A New School Year. A More Inclusive School Year?

Johan Jensen portrait

Written by Johan Jensen

Director of All-in Education. His consultancy work includes organisational development, leadership development, strategic communications, product development and diversity & inclusion strategy development.

In July 2020, I urged school leaders to be cautious.  In the wake of George Floyd’s brutal murder and the global reactions to racism, I was approached by numerous education institutions who felt bewildered about what to do next.  There was certainly a sense of anxiety.  It was understandable that organisations wanted to do something and demonstrate activity.  I told them, “If you panic into this work, you’ll soon see that you’ll panic out of it”.  In my experience this still stands true.

 

Over the past year, the most powerful discussions that we have had with school leaders have been about self-reflection, especially how we relate and respond to difference in all its forms.  The conclusion of most of those conversations is that when we take an honest look at ourselves and the people around us, we don’t like diversity.  In fact, I’d go as far as saying that we are naturally geared towards repelling it.  It’s called ‘homophily’, the love of same.

 

Achieving greater diversity and more inclusive schools requires purposeful self-reflection, critique and behaviour and systems change if we are even going to have a fighting chance to create the change that education still so desperately needs.

 

The majority of the schools, and groups of schools, we’ve worked with have really taken this to heart.  It’s been challenging for them.  They’ve had to confront uncomfortable truths about themselves and the institutions they’re responsible for.  But, they’ve seen how this won’t serve the purpose of creating the next generation of leaders, followers and members of society.  This is ground-breaking stuff.

 

The schools that our team has worked with have taken the first step in this journey, which is to listen.  Listening to staff, students and alumni about their experience of belonging, psychological safety, diversity and inclusion.  By supporting the senior leaders through coaching, they’ve been able to really listen to what their peers, staff, pupils and former pupils are experiencing and giving them the grounding for creating an even better experience and future.

 

The strategy that follows these first steps is long term and focuses on values, the business case for changing the way the school operates, the vision for what an inclusive school looks and feels like and how the institution will hold itself accountable in achieving this change.

 

Some schools have achieved incredible results, with one grammar school recruiting 80% non-white British staff in this year’s September intake.  But, achieving greater diversity is only part of the puzzle, achieving inclusion is a totally different game.

 

How will you create an inclusive school?

We are delighted to be running with RSAcademics a free case study webinar on 13th October to share our experiences and those of some of our clients over the last year, and we look forward to seeing you there to help you continue your thinking on inclusivity.

 

Please sign up to the webinar here.

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Implementing Effective Flexible Working Practices Training for School Leaders

Mandy Coalter portrait

Written by Mandy Coalter

Mandy is the founder of Talent Architects, helping schools be great places to work. She is a published author and was named as one of the Top 10 most influential HR people. She is the former Director of People at United Learning.

Want to better promote inclusive working practices?

 

Getting more flexible working requests? 

 

Wondering how to retain talent? 

 

Want to enhance your ability to advise on new ways of working, how to adapt, as well as promoting staff wellbeing through flexible working practices?

 

Our sessions could be for you

 

The road to a flexible and agile workforce is more important now than ever before, especially in schools. Expanding opportunities for flexible working will be particularly important post-pandemic, where remote and hybrid working have become widespread in some sectors. Creating more scope for flexibility is possible in all roles in a school, promoting a better work-life balance, supporting the diversity and inclusion agenda and addressing the recruitment and retention issues in the sector.   Join Timewise, the flexible working experts, and their panellists in a series of webinars, Q&As and drop-in clinics to learn more about what a proactive, whole-school approach is about, starting in October: 

 

Webinar for Heads: Tuesday 05 October at 10am (90 minutes) 

Register here https://bit.ly/3jR2pMk

 

Webinar for School Business Professionals/HR: Wednesday 06 October at 10am (90 minutes)

Register https://bit.ly/2Uc4hXp

 

Webinar for Governors & Trustees: Tuesday 12 October at 2pm (60 minutes) 

Register here https://bit.ly/2VPlc2b 

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One Year Later: Lessons Learned from a Whole School Approach to Decolonising the Curriculum

Terra Glowach portrait

Written by Terra Glowach

Lead Practitioner for literacy and decolonising the curriculum at Cathedral Schools Trust in Bristol

After a year of working with teachers across the curriculum to decolonise, I’d like to pass on some key lessons for new EDI Leads, Curriculum Leads, Lead Practitioners and anyone trying to do similar work in schools. 

Here are my top 10. Some of these I got right first try; others I learned the hard way. Hope it helps. 

  1. General reading on the topic of anti-racism, decolonising, and education will give you the knowledge and confidence to have critical discussions, and wider frameworks for doing anti-racism work in schools will give you an idea of where to start. But the impactful work starts when you look at your specific school cohort, the data on ethnicity, outcomes and behaviour, and qualitative data on the experiences of Black and Asian staff and students. Know the specific and concrete issues in your institution. For my school, the issues were a lack of Black representation in the curriculum, the teaching staff, and in top sets. You can’t get people on board unless you can present the problem in cold hard numbers, and show that it’s in their immediate context.
  2. Seek out local academics who are working on decolonising and race equality within the Education faculty of your nearest universities first, and those passionate enough to work with schools even if they are not in the Education faculty. Teachers are disciplinary experts, researchers, community workers and curriculum designers, but rarely recognised as such. Organising discussions between subject leads and academics working in the same discipline to tackle what decolonising looks like in their subject gives teachers this recognition. Academics have often done their decades in school teaching, and can bring fresh research and challenging ideas to the table. Teachers, in turn, get to practice criticality in the face of research and work out what approach would work best for them in their context. My first go at providing readings for decolonising Maths didn’t stick because it necessitated the addition of history content which the teachers felt was forced. But Prof Alf Coles pointed out that decolonised pedagogy was a powerful way to both respect students’ ways of knowing and improve attainment. Get the experts in!
  3. Disrupt the school culture and curriculum by centering voices which have been previously marginalised. For example, I got Somali students to teach Somali to their teachers, and prepared form time materials, a whole-school assembly and a scheme of work on Somali contributions to UK communities and literature. Show people that the status quo can shift, and take the blinders off. You have to model decolonising work and show how it creates belonging, a more informed curriculum narrative, and a sense of excitement and discovery – THEN start getting people on board for work across the curriculum..
  4. If you are white, find the Black and Asian staff in school and the academics and practitioners out in the local community who have been doing this work longer than you and with a far better idea of how and why it should work. Put them forward for the opportunities and pay that you are offered but which they deserve, and watch them knock the dust off your school. 
  5. Model what colonial frameworks and lenses look like in textbooks and in practice – have discussions about the limitations of these, how they position the global majority and the Global South, and the way they reproduce racial hierarchies. So for History, Science or Geography, is the seizure of land from indigineous peoples, the extraction of natural resources and the pollution of their land, air and water presented as an unfortunate but inevitable consequence of competitive capitalism and the discovery doctrine? Do you look at what established, indigenous science and resource management achieved and how this was exploited? Do you consider what fair trade and sustainable, mutual development might have looked like? 
  6. Do form-time focus group and questionnaire research with the students so you promote discussion and give space for students to feed in anonymously. Use the collated data – like the percentage of students who want more Black representation – and powerful anecdotes from students as stimulus for planning. Go back to students with these plans , and check back after a term or a year to ask them how your school is doing. So often we ask for student voice and don’t keep students in the loop. Why not make them your associates?
  7. Staff need reading and training on how to talk about race, and how to structure and deliver a curriculum that empowers rather than silences, humiliates and traumatises. Just like students, they need to see this modelled in their own discipline (not just yours). 
  8. Students at my school said effective discussion facilitation was key to challenging racist ideas in their curriculum and providing a safe space for people to explore and develop more informed opinions without ego or defensiveness getting in the way. If oracy and explorative discussion isn’t explicitly taught in your school’s classrooms, this may seriously hamper your progress. 
  9. Show off and celebrate the work teachers have done to decolonise the curriculum in your school on a public forum. Think newspaper article, conference, festival, exhibition, trust-wide INSET day. They are leaders and change agents, and deserve recognition. It will also inspire the people waiting in the wings to join in and make a difference.
  10. You will soon realise that you have only scratched the surface, and that school priorities may change with the news cycle. This is unglamorous, thankless, difficult and ground-up work that has been going on for centuries. You are not a pioneer. Find and maintain your network – you will need each other.

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The Important Role of the DEI Leader in Our Schools

Hannah Wilson portrait

Written by Hannah Wilson

Founder of Diverse Educators

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our provocation to the school system:

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

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

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

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

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

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“I’m in hospital Liz.”

Liz Wright

Written by Liz Wright

Elizabeth Wright FRSA is an editor, consultant, speaker, and activist. She brings forth all of her life experience to challenge people around disability, diversity, and inclusion.

I gulped at the message. It was from Jade, my graphic designer for Conscious Being and we were a week out from releasing issue 2. As a magazine editor, as a writer, as a speaker and consultant, I am so used to working to deadlines that my first thought was how are we going to get this issue out on time.

 

For years now I have been jumping to so many other people’s tunes, to doing everything possible to reach the needs of the client, without actually looking at and addressing my own needs. I am a disabled woman and live everyday with the effects of this identity. Tiredness from PMS, experiences of ableism, and using more energy than a non-disabled person to move my limb different body, is my reality every day, every month. Like a yoyo, my energy levels are unpredictable; my muscle pain is unpredictable. Everything I do, by default, is slower than someone with two hands and two legs. And yet, for years, I would push on, trying to keep up with my non-disabled peers. 

 

In the past year I have decided that enough is enough when it comes to stretching my lovely body beyond its limits – all to please others who don’t know the actual lived experience of my impairment. Boundaries have been key to finding that sweet spot. Placing boundaries around my time and energy levels means that I am finding it a lot easier to say no to people and to stand up for myself in demanding that my needs be met too. The difference in myself has been astounding – I am more productive when working because I have had the rest that I need, I am more joyful, and dare I say it, interesting, because I actually make time to go places and see people. Life has blossomed as it hasn’t done in a very long time.

 

My activism has gone to the next level too – I am proud of my limb different body and what it has done for me and what I know it will do for me in the future. It has taught me many lessons and given me deep knowledge about the flaws in society and how we have to have structural and cultural change around work and success. My physical and mental fatigue wasn’t because of my impairment, it was because of the undue pressure that society puts on us to be productive and to ignore our very basic human needs to rest and relax. 

 

When I started the magazine Conscious Being, a magazine by and for disabled women and non-binary people, I knew that I only wanted to hire other disabled creatives who deserved a platform and a space of their own. With as fair and equitable pay for these creatives as I could afford. I also knew that I wanted the core editorial and creative teams to feel that their health and wellbeing took precedence over anything else. I never wanted anyone to feel that they couldn’t tell me when they weren’t well and when they needed rest and a day off. I wanted Conscious Being to reflect the core of what I had learnt about taking care of myself – that when we look after and prioritise ourselves and our needs, that is when we can meet the needs of others in a beautiful and empathetic way. 

 

Jade was in hospital and she wasn’t sure how long she would be in there for. As much as a slight panic hit my core first, that residual fear of not meeting deadlines, I knew that Jade’s health and wellbeing was more important than any release date of a magazine. And as Jade’s boss I told her so. I took hold of the reins, I assured her that we would work with her timings and that she had to just focus on recovery now. At the end of the day, disabled or not, we are only human, not machines. And as much as the world we live in would like you to believe that we don’t have a choice, unless your job deals in life and death situations, we can choose to push back deadlines, say no to things, and demand that our needs be met.

 

Issue 2 of Conscious Being came out on the 7th of September. A week late, but a much better magazine for it. The way the team pulled together and rallied around Jade was inspired. And the end result has been a happier and healthier graphic designer and a magazine and team that we can all be proud of.

 

 

We would like to thank Diverse Ed for being a sponsor of Conscious Being Magazine – the magazine by and for disabled women and non-binary people. If you would like to be a sponsor in the next issue please reach out to Editor-in-Chief Liz Wright at – liz@consciousbeingmagazine.com

 

You can grab your copy of issue 2 here – Conscious Being Magazine

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Challenging conversations: Compliance through fear, or growth as a result of transparency and kindness?

Sarah Johnson-Scott portrait

Written by Sarah Johnson-Scott

Vice Principal of a large secondary school in West London. January 2021 Cohort of The Academy of Women’s Leadership.

What is the purpose of a challenging conversation?

Are they opportunities to: raise your voice at others to give them a dressing down; shout at them for making a mistake; assert your power or position; gain compliance through fear and therefore stifle and destroy the creativity, problem solving skills and ultimately output of your team? No, no, NO!

Can they be avoided? NO! 

In highlighting that ‘the culture of any organisation is shaped by the worst behaviour the leader is willing to tolerate,’ Gruenter and Whitaker show us the impact of not having challenging conversations. As leaders we will accept and be seen to accept behaviours which are not acceptable in the workplace – if we don’t care as leaders, then no one cares. There is only one ending to this; a toxic culture, where people are unhappy, are not collegiate and productivity is low. Toxic cultures take a grip like quicksand. They are extremely difficult, and sometimes impossible to overcome.

Is there support in ‘mastering challenging conversations?’ YES!

As part of The Academy of Women’s Leadership, the inspiring Diana Osagie led us through an excellent session on ‘How to master difficult conversations,’ across a range of contexts including challenging conversations, holding staff to account and dealing with difficult people. By providing us with three different scripts for leading challenging conversations in each of these contexts, Diana left us feeling empowered, courageous and brave about leading these in future.

What were the top 5 takeaways from Diana’s session?

  1. Remembering that the behaviour is theirs….so don’t apologise for your stance (you are the leader and you have decided that there is a reason for a challenging conversation). 
  2. Acknowledgement and acceptance that challenging conversations will test your courage and resilience.
  3. The challenging conversation scripts are invaluable – having a script to tweak when under pressure as a leader is extremely reassuring! They also support in running through the conversation and desired outcomes beforehand. 
  4. The stages of a challenging conversation (you will have to join The Academy of Women’s Leadership to find out what these are!)
  5. Get some support for yourself – find an appropriate person in your organisation you can talk to about the challenging conversation (they’ve almost definitely led these before).

 

What’s the future of challenging conversations?

As leaders we recognise that challenging conversations are part of our role, but more crucially are essential for a positive organisational culture, happy staff and excellent outcomes. If they are led with clarity and kindness, and are received appropriately, challenging conversations should promote growth (potentially on both sides) – otherwise what is the point? 

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Engaging and Empowering Students in DEI Work

Lois Nethersell-Webb portrait

Written by Lois Nethersell-Webb

Lois is a History teacher and DEI Lead at a rural Norfolk High School. In this role she is leading whole school training on diversifying the curriculum. Lois is also a founder of the Norfolk DEI Network and is passionate about encouraging and guiding young people to become change makers.

What kind of adults do we want our students to become?  Do we want them to passively accept the status quo or do we want them to become active citizens who question the world around them?  If the latter, then we must model and shape this behaviour in schools by providing them with opportunities to express their views and lead on causes that ignite their passions.

Students need to see that becoming involved in DEI work within schools or, indeed, wider society, is a sign of strength.  When the government views standing up for marginalised groups as ‘woke’ we are fighting a populist narrative.  Educators need to demonstrate to students that standing up to a friend who uses racist or homophobic slurs is not woke, it is strength.  Educators need to demonstrate to students that calling out your mate who has made sexualised comments to a female student is not woke, it is strength.  Educators need to demonstrate to students that refusing to mimic the accent of a new teacher is not woke, it is strength.  

One way that schools can demonstrate active citizenship to the pupils in their charge is through setting up intersectional diversity groups.  Whilst student groups focused on one particular protected characteristic, such as Pride Club, have their place, an intersectional group enables students with different protected characteristics, and their allies, to come together and support each other.  We must create safe spaces for students to discuss concerns and lived experiences before supporting them to curate ways in which to spread their narratives across the whole student body.  

Our student Diversity, Inclusion, Campaigns and Equality (DICE) group have been instrumental in raising awareness of a number of societal issues.  Whether it be a cube of truth focused on male mental health or the lunchtime climate change protest, our students have thought of innovative and engaging ways to enlighten the wider student body and get them thinking about how change can happen.  Showing students how to use their voice for good and how to channel their views is an essential part of their education.  

All too often running student groups, like DICE, is left to chance.  If there is a member of staff with a protected characteristic or who has a particular passion for DEI work then the student groups are formed.  This should not be the case.  LGBTQ+ teachers are tired of being the ones to start the Pride Clubs in schools.  Black teachers are tired of being the ones who support students who have experienced racism.  We need our allies.  We need other educators, particularly white, able bodied, cisgendered male educators, to stand with us and help set up student groups.  The power you hold is immeasurable.  Help us set up our student groups and demonstrate that DEI work is the work of all.

To create a truly diverse, equitable and inclusive society all adults, no matter their lived experiences, must see tackling injustice and inequality as their responsibility.  For this to happen we must start by showing students that DEI work is a collective responsibility.  If you want to help your students become young changemakers – set up an intersectional student DEI group; neither you nor your students will regret it.

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#DiverseEd’s Top 10 Blogs of 2020-21

Diverse Educators Logo

Written by DiverseEd

Diverse Educators started as a grassroots network in 2018 to create a space for a coherent and cohesive conversation about DEI. We have evolved into a training provider and event organiser for all things DEI.

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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You Are Not Alone: Leaders for Race Equality

NAHT logo

Written by NAHT

NAHT is the UK’s largest professional association for school leaders, representing more than 33,000 head teachers, executive heads, CEOs, deputy and assistant heads, vice principals and school business leaders.

At the end of June 2021, NAHT launched our You Are Not Alone: Leaders for Race Equality’ book. 

Originating from NAHT’s Leaders for Race Equality network, the book shares the personal experiences of 14 NAHT members from Asian, African, Caribbean and multiple backgrounds. It includes personal and challenging stories of the discrimination faced as both leaders and individuals through school, university, interviews and promotion, often having to prove themselves at every step on the way to leadership and facing both overt and covert racism from others. Common to many stories is the impact of the school environment and how vital the support and influence of role models can be.

The stories and experiences shared are powerful, challenging and at times deeply saddening. However, they are equally heartening, sharing examples of courage, determination and hope. 

Mayleen Atima, a Head Teacher in Suffolk and book author

“All I ever wanted to be was a teacher” is the first line to my chapter. I wanted to start from a point of ambition. Even now that line is tinged with many memories for me as the path to teaching was not as romantic as I imagined it would be. 

The below extract was the hardest part to write as I had to delve back into the emotions of that period of time.

“I realised at that point that, within that school, I had come to the end of my career progression, and I attended a deputy head teacher training course. I applied for several jobs and finally got an interview. The head teacher was shocked when he heard that I had an interview. He asked me for my personal statement so that he could write the reference. After reading the personal statement, he stated that it was full of grammatical errors and I should have let him read it before applying for the job. I was annoyed and my confidence was knocked. Deep down I knew that he did not want me to go, but still his words and actions hurt”. 

I want all readers to find confidence in knowing their value and worth. Not waiting for someone to echo your value but knowing your own worth. The extract above pin-points a pivotal point for me when I realised my worth and knew it was time to move on.

I am now an established head teacher in Suffolk, running a school that has improved from ‘requires improvement’ to ‘good’. All I ever wanted to be was a teacher and I have achieved that goal.”

Ruhaina Alford-Rahim, Executive Head Teacher in Devon and book author

I had never considered racism as an issue that affected me, yet in writing my chapter, I recognised that racism my parents had suffered decades ago had shaped me to be a person afraid to expose my difference. Suppressed memories of micro-aggressions I had witnessed through 20 plus years in education surfaced: colleagues mocking children’s names; comments regarding needing to be careful when interviewing a non-white candidate; a senior leader revealing that he would like to leave London to get his children away from its diversity; a colleague saying that the Indian sweets a teaching assistant had brought in would taste like sweet wall paper paste and the aggression I received from parents when I first started teaching – at that time my surname was ‘Rahim’ and I wore a hijab. 

Writing the chapter has helped me realise that by hiding my difference I am assuming everyone will react negatively and so I am doing them a disservice – not allowing the opportunity for others to learn, ask questions and develop their own understanding of cultures.

Diana Ohene-Darko, Assistant Head Teacher in Harrow and book author 

It is my hope that those who read the book take the time needed to immerse themselves in our stories, to spend time with us, walking in our shoes if only for a moment. And to take-away the need to create safe spaces, open up discussion and make everyone feel that they are a person, that they belong where they are. No matter what school you are in, you belong there.

Equality is everybody’s responsibility. It requires commitment. It requires hard work. It requires personal reflection from the offset. In order for the whole of the education profession to be an ally, to become allies, you have to delve into that personal reflection, you have to delve into your own biases (and we all have them in different respects). In terms of equality being everybody’s responsibility, actually we are protecting each other’s ‘protected characteristics’, those characteristics that are protected by law- that is all of our joint responsibility. 

Next Steps

NAHT hope that this book can play a part in igniting further conversation and awareness around the breadth and depth of discrimination within the sector. We know that the profession is not yet representative of the communities we serve, and that this is a particular issue at senior leadership level. NAHT are therefore proud to lend its support to amplify our Black, Asian and minority ethnic members’ authentic voices. 

NAHT also recognises the need to challenge ourselves – we know that as an organisation we have really only just begun on our own journey and we remain committed to using our power to work to actively help dismantle racism and the structures that perpetuate it, in all of its forms.

The book is freely available to download at https://www.naht.org.uk/NAHT-Edge/ArtMID/694/ArticleID/1018/You-are-Not-Alone-Leaders-for-Race-Equality

If you are interested in hearing more about the book then please contact policy@naht.org.uk

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Racist Language within an SEMH Context

Sophie Tales portrait

Written by Sophie Tales

Associate Assistant Principal for the Mead Educational Trust in Leicester. Sophie leads on Social, Emotional Mental Health, SEND Support and Development, Transition, Oracy, Team Teach and is chair for SENCo and Family Support Worker Networks.

What does it mean when students with SEMH show prejudice within a state of crisis? How can this be managed? How should this be tackled?

Within an SEMH context there are high staff to student ratios. Therefore, in the best of settings, there is very little behavior that goes unnoticed. This means that as staff you have a very insightful position within the lives of the SEMH students that are in your care and, therefore, have an opportunity to support students within any ounce of behavior that has been shown; positive or negative. 

When it comes to times of crisis for students with SEMH, this can manifest in different ways. Behaviour that can be shown as an SEMH student reaches crisis: verbal abuse, physical abuse, controlling behavior, damage of property or self-harm.

Verbal abuse can often be part of an individual student’s behavior when they are in or reaching crisis. When an SEMH student is in crisis they are in ‘Fight, Flight. Freeze.’ Fight and flight are often seen within SEMH contexts. Verbal abuse is part of the ‘Fight’. Typically abuse that I personally get is “fat”, “bitch”, “slag”, “slut”; all very much to do with my body and being female. Within this state of crisis an SEMH student is in such a state of unrest that they are attempting to show you just how badly they are feeling; sometimes they want you to feel just as badly as they do – hence the abuse. What I, as a white woman, haven’t experienced is any abuse about the colour of my skin. However, what I wish to discuss within this piece of writing is that when working with students with SEMH, racist language may well be used as abuse towards anyone; regardless of the colour of their skin.

As with any SEMH context, the behavior policy of that setting is a fundamental part of the running of the school and provides a clear set of rules, as well as opportunities, for students to follow to be rewarded for positive behavior. Racism is a key part of the policy which outlines steps of action if a student shows racial prejudice. However, what I would argue is that all contexts, SEMH or not, alongside their behavior policy, equally need a defined focus within the setting’s curriculum where ‘racism’ is being taught; for SEMH students, especially those who are white, racism is a very hard concept to understand.

The importance of having a differentiated curriculum designed to discuss what race and racism is became increasingly apparent to me when dealing with a group of white students who were increasingly using racist language towards members of staff when they were reaching a state of crisis. It became increasingly apparent that this needed an individual approach as no form of sanction was helping them change their behavior. For instance, these students all hated working away from their main class group and this was the first part of the sanction for the racist words that they had used. In the past, working away from their main class group would help these particular students to understand what they had done wrong and to stop any repeat offenses. However, with this incident, it didn’t. The words these students were using became worse and, strangely, the targets of these racist words became more varied. These students started to use these words towards anyone who was around at their point of crisis. They were not directing these racist words towards any particular skin colour; they were saying them to anyone available – white or black. This change in word direction helped me to see the issue. These students were not showing their prejudice; they were using words that they knew offended and upset people, without having any real understanding of what they were talking about.

This is where I realised I had overlooked something. I had overlooked just how complex a social construct such as racism is for any child, let alone a student with SEMH. To be able to understand racism, you are not just having to teach how historically people of colour have been treated as inferior to white people – you have to help teach the impact of community, culture, religion and, above all else, empathy. This is not an easy endeavor for students who struggle with social understanding. Yet, once this has been identified, you can identify what needs to be broken down for those students to understand the impact of their words and behavior.

For the students I was working with they needed context. They needed to understand what the words they were using meant to the staff they were saying it to. This could not come from me. A white woman telling them how it made another person feel wasn’t enough context; they needed to hear it from the person they had said it to. Secondly, they needed to see what this meant in context. They needed to see the community of people that they were directly offending when using those words. Finally, they needed to be in that community, to see those faces, and to discuss, in front of the community they were offending, when out of crisis, and to feel the weight of the language they had used.

The above approach worked. These students no longer use racist language within a state of crisis; it has been put back into a box that they know is not to be touched; regardless of the level of distress they are feeling. This is not to say that I think they will never use these words in a state of crisis again; they most likely will. But what they have now is a foundation of understanding that can be used to remind them of who they are not to use such language. Most importantly, it helped everyone involved to see that these students were not prejudiced. They were not targeting race; they were seeing a way of hurting someone as a tool for communication, without an understanding of the historical and social weight of the words they were using.

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