The National Curriculum - What Needs to Change?

Molly Burbridge portrait

Written by Molly Burbridge

Molly is a teacher based in Greater Manchester, she founded AC in September 2020. She has a BA from Manchester University in American Studies.

Why is the national curriculum so limiting?

The national curriculum determines what is taught in our schools and colleges. It not only establishes who deserves to be celebrated in our country’s classrooms but also which students are represented. The content of our curriculum, the privileging of some forms of knowledge and aspects of lived experience over others and even pedagogical practices themselves serve to prioritise some voices and marginalise or silence others.

Even though educational establishments are required to abide by the Equality Act of 2010 our national curriculum does not reflect the nine protected characteristics equally. There is no requirement to learn about how institutionalised racism impacts our society; most authors of GCSE English texts are White heterosexual cisgender men; there is little scope for the celebration of the diverse array of cultures and identities that exist in our society. Even in PSHE, a subject that can be considered to have the most freedom to explore topics relating to the nine protected characteristics, is curtailed by DfE guidance limiting the external visitors that can support the delivery of a PSHE curriculum to disallow those, ‘promoting divisive or victim narratives that are harmful to British society’ (https://www.gov.uk/guidance/plan-your-relationships-sex-and-health-curriculum#using-external-agencies). This has been seen as an attempt to limit educators from teaching about activist groups such as Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion (https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/dec/15/education-department-to-review-schools-guidance-on-anti-capitalist-groups?__twitter_impression=true). It would be an impossible task to effectively teach about the nine protected characteristics of the Equality Act of 2010 without discussing the actions taken by marginalised groups to fight for equality however the DfE seem to be trying to prevent this.

Why does a representative curriculum matter?

Lack of representation or misrepresentation prevents society from progressing. When harmful, inaccurate or ignorant portrayals of groups of people exist in the media or cultural industries it leads to discrimination and harassment. If students don’t see themselves represented in topics they learn at school whether that be due to their race, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability then it becomes a barrier to achieving a sense of equality in schools. A lack of representation can also perpetuate existing inequalities that exist in society. Pupils who belong to groups that hold power in society are not given an opportunity to locate themselves within this position of power in society and are therefore not encouraged to consider how they benefit from it and what they can do to promote equality. 

How we want to make a change!

Here at Alternative Curriculum, we want to widen the educational conversation and deepen an understanding of many subjects that are often airbrushed out of our national curriculum.​ We create free online resources that can be used by teachers in their classrooms, parents/carers as learning tools at home or young people as an opportunity to widen their cultural capital. Our aim is to amplify diverse voices and give young people the chance to learn about the varied histories, cultures and communities that have contributed to society. Our lessons focus on minority groups and those whose histories and cultures are not as thoroughly covered in the mainstream curriculum, with lessons on various topics within areas of history, science, media, literature, cultural studies and more. Example lessons so far include:

We have even started creating adult resources as it’s important that we continue to educate ourselves and continue the conversation around anti-discrimination and equality. Here are some examples of our adult resources:

As conversations around the creation of a diverse and representative curriculum continue we hope that it is prioritised in classrooms across the country. Until then we will keep creating resources that amplify and celebrate unheard voices and change the narrative or our national curriculum.

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Where Are All the Men?

Shonagh Reid portrait

Written by Shonagh Reid

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

I’m a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Consultant therefore I take a huge interest in the subject. I read a lot on the subject and I go to many webinars to learn more and ensure I am staying fully abreast of current topics, understanding and events. 

Over the last few weeks I’ve attended several webinars: 2nd May – MIXed The 1% where I was a panel member; 5th May- Diverse Recruitment Trilogy: How to Recruit a Diverse Workforce; 13th May – The Big Question with John Amaechi and most recently #EYP2CtW21 with Diverse Educators hosted by Hannah Wilson. Everyone of these sessions has been absolutely fantastic. I’ve left enlightened, educated and rejuvenated every time and with more in my toolkit. 

There was one thing missing though…

…Men.

There were some men on the panels, men speaking knowledgeably with experience and insight into the complexities of recruiting a diverse workforce, how to lead ethically and sharing excellent practice of what they are doing in their schools to create a diverse and inclusive environment for students and staff alike. However, there were so few male attendees, hardly any men listening and engaging. Why is it that men appear to be underrepresented in diversity and inclusion work?

Possible Theories

Men are not as marginalised and therefore have less to say

Does intersectionality play a role? Is it the case that the barriers to success for all women are an added layer to those who are people of colour, living with a disability or LGBTQ+? Is it the complexity of intersectionality that drives women in particular to make a stand and show up at these sessions to learn more about how they can make a difference?

Under representation

Following the webinar on 13th May led by Ann Palmer, ‘How to Recruit a Diverse Workforce’ we learned that the opportunity for men to even be accepted into education as a trainee teacher is much lower than for women. Palmer presented the following information: Of all black males who apply to be trainee teachers, 37% were accepted in 2020 compared to 53% of black women. 67% of white men who applied were accepted into training compared to 74% of white women. The bias here against black people is clear, fewer are accepted into the teaching profession than their white counter parts. But we also see that men of all ethnicities are less likely to be accepted than females. Could it be then, that with few males in education it is simply a matter of maths that explains why we see fewer at DE and I events? They are underrepresented in the profession.

Privilege

‘Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it’s not a problem to you personally’. I’m not sure where this quote comes from but let’s explore this for a moment. We know that the majority of CEOs and organisation leaders in all fields are male. We’ve all come across the shocking statistic that there are more male leaders of FTSE companies called John than there are women. If you are not directly affected by bias and structural barriers to your success then perhaps you are less likely to act on the behalf of others. 

Why do we need more men?

It seems to me that the very people we need to speak out about the injustice of structural barriers, lack of diversity, institutional racism and misogyny are men, particularly white men. Numerous leaders of ED&I have spoken about the need for allyship and advocacy and how important it is that all voices, regardless of ethnicity or gender, unite against the ubiquitous ‘male, pale and stale’ boardroom and introduce a range of voices that will be heard and add value. 

Of course there are some out there who are doing great work, standing shoulder to shoulder and in some cases leading discussions on diversity and inclusion. Anyone who has done research into the benefits of a truly diverse workforce will know that they perform better in terms of turnover, outcomes, employee satisfaction and stakeholder satisfaction- good reason to be an advocate. Over and above this, it is simply the right thing to do. 

We need more men to identify themselves as DE&I leads, attend webinars and events that teach us about structural barriers and share the message with the people they work with. We need them to lead on and embed meaningful change. Given that white males are in the majority of powerful positions they are in the best possible position to do so. 

‘If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.’

Desmond Tutu. 

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Reflections on the Edurio EDI Summit

Iona Jackson portrait

Written by Iona Jackson

Iona has 10 years of experience providing data, insights and research projects across several industries. Now heading up Edurio’s research team, comprising of education and survey specialists. Iona leads on turning Edurio’s national datasets into useful and impactful insights for trust and school leaders.

On June 21st, my colleagues and I hosted the Edurio EDI Summit, a day dedicated to promoting equality, diversity and inclusion within schools. Throughout the day we had guest speakers sharing their experiences in school as people with a range of protected characteristics, ran masterclass sessions with experts in equality, diversity and inclusion, and launched the first report from Edurio’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Review. 

Among our guest speakers was Amy Ferguson, a female, lesbian, Black school leader, who explained her experiences at the intersection of multiple protected characteristics. We also heard from Abed Ahmed, a Muslim teacher with a stutter. We learned from Abed about the challenges of interviews when fluent speech is a challenge, and how the “usual” model of interviewing could be limiting the talent pool by assessing people on attributes that don’t dictate how well a person is able to teach young people. 

The masterclass sessions covered topics from diversity to religion. Mandy Coalter encouraged attendees to understand the context using both individual stories and data when building action plans. We heard from David Hermitt about the changing role religion plays in the lives of White British/Irish children, and how that compares to their BAME peers. In another session, Jerrel Jackson talked about problems with labels, both the ones assigned to us by others and the ones we assign ourselves. We wrapped up the day with a close look at intersectionality, with Hannah Wilson (Diverse Educators) and Angie Browne. The session shone a light on the challenges that come from thinking about people based on one characteristic they may have, as humans are made up of a number of characteristics and experiences. 

The event also featured the launch of our report, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Among School Staff. It’s the first of many reports from our EDI Review, the largest dataset on EDI issues within English schools. 16,500 school staff took part from 380 schools in England, discussing their experiences relating to recruitment, on-the-job issues of equality, diversity and inclusion, and opportunities to advance within their school or trust. We found that, overall, staff felt that their workplace was committed to promoting equality, diversity and inclusion. Four in Five staff said they felt their workplace was ‘quite’ or ‘very committed’. However, there were material differences among how staff with certain protected characteristics experienced their time in schools. 

The first report offers an overview of some key learnings across the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Review. But it is just the start – in the coming weeks and months we’ll be sharing deep dives into particular protected characteristic groups, and looking into particular areas of the school experience in more detail. As our data set grows, our representation of smaller or more marginalised groups will continue to grow, and we will be able to provide a voice to people who have struggled to have their views heard. I’m excited about what is to come as we continue on this long journey towards creating equal, diverse, and inclusive workplaces in education. 

Edurio is a survey platform for schools to quickly and easy gather feedback from staff, parents and pupils. Our EDI Review is one of a number of surveys created by Edurio in partnership with education researchers and practitioners. To find out more, or book a consultation, head to home.edurio.com 

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Coaching and Mentoring Diverse Leaders

Jill Berry portrait

Written by Dr Jill Berry

Thirty years teaching across six different schools in the UK, state and independent, and was a head for the last ten. Has since completed a doctorate and written a book.

Since I finished headship in 2010, I’ve spent a fair amount of time working with aspiring and serving leaders at all levels, supporting and challenging them to step up, to be the best leaders they can be and to fulfil their personal and professional ambitions.  It’s been a hugely satisfying and energising part of this ‘post-career’ phase of my life.

I was involved in and supportive of #WomenEd from the very beginning, and as initiatives like #BAMEd, #LGBTEd and #DisabilityEd have come on-stream, and as our awareness of the crucial importance of diversity, equity and inclusion has grown, I’ve been committed to supporting diverse educators, and this has involved my learning more – reading more, watching and listening more, in an attempt to raise my awareness of the perspectives and experiences of those whose lives may be quite different from my own.  I’m committed to being an ally, and to encouraging all educators to be allies – and to exhorting all those with leadership responsibility to use any influence they have to empower others, especially those from under-represented groups.

We need strong leaders at all levels – Middle Leaders, Senior Leaders, Heads, Executive Heads – whether you’re leading a specific team, a school or a group of schools.  And we need a diverse and inclusive workforce which reflects the communities we serve, and the world we live in, so there are role-models and high profile examples of what our pupils can achieve, and so that we make the most of the strengths and the range of talents of absolutely everyone.

So in terms of coaching, mentoring, supporting and developing leaders – whatever their background, their identity and their lived experience, these are three things I think are especially important. 

  1. Leading is about getting the best from others, and to do that we need to ensure we can see the best in them, and that they see it themselves.  Strong leaders can spot potential in those who don’t yet believe it themselves, so that’s my first point.  Can you help those you lead to give themselves credit for what they have achieved and, crucially, what they could achieve in the future? Find the bright spots, and ensure they don’t undervalue themselves, or their potential.  Show them you value what they are now, and what they are capable of becoming.
  2. Secondly, but clearly closely related to the first point, this is about building the most positive, mutually respectful and trusting relationships, and communicating.  Really listening, being receptive, showing empathy, and trying very hard to understand each other’s point of view.  To borrow Nancy Kline’s words: “seek to understand” rather than “seeking to convince”.  When you’re working with others, focus on building bridges and not walls.
  3. And thirdly, finally, never lose a strong sense of hope and a sense of the possible.  It’s ten years old, now, but back in the early days of my headship I read a book called ‘The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life’ by Benjamin and Rosamund Zander, and I did FIND it transformative.  We need to see what’s possible, for ourselves and for others, and to help them to see it, and to believe it too.  We can be constrained by our fears, our anxiety about facing failure, or disappointment, our aversion to risk.  If you are coaching, mentoring and developing diverse leaders, you need to have a clear sense of, and commitment to, what is possible.  I recently supported a woman who was applying for an Assistant Principal role in her own school.  She almost didn’t apply, and when I asked her why, she said, “I don’t like to fail.”  No one likes to fail, but if we aren’t prepared to risk failure we won’t achieve success.  What made a difference to her was her 13 year old son saying to  her, “But, mum if you don’t apply, you HAVE failed…”  And she applied.  And it was a really rigorous, robust, challenging process, and she got the job.

So if you’re supporting diverse leaders, remember:

  1. Find the bright spots – and help them to see them too
  2. Connect and communicate
  3. Have hope and see what’s possible.

You can read more blogs by Jill here: https://jillberry102.blog/2021/06/12/coaching-and-mentoring-diverse-leaders/

You can watch Jill’s input at the #DiverseEd event here: https://youtu.be/wnanDncf6Xc 

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Facing up to Privilege

Dan Colquhoun portrait

Written by Dan Colquhoun

Director of Sixth Form at Dr Challoner's Grammar School, 20/21 #BigLeadershipAdventure participant.

A personal view of confronting the advantages you’ve had and sharing this across the school community.

The past few weeks have been a time when I’ve been doing a huge amount of thinking and taking action on a lot of things relating to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. The starting point was the brilliant session led by Hannah Wilson (@DiverseEd2020) and Adrian McLean (@Character_Guy) where we were all encouraged to actively engage in a range of deep-thinking tasks regarding what the key ideas meant to us as well as being encouraged to reflect on what our responses were to some challenging videos, pictures and ideas. What made this experience so powerful for me was the lack of judgement in the session alongside the feeling of psychological safety which enabled me to be honest with myself, and others, about my relative naivety with some of the issues raised. 

The idea that particularly chimed with me was around Privilege. Having heard this bandied around previously I have to admit that I found it a word with many negative connotations – akin to spoilt, selfish, arrogant… I knew that I’d been fortunate in my upbringing: a loving, stable family; good school; various opportunities etc. but the idea of seeing myself as privileged didn’t sit well with me and I felt it was more suitable for those in the very highest echelons of wealth.

The video that we were shown of the race for $100 (here) where a range of statements were read out and if they applied to the individual (e.g. had a father figure in home, never worried where the next meal will come from etc.) they get to take two paces forward. After 10 statements the difference in starting position is massive, but as the video states: ‘where you are has nothing to do with anything you’ve done’. 

I have watched this a number of times now, and it still causes a very emotional reaction in me. How can I not have realised just how fortunate – how PRIVILEGED – I’ve been all of these years? Having now shared this video with our SLT, my Sixth Form Team as well as with our team of Senior School Officials in both Y12 and Y13, it has been fascinating to listen to their responses and the different aspects that they pick up on. The extra large steps that people are trying to take to get any little additional advantage, the strong link between race and starting position, the importance for those at the front to turn around otherwise they don’t realise quite how far ahead they are of everyone else, and the incredible, powerful, way that many of those at the back still give their absolute best in the race. It gets me every time.

So, do students leave our school realising the extent of their privilege?

At the moment the answer for the vast majority would have to be a resounding no. They attend a selective school in an affluent town in the commuter belt and this bubble that they live in means that they are not exposed to the full breadth of society. They often end up comparing themselves to their, similarly privileged, peers or others in independent schools (the few who are “ahead” of them in the race of privilege) and actually convincing themselves that they’re relatively disadvantaged. Finding ways to encourage them to see themselves within the bigger picture, to take a more global view, is going to be really important. 

For some students this can come from when they head to university and mix with a wider, more diverse, group of people. At reunion events it is a regular comment: “I just thought that all schools were like ours until I started speaking to friends at university.” This leads to increased gratitude and awareness of their privilege from attending our school, however it doesn’t suggest that they really understand the depth of privilege from across all aspects of their life that has put them in the position that they are in.

To me it is so powerful to think of what they could achieve if they do have this awareness of their privilege and the moral duty that comes with it to use it to help others who haven’t had the same level of advantage. Equity vs Equality. 

So what has happened since this experience of seeing with fresh eyes? 

Back in my school I initially shared my key learnings with my SLT colleagues. This led to some really fruitful discussions and we now have DEI as one of our two key school targets for the coming academic year. Sharing thoughts with a number of different teams of staff and students has been amazing and the quality of engagement and contributions at all of these has been so brilliant to see. It is as though everyone is desperate to talk about it, but often doesn’t feel confident enough to always say what they want to. To ask the questions. To simply say they don’t know. By sharing my vulnerability and recent journey has had a very positive impact on the atmosphere in these sessions and allowed people to feel safe and talk openly. ‘Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.’

I have also had a number of discussions with my team in the Sixth Form about what this all means to us, and what are the key aspects for us to work on with the students. We have also started to make things more visible to students with: posters from Bold Voices around the school; names and email addresses of who to contact if a student has any concerns; policies more visible; a standing agenda item in our meetings; sharing of interesting articles and webinars.

What does the future hold?

We have arranged sessions in a couple of weeks’ time (once Y13s have got their final assessments out of the way), where all interested students are invited into school for two hours, to share their feelings regarding Sexual Harassment, Sexual Abuse and Consent. We’re initially going to have these meetings split by gender to encourage open sharing of what is the reality of things at the moment. We will then see what people are happy to share more widely and capture the honest views of our Sixth Form students as well as thoughts on how we could proceed. Involving the whole school community, and particularly the students, is going to be key in shaping how we move forwards.

Getting all staff on board is vital and we have very successfully embedded positive attitudes towards Mental Health across the school having focussed on working with staff first and then students. I see this as an important path to follow with DEI too: every teacher needs to have the space to engage with the issues themselves before we can expect them to start working with students. We cannot allow any teacher to remain unconsciously incompetent. ‘Doing the inner work before you do the outer work.’

As a school we pride ourselves in sending out well-rounded students prepared to make a positive impact in the world. We must do everything we can to ensure that this encompasses awareness of their individual level of privilege and this is going to be a key aspect for us to get right for the future. I’m excited for what lies ahead!

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My Journey to Belonging

Meirion Lewis portrait

Written by Meirion Lewis

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

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

 

What does it mean to ‘belong’?

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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Education as the Practice of Freedom

Laura Ciftci portrait

Written by Laura Ciftci

Head of School, NET Academies Trust, #BigLeadershipAdventure participant.

As a rookie member of Big Education’s ground-breaking leadership programme – Big Leadership Adventure – I have been exposed to a wealth and breadth of experiences, key-note speakers, ideas, design-thinking, innovation and new ways of leading. All with the key purpose to ‘develop the mindsets, competencies and behaviours required to innovate in education’.  

More recently, we experienced a headline module on diversity, equity and inclusion. Hannah and Adrian McLean, our guides for this module, did not pull any punches and stated from the outset that this session was going to be challenging and would possibly make many members feel rather uncomfortable. Nevertheless, they both insisted, education – especially educational leadership – needs ‘to start getting comfortable with being uncomfortable’. In truth, I found the whole process immensely challenging, both professionally and personally. 

In hindsight, the module’s real impact was to champion our cohort into action – real action – with a determination to transfer theory and rhetoric into practice. This rallying cry to alms for all leaders was a clear message on the importance of producing and utilising a diversity, equity and inclusion strategy within our schools. Moreover, instigating conversations that would raise further questions around how we need to rethink teaching practices and policies in an age of multiculturalism. Otherwise, how else would we be able to educate our children to address the many disparities and inequalities within our society? 

To Allyship or not to Allyship…? That IS the question: 

One such practice and commitment centred round ‘allyship’; more specifically an expectation for all Big Leadership Adventurers to acknowledge and engage with the ‘allyship continuum’: from apathetic, to aware, to active and finally onto the desired goal – to be an advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion. An advocate of diversity, equity and inclusion would actively highlight and raise questions about situations, events, meetings, settings, organisations, senior leadership teams, subject leaders and headteachers, whereby the representation or membership did not reflect the cohort or group they were leading. What struck me as the most poignant part of the whole ‘allyship process’, was a genuine recognition from all the leaders in our cohort, that their journey along the allyship continuum would be a deeply, individual and personal journey. 

Moreover, I realised, as I listened to the many painful and explicit narratives of prejudice and racism experienced by my colleagues – as infants, school children and adolescents and now as adults – that my journey to where I am today, had been an infinitely easier one, beyond my ‘disadvantaged’ label. If anything this made my purpose clearer – I wanted to celebrate and showcase our school’s rich diversity, to ensure that we authentically challenged institutional racism and other forms of discrimination. Subsequently, in order to kick start our school’s journey to allyship, we drafted a whole school strategic approach to diversity, equity and inclusion, that embraced the voice of our staff, pupils and wider community. Almost instantly, staff recognised that this commitment would take us beyond diversity, equity and inclusion, but further into social action; the co-dependence of societal changes through a strong, ‘lived’ diversity, equity and inclusion strategy. A focussed strategy, with professional training from the charismatic and knowledgeable Angela Browne helped us to explicitly outline expectations for the culture and climate of our school; facilitating classroom learning to connect with the experiences, histories and resources that every pupil brings to their classroom. Imagine a whole literacy spine that included the cultures, experiences and backgrounds of the pupils they sought to teach! Whilst this process may be in its infancy, we are rightly proud of its authentic germination …

Why here? Why now?  

As I reflected further upon the intensity of that diversity, equity and inclusion module, it became apparent we were really being asked to champion a social conscience and critical pedagogy for our future pupils, leaders, work force, politicians and so on. Recognising that pupils and staff need to feel safe, valued, listened to and genuinely appreciated for who they are, rather than complying to a given, predetermined expectation. This sense of belonging, coupled with the freedom and encouragement to determine and discover who they are, would help our pupils to realise that the education system does not define them. Once equipped with the necessary skills, knowledge and beliefs, from diverse and inclusive school communities, they will have the freedom to construct their own unique futures for themselves. Armed with a broad skills base, resilience, acceptance (rather than tolerance, thank you Adrian Mclean for assisting me with the semantics), a good work ethic, humility and an acute awareness of social justice, our pupils and staff will in turn, readily challenge cultural, social and economic biases, that alas, are still systemic within society today. Never has the time been more right to challenge social inequality and to encourage pupils (and staff) to take positive and constructive action under the cultural umbrella of diversity, equity and inclusion.  

Hope for the future… 

Clearly, the education system is neither perfect nor paradise; quite the contrary in fact. Nevertheless, the system with all its limitations, remains a location of potential, hope and possibility. In that field of possibility, we have the opportunity to work towards diversity, equity and inclusion for our pupils, staff and wider community members. Likewise, to demand of ourselves and those in our charge, ‘an openness of mind and heart that allows us to face reality even as we collectively imagine ways to move beyond boundaries, to transgress. This is education as the practice of freedom’. (Bell Hooks) 

And finally… 

As our second day of diversity, equity and inclusion module concluded, I felt a deep kinship and professional respect for my fellow ‘Adventurers’. This diverse group of authentic professionals, had challenged me, and in and through that challenge, had allowed me a space of radical openness where I now felt able to authentically support diversity, equity and inclusion, within my own setting. This promising start would, I hope, encourage those in my charge, to learn and grow without limits. This gift of ‘freedom’ for our children today, now seems totally achievable. 

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A Curriculum for Diversity and Inclusion

Andi Silvain portrait

Written by Andrea Silvain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dear Secretary of State

Hannah Wilson portrait

Written by Hannah Wilson

Founder of Diverse Educators

Context:

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

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

March 1st 2021

Dear Secretary of State,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours Faithfully,

Co-organisers of the Diversity Roundtable:

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

Members of the Diversity Roundtable:

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

Appendix A:

Increasing Recruitment and Retention:

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

Diversity as a Business Model:

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

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

Kit Rackley portrait

Written by Kit Rackley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading

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

Citing this post:

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

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

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

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