Afro Hair: The Petting Microaggression

Adeola Ogundele portrait

Written by Adeola Ogundele

Adeola Ogundele is Head of Year 9, Head of Media Studies and a Teacher of English who has completed her NPQSL. She is a passionate advocate for Equality and Diversity. She tweets as @ao1982_

As black women, we have a very close relationship with our hair. Our hair is more than just keratin, it’s a badge of pride and honour because of the history behind it. Let’s celebrate World Afro Day on 15th September with the global The Big Hair Assembly.

In the late 1700s to the 1800s, there was a law – the Tignon Laws. This law demanded that women of colour cover their hair with fabric cloth. This law was introduced to curtail the growing influence of the free black population and keep the social order of the time. It was believed that black women were exhibiting unacceptable behaviours, which included the hairstyles they wore. These hairstyles drew the attention of white men. Black women were, apparently, wearing their hair in such lovely ways; adding jewels and feathers to their high hairdos and walking around with such beauty and pride, that it was obscuring their status. This disrupted the social stability of white women. Therefore, the law was introduced to minimise a black woman’s beauty. In many societies, white women would cut off a black woman’s hair, as they felt that her hair ‘confused white men’.

Without the fancy hairstyles of black women, white women believed that black hair, in its natural state, was ugly. White was the epitome of beauty, the straight hair and the fair skin. So, the further a person was from fitting with that ideal, the more unattractive they were deemed to be.

Slavery was abolished in the 19th century. As black women were free, they felt pressure to fit in with the European ideals and therefore adapted their hairstyles.

‘Black people felt compelled to smoothen their hair and texture to fit in easier, and to move in society better and in camouflage almost,’ says exhibition producer Aaryn Lynch.

‘I’ve nicknamed the post-emancipation era ‘the great oppression’ because that’s when black people had to go through really intensive methods to smooth their hair. “Men and women would put their hair in a hot chemical mixture that would almost burn their scalp, so they could comb it back and make it look more European and silky.’ Chemically straightening hair was often called relaxing the hair, a problematic term. Or perming the hair, as it was permanently straightened – until the new growth came through and you’d have to apply more chemicals to the new growth.

During the civil rights movement, black people began wearing their Afros and it was seen as a political statement and a form of rebellion. Black people felt a sense of pride and as they protested against racial segregation and oppression, the eye-catching style took off – an assertion of black identity in contrast to previous trends inspired by mainstream white fashions. Unfortunately, that’s all the Afro was, a political statement and a form of rebellion. When in fact, an Afro is the natural state of a black person’s hair. However, because black women have adapted to the European beauty ideals for so long, the Afro and the Afro hairstyles are seen as against the ‘norm’.

It was only when I was in my early 30s that I knew what my natural hair texture was like. There is a range of natural hair types. My hair is probably a 4a with some parts that are 4b and it is also very thin. I have always known that it was thin but I never knew the texture of it. I never knew the texture because my mum relaxed/permed my hair when I was really young. While I was in school, most of the black girls also had relaxed/permed hair. It was believed to be ‘easier to manage’ and it also ‘looked nicer’ – because it was straight. Obviously, these were unconscious ideas that were ingrained within us as a result of white supremacy.

This Morning presenter, Eamonn Holmes, told Dr Zoe Williams that her hair reminded him ‘of an alpaca’. He continued with, ‘You just want to pet it.’ Dr Zoe Williams laughed along and jovially responded with, ‘Don’t touch my hair!’.Black women have been faced with several micro-aggressions regarding their hair and the way to navigate it and to avoid being referred to as angry, is to laugh along. However, Dr Zoe William’s reference to the very well-known phrase ‘don’t touch my hair’ is an indication that she didn’t receive Eamonn Holmes’ comment well.

According to a study conducted earlier this year, it was found that black people experience ‘racial trauma’ because of frequent afro hair discrimination. At least 93% of Black people with Afro hair in the UK have experienced microaggressions related to their hair, and 52% say discrimination against their hair has negatively affected their self-esteem or mental health. So, describing a Black woman’s hair as animal fur and saying that you would like to ‘pet’ it, contributes to this damaging trend of ‘othering’ by treating Afro hair as a fascination. It is also very offensive.

Many people may fail to understand why comments about black hair can be so damaging, considering hair being superficial. But Afro hair is, unfortunately, political. Black people are punished and excluded from certain spaces because of the way their hair grows naturally on their heads.

‘Hair is a sensitive topic for black and mixed-race women as a lot of us still struggle with how to manage it, along with a lack of diversity in products in mainstream stores – so it’s like twisting the knife.’ says Keisha East, natural hair blogger and influencer.

Keshia adds that black women already feel pressure to conform to European beauty standards, particularly in professional spaces. ‘It can be really damaging to our self-esteem,’ she adds. ‘Quite frankly, negative conversations around our hair can be exhausting, as we already face so many other challenges.’

There is a culture of it being okay to be ignorant towards black hair. However, why are so many ignorant towards our hair? It’s because we either straighten it, to fit in with social norms or wear extensions as a form of protection and/or to hide it away because we know that our hair is not seen as acceptable in a professional setting.

We often find that white people have a desire to touch our hair because it’s ‘different’ and they’re curious. However, this is a huge invasion of our privacy and, considering that black women are underrepresented in the media and the representation usually being where we fit the European beauty ideals, touching our hair and the fascination with our hair, is a symptom of unconscious bias informed by white supremacy. In the context of the history of black people’s bodies and looks being objectified, dehumanised and marginalised, the impulse for white people to touch black women’s hair sends the message that our bodies are there as objects to be touched and looked at.

I’ve never looked at a white person’s straight hair and been shocked by it or found it amazing. I’m also used to seeing it, as it’s what the media and society has told me is the ‘norm’ and therefore, beautiful. However, a black person’s hair isn’t seen the same way. The way a black person’s hair grows out of the head is seen as something of an amazement, a form of rebellion or unprofessional.

There has been the rebuttal, ‘My hair is curly and people always want to touch it, and I’m white.’ Right! That’s the point being made. People want to touch your curly hair because it’s seen as an anomaly. It’s not seen as ‘normal’ hair, hence people being fascinated by it. Also a white person’s curly hair is probably a 3b at most. Black people have curly hair (mainly type 4 hair), it’s our normal – but not the norm.

This needs to change.

 

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#DiverseEd’s Top 10 Blogs of 2020-21

Hannah Wilson portrait

Written by Hannah Wilson

Founder of Diverse Educators

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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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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How does Social Work regulation perpetuate White Supremacy?

Wayne Reid portrait

Written by Wayne Reid

Professional Officer & Social Worker

Morality cannot be legislated, but behaviour can be regulated

 

The Black Lives Matter movement casts a revealing spotlight on how White supremacy permeates society and influences the policies in ‘modern institutions.’  An immediate example is Social Work regulation.  In this article, I outline how Social Work regulation perpetuates White supremacy.  My premise is that “morality cannot be legislated, but behaviour can be regulated.” (Martin Luther King).

 

My mantra is “pure, proactive and unapologetic anti-racism,” which underlines my militant spirit when it comes to ‘Anti-racism in Social Work.’  My mentality is influenced by the hostile environment inside and outside of Social Work.  I hope any readers resist the urge to ‘tone police’ my opinions.  My observations reflect my environment – the ‘hostile environment.’  My motivation is for the cause, not applause – and the cause is Black Lives Matter.  

 

My narrative reflects my lived experiences and those of people like me who are routinely judged, based on their skin colour.  I write this article from both personal and professional perspectives.  I use the terms ‘people of colour’ and ‘Black and Ethnic Minority people’ interchangeably for ease.  I do not speak on behalf of all people or Social Workers of colour – as we are not a homogenous group.  My writing here may not represent the views of my employer (BASW).  I’m one of many Black voices in the profession.   The prelude to my current thinking is outlined in my previous articles here: 1, 2, 3 & 4.  

 

In my work, I’m able to act as an Anti-racism Visionary for Social Work across England.  I utilise different strategic approaches including: shock and awe; edutainment; collaboration and allyship.  My knowledge and expertise relates to anti-Black racism.  Since George Floyd’s murder, I’ve reported widely on the lack of protections and support for Social Workers of colour; their over-representation in fitness to practice panels and their disproportionately negative outcomes on Assessed and Supported Year in Employment programmes. The coverage and prominence of anti-racism in Social Work in recent months has been inescapable.  However, the silence from Social Work England (SWE) (and MP’s) is perplexing.                                 

 

Tools that discriminate and oppress

 

The Social Work standards (nor their associated guidance) make no reference to Social Workers or service-users of colour.  In a previous article, I emphasised my disappointment that: “neither [the] education and training standards for 2019 or 2020, nor the professional standards for Social Workers, explicitly refer[s] to anti-discriminatory (ADP), anti-oppressive (AOP) or anti-racist practice (ARP).”  And: “Their omission in Social Work regulation is a travesty of social justice in itself.”  Yet they are considered as ‘accepted wisdom’, ‘normal’ and ‘respectable’ – even though they implicitly convey that “White is best.”

 

I’ve commentated widely on how many Social Workers of colour feel unsupported during fitness to practice investigations.  Indeed, their statistical over-representation implies the current standards overtly dominates and punishes them.  At best, the standards are non-racist (or neutral/colour-blind), but definitely NOT anti-racist.  Due to the omissions of ADP, AOP and ARP, I conclude that central aspects of the education, training and the professional standards in Social Work are inadequate and unfit for purpose.  Perversely, the standards risk being perceived as tools wielded to discriminate and oppress Social Workers of colour (and consequently service-users of colour).

 

Community Care articles (from February 2021 and March 2021), have reported on the “delays in fitness to practise processes having ‘life-changing impacts.’”  Social Workers of colour are over-represented in these cases.  Therefore, it’s probably safe to assume these are the same unfortunate people being disproportionately affected by the delays. Another article (from July 2020), cited the lack of ethnic diversity within the SWE workforce.  Confidence is not instilled when there is no transparency about how this is being addressed/reversed.  I’ve previously queried whether this was being treated as a priority, as this could be mistaken for ‘pigmentocracy vs meritocracy – but I’ve had no response. Also, I’m concerned that SWE does not appear to have 1 designated Equality Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Lead Officer.  I do wonder how incidents of racism (and other forms of discrimination) are being properly resolved.  Interestingly, even the Royal Family plan to recruit a ‘diversity tsar’.  My hope is this will be replicated swiftly in Social Work regulation.  

 

I’m pleased SWE have developed a Professional Experts Panel and appointed members with backgrounds in social justice and workforce development.  However, I was unable to find any information about panel members (including their backgrounds and careers in England, UK and overseas) on their website.  It is important the panel can reflect with insight, the diverse range of backgrounds and experiences of those within the workforce.  Also, transparency about the panel’s membership would be welcome.  My hope is for improved partnership working with BASW and myself on related matters.  I expect many social workers of colour (and their allies) will be disappointed if SWE don’t revisit the above issues, once their panel of experts have reviewed it.            

 

Patiently waiting

 

In collaboration with allies and colleagues (inside and outside of BASW England), I’ve amplified the voices of Social Workers of colour in OUTLANDERS.  I’ve published an anti-racist Social Work framework and outlined readily deployable strategies.  I’ve developed a comprehensive ‘Anti-racism in Social Work’ presentation and delivered it at nearly 100 online events internationally (since May 2020).  I founded the BASW England Black & Ethnic Minority Professionals Symposium (BPS), (which is a multi-talented network of professionals across England).  I was joint winner of ‘Author of the Month’ in December 2020 for Social Work News magazine.  I’ve created a repository of anti-racism resources, which is utilised by thousands of Social Workers, organisations and stakeholders across the UK.  Here is my ‘Anti-racism in Social Work’ portfolio.  

 

Despite my prolific work in this area, I’m disheartened to have not been approached by SWE (or responsible MP’s) to explore my ‘Anti-racism in Social Work’ solutions.  I fear losing any momentum we have.  I remain patiently waiting for any opportunity to progress this work meaningfully.  Admittedly, I’m crestfallen, because I do not want to interpret the lack of responsivity as denial and rejection of my knowledge, expertise and lived (personal and professional) experiences. I don’t wish to appear populist or journalistic in my observations, but I genuinely don’t know whether some of the senior personnel at SWE are unaware of my work or just ignoring it.  I would prefer transparency and to be told that my efforts are not in accordance with their perceived vision – if that is the case.   I recognise there are minefields and pitfalls in embedding anti-racism in Social Work.  However, my door has remained metaphorically wide open for months.  

 

Those who govern the profession’s policies must do more than just be seen to acknowledge the advent of another social justice celebration (ie. Black History Month, Holocaust Memorial Day etc). These occasions are often met with bland blogs and ‘toxic positivity’ (if it all).  There is rarely accountability, substance or, more importantly – action.  My intelligence feels insulted when I read comments like: “…our statement of intent and inclusion shows how [anti-racism] is part of our core business.”  How can that be, when no actual proof is presented or when ‘anti-racism’ is only mentioned (fleetingly) once within the entire document?  This can easily be mistaken for brazen performative allyship.  Just so we are clear, suppressing racism does not mean racism does not exist.  

 

Sadly, none of the ‘Anti-racism in Social Work’ activities that I’ve been involved in have generated endorsement or support from SWE.  I sent an invitation for SWE representatives to view an online presentation I was delivering at the Anglia Ruskin University on 25/03/21.  Unfortunately, I did not receive a reply.  I shared a draft version of this article (with my portfolio and presentation) to offer them the right to reply and/or shape the final versions.  I received the following reply: 

“[We do not wish to make any comment at this point.]  We will continue our dialogue with the sector more broadly, as well as various representative groups within it, on all matters relating to equality, diversity, and inclusion (including anti-racism) as we continue to develop our work and approach. The strategic conversations we are involved with at a national level will also drive conversation and change.  Good luck with the article and your portfolio.” 

I’ll continue working effectively with organisational leaders and relevant stakeholders nationally to integrate anti-racism into Social Work at every level.  I will genuinely engage and collaborate with authentic allies and professionals who want to improve the circumstances of Social Workers and service-users of colour.  Preferably, with people who are honest about where they (and their organisations) are at on their anti-racism journey               

       

Social work remains institutionally racist

 

Sir William Macpherson (RIP) coined the term ‘institutional racism’ when reporting on the racially motivated murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1999.  In 2019, Ibram X Kendi (in his book ‘How to be an Anti-Racist’) suggested substituting the term ‘institutional racism’ with ‘racist policies.’  I understand and appreciate both positions and their contemporary relevance to Social Work.  My previous article on this received widespread agreement (and acclaim) from my peers.  However, sadly, it failed to generate any response from SWE – the very institution responsible for policy changes in Social Work. 

 

I’m pleased the Chief Social Workers for Adults and Children & Families have acknowledged their previous shortcomings and re-emphasised the importance of anti-racism.  Hopefully, this will involve the Workforce Race Equality Standards (WRES) becoming mandatory and universal across the profession (with a sense of urgency) and supplemented by other national initiatives from key Social Work stakeholders and policy makers. Black human rights activists are rarely welcomed by ‘the establishment.’  The obstacles Social Workers of colour face are simply the latest manifestations of what people like me have battled against continuously for centuries.  Opponents of ‘Anti-racism in Social Work’ must be mercilessly spotlighted, shamed and subverted.  

 

Clearly, some readers might take delight in labelling me as an ‘extremist’.  I admit, I’m extremely anti-racist.  If at this juncture, the message requires ‘tub-thumping’ – so be it!  Social justice must prevail. Let’s not forget, “when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression”. I remain convinced the 2 main obstacles to progress are ignorance and ‘wilful blindness’.                         

 

The OUTLANDERS anthology

 

OUTLANDERS: Hidden narratives from Social Workers of colour, is an anthology of essays, stories, poems and other miscellaneous works – which I co-edited and compiled in collaboration with Siobhan Maclean.  I’m proud to have been involved with OUTLANDERS and the richness and uniqueness it exudes.  People have enquired whether I will profit from the book.  Definitely not!  The profits will go to the Social Workers Benevolent Trust (SWBT).  At the time of writing, the book has sold 1000 copies and raised £700 for the SWBT.  As far as I’m concerned, OUTLANDERS is a legacy piece of Social Work history and literature.  Siobhan and I’s ‘labours of love’ for OUTLANDERS is an eternal gift to the Social Work profession.   

 

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Why taking part in School Diversity Week can help LGBT+ young people struggling with mental health

Dominic Arnall portrait

Written by Dominic Arnall

Chief Executive of Just Like Us, the LGBT+ young people's charity.

The pandemic has hit us all hard – whether it’s through job losses, being furloughed, losing loved ones, loneliness or our lives simply turning upside down. However, new independent research by Just Like Us has found that young people who are LGBT+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans) are struggling significantly more.

 

LGBT+ young people are twice as likely to feel lonely and more than twice as likely to be worrying daily about the state of their mental health.

 

On top of this, one in four (25%) are facing daily tensions in the place they’re living and seven in 10 (68%) said their mental health has worsened during the pandemic, compared to just half (49%) of young people who aren’t LGBT+. 

 

Sadly, Just Like Us’ independent research found what we suspected to be true when the pandemic began – LGBT+ young people are facing far more challenges than their peers and this is having a devastating impact on their mental health. And we found that LGBT+ young people who are also Black, disabled and/or eligible for free school meals face even worse mental health.

 

While we’ve all had a tough time not being able to see our loved ones and socialise like we used to, many LGBT+ young people are having to cope with living with families who may not accept or understand them, while also being cut off from their usual support networks or safe spaces where they won’t be judged for who they are.

 

School, while it may have been virtual for much of the pandemic, can be a fantastic source of support for young people. Sadly, for pupils who are LGBT+, school still often isn’t a place they are able to feel safe, welcome or happy being themselves. 

 

Our research shows that half (48%) of 11 to 18 year olds say they have received little to zero positive messaging at school about being LGBT+ in the last 12 months. One in five (18%) young people say they have received no positive messaging from their school about being LGBT+, which suggests that a significant number of schools are not taking action to meet Ofsted requirements of preventing homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying.

 

It’s a real shame to see that Section 28 is still having such an impact on LGBT+ young people’s experiences of school. As adults, we could be forgiven for thinking that things have moved on – after all, we have far more legislation to protect us these days – but education still has a long way to go in being LGBT+ inclusive. 

 

No child should feel scared to be themselves at school. And pupils in primary schools should know that there’s no shame in having LGBT+ parents or families either. Growing up bisexual, if I’d known and could’ve seen that my school accepted me, my journey would’ve looked very different.

 

We know that teachers and school staff are doing an incredible job in an overwhelmingly challenging environment. That’s why we are doing everything we can at Just Like Us to make taking the first step to LGBT+ inclusion in education as easy and accessible as possible. 

 

This summer is School Diversity Week. We’re asking all primary schools, secondary schools and colleges to please sign up to take part. It’s free, you’ll get a toolkit of teaching resources for all key stages, across the curriculum, and celebrating means your pupils will know they can be safe, happy and accepted at your school. 

 

We’ll be running free online masterclasses that you can stream, there’ll be Rainbow Friday where pupils can dress up as a colour from the Pride Progress flag, and we have many new resources for staff to inspire your celebrations. LGBT+ young people are facing disproportionate mental health challenges and need to know who they are is not something to be ashamed of – please sign up for School Diversity Week and celebrate with us and thousands of schools and colleges taking part 21-25 June. 

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Enough is Enough: Tackling Sexism and Sexual Harassment in Schools

Kate Hollinshead portrait

Written by Kate Hollinshead

Head of Operations, EqualiTeach

The last few weeks have seen an outpouring of grief, fear, concern and anger after the details of the murder of Sarah Everard have emerged. Feelings have run high in the political sphere, on social media and in schools, with more and more women contributing their experiences of sexism, sexual harassment and violence to the wider call for action against these pernicious and pervasive acts. 

In the wake of the Sarah Everard case, the National Education Union have once again called on the government to implement a strategy to tackle sexism in schools, expressing their disappointment at the Department for Education’s action when the NEU’s report into these behaviours was first published in 2017. The report, written in collaboration with UK Feminista, found that almost a quarter of female students at mixed-sex schools had been subjected to unwanted physical touching at school and almost a third of teachers witness sexual harassment in school on at least a weekly basis. The website, Everyone’s Invited, was set up by Soma Sara after her post sharing her experiences of sexual abuse on Instagram caused a huge number of responses from others highlighting similar experiences. In the past few weeks, this website has been inundated with thousands of allegations about sexual harassment at British schools and universities. 

At EqualiTeach, we have seen an increase in calls from teachers who are dealing with these conversations in schools, wondering what to say in response and what resources exist to combat sexism and sexual harassment in their classroom. There have been incidents where girls have been upset and angry and boys have been dismissive of the severity of the situation, suggesting that girls are ‘over-reacting’ or that it’s ‘not all men.’ One school has approached us to share that girls have been expressing their upset at the historic behaviour of some of the boys in their class. In another, a year 6 boy has been internally excluded for making comments about rape. Many of the conversations and incidents here are an extension of those happening on social media or in the press, highlighting that young people are consuming news and need help in dissecting the discussions effectively in a safe and open environment. 

The suggestion that the incidents women are sharing online are overreactions or the dismissal that sexism and sexual harassment isn’t as big an issue as women think comes from a place of privilege; of a life lead without constant fear of abuse in public spaces or of a lack of understanding that incidents that appear ‘small’ or ‘low level’ are often so regular that they build up into a picture of continual harassment for a woman from a very young age. Someone might only witness sexism or sexual harassment of a woman a couple of times in their life, but the same woman may have many experiences of such behaviour, just not within the same line of sight. What is often missing in the response about women ‘overreacting’ is an understanding of how seemingly low-level incidents feed into a societal acceptance of sexist behaviours and sexual harassment, which, left unchecked, can escalate into the levels of violence against women and girls we experience in the UK. According to a 2021 survey from UN Women UK, 97% of women aged between 18 and 24 said that they had been sexually harassed and 80% of all women of all ages said they had experienced sexual harassment in public spaces.

Such a normalisation of sexism and sexual harassment can disguise the true prevalence of behaviours. Sometimes, experiences may simply go unnoticed by targets as behaviours can be so normalised or the expectation that someone will take a complaint seriously is so low. A colleague of mine has spoken about being inappropriately touched throughout her school life, but only realised that this wasn’t acceptable when she was in her mid-twenties. Speaking about these issues can often educate those experiencing the behaviour that the behaviour isn’t something they should have to tolerate. Those young people in schools who are now speaking up about historic incidents of sexism or sexual harassment perhaps didn’t realise that this was unacceptable behaviour at the time or didn’t see the point in speaking up about it. Either way, these incidents should be dealt with seriously and robustly now. They should be investigated, and education and punitive measures should be administered accordingly. It is important for the school to adopt a robust and consistent approach to challenging sexism and sexual harassment in the same way it would approach challenging any other prejudice or misbehaviour.

Whole school education on sexism and sexual harassment is vital to prevent incidents occurring again. This should be comprehensive and woven not just into the PSHE and citizenship curriculum for each year group, but opportunities should be taken throughout the curriculum; in English, RE, History and beyond to highlight and interrogate stereotypes, sexism and sexual harassment within the taught content. Stand-alone assemblies will not do. Education should focus on what sexism is, how it manifests and what reporting procedures are in place at the school for pupils. It should focus on understanding boundaries between people, consent and how to hold others’ behaviour to account if someone witnesses something unacceptable. It should focus on stamping out sexist jokes or ‘banter’, abolishing name calling and the different expectations between girls and boys with regards to sexual behaviour, and showcasing how to be an ally to women in the fight against these behaviours. 

Being an ally is about listening to women’s experiences. All too often the response to women speaking up about such behaviours is that ‘not all men are like that.’ I understand that many men will want to distance themselves from sexist behaviours and sexual harassment, that in itself is a good thing to want to do. However, this is a defensive response which can prevent people from listening. It dismisses women’s reality. Women are aware that not all men are like that but articulating that does nothing to help address the men that are like that.  It allows the conversation to be focused only on the ‘few monsters’ out there, those who have committed terrible crimes, without highlighting how smaller acts by lots of men can contribute to women’s unsafety. As Jameela Jamil put it in a recent Twitter thread:

“Do all men work to make sure their fellow men do not harm women? Do they interrupt troubling language and behaviour in others? Do they have conversations about women’s safety/consent with their sons? Are all men interested in our safety? You don’t get to exclude yourself from the wrong side unless you’re actively fighting on the right side.”

But this shouldn’t be a blame game. Men are a product of societal norms and values, just as women are. The focus needs to be on re-educating people away from sexism and sexual harassment and reforming schemes of work in schools to begin discussions from an early age. Not doing so does a disservice to men, women, everyone. Instead, we want to create a society where everyone feels safe, valued and able to succeed. 

The following resources may be useful to beginning these conversations with young people:

EqualiTeach Outside the Box Guide for Educators: Promoting Gender Equality and Tackling Sexism and Sexual Harassment in Schools: https://equaliteach.co.uk/for-schools/classroom-resources/outside-the-box/

EqualiTeach Outside the Box Workshops for KS2-5: https://equaliteach.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/Outside-the-Box.pdf

UK Feminista How to Take a Whole School Approach to Tackling Sexism in Schools https://ukfeminista.org.uk/resources/wsa/

Further Reading

Department for Education (DfE) (2018) Sexual violence and sexual harassment between children in schools and colleges: advice for governing bodies, proprietors, headteachers, principals, senior leadership teams and designated safeguarding leads https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/719902/Sexual_violence_and_sexual_harassment_between_children_in_schools_and_colleges.pdf

End Violence Against Women https://www.endviolenceagainstwomen.org.uk/about/data-on-violence-against-women-and-girls/#:~:text=%20Data%20on%20violence%20against%20women%20and%20girls,and%20internal%20child%20trafficking.%20The%20vast…%20More%20

Gender Matters. Toward’s Women’s Equality in Scotland https://gendermatters.engender.org.uk/content/education-training/

Girl Guiding (2013) Girls’ Attitudes Survey https://www.girlguiding.org.uk/globalassets/docs-and-resources/research-and-campaigns/girls-attitudes-survey-2013.pdf

Murray, J (2021) The Guardian. Government still has no strategy for tackling sexism in schools, say teachers. https://www.theguardian.com/education/2021/mar/20/government-still-has-no-strategy-for-tackling-sexism-in-schools-say-teachers

NEU and UK Feminista (2017) ‘It’s Just Everywhere! Sexism in Schools’ https://neu.org.uk/advice/its-just-everywhere-sexism-schools

UN Women UK and YouGov (2021) Prevalence and reporting of sexual harassment in UK public spaces https://www.unwomenuk.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/APPG-UN-Women-Sexual-Harassment-Report_Updated.pdf

Women and Equalities Committee Report (2016) Sexual Harassment and Violence in Schools: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmwomeq/91/91.pdf

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How do we deal with racism in the classroom?

Hannah Wilson portrait

Written by Hannah Wilson

Founder of Diverse Educators

So, what do you do, as a teacher, when a student uses a racial slur against you in the online classroom?

This week I had a disclosure in a NQT training session I was hosting from a trainee teacher. The trainee was a woman of colour. She was distressed as she shared an incident from her week at school and asked for advice. She shared that in a lesson with her Year 10s last week, whilst using the platform Kahoot, one of her students referred to her using the N word. She broke down as she finished her story and turned her camera off to gather herself. The zoom room went quiet. Everyone looked deeply uncomfortable. I watched everyone take a breath and pause to see who would speak first.

One of the facilitators, a woman of colour,  unmuted herself and said: “I am sorry. I am really sorry that happened to you”. She went on to share her advice on what the NQT could do. Her co-facilitator, a man of colour, added his advice on how he would handle it if it happened to him. Both gave sound advice, but it struck me that it was centred around what the individual, the victim, should do. It is also struck me that both were talking from a position of lived experience.

As a former teacher trainer, I was aggrieved on her behalf that she had experienced this. As a human being, I was outraged that anyone would think that using a word was acceptable. As a teacher, and a former Headteacher, I was disappointed to hear how the school had handled it. As a white person I was embarrassed and felt sick. Having reported it to her mentor, who had rung her that night to check in, she had been told that they (the school) could not identify the student responsible and she had been advised to send an email (herself!) to the class about the incident.

I was horrified at this response from the school. Why are schools asking the victims of racism to deal with it themselves? Moreover, an early career teacher at that? Why were the SLT not dealing with this racial abuse to show the severity of the situation?

I chipped in and advised that she should escalate it to the SLT responsible for behaviour. That if she did not get a satisfactory response, that she should be escalating it to the Headteacher directly and to consider contacting her union. I DMed her my email address and offered to support in her challenging this failure of the school to protect her. The next day I received an email from her professional tutor assuring me that it had been dealt with internally and that the NQT was being supported the next lesson and that the DHT would be calling each student in the class to identify the culprit.

But the incident has been bothering me ever since… How many other people of colour who have entered  our profession are navigating how to deal with prejudice themselves? Who else is being failed by their school and by the system? Who else is feeling isolated, vulnerable and unsupported?

I tweeted out the scenario to see what others thought and how common place this is. You can see the thread with a myriad of responses here.

Below is a summary of the different perspectives on the situation of a teacher being racially abused by a student:

  1. The teacher should be offered support.
  2. The student should be offered support.
  3. The incident needs a full investigation.
  4. The class should all be asked to write a witness statement.
  5. The student should receive a Fixed Term Exclusion.
  6. The student should have a Permanent Exclusion.
  7. The whole class should be sanctioned.
  8. The incident should be recorded as a racist incident in the school’s racist log.
  9. The governing body should be informed.
  10. The incident should be reported to the LA.
  11. The next lesson should be replaced with an Anti-Racism workshop for the class.
  12. The class should be issued with an Anti-Racism contract.
  13. The parent/ carer should be brought in for a meeting.
  14. The student should write the teacher a letter of apology.
  15. The student/ teacher should have a restorative conversation before the next lesson.
  16. The student should be removed from the class.
  17. The community police officer should be involved.
  18. The student should receive an intervention prior to returning to the next lesson.
  19. The student should sign a behaviour contract on re-entry.
  20. The online teaching/ behaviour expectations should be reinforced to the class.
  21. The behaviour policy should be reviewed for how it tackles racism.
  22. The trainee teacher’s mentor should intervene.
  23. The SLT should attend the next lesson to speak to the class and re-establish boundaries.
  24. The year group should have an assembly on prejudice and discrimination.
  25. The next citizenship / PSHE lesson for the year group should deal with racism.

25 possible and probable actions that should take place to ensure that this member of staff feels safe and is supported, moreover, that another member of staff is not subjected to racial abuse in this school.

But other questions were also raised around the context of the incident:

  • Where do we draw the line at explicit and deliberate racism in our school?
  • How are ITTE providers preparing trainee teachers to deal with prejudice?
  • How are schools supporting NQTs with dealing with discrimination?
  • Should schools be using platforms where you cannot identify students?
  • Should all lessons be recorded so that incidents can be reviewed?
  • Should early career teachers be delivering solo lessons?
  • If the N word is in an extract should the teacher say it out loud? Is it ever okay to use the N word if it is in a teaching resource? Does it make a difference if the teacher saying it is a person of colour?
  • How is the curriculum being reviewed to tackle prejudice?
  • How is the culture of the school being reviewed to educate the students about expectations?
  • How has the mentor been trained to support a NQT from a diverse background?
  • How have the SLT been trained to deal with racism?
  • What is the school’s behaviour policy for prejudice?

There were a lot of comments about attacks based on characteristics being on the increase in our schools, and also in our society. In fact, I have seen several posts on LinkedIn and Twitter this weekend from educators sharing that they have been racially abused at work, but also about people of colour being racially abused in the street.

There were several concerns about the anonymity of online platforms meaning that teaching staff are not protected. Moreover, that there is more room for students to push boundaries. We need to remember that diversity, equity and inclusion work is part of our safeguarding responsibility. Every member of our school community needs to feel physically and psychologically safe.

There is clearly a lot of work for us to do across the system, across the curriculum with both children and staff, around addressing discomfort and intolerance. This incident is indicative of a wider, deeper piece of work that needs to be done. We can sanction the incident in the short term, but how do we prevent it from happening again in the long term?

We all need to be angry at this behaviour no matter what our skin colour. We all need to be part of the solution and take collective responsibility for creating change. We all need to challenge the institutions, the policies and the practices that do not protect people. We all need to speak out, stand up and not only state that this is not okay, but also do something about it by holding others to account.

So, the question should have been: what do you do, as a school, when a student uses a racial slur against a teacher in the online classroom?

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Diverse Educators: A Manifesto

Hannah Wilson portrait

Written by Hannah Wilson

Founder of Diverse Educators

In August 2020, at the end of the first UK lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19, Bennie and I sat in the sun in my garden, down the road from the school that we had started together a few years previous and we drafted a proposal for a book. We had met through Twitter and #WomenEd 5 years before that, we were both English teachers and secondary school leaders, we are both feminists who are passionate about diversity, equity and inclusion in the school system. When I secured my headship, Bennie applied to my Deputy Headteacher, and led on our values-based  curriculum with diversity and equality embedded across it. A regular topic of conversation in the time we worked together was about the books we were reading and the books we were going to write, individually and together. We knew it would happen one day! 

 

Many of you will know that Bennie is the reason Diverse Educators was started, she came to my office one day and shared her frustration with me at having to split herself multiple ways to go to different events each weekend to explore her intersectional identity. I checked my privilege as a heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied white woman and reflected on this. We discussed the idea of hosting one event and inviting the communities from #WomenEd, #BAMEEd, #LGBTed and #DisabilityEd to come together, at the same time, under one roof to have a joined up conversation about identity. Our inaugural Diverse Educators event was in January 2018, at which #LGBTed officially launched  and Bennie closed the grassroots event with a powerful message: ‘Don’t Tuck in Your Labels’. 

 

Fast forward three years and Bennie is now a Deputy Headteacher at an all-through school where she is leading on curriculum and I am working independently as a Leadership Development Consultant, Facilitator and Coach specialising in diversity, equity and inclusion. We launched the Diverse Educators website, with the help of our partners, in the middle of a global pandemic in response to the spotlight on racial inequities, and the amplification of Black Lives Matters, triggered by George Floyd’s murder. At our first virtual event in June 2020, we were joined by over thirteen thousand people. 

 

The world has finally woken up to the need for social justice, society can no longer ignore it and the school system can no longer not prioritise the urgent need to embed the diversity, equity and inclusion agenda strategically into our schools. Bennie has recently published her first book: A Little Guide For Teachers: Diversity in Schools and we are now inviting the #DiverseEd community to lean in and contribute to our book: Diverse Educators: A Manifesto.    

 

Our book will be structured, like our website, around the Equalities Act. There will be 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.

 

Each chapter will have a chapter editor who will work with ten contributors offering a multiplicity of perspectives on the protected characteristic being explored in the chapter. Each submission will be 1200-1500 words long. Each contributor will interweave personal and professional narrative, framed in theory, to respond to current and historic debates. The chapter editor will write the introduction to the chapter to give context and to frame the chapter’s narratives, arguments and provocations.  

 

We are committed to capturing the collective voice of our community and to showcasing the diverse lived experiences of educators. We are keen for Diverse Educators: A Manifesto to be both academic and accessible. You can review the style guide here. We intend for the book to be solutions-focused with high-quality input on practice, pedagogy, people management and policy. 

We would love to hear from you if you would like to contribute. You can submit an expression of interest here. Thank you in advance for your time, energy, experience, expertise and support in contributing to our #DiverseEd book, we are looking forward to celebrating the collective commitment and amplifying your voice. 

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“It’s a numbers game, but sh*t don’t add up somehow.”

James Fornara portrait

Written by James Fornara

20 years of experience in teaching and runs Dpat that is engaged in education consultancy, youth work, music, production and DJing.

In the wake of John Swinney, Scotland’s Education Minister announcing that all Scottish A-level and GCSE grades will be marked exclusively from teacher predictions and coursework marks, it is worth examining what “thinking” lies behind this debacle. Sadly once again it is an example of the antagonistic and short-sighted dogma of the DfE. Any objective person would consider the best people to judge the quality of students’ performance to be the teachers that taught them, not some statistical nonsense that artificially manufacturers the data that the department wants. But teachers just can’t be trusted can they? Certainly not to stick to the constructed reality of exam reforms and the data sets created by the Orwellian fantasy of “school improvement” undertaken over the last decade. Of course if we’d stuck with modular examinations and kept significant coursework elements to qualifications we wouldn’t be in this mess would we…

And now the tarantula troubling Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson has announced a “triple lock” – which could boost the replacement grades for exams cancelled in the pandemic. It means pupils getting A-level & GCSE results can accept that estimated grade, or change it for a mark gained in a mock exam. Or they can instead choose to take a written exam in the autumn!? And this guidance comes a day before the results are released, with no consultation with the teaching profession. Furthermore schools minister Nick Gibb has the chutzpah to refuse to apologise for what he describes as “solutions” to a problem he has been instrumental in creating!?

What an absolute disgrace this all is. A perfect example of the misguided and uninformed policy credenda obsessed with a bogus improvement of “standards” and a fundamental mistrust of educators. This systematic denigration of the teaching profession is a dangerous political endeavour that is destroying an education system that used to be seen throughout the world as exemplar.

Links to some of the articles, research etc. that this blog post is based on:

ASCL Coronavirus Briefing 90 11th Aug. 2020

Not entirely sure of the veracity of this study but some interesting reading, did you know the cost of examinations has more than doubled thanks to Gove’s reforms!?Examination Reform: Impact of Linear and Modular Examinations at GCSE

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-53746140

Broad and Balanced

 

There’s some interesting observations in the work of the Accountability Commission group of the NAHT which “sought to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the current accountability system”, but there were three points that caught my eye from the excellent summary provided by Ross Morrison McGill:

 

Where performance is a measure, schools prioritise parts of the curriculum over others (‘teaching to the test’).

 

Where systems focus on “borderline” measures, targeted teaching limit pupils’ experience of the curriculum.

 

I am sad to say that both these observations are entirely accurate based on my experience of over twenty years of working in education in London, and particularly in my area of specialism – performing arts and creative media production. I would point out that this is not because school leaders or teachers want to but the perverse incentives of our current school accountability system force them to do so.

 

I was also struck by the quote below from the text of the report:

National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), September 2018 (page 35)

If Canada, Finland & Singapore do not have school inspection feature in external evaluation (I) and these countries perform better than England in PISA tests; cited as places to visit, we must question OfSTED’s future within the English system.

 

It will be interesting to see how the DfE will respond to the commission’s findings I do hope it will fair better than the good people at The Black Curriculum who were outrageously rebuffed by the tarantula troubling secretary of state for education who declined to meet them to discuss their most excellent work. 

Given the idiocy of the foreign secretary you’d have thought Gavin would want some help in educating his peers let alone the nation’s youth…

Thanks to @TeacherToolkit & @curriculumblack for the tweets this piece is based on.

A vision for the “new normal”

Amidst all of the tragedy of the covid-19 crisis there could be a preverbal silver lining. We have a chance to transform our education system and there is much debate about how we must change and adapt to our new reality. In particular two articles this week caught my eye. The first by Fiona Millar in the Guardian is an excellent examination of the failures of government policy over the last decade. In particular she highlights how the dogmatic promotion of “academic” subjects, academisation (privatisation in plain sight) and the misinformed notion that sees schools only “…as vehicles for the transmission of knowledge…” must change if we are to meet the challenges our education system faces. 

One of my biggest irritations working in education is the erroneous hierarchy of subjects taught in school. I bristle every time someone talks about academic subjects. Firstly, the use of the word academic to describe subjects such as maths, science, English rather than music, PE or drama is a misuse of the word. Academic means being taught in school, therefore any subject taught in school is in fact ACADEMIC! The use of the word academic as a shorthand for subjects that matter is highly revealing of the outdated thinking that has sadly dominated education policy for far too long. It is why we disregard areas of study that the UK is a world leader in. Since the introduction of progress 8 & attainment 8 there has been a reduction in the number of students taking GCSE drama of over 30%. Likewise lack of funding has led to the decimation of music tuition within state schools and despite ever increasing concern about fake news and the need to improve the media literacy of our young people, media studies is still considered a ‘mickey mouse’ subject rather than a key part of any 21st century curriculum. As Rufus Norris (director of the National Theatre) wrote two years ago we need “…an education system fit for the 21st century, one that champions this country’s creativity as the foundation of its economic health.”

The second article in Schools Week by Angela Ransby is a call to arms for schools and local communities to work more closely together. I have to confess to arching an eyebrow at a CEO of a MAT extolling the benefits of local collaboration, rather like how local education authorities used to work!? That said, Angela’s central point that alternative provision is often the crucible of innovation is one that unsurprisingly I wholeheartedly agree with. We must rebuild our current “fractured” system prioritising collaboration and local accountability and reject systems and structures that prevent this. Progress, standards and improvement do not need a marketplace, the commodification of teaching and learning or the curse of managerialism to occur. In fact they thrive when we share, collaborate and respond in a locally co-ordinated and democratically accountable manner to the needs of the communities that our schools serve.

Curriculum and what we teach our children is a thread running through both articles and a friend of mine introduced me to The Black Curriculum this week and I am very grateful. There is a long, long overdue imperative to improve the way in which our entire education system serves ALL students and I would whole-heartedly recommend the writing of Darren ChettyJeffrey Boakye and Akala for those interested in this hugely important work. Reflecting on my own education and in particular the history curriculum I followed, is it any wonder that there is a lack of understanding in the UK around issues of structural racism, intersectionality and white privilege when the history we teach our children is: the Romans, 1066, some stuff about kings and a couple of queens, skip over the savagery of the British Empire and finish off with the two world wars that we supposedly won!? We have to teach the real history of the British empire and examine some of the darker aspects of Enlightenment thinking in order to help create a fairer and more just society.

Some big ideas to transform our education system:

  • Rip up our current curriculum and replace it with a much broader one. Forget about the utterly misplaced notion of academic and vocational subjects. There must not be a hierarchy of knowledge, understanding how the plumbing works is as important as knowing what the periodic table is.
  • Dispense with almost all nationally standardised tests. We could keep something like A-Levels but any new system cannot be solely reliant on terminal examinations and must include coursework/formative assessment activities.
  • Create a national curriculum that takes account of all the cultures and history that make up our country. The diversity of our little island has always been one of our greatest resources and our schools must be the place in which we celebrate and develop our understanding of the multicultural country that we live in.
  • Place control of our school system back into the hands of local education authorities who are clearly best placed to support schools to meet local needs and increase collaboration, which in turn will drive improvement.

 

James Fornara is the recently resigned Principal of Wac Arts College the first alternative provision free school in the country with a specialist curriculum of performing arts & creative media production. 

 

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Tuesday 25th May 2021

Darren Crosdale portrait

Written by Darren Crosdale

English and Media Studies-trained teacher, currently working in a large Liverpool comprehensive

This date will mark a year to the day of George Floyd’s murder. I use the word ‘murder’ deliberately because, despite the arguments that lawyers will no doubt make to the contrary, the world possesses clear, video evidence that it was murder, plain and simple. 

 

I still have not seen the clip. I never will. To watch such imagery is, to my mind, self-flagellation. I do not engage in that torture and warn my family – especially my social media-addicted daughter – to think very carefully about the emotional toll such images can have on our psyche. 

 

As the above date approaches, you can rest assured there will be blogs and vlogs and articles and news items asking how the world has “changed”. How that 8 minute and 46 second horror short and the resulting worldwide protests “changed” many aspects of society, including education. Like most teachers, I firmly believe in the power of education and I will definitely be curious about how the education world has “changed” following George Floyd’s murder. Up and down the UK, family, friends, colleagues and associates have responded to the Black Lives Matter movement with renewed vigour: change the curriculum; review the policies; train the teachers. 

 

But as Frederick Douglass, the former slave turned writer and public speaker said: “Power does not concede without a demand.” I am not, at all, the only person who feels that the demands of racism are being placed on the shoulders of the victims. Such bitter irony. The stereotypes that we as thinking and evolving societies ought to have defeated centuries ago, remain: lower intelligence, higher physicality, unworthy histories. The list is, of course, longer and more subtle than this. 

 

As an eternal optimist, I focus on the notion of things getting better in schools. I have to believe this. However, as an eternal optimist with a good memory, I recall that we have been here before. We have collectively focussed on “changing” our racist societies and racist institutions and racist individuals’ attitudes before. The whole country has been engaged in the discussion of diversity and inclusion and breaking barriers and moving forward more times than I care to count in my own lifetime. 

 

The UK broached the topic of change after Stephen Lawrence’s murder in 1993 and the McPherson Report, four years later, made the term “institutional racism”, more mainstream. I worked in the Merseyside school that Anthony Walker, murdered in a racist attack in 2005, used to attend. People often forget that his White killers attended the school, alongside this wonderful young man. The Department for Children, Schools and Families examined the issue of Black educational attainment in 2007. Alexander Paul, an 18 year-old student from south London, gave a powerful presentation about being stopped and searched at the 2014 Conservative Party Conference. David Lammy, MP, in 2017 reviewed how ethnic minorities fared when they came into contact with the criminal justice system. I am not even going to discuss the coronavirus. The UK, a country that likes to boast about its multi-cultural status, ended up with one of the highest per capita death rates in 2020, and ethnic minorities were over-represented in these numbers as were the poor and public-facing workers.    

 

Schools are especially busy as I write, early October, 2020. Most schools are engaged in some form of analysis: reviewing data, auditing curricula, employing speakers to deliver staff training. Will all these efforts to change the UK’s complicated attitude towards Black people in the education system yield results, however? There are still those on Twitter who struggle to link police brutality in the US with education in the UK (and, of course, fail to recognise this, in itself, is highly ironic.). So what if GCSE students, in 2020, do not study texts written by Black writers? So what if students do not learn the dual nature of Churchill? Wartime hero but also responsible for allowing three million Bengalis to starve. So what if students have no idea of the fuss surrounding Edward Colston’s statue being tossed into Bristol harbour.

 

What will schools be like by May 25th 2021? Will the government recognise that for all the past reviews and examinations of race, deep divisions and inequalities remain? Will the councils creating Task Forces to examine racial issues in their towns and cities create lasting change? Will enough school-based staff have had the necessary and uncomfortable conversations around race? Robin DiAngelo, in her best seller ‘White Fragility’ explains that middle-aged, middle-class white women are most likely to cry if their racial view of the world is challenged in any way. Will enough of these tears be transmuted into new ways of thinking and challenging the status quo?

 

The answers to these questions remain to be seen. We know our government has been remarkably quiet about the Black Lives Matter movement. The protests threw a much-needed light on our society and its continuing struggles with race – mostly because the education system has never properly learned to discuss our troubled history in an honest and guilt-free manner. 

 

I watched BBC presenter Daniel Henry’s inspirational documentary ‘Fighting the Power: Britain after George Floyd’ (directed by Eddie Hutton-Mills) and wondered about the young Black women who, with their passion and social media savvy, organised huge marches in lockdown London during the summer of 2020. Will they be disappointed in a year’s time? Will they have noticed any changes? Will prime minister Johnson’s racial disparity review (led by a controversial Munira Mirza who is not quite sure if institutional racisms exists) have reported back by then? Who knows?   

 

What I do know is that for the children in school at the moment – all children, not just the Black ones – carrying on as if huge protests about race never happened, as if things do not need a good shaking and sorting, as if their teachers do not need to learn about all types of inequality, is not an acceptable option.

 

Darren Crosdale

www.blackteachersanecdotes.co.uk

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