Decolonising educational spaces: Lunar New Year 2023 reflections

Isabelle Pan portrait

Written by Isabelle Pan

Isabelle Pan is a secondary teacher. She is of Chinese heritage, grew up in France and England, and has studied in Scotland and California. She is from besea.n, Britain’s East and South East Asian Network, and is also working for MA Consultancy. Her interests are in equity in education, promoting books by authors of marginalised backgrounds to young people, and dance. She can be found at @readingwith.misspan (Instagram), and @mspanlanguages (Twitter)

For 3  of the 5 East and South East Asian Lunar New Year festivals, New Year’s Day was on Sunday 22 January this year (Spring Festival, Seollal and Tet), with some countries celebrating for 2 weeks until the Lantern Festival. To bring awareness to the festivals, besea.n (Britain’s East and South East Asian Network) published some Lunar New Year school resources which are culturally sensitive and accurate, and include lesson plans, assemblies, reading lists and form time resources to schools. 

In my own school, I presented 3 assemblies, to Years 7, 8 and 9. These were my 1st assemblies ever in my teaching career. Needless to say, I was terrified in the leadup to them.

I had thought about doing assemblies on East and South East Asian (ESEA) cultures before, but though I may be a teacher who presents to 28 students a lesson 5 times a day, and a dancer who has often got up on stage in front of hundreds, speaking to a room of 300 young people for ten minutes was a little too daunting. I avoided materialising this idea, for fear of students being disengaged, or worse, racist.

Naturally, I was hugely nervous on the day. But what surprised me was how, as soon as I spoke into the mic, my nerves faded away. Being able to stand in front of an accumulated total of 900 students, to share with them the traditions of the 5 LNY festivals as well as my own family’s celebrations, and to see students engaging with the topic – this has been such a joy. 

The assembly talked through the similarities between the 5 festivals as well as the unique traditions of each festival. Lunar New Year festivals in East and South East Asia mainly come under the following five types:

  1. Spring Festival –  China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Brunei, Macau
  2. Tết (Tết Nguyên Đán) – Vietnam
  3. Seollal – South Korea, North Korea
  4. Losar – Tibet
  5. Tsagaan Sar – Mongolia 

In the assembly I also spoke about the growing tendency for the festivals to be more inclusively referred to as Lunar New Year (rather than just Chinese New Year) as an umbrella name for the five festivals, and to reflect just how many communities celebrate the festival. In addition, I featured photos and videos of my family celebrating in London but also my uncles, aunts, and cousins celebrating in China. There are many misconceptions about LNY and so the goal of my assembly was to give a fuller, clearer, and more sensitive view of the five festivals. 

I was touched by the positive reception these assemblies had. Afterwards, students and staff congratulated me on the assembly, told me what they learnt, asked me more questions about LNY, and students I didn’t know greeted me and wished me a happy Lunar New Year in the corridor. One colleague told me ‘thank you for your assembly, it was really informative. I have a Korean guest staying with me and now I know to wish her a happy new year this Sunday’. Children told me ‘Miss now I know we should call it Lunar New Year and not Chinese New Year’. 

I staunchly believe in decolonising our education systems, and the way the students (and staff) responded to this assembly is just another piece of evidence that such a change is desired and needed by our students. Young people want to learn more about a variety of cultures – it interests them, it enriches their minds, challenges them to think critically, and builds connection and empathy.

For the students and staff I presented to, this was only 1 assembly. It will not completely overhaul their belief systems. Even on the day I wrote this post, 2 students made ignorant comments with regards to East and South East Asian cultures, in front of me.

The effect such comments have on you does not disappear, but as a teacher you learn to take things less personally. It is still disheartening to hear such comments, but it reflects more on the other person than on you. And it also highlights the fact that education about ESEA cultures and communities is just so dire in this country. The education about ESEA communities in our system needs to exist – I cannot even say it needs to improve, as something needs to exist before it can be improved – in order to challenge anti-ESEA attitudes.

Though schools may occasionally speak on racism in PSHE and assemblies, the nuance is not yet there in many schools. Even when discussing anti-Black racism, I have seen resources that contain traumatic images or videos, triggering Black students who may be in the room. And painfully for me as an ESEA educator, I’ve noticed that issues facing ESEAs are often missing from resources about racism.

I wouldn’t say it’s the duty of ESEA people to speak up, as there shouldn’t be that kind of burden, but I also think change will be so much more powerful with ESEA communities believing we can take up space and speak up for ourselves in schools. 

Equally, non-ESEA colleagues are also crucial. A colleague in the Y8 team, who is not ESEA, is the one who had convinced me to do the Y8 assembly, then convinced me to do the Y9 one, and then I thought, ‘I might as well do the Y7 one too’. I’m grateful for her encouragement and her belief that this was an important topic.

Throughout my career, students have always asked me “Miss, where are you from?” I never told them as I didn’t know what they would do with that information, and this fear heightened with every racist experience I had in school. But with these assemblies, I finally very publicly shared stories from my Chinese heritage and family. I was proud of my Chinese heritage. 

My nerves which come with talking about ESEA cultures or even showing photos of ESEA faces will not simply fade away with delivering one assembly, because young people (and adults) will continue to make ignorant comments. But I feel increasingly better-equipped, motivated, and empowered to help young people overcome prejudices towards ESEA communities, and hope that there can be a movement to decolonise our education system, so that future ESEA educators and students can be publicly proud when talking about their ESEA heritages.

Diverse Educators: A Manifesto - Book Review

Madeleine Spink portrait

Written by Madeleine Spink

Madeleine completed a PGCE in Citizenship at the IOE after studying at the University of York and Goldsmiths. Madeleine now teaches Sociology, PSHCE, Oracy and History at Langley Park School for Girls in Bromley.

Diverse Educators: A Manifesto is edited by Hannah Wilson and Bennie Kara, with contributions from over 100 educators, structured around the Equality Act 2010.

It starts with a quote from Maya Angelou that “diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.” The books format is best described as a tapestry. It is made up of ten chapters, one for each of the nine Protected Characteristics (Age; Disability; Gender Reassignment; Pregnancy and Maternity; Marriage and Civil Partnership; Race; Religion and Belief; Sex; Sexual Orientation) with a tenth chapter exploring intersectionality.

The book is collaboratively produced and mixes personal and professional experiences. Educators generously sharing their experiences and learning include primary and secondary teachers from all age groups, backgrounds and life experiences. The book develops the readers empathy to the diversity of educators, as well as the diversity of opinion of people within each protected characteristic. For example, the chapter on disability includes personal experience, the need for disability in RSE, practical tips to involve students in curriculum planning and data on the permanent exclusion rates for disabled students. It feature’s ACT’s own Lee Jerome on Intersectional Citizenship as a status, a feeling and a process. The chapter on Transgender inclusion is also insightful and talks about Lucy Meadows, whose death should not be forgotten by teachers who have followed her into the profession. 

Deep questions are asked throughout, and the contributions informed my thinking about whose responsibility inclusion is, whose work it often ends up being and whether inclusion work is for the long term or ‘en vogue’. I would have loved to have seen a chapter talking about working class teachers existing in the middle class school environment, and how this identity intersects with the protected characteristics. 

The variety of editing and writing styles did make the manifesto lack cohesion and feel inaccessible at times. The structure takes time to get used to, and can be navigated either by starting with the editors overview and selecting the sections that appeal to a particular interest, or by focussing on the key takeaways and ‘contributions’ to the manifesto at the end of each chapter. This changes depending on how the chapter has been edited, and some chapters are referenced while others lack referencing. It is a tapestry of a book, to capture such a variety of perspectives is a huge achievement, but not everything will appeal to everyone. 

Diverse Educators is a book to dip in to, reference and use as a guide to practical steps that can be taken to inclusion. It would be a good choice for a staff book group and comes with a reading guide and questions. There’s a lot of ways this resource can be used and shape teaching, learning and the school environment. 

My Experience as an Neurodivergent Student Teacher

Catrina Lowri portrait

Written by Catrina Lowri

Catrina Lowri is the founder of Neuroteachers and a neurodivergent teacher, trainer, and coach. As well as having 22 years’ experience of working in education, she also speaks as a dyslexic and bipolar woman, who had her own unique journey through the education system.

I hid my Neurodiversity in my professional life for many years, and here is why.

Student days

When I first started teaching, back in the 90’s, I had never met another neurodivergent teacher. I declared my dyslexia on my PGCE. The course tutor had no idea what to do with the information and told me, if I wanted to learn about Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND), I needed to take extra courses. Our only training on SEND was half a day of project work where we produced materials to support different ‘needs’, then shared them amongst ourselves.

As I thought this was inadequate, I offered to give a half hour talk about my dyslexia.

Attendance was voluntary.

Only half the cohort turned up.

Afterwards, another student commented that “Dyslexia is a class issue. If you are working class, you are thick’ and then he pointed at me “But if you are middle class you’re ‘dyslexic’”. He made air quotes and rolled his eyes. Not the reception I’d been hoping for. After that, I stayed quiet about my dyslexia.

My first Manic Episode

I had a serious  car crash at the start of my third teaching practice. My car flipped and rolled onto its side. My passenger, and I had to escape through the sunroof. Luckily, I was driving a second-hand Volvo. Both of us escaped without a scratch.

No harm done. Or so I thought.

I stood on the pavement, watching emergency services deal with the debris and seeing to the driver, whose car hit me, (and  escaped with only cuts and bruises). I had an overwhelming feeling that I must be special to survive such a terrible accident.

I remember telling the paramedic that I was fine and 

“Didn’t even skag my tights!’, and then giggling hysterically.

I started to stay up late, writing down my brilliant ideas.  I wasn’t sleeping and was hallucinating. Although I was still going into my placement school, my lessons went on tangents, and I swung between excitement and irritation.  I was sent home until I’d seen a doctor, but they put me on the wrong medication.  

As a quick caveat, I am not anti-medication. Medicine can save lives, but I was given SSRI’s (selective, serotonin, reuptake inhibitors) without a full assessment. My doctor didn’t know that I was bipolar. I had no diagnosis. SSRIs can trigger manic episodes in some people, and that is what happened to me.

Surviving the accident ‘proved’ to my manic brain, I was impervious to metal. I stopped looking when I crossed the road and started taking other risks.  One day, I nearly got hit by a car. Fortunately, my erratic behaviour was witnessed by a medical receptionist on her way back to work. She persuaded me to speak to a doctor, who assessed my need as acute and found me a bed in a secure ward.

I was in hospital for 2 weeks, then a day patient for a further 6.

I had to re-sit my final teaching practice.


I started masking whilst re-sitting teaching practice (TP) at a lovely inner city secondary school in the North of England. I did much better because I was no longer manic. I also moved to a tiny house on the edge of the moors, and lived alone, far from distractions. This had two advantages; I couldn’t afford to go out, and I had no one to go out with, so I worked and slept.

Occasionally my ND  got exposed; I’d make spelling mistakes, or misunderstood what my mentor wanted because of my auditory processing difference.  Generally, no one noticed. I kept my bipolar at bay by going to bed early, then getting into school at the same time as the caretaker, so I could have some headspace. Then my tutor came in to observe me.

“You seem so different to the last time I observed you – what happened?”

I had lied to him. I told him the reason I went to hospital was due to physical injury caused by the crash and that I missed some of my  TP because I was ‘a bit anxious’.

I didn’t tell him about the suicidal ideation or being impervious to metal. I felt like if I said this, he would say I shouldn’t work with children.  I love my work, so I stayed quiet

I passed the course.

I’m not proud of lying, but I did what so many ND people do to get through life. We mask. Because we will have to, until the world changes to accommodate us.

The Anti-Racist Journey of a Secondary School in Manchester

Laura Morris portrait

Written by Laura Morris

Laura Morris (@MissMorrisManc) is head of RS and Citizenship at a secondary school in Gorton, Manchester, with additional whole school responsibilities for SMSC and anti-discrimination. She has been teaching for 15 years. Her website is

Before the Black Lives Matter mobilisation of 2020, and all that followed, staff at the school I work at in Gorton, Manchester, would largely have felt positively about the work we were doing to celebrate our students, myself included. We went all out for Black History Month every year with relevant lessons across departments and external visitors invited in (as showcased in this video from October 2019), we had very few complaints of racist incidents from the students, and some work had been undertaken to decolonise the curriculum, particularly in subjects like RS, Citizenship, History and Geography. We could pat ourselves on the back for a job well done!

With all the work we’ve done since, and the huge changes that have been made, I now feel embarrassed to reflect back to pre-2020 when I thought we were already doing enough for our students. We weren’t.

Before we broke up for summer this year, I wrote a report detailing what we’ve done so far with the hope it could give ideas to other teachers and save them some time if they are starting from scratch. It’s been a process of trial and error and, while we’re still far from perfect and keen to collaborate with other schools to help us further improve, I am confident that we are now having a much more positive impact on our students in making them feel seen, appreciated, safe and loved. 

In this blog I will summarise the most important parts from the report for people who are keen to improve the anti-racist practice in their school.

Named members of staff

Towards the end of the 2020-21 academic year, my colleague Ben Wilson was given a TLR to focus on anti-discrimination work in the academy and I was made associate assistant head with the same priority, which I realise puts us in a very fortunate position. Our head teacher included this anti-racist work as an objective in the school improvement plan and believed it was necessary to appoint people in posts to achieve our goals. I can’t stress enough how important it is for all schools to be willing to give time and money to staff doing this work and can only hope the example from our school will help other teachers feel confident to take similar proposals to their head teachers. 

Staff groups

If I had to single out the most impactful elements of our process, it would be the staff and student groups. So many changes have been made but it’s hard to think of anything we’ve done that didn’t first come from conversations held in these spaces. 

I realise how lucky I am to work alongside enough people who recognise the institutional racism present in education and were prepared to give up their time to do something about it, and that’s how the anti-racist working group (ARWG) was formed in September 2020.

We created sub-groups, each taking responsibility for a different area that we decided needed to improve, like the behaviour system and reporting incidents of discrimination, student voice, the curriculum, and staff CPD.

If you don’t feel as though you’ve got enough members of staff with the interest or time capacity to take on this work, there is no need to panic, as it is the students who have guided so much of what we’ve achieved. They are the experts and are invaluable to bringing about change.

Student voice

Student meetings started in early May 2020 during lockdown on Zoom with organisations like Kids of Colour (who still lead student meetings half-termly) and The Black Curriculum, and continued informally during lunch times when we returned to school the following academic year. It became clear how important it was for our young people to be given time to talk about their experiences of racism both in and outside of school.

At the start of the 2021-22 academic year we interviewed Year 11 students for anti-discrimination ambassador roles. They decide the agenda for the separate fortnightly KS3 and KS4 meetings, which are held during the 30-minute form time slot, lead the discussion, and, while I am in the room (to take back any pressing concerns to the ARWG), the ambassadors take responsibility for the meetings. Students discuss their personal experiences outside of school, what they believe needs to change in school, and anything that is going on in wider society that they would like to talk about. Any students who don’t feel comfortable reporting incidents of discrimination to teachers can go to the ambassadors who then feed back the details to Ben or me. 

One of last year’s anti-discrimination student ambassadors said: “I feel like having this space for students is really important because we come together as a community to discuss issues that really matter to us and we think of ways to resolve it and deal with it.”

We have an annual anonymous anti-racist student survey, to help us identify issues that may be affecting students who don’t attend the meetings, and the student groups have delivered assemblies in response to the feedback to educate all students on discriminatory behaviour they might knowingly or unknowingly be perpetuating.

Towards the end of the 2020-21 academic year, Year 11 students wrote down examples of times that staff had said or done racially or culturally insensitive or offensive things. I recorded them reading out the statement of another student, to ensure anonymity, and played the video to staff during a CPD session. 

Hearing the accounts woke up so many members of staff to the experience of the students, which has meant that all the work that has followed, that has resulted in an extra time commitment for pretty much everyone working in the academy, has been easier to achieve. There’s little room to question or complain about the need for change when you have student testimony to support the cause.

Discriminatory incidents

Discussion in the student groups highlighted the need for us to better deal with incidents of discrimination between students. Racism was very rarely reported but feedback from the student groups revealed this was down to the students feeling as though nothing would happen as a consequence, either because they had reported something in the past and hadn’t heard how or if it had been dealt with, or their belief that it wasn’t a priority for staff.

Ben created a reporting system (that you can read about in more detail in the report), which was trialled at the end of the 2020-21 academic year and put in place the following year, which has currently significantly increased the workload of staff who deal with behaviour incidents. But it has also meant we are in a much stronger position to educate and sanction students involved in discriminatory behaviour, as well as validate the feelings of, and bring resolution to, the victims. Different forms of microaggressions are the most commonly reported incident and students have responded incredibly well to the educational sessions they attend with Ben or me as a consequence. Victims are given the opportunity for a restorative conversation, once pre-restorative work has taken place with both students, and they almost always choose to take up this offer in the process. 

The number of repeat offenders is minimal, if not close to non-existent. But the number of reported incidents has increased. Students now have the confidence in the school to respond appropriately to accusations of discrimination.

As one of last year’s ambassadors put it: “when I look back at when I was in Year 9, if someone said something racist to me I would just go home and cry. But now I would feel empowered enough to report it and I hope younger students feel that way too.”

Curriculum changes

All subject leaders completed The Key’s anti-racism curriculum review document, which identified areas for improvement for departments already on the journey of decolonising their curriculum and served as a fantastic starting point for teachers who didn’t know where to begin.

After being given department time to plan and create new resources, we’ve had a carousel format for whole school CPD sessions to share these across departments. Most departments now have a member of staff with an objective in their appraisal relating to diversifying their curriculum. During the carousel CPD we have a ‘speed dating’ format where staff spend a few minutes listening to the changes each department has made, and having discussions on the impact and any possible cross-curricular links, before moving on to the next department.

We recognised the need to better signpost these changes to students. Bennie Kara delivered a bespoke CPD session for our staff last December where she suggested posters to be placed around school. Now every classroom has a subject specific poster highlighting content relating to race (as well as sexuality, gender and religion) in our curriculums. Before breaking up for summer, subject specific PowerPoints were shown to all students too so they knew what to expect in the year ahead. Examples of what we teach can be found on our school website.

For more details on the processes above as well as other initiatives we’ve implemented, check out the report in full. Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter too!

Building a Multi-Faith Space

Hollie Panther portrait

Written by Hollie Panther

DEI Lead, Mental Health First Aider, secondary Science & Psychology teacher and Teach First Ambassador.

Experiences of, and learnings from, establishing a space for prayer and celebration of religious diversity in a secondary school.

The last school I worked in had a majority non-religious student population, but a diverse spread of religions among those who did follow a faith; many religions had just one follower within the student body. A parent of one such student had mentioned that they were uncomfortable being open about their faith due to the amount of discrimination they’d received in the past. As D&I Lead, a large part of my strategy to improve religious inclusion in the school was to open a Multi-Faith Space. When I started, there was no designated place to pray; my previous school did have a prayer room, but it was hidden away and only students or staff who asked about it were encouraged to use it. I wanted to create a space that people from all religions could use, so that it would encourage some sense of community, which I thought those who were the solo followers of their faith within the school might’ve been lacking. I also wanted it to be a place of celebration and curiosity, so that any student could learn about diverse faiths if they wanted to. The space was initially opened as a work-in-progress during Ramadan, to give Muslim students a place to pray and be away from food if they needed it. During this time I also designated a toilet block for Wudu, the practice of washing before prayer, and delivered whole school talks educating students about Ramadan and how to support students who were fasting. Feedback from this was unsolicited and overwhelmingly positive — parents of Muslim pupils wrote in to the school to congratulate and give thanks for the ‘exemplary inclusion effort for Ramadan’; my wish is for this approach to Ramadan to become the norm in all schools, so all pupils can celebrate the diversity of religious practices alongside one another.

Working alongside the Multi-Faith Space was the Religion & Spirituality Society, which I established as a student-led club who met at lunchtime to explore and learn about various religions. The leaders of the society planned activities and presentations for the group, and brought in occasional themed snacks too — I’m hoping the society will meet in the Multi-Faith Space going forwards, to ensure they are surrounded by diverse religions, with the opportunity to learn about them being easily accessible.

The Multi-Faith Space is two small rooms off of the Library, where I have put up shelves on each wall and designated each of the six walls to a major world religion (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, Hinduism, Buddhism). I reached out to religious leaders in the community to see if they would be happy to donate a copy of their religion’s text or any artefacts that could go on the shelves. This took the form of finding email addresses of local Mosques, Churches, Gurdwaras etc, or filling in contact forms on their website, and Googling ‘free copy Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist etc text’, and making sure in my message I invited them to send my request on to anyone else they thought might be able to help out. As a result of this I had an incredible array of items gifted to the Multi-Faith Space by several local religious groups, and had an insightful and useful meeting with the representative of Judaism from the West Sussex SACRE (every county council have representatives of world religions, who are keen to come into schools to deliver lessons / assemblies etc on their religion, I’m hoping the next D&I Lead and teachers of RE will be able to make use of this otherwise untapped source after my introductions — none of the RE teachers in the school had heard of them). Several sources of items and books posted them to me or dropped them in to the school, but I also visited several organisations to collect their donations, which I really enjoyed, as it took me to places I wouldn’t have ordinarily visited within my local community.

I organised a Grand Opening for the Multi-Faith Space to which I invited all the local contributors, as well as staff and religious students. The student leader of Religion & Spirituality Society was invited to cut the ribbon; it was a great opportunity for me to connect up school staff and the pupils who will be running the Religion & Spirituality Society next year with community religious leaders (over donuts and cookies), so that they are able to lean on them for support with the society and also with RE teaching as the school grows. One community attendee at the Grand Opening came from the Baháʼís, a religion I admittedly hadn’t heard of when they initially made contact, but which I learnt much about through talking to this local follower at the event. They also donated several items and books to the Multi-Faith Space, and though they didn’t have a designated wall and shelves, I set up a table in the space to display their information, and was really glad to be representing a greater diversity of faiths than I had originally planned for.

I had a student volunteering with me for their Duke of Edinburgh’s Bronze award, who helped me plan the space and also worked in the Design Technology (DT) room on a signpost to go outside of the Multi-Faith Space, which featured laser-cut arrows, each one with a different place of worship on it — ‘Hindu Mandir’, ‘Sikh Gurdwara’ etc. Unfortunately, because the student could only work on this under supervision by the DT teacher, due to technology issues and absence, the sign was not finished in time for the Grand Opening — I look forward to seeing photos of it in pride of place when it’s completed in the Autumn term.

My advice to anyone thinking about building such a space would be to absolutely go for it — the only spend was on the shelves and snacks for the Grand Opening, as well a couple of items to represent religions who didn’t get back to me to contribute anything. The rest was furniture that was already in the school, and the items and books gifted by the religious community were invaluable — so it’s doable on a tiny budget, I would just encourage anyone wanting to build one to start early, and get your message with the call for help / donations really clear and send it to as many people as possible, ideally alongside an invite to a Grand Opening — and then chase them up if they haven’t replied; I got the impression that everyone wanted to help, but that sometimes there are multiple people within a place of worship who read the emails, so they may not get picked up the first time around.

On the whole, I really enjoyed building the Multi-Faith Space and I’m really proud of what I achieved with this — the Grand Opening was on my penultimate day working at the school, so it really feels like a legacy I’m leaving behind; a tangible asset to the school community that will continue my work without me.

Education DEI Calendar 2022-23

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 know that it is really hard to keep on top of all of the awareness and celebration days, weeks and months to include in the school calendar!

We also appreciate that it is equally difficult to know when to schedule/ host a DEI event without causing an unintentional  clash or how to find out what DEI events are happening.

So we are proposing a work-in-progress solution which will evolve and grow as others contribute to it to co-create a comprehensive resource to make all of our lives a little bit easier…

The Education DEI Calendar 2022-23 is a draft – it is not perfect, it is not complete and it is in no way trying to exclude any key dates! Please bear that in mind as you review it and share solutions instead of problems if there are things you would like to suggest we add/ change as it evolves.  

At the moment it captures lots, but not yet all, of the key dates from the following free resources which we signpost to people in our network:

We have collapsed lots of these dates into a spreadsheet to make it more educator-friendly –  so that you can filter by month, week, day and date to see what is going on. (You could also copy and paste it alongside your school calendar or your school’s assemblies schedule to cross-reference where themes are being explored). 

We have not yet added all of the religious and cultural days as this will probably need another column as there are so many dates to be aware of. This will be the next layer of detail so keep checking back as it evolves over the summer break ready for the new academic year and start of term. 

Note that when there is more than one theme on any given day/ week/ month we have sorted them by A-Z so that there is no perceived hierarchy. Also that when an awareness week is split across two weeks we have shifted it to the week it falls in the most. 

Remember that you always have creative license to make these dates work for you, your school and your community – for example, some themes might need an awareness assembly before it falls on the calendar, others may require a celebration event following a key date. Consider how to streamline how many of the dates you want to mark so that it does not create overwhelm for staff nor students.    

We have highlighted the weekends for all of the grassroot networks who host DEI events – the idea is that organisations in our network will be able to edit/ add dates of events with contact details and links to register/ book a ticket. 

Do help us grow and improve the Education DEI Calendar 2022-23 by making suggestions and giving us feedback here. We hope you find draft 1 helpful to get you started! 

#Miscourage: The Worst Week of My Life

Amy Keenan portrait

Written by Amy Keenan

Having been an English teacher since 2006 across a range of different settings, I have seen a lot, done a lot and struggled a lot. Whilst holding departmental and whole school TLRs, I have learnt a lot about teaching, realised I've still got a lot more I could learn and realised the importance of looking after ourselves and our teams.

Firstly I want to make it clear that I’m not writing this for sympathy but because I’m still in need of talking / thinking this through and the reality is that this is quite a lonely issue when it really shouldn’t be. So, I’m gladly joining Tommy’s #MisCOURAGE campaign.

In August I got the best news ever: a little + in the window of a Clear Blue pee stick. It was something I’d been waiting to see for 10 months and worried that I may never see when it looked like there may be a problem with my ovulation.

However on 11th September a scan saw my pregnancy was only 4 weeks along when it should have been around 10.

Words cannot explain the emotions that follow such an emotionless phrase: “it’s a non-viable pregnancy”

Holding back my tears caused me physical pain. Once at home I had to go through the trauma of calling another hospital, one with an early pregnancy unit, to discuss my options.

My surgical miscarriage was scheduled for the 16th September (sadly the day before my birthday) and the nurses were so kind. However with only a handful of people who knew I felt so alone.

And to be honest, I still do.

Miscarriage, whether natural or medically induced, seems like our version of Voldemort. Everyone’s scared to say its name out loud. Maybe we’re scared of breaking down? Or making people uncomfortable? Or inviting it into our or our friends’ lives? Who knows, but it leaves those who go through it in pain and without many people to talk to.

I’m lucky to have my husband, who was exactly what I needed when I was in hospital. But I’m scared to talk to him now. I know it’s irrational, but I do feel guilty. Not because I did anything wrong but because it was my body that didn’t do what it was supposed to. And, worse still, I’m terrified that it may happen again or that the problems they were looking into before the pregnancy (and never found an answer to) will turn out to be something real, something serious, something that means it’s unlikely that I’ll have a healthy pregnancy.

I don’t wish to sound melodramatic, and maybe that’s another reason I’m finding it easier to talk to anonymous internet people. The problem is, as well, that I ‘stiff upper lipped’ it when I went back to work so now feel that I can’t break down and let out what’s inside when one of the few who knows asks if I’m OK.

In these past months I’ve found that the pain remains and sneaks up on me. I’ve shed a few tears while I’ve been driving to or from work and I’ve found myself withdrawing from life recently. This past fortnight  I’ve forced myself to go out and although I enjoy myself once I’m with my friends the desire to curl up under my duvet and sleep is very strong. This has also had an impact on my job; once I returned from my week off I had a lot to catch up on, but I didn’t feel the same enthusiasm and passion as I normally did. I struggled to stay focussed during my frees and have found it hard to motivate myself to work once I arrived home. All this has kept me with my head barely above water these past few months. Luckily, once I started drafting this blog post last week I started to feel a bit better and I felt some of my passion return and with it my motivation; I still have an enormous pile of marking to catch up with, but I’m not hiding from it any more. I don’t want to hide from it any more.

And I don’t want to hide from what happened. I want to confront it head on:

I had a miscarriage and I still feel pangs of guilt & sadness about what my body took away from me and my husband.

I am worried that it will happen again.

But I will not live in fear of it happening again.

I will have a family, I just don’t know when yet and that’s OK.

Parents overwhelmingly support LGBT+ inclusive education and students want it, so how do we get started?

Rob Ward portrait

Written by Rob Ward

Education Programmes Manager at Just Like Us

LGBT+ inclusive education has a history of being intensely scrutinised.  Social media continues to bubble away, highlighting the dynamic landscape of support for, and respect of, LGBT+ people, meanwhile educators grapple with exactly what is classed as “timely” and “age-appropriate” for LGBT+ inclusive education within RSE.  

Without skipping a beat, Ofsted is fulfilling its commitment to reviewing schools for their adherence to RSE guidance – guidance which became compulsory for schools in the midst of a period of upheaval in education and wider society not seen in living memory. Educators currently find themselves juggling advice from exam boards, a student body still reeling from isolation and disruption over the last two years, and ever-growing working hours to try to bridge the gap between the two. The backdrop that LGBT+ education finds itself in today could not be more crowded, with competing stakeholders from across society offering opinions on what should be happening in our schools.  

Independent research published by Just Like Us on the most varied stakeholder of them all – children’s parents – has found that the overwhelming majority is supportive towards LGBT+ inclusive education. 82% of UK parents believe that it is ‘important’ for their children to learn about LGBT+ families, such as some pupils having gay parents. However, parents also reported a lack of resources to help with this – only 34% said they felt their school was adequately resourced to help educate their children and 33% have never spoken to their child about what LGBT+ means.

In the context of increased commentary and scrutiny on LGBT+ in education, these findings highlight the importance parents place on fully inclusive education for their own children. It’s a clear signal that parents are looking for teachers to take the lead and support them in providing high quality, fully LGBT+ inclusive education for their children, as they do across other areas of the curriculum. Students report the same; previous research has highlighted how the majority of young people are looking for LGBT+ inclusive RSE education, alongside subject curriculums that embed LGBT+ inclusion throughout (79% and 67% respectively). More than half of LGBT+ pupils are looking for support from their teachers to set up inclusive initiatives like Pride Groups for LGBT+ and ally pupils to help a wider network of their peers.

When taken together, these findings should represent a green light to educators to push for inclusive education. Parents are expecting it, students are asking for it, and all the while Ofsted is continuing to check for it. So how can teachers go about it?  

Engaging in visibility days, LGBT+ History Month and School Diversity Week throughout the year can be powerful, visual ways that a school can demonstrate its commitment to building safe, inclusive environments for all its students. Sue Sanders’ work on usualising vs actualising LGBT+ topics within subject curricula also offers a strong framework to review and edit schemes of work to embed a variety of stories and viewpoints within existing topics across the school.   

Beyond engaging in visibility days and reviewing who and what gets taught about, setting up LGBT+ and ally groups is the best way to make long-term change. We help schools to set up and run these on Just Like Us’ Pride Groups programme, by providing staff and Student Leader training as well as ready-to-go resources for just £99 a year. Pride Groups also help to incorporate inclusion and celebration of LGBT+ lives within a school’s ethos, and provide a platform for student voice to help guide further development of inclusivity within schools long term.

While the backdrop for LGBT+ inclusion may be loud, dissonant and confusing right now, educators are used to cutting through this. Parents want their children to be educated about LGBT+ lives, while students continue to show a desire to learn about them. More than ever, teachers should feel empowered to explore how they can incorporate LGBT+ stories within their teaching and dispel misinformation, putting their fine-tuned teaching practice and pedagogy to use to meet their students where they are, helping them along their journey to exploring and celebrating the LGBT+ lives and history around them.

Making the Judgement Call

Ellie Garraway portrait

Written by Ellie Garraway

Chief Executive of Grit Breakthrough Programmes, a youth charity that delivers personal development and coaching programmes in schools, colleges and universities across the UK.

Recently I’ve been reading through the bank of case studies we’ve collected here at Grit.  In these extraordinarily trying times, they really are a thread of hope and I’ve just loved reading through them. As I’ve absorbed them I’ve noticed a theme emerging: the critical role a place of non-judgement can play.

Time and again this has shown up. Young people talk about the impact made by a coach who doesn’t judge but simply listens and challenges, who is not a parent or a teacher, comes with no agenda or ulterior motive of their own. 

“There was one young man who was always getting in trouble at school, getting kicked out of lessons and fighting with other students. But what made him really angry was that he felt he was being labelled ‘bad.’ What made the difference, what cut through with him was someone, other than a teacher or his Mum, who ’said it straight.’” 

Judgement, judgement everywhere

We all remember the paralysing fear of being judged: being afraid of what the bullies might say, about looking stupid if we put a hand up in class and got it wrong. But when judgement is solely based on how you look, how you sound or where you come from, it can have you denying your own identity. A black student recently told us how “I’d always be finding ways to make my opinions more palatable. For instance, in a seminar about Malcolm X, I softened my support for him for fear of being labelled ‘radical,’ a term which does not fit who I am.”

This has all had me reflecting on the preciousness of the times and spaces that are free from judgement. And is it really that rare?

So I started looking for the spaces where judgement didn’t dominate. I was hard pushed to find any. If you’re curious about this, just notice for 24 hours how many conversations you have each day in which you are talking about how things should or shouldn’t be, what agree or disagree with: judgement is everywhere. It’s in the ether, it’s the air. Social media largely exists to produce and consume it.  To be human means, it seems, is to be entirely inhabited by judgement. 

I guess this shouldn’t be a surprise. The way our society operates is predicated on judgement. We are brought up within an education system designed to measure us, grade and sort us, judge us by some external criteria that tell us what we’re good at, and what we aren’t. These norms tell us who we are and where our place should be while our institutions are structured to divide and protect around race, gender, class… From then on it is natural that we look for experiences and opinions that confirm our biases, affirm the judgments we have inherited.

Judgement in the way

Of course, judgement IS important. There are those of us who have careers that depend on making the right judgement call: doctors save lives, pilots land planes, sports managers pick the teams. Judgement is essential. Without it we can’t we decide how and when to act.

But are there times and spaces where judgement really gets in the way. When young people we know are finding their way we can be very keen to agree or disagree with their judgment, keen to deliver our judgement, or even keen to try really hard not to give a judgement. 

The more I listened out for it, the more I realised that – just as these Grit participants had reported – judgement-free space is a rare and precious thing. So, if that is the case, then, how do we create a space of non-judgement? And what does it really mean to be non-judgmental?

What it takes

The first step is to recognise when we are being judgmental.  Judgement is a reflex, an impulse so automatic that often we don’t even notice we are making it. It dominates: we have a ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ about everything. Our responses, our actions are determined by our judgements unless we actively and deliberately seek out another way of responding. 

Those of us familiar with coaching (either formally or informally) are used to supporting another person to achieve their goals. As a coach our role is about questioning, inquiring, testing – all in the service of the ‘coachee’ reaching their goals. It is not about our judgement, our opinion. It is not about what we think of the other person. It is all about creating the conditions, providing the space for the coachee to work through what needs to happen for them to achieve their goals.

And here’s the rub. We still agree, disagree, compare, want to fix, can’t wait to speak, are frustrated: we still judge. But, each time we notice it, our job is to put it aside and come back to our commitment to the goals of the person we are coaching. 

This does not come naturally. It takes effort, practice and commitment. But we know it can be transformational. 

Judgement serving

Of course, even in the coaching scenario we have to make judgements: we judge the boundaries of the relationship, the most useful questions to ask, the right time to wind up a session, when to move from ideas to action.  But the difference is that we are using our judgement to serve the goals of the person we are coaching. And that is distinctly different from our judgement ‘using’ us.

This is liberating for the young person being coached: “It was such a huge release to be speaking thoughts and ideas that I’d been suppressing since school – sharing my story with no filter; genuinely empowered to be completely honest with myself and with everyone else in the room.” 

And it is liberating for the coach: “To achieve what I want to achieve with students means that I have to let go. The choice about whether to behave in school is theirs and theirs alone.

So, we can never be entirely without judgement (aside from in certain meditative states) but what we can do is build muscle memory that enables us to create spaces where judgement doesn’t determine our responses and our actions. We are calling on our judgement rather than BEING it. 

We live in divisive times: everywhere young people look they see and hear stark and polarising judgements about gender and race, about who they should be and how they should behave. So how do we look after our own (and their) sense of humanity, of hope, of progress? How do we free them to truly explore who they really are?

Perhaps it’s in the small things. Actively creating judgement free spaces for those young people in and around our lives might just be the best gift you have to give. And, if you’re anything like me, you’ll discover that when you offer this, you don’t only liberate them, you give yourself a much needed break from those judgement-dominated conversations that swirl around us everyday. 

Why We Need Anti-Sexist Language Resources in the Curriculum

Sophie Frankpitt portrait

Written by Sophie Frankpitt

Applied Linguistics undergraduate at the University of Warwick

A culture of sexual- and gender-based violence is being enacted through our words. But we still aren’t listening – and we still aren’t talking about language.

In June 2021, the government published a review of sexual abuse in schools and colleges. It showed us that sexual- and gender-based violence is rife, and that girls are disproportionately affected. The figures were stark, but for many of us that did not come as a surprise. What came as a surprise for me is that – as far as I’m aware – no-one pointed out that most of the sexual harassment was perpetrated through language. 

I’m a Linguistics undergraduate, which means that studying language is what I do. Ever since the review was published, I’ve spent days rereading it, trying to work out how to articulately say that this survey shows us how important language is. It is through working with Our Streets Now for the last few months that I have been able to work out how to say what I think needs to be said. 

The review stated that 92% of girls thought sexist-name calling happens a lot at school, and 80% thought that unwanted sexual comments are a regular occurrence. Other recent studies have also shown us that sexual- and gender-based violence are often perpetrated through language. For example, in 2018, Plan International reported that 38% of girls experience verbal harassment at least once a month. This is likely to be higher amongst women of colour and those in the LGBT+ community. In the National Education Union’s (2019) study, over a quarter of teachers hear sexist language daily at school. On Our Streets Now media, the campaign against Public Sexual Harassment, you can see various testimonies that explain the effects of verbal (and other) harassment. 

You might say that sexist language is the least of our problems, and that we should be dealing with things like physical harassment. But sexist language establishes a conducive environment for sexist behaviour. It enacts and builds a culture in which sexual- and gender-based violence is standard. This means that, by using and hearing sexist language, a culture of sexual- and gender-based violence is normalised. There are many, many studies that have shown the detrimental effects of sexist language on wellbeing. And this is why language is important. 

Part of the reason language is powerful is because it shapes our worlds often without us even realising. Within our words lie our values, our beliefs, and our identities. Because of this, language has a massive role to play in the fight for gender equality. 

The first step is recognising how important language is – and thinking and talking about it much more than we currently do.

Secondly, we can incorporate teaching about anti-sexist language use into the curriculum. Our Streets Now currently has – and is working on – resources for schools that examine the role language has to play in combatting Public Sexual Harassment. The resources educate about Public Sexual Harassment, ranging from topics like being an active bystander to recognising victim-blaming narratives. 

And finally, we can make Feminist Linguistics more mainstream. Language affects all of us, so it’s damaging to keep it confined within academia. Every day and for everything, we use language – so we should all understand the power that words hold. There are a few resources that can help us to learn a bit more about language. I’d recommend starting with the blog language: a feminist guide, taking a look at Our Streets Now’s website, and learning about feminists (such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Amanda Gorman, Laura Bates –Every Day Sexism and many more) who use language to empower, uplift, and educate.