The Kate Clanchy Memoir: A Red Flag for DEI

Written by Chiaka Amadi

Chiaka has almost 40 years of experience as a teacher and EAL leader at school and local authority level. Her work as an independent consultant and trainer focuses on language acquisition, literacy development and multilingualism.

In August, I read a succession of tweets about attacks on three WoC writers, Chimene Suleyman, Monisha Rajesh and Sunny Singh which alerted me to the controversy around a book ‘What I Taught Kids and What They Taught Me’. https://minamaauthor.com/2021/08/15/a-controversy-i-recently-read/?like_comment=242 

 

The WoC had challenged the racialised and stereotyped language used by its author, Kate Clanchy, to describe her students. Numerous passages were criticised by a range of commentators citing derogatory descriptions of neurodiverse students; of some students’ choice of clothing; of the very carrying of their bodies. The lively discussion of the book on #DiReadsClanchy was then illuminating in helping me to understand the range of concerns concerning the depictions of the students.

 

What astonished me the most, however, was how such content could have ever been published as the considered writings of a teacher. How did the editors at Picador, Ms Clanchy’s publishers, perceive her writing? How could those critiqued sections of the book not have rung alarm bells during the editing process?

 

Even if knowledge of the protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010 didn’t alert editors to the need for sensitivity and respect in relation to Ms Clanchy’s students, a quick read of Part Two of The Teachers Standards should at least have made them ask if its “high standards of ethics and behaviour” were being fulfilled: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1007716/Teachers__Standards_2021_update.pdf

 

Did the editors really believe that the words in front of them truly treated pupils with “dignity” and were “rooted in mutual respect”?

 

It is the children in the book who flag up that there are different life realities, experiences and perceptions at work. Ms Clanchy acknowledges that they teach her “how white I am” and explains to the reader the way the children encode her “super-empowered” membership of the “world’s ruling class” into the word “English”. Did the editors really not feel the need to explore that dynamic both as it appeared on the page and as it evolved as a conceit throughout the book?

 

Or did Ms Clanchy avoid this particular lesson by diverting to the fact that she is Scottish? This artful manoeuvre leads to the uncritical acceptance by the editors and subsequently by many readers, of Ms Clanchy’s first person narrative. It centres the perspective of a white, middle-class, well educated, abled person as the default for our interpretation. It invites the reader to peer through that particular lens at the students, and as ‘we’ do so, ‘we’ lap up her observations about them and about social matters. ‘We’ are in danger of objectifying and diminishing any student described who does not fit into that normative default, even as Ms Clanchy thinks she is being positive. This is a red flag for DEI activism.

 

Picador have announced a re-write of the book to remove any “offensive passages”: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2021/aug/10/kate-clanchy-to-rewrite-memoir-after-criticism-of-racist-and-ableist-tropes. Various idioms come to mind, the most polite involving silk purses and sow’s ears. While Ms Clanchy claimed that listening to recent responses to her work had been “humbling”, her publishers by contrast seemed energised, recruiting “specialist readers” to assist with the re-working.

 

To express my concern at all this, I recently signed an open letter to the publishers: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1EWl1D-Duw2qiwAWUsRANfo8VcqzDMANJ/edit 

 

Picador have now replied to the 350+ signatories of this letter and you can read and evaluate that response here: 

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1e0uNH-ivVWBhXav7VD5yl_1mt5CgyAkz/view?usp=sharing.  

Please comment if you wish. The feedback is being collated for return to Picador. 

 

I was also pleased to read an open letter from a group of Ms Clanchy’s former pupils: https://www.thebookseller.com/news/clanchy-students-say-they-did-not-experience-safeguarding-or-consent-issues-1278744. I felt able to infer from their articulate and cogent advocacy on behalf of their teacher that their school experiences had contributed to an understanding what it takes to feel part of a community; of the give and take, the to and fro that is part of learning and teaching. They feel safe and confident. Their personal relationship with their former teacher is intact and strong. 

 

However, we cannot shrug our shoulders and say, ‘all’s well that ends well’. To date, no concrete assurances have been given regarding the future ethical standards we can expect from Picador in relation to non-fiction writing about children. The issue is not about the affection or regard that any individuals might hold for others, but the wider debate around representation, ethics, literature and publishing.  

 

As teachers, safeguarding children sits at the heart of our role. All stakeholders in education must ensure that our work does not reinforce stereotypical and clichéd views of children. The whole episode serves as a timely reminder of the need for each of us, in our own contexts to reflect on exactly what our gaze encapsulates. We must consider how our conversations and interactions with, and about children, respect their individuality and humanity. Our words can become wider, more permanent representations of them. We must endeavour to do no harm.

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#DiverseEd’s Top 10 Blogs of 2020-21

Hannah Wilson portrait

Written by Hannah Wilson

Founder of Diverse Educators

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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Has Inclusion Had its Day as a Concept in Education?

Laura McConnell portrait

Written by Laura McConnell

Laura is a teacher, a writer, a keynote speaker, a radio presenter and a disability campaigner.

“Inclusion” has become one of the most inflammatory words in education, having evolved to be synonymous with behaviour, specifically undesirable behaviour. The most common themes in any inclusion discourse tend to be negative: underfunding, lack of resources, varying quality and/or availability of training, and lengthy waits to access health services being the most frequently referenced barriers to inclusion, no matter where you are in the UK.

SEND: ‘A grim picture’

We are still awaiting the eagerly anticipated SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) review in England, with publication pushed back to sometime later in 2021. The Scottish government published its review of additional support for learning (ASL) implementation in June 2020 – and anecdotal evidence suggests that the Scottish findings could be a good indicator of what is to come in the English SEND review. Unfortunately, the Scottish review paints a rather grim, but not unsurprising, picture, reporting that 98 percent of the education workforce feels that initial teacher training does not adequately prepare staff for teaching young people who have additional support needs (ASN). It says: “There is a lack of understanding, or recognition, of the range of issues and conditions which entitle children and young people to support.”

The review also found that there were mixed views about inclusion among teachers: “Unfortunately, we cannot assume and take for granted that all individual professionals are signed up to the principles of inclusion and the presumption of mainstreaming.” And that some teachers did not think ASN was part of their job: “Others have shared their core belief that their role should only be to teach children and young people capable of learning within traditional academic standards.”

Ahead of the SEND review’s publication, we do know that there is a disparity in the way that SEND is identified in English schools and/or the access children with SEND have to some schools in England. In a report published in March this year, the Education Policy Institute (EPI) found that pupils in academies were 50 per cent less likely to have SEND identified when compared to similar pupils in state schools.

Let down by language

Many disabled activists think it is the language of inclusion that is the problem. Inclusion emphasises that the child is not part of the group, they are an outsider who should be included. Including them requires something extra: staff, resources, training, intervention groups. Schools have to adapt their policies and practises for the child to fit in. What if the focus was on the school, rather than the child? If education was “accessible”, then it would be usable by everyone. 

The Council of Ontario Universities explains accessible education as being based on the social model of disability, as opposed to the medical model: disability is a difference instead of a deficiency. It considers the variety of student characteristics and removes the barriers to learning before they can affect anyone. The curriculum or environment is designed to be used by all, as opposed to access being achieved through special accommodations and/or retrofitting the existing offer. It is evident from all research published so far that current approaches to inclusion are not working for children or teachers.

Rather than perpetuate a myth that there would be improvements if there were more staff, or if access to health services were faster, the education sector should move onwards towards a system of accessible education – where no child is an outsider.

You can watch Laura’s input at the #DiverseEd event here: https://youtu.be/hD8M6aMENxU

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