range of voices within the curriculum. This means including works from authors and theorists who represent under-represented groups within society because of their gender, race, sexual orientation or other relevant characteristics.

Secondly, it means making the contested nature of knowledge explicit and encouraging active debate among students about how many current perspectives and understandings are rooted in white privilege and promote insights which serve the interests of an establishment that promotes the interests of some over the interests of others.

Thirdly, it means transforming some of metaphors prevalent within educational institutions. Masculine metaphors around competition dominate within educational discourse and education is seen as a competitive battle among students for the best grades and a competitive battle for institutions to acquire the “best and brightest” students. We should instead be shifting these metaphors to something more grounded in collaboration and sustainable growth. Life doesn’t need to be seen as a competitive struggle for survival – and opportunity does not need to be presented as a cake with a limited number of slices.

Fourthly, it requires educational institutions change their recruitment, development and promotion practices so that these are effective at removing any barriers for minority applicants and staff to join and develop within an organisation. This includes using blind recruitment processes, balanced recruitment panels which include minority representation and whose members are trained in avoiding the adverse impact of unconscious bias, as well as a range of development programmes aimed at supporting minority staff to develop as part of their role.

These four steps form a starting point for addressing issues of diversity and inclusion in education, and responsibility for their implementing very much lies in the hands of the those in leadership positions in our educational institutions. However, the systemic issues cannot be addressed within our education institutions alone and require the active participation of the media, arts, literature, and other institutions in stopping the damaging stories and limiting expectations which give rise to access and success barriers in education and beyond.

Bio

Jitse van Ameijde is a social entrepreneur and founder of Social Change Academy – a social enterprise focused on the development of tomorrow’s change makers passionate to make a positive difference to the lives of others. Originally from the Netherlands, Jitse came to the UK to finish his Masters in Social and Organisational Psychology, and ended up working for the Open University where he worked on the design of distance learning experiences and taught systems thinking in practice as an Associate Lecturer. He is passionate about issues of inclusion, social justice, and equal opportunities for all regardless of their past.

Jitse van Ameijde is the founder of the Social Change Academy: https://www.socialchangeacademy.org/founder/


Not spoon-feeding: Teaching essay writing and helping students to plan their work is a decolonising practice

Dr Anna Carlile portrait

Written by Dr Anna Carlile

Head of the Department of Educational Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London.

This blog was the subject of a picket line teach-out during the UCU strike at Goldsmiths in March 2020 and was first published at https://inclusiveeducation652853906.wordpress.com/

Why should we embed essay writing and other academic skills into our university teaching?

If you are a student looking for guidance for yourself, or a lecturer seeking to embed academic skills into your own teaching, scroll down below the article for guidance on the following:

  1. Plan your work schedule
  2. Learn exam revision skills
  3. Learn exam strategy
  4. How to write a literature review
  5. What goes in a methods section?
  6. How to write a data-with-analysis/findings section

Teaching academic skills is a decolonising pedagogy

How did you learn how to write a literature review?

I have heard people say that by teaching academic skills in the university classroom, we are spoon-feeding our students. But this misunderstands the poor educational service many of our students have experienced before they come to university.

If we are looking at the BAME (albeit an inexact and problematic acronym) award gap in HE, for example, we can’t ignore the impact of institutional prejudice on some students’ educational histories. So what can we do about it, beyond decolonising our reading lists (Goldsmiths library is amazing on this)?

Students who go to elite schools are being prepared for university. They are taught how to write research essays and how to prepare for exams. Some state funded schools do this too, but many arrive with us from institutions which have not been seriously preparing them for university. These institutions have been preparing students for servitude. The education system is set up so that working class students are coached to leave school as working class adults, and middle class students are hot-housed to leave school as middle class adults. Anyone who is perceived to be ‘a risk’ to the project of neoliberalism- in other words, anyone unlikely to leave school a highly effective consumer- is liable to abjection and exclusion.

Academic skills are taught fabulously by library staff at Goldsmiths. Our Academic Skills Centre runs a programme on decolonising study skills. However, low waged students, parents, carers and others with complicated lives may not have the extra time to go to library sessions. And we need to make our academic skills teaching specific to our disciplines, courses, modules and assignments.

But this is where we can decolonise our pedagogies. Instead of assuming students have all had an elite form of education before coming to us, we need to recognise that we may need to rectify the disadvantage built into the system. This is not spoon-feeding. It’s decolonising. In Educational Studies, we recognise this and consistently embed academic skills into all of our teaching.

Below are some examples of decolonising study skills support, together with sample documents and narrated PowerPoints. Feel free to use them for yourself, if you’re a student, or to embed them, change, update and tweak them for your own teaching, if you’re a university tutor or lecturer:

A. Plan your work schedule

Students with busy, complicated lives may feel daunted by the number of essays they need to write. I’ve had students who are living in homeless hostels, who have severe anxiety disorders, who are working two jobs, raising five children alone, contending with domestic violence, or caring for grandparents. Those students need help to plan out their work. I often sit down with a student one-to-one to help with this. You can use this strategy with several months or just a couple of weeks to go before submission deadlines.

How to make a work plan:

  1. Work out how many months you have left
  2. Create a calendar grid with four weeks per month
  3. Add in the weekdays
  4. Add in all your activities. Include self care, relaxing and socialising.
  5. Identify the gaps where you will have time for assignment writing
  6. Make a list of your assignments, with deadlines. Add the deadlines to the calendar.
  7. Work out how many writing days you have for each assignment
  8. Decide if you want to do each assignment in a block or work on them all in rotation
  9. Assign an equal number of writing days to each assignment
  10. Include days at the end of your calendar for editing (see writing in red on the example)
  11. You could also break down each writing day into specific part of each essay (see writing in blue on the example)
  12. Stick to your plan, and reward yourself each day

Here is a Sample Work Plan

B. Learn exam revision skills

Many students have never been shown how to revise. Here is one way of doing it. I used this to stuff my head full of pages and pages of case law for my law degree (which I didn’t really use, but hey…)

  1. work out what you do and don’t need to revise by finding out how many topics might be on the exam
  2. read through your lecture notes, making a summary of them as you go
  3. turn each main point into a question and answer
  4. create a quiz out of your questions and answers
  5. Revise by answering your questions:

(i) in whole sentences (the first few times, feel free to look at the answers)

(ii) in shorthand

(iii) verbally, with a friend holding the answer sheet

  1. Identify the areas which are really hard to remember and create a special quiz for these
  2. Look at and practice old exam papers. Time yourself.

C. Learn exam strategy

I often invigilate exams and I am shocked how many students leave the room before the end. Don’t leave the room! Use all the time you are given. Here are some ideas for best practice in an exam situation:

  1. When you get in the room, read through the whole paper. You might find you have to answer more (or less) questions than you thought.
  2. Make a note of how long you have, and specify a timing for each question. Leave five minutes at the end to read through and edit your answers.
  3. Decide which questions you will answer and quickly jot down the key points you need to include (eg quotes, dates, references). This will allow space in your head to actually write without having to remember facts
  4. Stick to your timings and write as neatly as possible, leaving plenty of space for edits
  5. In the last five to ten minutes, read through everything you have written and edit for sentence structure, accuracy and clarity
  6. Never leave before the end. If you have time left over, read through, edit and add to your answers again

D. How to write a literature review

(PowerPoint here:How to write a literature review GENERIC_recorded (3)– click on ‘Slide Show- Play from start’  and you’ll hear my voice narrating the steps)

1.Start by identifying themes

Come up with three to five themes for your research (eg race/class/gender/parent’s views/teachers’ views/children’s views/policy/faith/food/hair etc).

Open a Word document and write down the themes as subheadings.

  • Themes might be framed around the sub-questions that emerge out of your big question
  • New themes might emerge from the literature
  • Additional themes might emerge as a surprise from your data- you’ll need to come back to revisit your literature review if this is the case
  • They are ideas which you hope to learn or have learned from your research
  • One main theme may be an overarching idea you will use to think about your research: eg feminist theory, queer theory, or critical race theory

2. Library search

  • Spend a good two hours doing a library search for three to five article or chapters for each theme. Try to stick to peer reviewed articles published within the last five years. Download them into folders labelled by theme on your desktop. You may not find articles relating exactly to what you are writing about, but find a ‘best fit’. Your job is to explain how they link to your project. Ask a librarian for help if you can’t find anything.

3. Build the lit review around quotes from the literature. This prevents you from polemicising, or making a point from memory and then searching around for some literature to back it up.

  • Pull out a lovely quote from each of the three to five articles or chapters and write it down under the theme heading. Include year published and page number. Eg: ‘…institutional prejudice underpins some of the causes of permanent exclusion from school’ (Carlile 2012, p.178).
  • Each theme heading should now have four or five quotes from the literature underneath it.

4. Add words to introduce each quote, or paraphrase it:

  • Eg: Carlile (2012, p.178) explains that ‘…institutional prejudice underpins some of the causes of permanent exclusion from school’.

5. Add joining sentences

Eg: Another person who wrote about school exclusion is Kulz (2018), who point out the racial bias in the ways in which her students were pulled out of her classroom by senior management.

(Side note- Christy Kulz’s book Factories for Learning, about the neoliberal and exclusionary practices of a very disciplinarian secondary school, is one of the best ethnographies I’ve ever read).

6. Intro and conclusion

  • Add an introduction to your lit review, reminding the reader about the main topic of the assignment, and then laying out the themes you will be addressing in the section
  • Finish it off with a conclusion, pulling the main threads together

E. What goes in a methods section?

(Narrated PowerPoint here: How to write a methods section_recorded (2) Click on ‘Slide Show- Play from start’  and you’ll hear my voice narrating the steps).

1.Start with an introductory sentence referring back to your main research question and explain why the method is appropriate to the question

  • My question is therefore…
  • In order to answer this question I did this… (brief summary)

2. Add literature/references to your methods section

  • Other people have written the following about my chosen method…
  • This method is appropriate for my research focus because…

3. Say what you actually did

  • I did my interviews/observations/focus group/text analysis in this context/with these people/on these websites…
  • We met in a café/at university… because…
  • These people/websites/locations were appropriate for this research because…
  • Access issues included…
  • I recorded the data on a voice recorder/in a notebook/using photography…

Nb don’t waste a whole page on explaining generic concepts like ‘qualitative research’ or ‘interviews’. Be specific to your own chosen approach.

4. Limitations (but don’t spend too long saying what you didn’t do)

  • Limitations to my methodology were…

5. How did you analyse your data?

  • I analysed my data by (eg arranging it into themes, which emerged from the literature/my initial question/the respondents themselves… coding it according to the main issues that arose…)

6. Ethics

  • Ethics follow on from the methodology
  • Ethical issues arising from the research included…

– Confidentiality

– Informed consent

– Sensitivity

  • I dealt with these issues by…

– Interviewing in a neutral location

– Using open questions to allow the respondent to raise any sensitive issues

– Participatory methods

– Using an informed consent information sheet

F. How to write the main paragraphs of a data-with-analysis/findings section

(Narrated PowerPoint here: How to write a data section_recorded (3) click on ‘Slide Show- Play from start’  and you’ll hear my childlike voice narrating the steps)

Your findings section will need its own introduction and conclusion. Main body paragraphs can be built up as follows. If you follow this structure you will be ideally ticking all those evidence, reference, and analysis boxes you need to get a decent mark.

1.Writing a data-with-analysis paragraph

  • Introduce the themes or ideas emerging from the data (these themes should ideally reflect those used in your lit review)
  • Give an example of the theme or issue which is arising from your data
  • Bring in an author (from the corresponding theme in your lit review) who talks about the theme or issue and quote or paraphrase them
  • Reflect or comment on the author’s idea which you have just quoted or paraphrased

The second and third step could be repeated in the paragraph if you had a couple of good examples.

2. Sample text (from this book): a data-with-analysis paragraph:

It seemed from my observations that a permanent exclusion option must have a negative effect on pupils and professionals. For example, Cherry Tree School’s head teacher told me angrily, ‘Michael Johns: I have had enough of him!’ Because exclusion was an option, this head teacher could afford to ‘have enough’ of one of her learners. This shut down her ability to creatively think about other ways to support him. As Searle (1996) explains, ‘The abolition of corporal punishment gave teachers the opportunity to develop skills in … strategies of counselling and community liaison that they had not thought possible … An end to ‘permanent exclusion’ (except in the most dire and unavoidable circumstances) would have the same positive effect’ (p.41). In other words, the existence of permanent exclusion from school limits teachers’ behaviour management skills.

3. Let’s break it down a bit…

(a) Identify the themes or ideas which are emerging from your data. These might follow the theme headings you decided on when you structured the literature review. They might be new for you, emerging as a surprise from your data. They are ideas which you have learned from your research

Examples of emerging themes or ideas:

  • Parents are a big influence on what children like to do outside…
  • Musicians tend not to see informal learning taking place but consider what they do to be ‘work’…
  • Dance classes are often marketed toward white middle class people, unless they are called ‘street’ or ‘urban’…

Adults who have been excluded from school as children often find themselves in the criminal justice system later on…

  • What are some of your emerging themes or ideas?
  • What do you predict might be some of your emerging themes or ideas?

Write them down using the sentence starters:

  • The data suggests that…
  • My findings point towards
  • One issue that emerged

(b) Give an example of the theme or issue which is arising from your data

  • For example, in the first interview, Alice said that ‘…
  • This was demonstrated during the first observation. Billy aged four ran across the room and…
  • One of the websites showed this: the primary colours used suggested a focus on younger children…

What specific examples can you give regarding the themes or issues you see arising from your data?

(c) Bring in an author who talks about the theme or issue and quote or paraphrase them.

  • Find a quote which relates to the theme or idea which emerges from your data

Write it down with the author’s last name, year published and page number: Eg…

  • One theorist who discusses this is Jones (2012), who notes that…
  • Smith (2014) addresses this issue, suggesting that…
  • One idea Evans (2010) raises in relation to this is…

Reflect on the author’s idea which you have just quoted or paraphrased

  • This suggests that
  • In other words
  • One conclusion that might be drawn from this is…

(d) What do you think of the quote or idea you just selected?

Don’t give someone else the last word. Finish the paragraph with your own summary sentence.

4. Another example:

Many permanent exclusions seemed to be about making an example out of the child. This was demonstrated in Alex’s case: although he had Tourette’s Syndrome and could not help himself, the school had still excluded him to demonstrate, as the head teacher explained, ‘zero tolerance to disrespectful language towards a teacher’.  Osler and Vincent (2003) suggest that the government has an official ‘consequences’ discourse (34). The goal to reduce numbers of permanent exclusions had, they explain, ‘been replaced by a growing official concern about the need to address youth violence and criminal behaviour, in which exclusion from school was seen as an essential policy tool’ (34). One conclusion that can be drawn from this might be that children like Alex were being excluded from school to make a political point about being tough on crime.

5. Now you try

  • Introduce the themes or ideas emerging from the data
  • Give an example of the theme or issue which is arising from your data
  • Bring in an author who talks about the theme or issue and quote or paraphrase them
  • Reflect on the author’s idea which you have just quoted or paraphrased

6. Edit

Read the paragraph aloud

  • …edit the paragraph

First published March 3, 2020