Section 28 is still hanging over us – but you don’t have to be a LGBT+ expert to make your school inclusive

Dominic Arnall portrait

Written by Dominic Arnall

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

One in five (17%) teachers in the UK are uncomfortable discussing LGBT+ topics with their pupils, our new research at Just Like Us has found.

It may have been 18 years since Section 28 was repealed in England and Wales but clearly things have not changed as much as we like to think. Growing up LGBT+ is still unacceptably tough, as a result, and huge challenges also remain for LGBT+ school staff who are often afraid to come out in their workplace or to pupils.

Just Like Us’ latest research also found that only a third (29%) of teachers are ‘completely comfortable’ talking about lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans topics in the classroom, despite government guidance of course reinforcing the need to include LGBT+ topics.

We found that primary school teachers are even less comfortable with discussing LGBT+ topics at school, with 19% saying they are uncomfortable and only 25% ‘completely comfortable’, despite OFSTED requiring primary schools to include different types of families – such as same-sex parents – in lessons.

The survey, commissioned by Just Like Us – the LGBT+ young people’s charity – and carried out independently by Teacher Tapp surveyed 6,179 primary and secondary school teachers across the UK. So we know this is sadly not an anomaly. 

Why does this matter? Well Just Like Us’ report Growing Up LGBT+ found that having positive messaging about LGBT+ people in schools is linked to all students having better mental health and feeling safer – regardless of whether they’re LGBT+ or not. The evidence is there: LGBT+ inclusion in schools really is beneficial for everyone’s wellbeing.

When so many teachers say they’re uncomfortable discussing LGBT+ topics, such as mentioning that some families have lesbian mums, this has serious knock-on effects for LGBT+ young people’s wellbeing and mental health, who are currently twice as likely to be bullied and have depression. Having silence around LGBT+ topics only results in shame, stigma and students feeling that they don’t belong in school.

We don’t blame teachers for feeling uncomfortable. Some school staff simply may not have had the resources or personal life experiences – but all you need is a willingness to support your pupils and Just Like Us can help provide lesson plans, assemblies, talks and training so that you feel confident discussing LGBT+ topics with your pupils.

It’s also essential that we get the message out that teachers don’t need to be experts on LGBT+ topics to support their LGBT+ pupils.

You also don’t need to be LGBT+. Often we see in schools that this vital inclusion work falls to staff who are LGBT+ themselves rather than all school staff taking on the responsibility of making their school a safe, happy and welcoming place for all of their young people. This work doesn’t need to be done by LGBT+ staff – in fact, how amazing is it for students to see adults in their lives being proactive allies?

One incredible teacher, who is an ally, and a brilliant example of this is Zahara Chowdhury, who teaches at Beaconsfield High and the Beaconsfield School, in Buckinghamshire. She says it’s a “human responsibility” to include LGBT+ topics in the classroom and has been the driving force behind School Diversity Week celebrations at her schools.

It all starts with a willingness to support your students or simply diversify your lessons using our free resources – sign up for School Diversity Week and you’ll get a digital pack of everything you need to kickstart inclusion at your school. 

Already doing this work? Let a colleague or fellow educator at another school know by sharing this blog – the more we share resources and reassure staff that you don’t need to be LGBT+ nor an expert, the sooner and better we can ensure all young people feel safer and happier in school. 

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Diversifying the Curriculum, A Perspective

Diana Ohene-Darko portrait

Written by Diana Ohene-Darko

Assistant Head, Pinner Park Primary School; Interim Deputy Headteacher, Holy Trinity Primary School, Finchley; Senior Consultant, Educating for Equality.

Currently, I work in a large London primary school as an Assistant Headteacher. I  am a champion for, and have worked extensively on, equality education and  children’s rights. We are in a great time of momentum in advocating for racial justice  in education. I want to see a curriculum that reflects all the children and families we  serve so that there is an inherent sense of identity and belonging. 

Introduction 

This article aims to shed light on the current situation with regard to race relations in  education and diversifying the curriculum. Is diversifying it enough? Considering key  documents and events, the article outlines what can be done in order for  diversification of the curriculum to take place, or even before it takes place. I offer a  perspective on celebrating and appreciating the pupils and staff we serve, rather  than ‘tolerating’ each other. In essence, diversity needs to go mainstream. 

In May 2020, George Floyd was brutally murdered, and the world was watching. His  death sparked a global movement for change, not just for equality but also for equity  of outcomes for Black people and people of colour—the global majority1

In the UK, over 92% of Headteachers are White (DfE, 2021) serving a nationally  diverse population. Before even thinking about diversifying, or indeed decolonising  the curriculum, there has to be groundwork done in so far as personal reflection for  unconscious bias across educational institutions as a whole and for practitioners  individually. Time, hard work and commitment are needed to address issues of bias  towards the global ethnic majority here in the UK, other disadvantaged groups and  those belonging to protected characteristics. Race relations are at a pivotal point in  education. Addressing biases is vital to ensuring at least a reasonable understanding  of, and appreciation for, all people—and it is about time. By addressing unconscious  biases and diversifying the curriculum, education can create a culture of belonging  where each individual is celebrated for who they are, rather than being tolerated. 

A call for change 

It is not enough to say that there are ‘negative calls for decolonising the curriculum’  (Sewell, 2021). No longer can racism be tolerated. No longer can discrimination go  unnoticed. No longer can micro-aggressions go unchallenged. Protected  characteristics are protected for a reason- they safeguard who we are, our very core  of being. Being protected by law carries weight and should be upheld. 

How will each child leave school better than when they came? What ‘suitcase’ of  learning will they leave with, having spent years in education, ready to travel the  world with? How does a child of faith feel represented in the curriculum, for  example? What about those from a disadvantaged background? A one-parent  family? Those with same-sex parents? How does the curriculum seek to represent  the broader population of Britain in all its glory of cultures, ethnicities, traditions,  languages and families? Where do children belong? How do educational settings  foster a sense of belonging that sees children and young people feel completely at  home and at peace with who they are to erase the question of, ‘Where are you  from?’ Or worse in response to ‘I was born here’, ‘No but where are you really from?’ In order to demonstrate that we, as practitioners value our learners, the curriculum  needs to be ‘truly national’ (Alexander et al. 2015). 

The current picture

Some schemes have already sought to address the issue of wider representation,  such as the Jigsaw PSHE scheme (2021) and the Discovery RE (2021) programme. In their provision, they offer examples of different families and scenarios that are  inclusive of wider society. Some schools are already making headway by creating  their own learning journeys for children and young people. They offer urban  adventure curricula, for example, and use the new [EYFS] reforms as a basis by  which to advance already good practice with a specific focus on what exactly they  want children to experience and achieve in order that they become well-rounded  individuals, including talking about race. One example of this is Julien Grenier’s  extensive work on curricular goals which see children learning to sew a stitch, ride a  balance bike and bake a bread roll in Nursery. All aspirational, real-life outcomes for  children, no matter their race, background or socio-economic class. On the face of it,  there seems no link to race. However, by setting the bar high for all children at the  same time, education is, in fact, providing an equality-first experience for our young  ones where no learner is left behind. 

Consideration of history 

The National Curriculum of 1999 (Key Stages One and Two) sought to allow, 

schools to meet the individual learning needs of pupils and to develop a  distinctive character and ethos rooted in their local communities,’ (1999, pp.12). 

Then came the (Primary) National Curriculum of 2014 which called for a curriculum  that was ‘balanced and broadly based’ (2013, pp.5) promoting the development of  the whole child and where teachers were to ‘take account of their duties’ (pp.8)  where protected characteristics were concerned. The difficulty is, there are so many  unconscious biases at play that even before a diverse curriculum can be devised,  attitudes and unconscious biases must be addressed in the first instance as part of  initial teacher-training and as part of the wider continuing professional development  provision in schools. 

The murder of Stephen Lawrence in April 1993 sparked a national debate around  race and the impact of structural and institutional racism here in the UK, namely in  the police force. As part of its findings, the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report (1999), stated that education should value cultural diversity and prevent racism ‘in order  better to reflect the needs of a diverse society’ (Macpherson Report, 1999 pp. 382). 

With a curriculum that spans British history across both primary and secondary phases, the representation of a generation of Commonwealth workers, including the  Windrush generation, who came to help re-build our country post war is barely, if at  all, represented. The ‘broad and balanced’ curriculum is one of a vastly colonial view,  rather than the narratives of those enslaved as well as those who enslaved others.  The same is true for the British rule in India and the impact for Indian citizens and the  thousands of soldiers of colour from the Commonwealth who fought for Britain in the  Second World War. There is gross under-representation of people of colour and their  significant contribution to the British Empire as a whole. 

Bringing education into the 21st century 

More than twenty-eight years on from Stephen Lawrence and with the brutal murder  of George Floyd on 25th May 2020, there is now widespread debate in education  once again about the curriculum on offer and how to diversify it. But is diversifying it enough? It seems that colonial attitudes need to be addressed perhaps before  diversifying the curriculum. Tackling unconscious (or even conscious) bias, white  privilege, micro-aggressions and direct racism may come to be more effective, in  other words, decolonising attitudes before decolonising the curriculum. 

In the book, ‘I Belong Here, A Journey Along the Backbone of Britain’, the author writes openly about belonging and the ‘deep loneliness and isolation that can affect  mental health’ without that sense of belonging (Sethi, 2021). This is in reflective  reference to a racist attack she suffered in public as well as countless micro aggressions. Deeply engrained and entrenched racist attitudes need to be  challenged. Micro-aggressions need to be challenged. Why? Because it is the right  thing to do. The book weaves a narrative that calls for the work needed to be done in  order to address micro-aggressions and the wider, long-lasting impact these have on  those individuals who suffer them. Equality is everybody’s responsibility. 

Imagine how children feel when they do not see themselves reflected in the  curriculum- in books and resources, in texts and images, in the learning. There is a deep cavity indeed for children and families of colour. Despite being a global ethnic  majority, their experience of the curriculum is all too often white Eurocentric; more  specifically that of white, middle-class men, ‘male, pale and stale voices that need to  be banished’ (Sperring, 2020 pp. 3). 

In order to foster a deep sense of belonging in children, the curriculum needs to  address issues of race, in the first instance, as well as other protected characteristics  more widely. We are living in a multi-national society with a vast array of languages,  cultures and traditions. Even in areas of which can possibly be described as mono ethnic, there still needs to be a national educational commitment to addressing the  racial discord that currently exists. Difference should be both appreciated and  celebrated. It is not enough to simply ‘tolerate’ other faiths, traditions, beliefs,  cultures, customs or backgrounds. Tolerance is such a low bar. 

The Black Curriculum Report (Arday,2021) highlights the drawbacks of the current  curriculum, more specifically the history curriculum, which distinctly omits Black  history, ‘in favour of a dominant White, Eurocentric curriculum, one that fails to reflect  our multi-ethnic and broadly diverse society.’ (pp.4). It goes further to make several  recommendations, in more detail than the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report, for  example:  

conventions of Britishness will always require reconceptualising to  incorporate all of our histories and stories. Our curriculum requires an  acknowledgement of the ethnic, cultural and religious diversity that comprises  the tapestry of the British landscape and the varying identities associated  within this.’ (pp.5) 

What it calls for is an evaluation of the curriculum to include Black history in order  that there be, ‘greater social cohesion and acceptance of racial and ethnic difference’ (pp.4). 

By offering a ‘broad and balanced’ curriculum that is tailored to the demographics of  the school population, you are reinforcing a deep sense of identity and belonging.  Children and young people will feel seen, valued and understood for who they are, not just as individuals, but as a part of their communities. How empowering for our  children and young people of today!

Rather than continuing the old-fashioned approach of British history, we should be  teaching children and young people to be critical thinkers, to assess and appraise  the evidence and different perspectives so that they can come to their own  conclusions. No longer is it adequate enough to have diversity days or Black history  month; to teach just one perspective. People of colour do not just exist for one day or  one month of the year. There are countless scientists, historians and academics of  colour who have made huge contributions to society as we know it. For example,  although Thomas Edison may have invented the lightbulb as we know it, Lewis H.  Latimer made a considerable contribution towards this. However, in those days it  was rare for a person of colour to be attributed with such distinguished achievement.  Another example is Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, known for her  environmental activism in Kenya, ‘It’s the little things that citizens do. That’s what will  make the difference. My little thing is planting trees.’ (Wilson, 2018). Where are they  in the national curriculum? 

In the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary, ‘national’ is defined as ‘connected with a  particular nation; shared by a whole nation’ (Oxford Learner’s Dictionary). If  education seeks to indeed connect the nation, and if it wants education to be a  shared experience as a nation, then there is more work to be done. Diversity needs  to go mainstream. 

Young people need to know that who they are makes a difference. Not who they are  because of an out-of-date system that continues to advance the privileged few,  rather, who they are without the labels that are thrust upon them. They are not their  labels. They are ‘humxns’2(Ricketts, 2021) who make a valid and significant  contribution every day. Diversifying the curriculum should reflect this. Decolonising  attitudes is the right thing to do- creating safe spaces to open up dialogue, offering long-term quality staff training, enriching the curriculum with a broader representation  of different communities, making equality training mandatory for initial teacher  training.  

Data from the Department of Education shows that 92.7 per cent of headteachers  and 89.7 per cent of deputy and assistant headteachers in the UK are white (DfE,  

2 Humxn is the gender-neutral term for human. Urban Dictionary: humxn (2021) Urban Dictionar. Available at:  https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=humxn. 2021). These figures show that all-white leadership teams run the majority of schools  in the country, which is not necessarily reflective of the communities they serve, or  even our nation as a whole. 

More needs to be done to actively recruit and retain professionals from ethnically  diverse groups. For example, anonymising applications for name, age, gender and  university to name a few categories; randomising responses to scenario questions  and eliminating the personal statement response so that colleagues can show what  they would do as opposed to what they have done, thereby showing their potential  against their experience and expertise, skills and qualifications. 

Conclusion 

These are just a few starting points. Essentially, good, quality equality work means  hard work. It means making the uncomfortable comfortable. It means braving being  vulnerable. It means addressing racism head on so that attitudes can change, as  well as behaviours. ‘In this world there is room for everyone’ (Chaplin, 1940). Children should leave with a rich tapestry woven from learning and experiences that  celebrate who they are, that give them every chance of further success in life, that  elevate them in their sense of self-worth and identity. When a child asks, ‘Where do I  belong?’ you can confidently say, ‘Here.’

References 

Alexander, C., Weekes-Bernard, D., & Chatterji, J. (2015) History Lessons: Teaching  Diversity in and through the History National Curriculum. London: Runnymede Trust.  http://www.runnymedetrust. org/ uploads/History%20Lessons%20-%20Teaching%20  Diversity%20In%20and%20Through%20 the%20  

History%20National%20Curriculum.pdf. 

Arday, J. (2021) The Black Curriculum, Black British History in the National  Curriculum Report 2021. pp.4-5. 

Charlie Chaplin, The Great Dictator speech, taken from the film, The Great Dictator  (1940) available at: https://www.charliechaplin.com/en/articles/29-the-final-speech from-the-great-dictator 

Department for Education (2013) The National Curriculum in England: Framework  Document. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/  

uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/ file/210969/NC_framework_document_- _FINAL.pdf (pp.5, pp.8)  

Department for Education data available at: https://www.ethnicity-facts figures.service.gov.uk/workforce-and-business/workforce-diversity/school-teacher workforce/latest 

Discovery RE Scheme Of Work | Discovery RE (2021) Discovery Scheme of Work.  Available at: https://discoveryschemeofwork.com/ (Accessed: 16 September 2021). Primary and Secondary PSHE lessons fulfilling RSE | Jigsaw PSHE Ltd (2021)  Jigsaw PSHE. Available at: https://www.jigsawpshe.com/ (Accessed: 15 September  2021). 

Macpherson Report (1999), as part of The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry available at:  https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attach ment_data/file/277111/4262.pdf pp.382 

Oxford Learner’s Dictionary, ‘National’ definition, available at:  

https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/national_1?q=national

Ricketts, R. (2021) DO BETTER, SPIRITUAL ACTIVISM for Fighting and Healing  from WHITE SUPREMACY 

Sethi, A (2021) I Belong Here: A Journey Along the Backbone of Britain.  Bloomsbury, London. ISBN 9781472983930. 

Sewell, T. (2021) Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities: The Report, can be  found at:  

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attach ment_data/file/974507/20210331_-_CRED_Report_-_FINAL_-_Web_Accessible.pdf 

Sperring, K. (2020) Decolonising the curriculum: male, pale and stale voices that  need to be banished. Available at: https://uclpimedia.com/online/lets-banish-the hierarchy-topped-by-male-pale-and-stale-voices-and-decolonise-the-curriculum 

The Equality Act 2010 guidance, can be found at: 

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/equality-act-2010-guidance 

The National Curriculum 1999 available at:  

http://www.educationengland.org.uk/documents/pdfs/1999-nc-primary-handbook.pdf.  pp. 10, pp.12. 

Wilson, J. (2018) Young, Gifted and Black. Wide Eyed Editions. ISBN978-1-78603- 983-5.

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Inclusion - A Parenting Perspective

Helen Weston portrait

Written by Helen Weston

Helen has two children with significant medical needs which has resulted in her becoming their part time nurse, teacher and advocate whilst simultaneously attempting to be a reasonable parent! Prior to this she worked in Early Years and family support.

Inclusion is a perpetual discussion amongst both teachers and parents alike. This is likely because it has a number of different interpretations which aren’t always agreed upon, it can also be both an ethos and an action. I want all children to feel safe and secure, welcome and considered whilst being educated. My son wants to be remembered that he exists. 

As a parent of two children with chronic health needs, the navigation of an equitable education for them has been incredibly challenging. During the last 11 years my children have experienced the best and worst of inclusive practices in various schools. 

Effective inclusive practice in my experience always comes from attitudes and ethos and never from  expectations of statutory requirements. Funding has been entirely irrelevant, no amount of funding can influence cultural shift. Ethical leaders create that, not money. If a Head is unable to easily explain how their policies and planning sit within the Equality Act, for example, a rigid 100% attendance award policy, yet has an inclusion poster in their reception area, then as a parent, I know my child will never feel a sense of belonging or self worth in this school. 

Schools that are child centred rather than data driven always value inclusion, they offer a genuine partnership with families and a proactive approach, again this starts with leadership and is embedded within the every day workings of the school. Teachers who are prepared to listen, reflect and act, can make a huge difference to a child’s perception of their illness or disability and reduce their feelings of difference. This enables them to be more readily able to learn. 

One of my children has only ever been able to attend school on a part time basis due to his health. For 4 years he attended his school every morning, his school thought they were inclusive for facilitating a part time timetable, yet he was never offered a broad and balanced curriculum. He was only ever taught Maths and English despite regularly requesting to learn science or do PE with his peers, but their timetable was rigid. 

 We eventually moved him to a neighbouring school, the difference in attitudes was remarkable. He was listened to and the timetable was swapped around. For the first time in his school career he did PE, science, & enrichment. He was 9 years old. He also took part in his first ever Christmas concert because the practices were moved to the mornings so he could be involved . He had real friends for the first time, adults had role modelled to them that he was an equally valuable member of the school community. His friends looked out for him, helped him, cared for him because this was the ethos of the school and these values were their norm. 

At his previous school he had had long periods of time off unwell, upon return to school, staff and children alike would rarely ask after his well-being. In contrast, in his new school his teacher set up a video call with him and his classmates so they could have a chat and check in with one another. 

She would also provide him with allergy safe treats when giving a whole class reward. He had never experienced this before. Ultimately inclusion was everyone’s responsibility and not just the role of the  ‘Inclusion Manager.’ My experience identified that by outsourcing inclusion to just one individual, others were removed from ever having any consideration for inclusion. 

School trips can be a real eye opener as to how inclusive schools are. We have had numerous experiences of schools not bothering to plan for accessibility or do risk assessments therefore having to do them myself  last minute ( and on one occasion discovering the activity was unsafe for our son’s medical condition.)

Yet there have also been examples of how early planning and communication can enable trips to be successful, not just practically, but also emotionally positive. My son attended a school residential as a day visitor. The timings of his visits were chosen in collaboration with him, myself, school as well as the activity centre, to ensure he was able to access all the activities offered at that time safely. He was still allocated a room and a bed, his tube feeds were fitted around activities, pacing was done subtly, a special harness was used. Almost three years later, he still talks about that trip with such joyful memories. 

The ‘what can we do’ approach is the best way of creating meaningful change, including the child & parents in working through solutions in partnership with schools. My youngest is now in secondary and I note with interest, their use of their term, ‘flexible’, over inclusion. Right now, this is what works best for my son, flexibility, trust and regular communication. Inclusion is not the same for every child but the essence of belonging should feel the same for all. 

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Toothless Lionesses

Bhamika Bhudia portrait

Written by Bhamika Bhudia

English teacher and lead teacher in a mixed comprehensive secondary school in North-West London. She tweets as MissMika_Eng

Does the “aggressive” Woman of Colour trope lead to a generation of toothless lionesses?

Women of colour have to navigate the western world with careful footing. Sidelined and stereotyped within the media and underrepresented at leadership tables, conducting herself in offices, classrooms and meetings is a difficult, political affair. Managing standing up for herself, being heard, demanding a seat at the table all the while not being deemed too aggressive, requires strategizing but at what cost? Surely this lack of freedom to express herself honestly and fully has detrimental effects on her confidence, self worth and identity as a whole? 

In my quest to make my workplace and environment a more celebratory and inclusive place, I have had to take a real look inwards at my role as a woman of colour (a term I am still uncomfortable with), and I have had a rude awakening!   

I have always considered myself (and I think have been considered) to be a confident woman. I am able to stand up for what I believe in, I have carved myself a seat at the table and my voice is one that is heard. But as policies are put into practice and ideologies around celebrating culture and acknowledging diversity are being discussed at that very table, I have come to question how many waves I actually make, how often I quietly avoid a stir and how many self-sabotory behaviours I demonstrate.

Diversity-hire:

According to the School Workforce Consensus (2019) only, 6.2% of assistant heads and deputies are from ethnic minorities and while women comprise 67% of the country’s headteachers, a mere 3.9% of them identify as non-white. The statistics speak for themselves, yet despite knowing this, every job and promotion I have ever gotten has been followed by inner doubt questioning whether I was a diversity hire. The odds are clearly stacked against me, but this toxic imposter syndrome based solely on my demographic is obviously very damaging. And it can’t be just me – I didn’t invent this notion or phrasing, it has to come from somewhere. I am very doubtful that I am the only one who has felt this way yet my achievements are continually downplayed in my mind because I happen to fit this box that ironically enough, isn’t actually getting filled in the real world!

Say my name!

It is now widely acknowledged that continual mispronunciation of people’s names is a microaggression and is damaging. Spending my entire life as Bhamika Bhudia has been tricky. I have always expected people not to get my name right to begin with – it’s an unusual name – and I take absolutely no offense when people don’t get it right away. I have been quick to correct them, the first, second and third time but after that, I drop it. I have worked with people for years that have continued to call me by some other moniker. Until this last year, I have let these aggressions slide for fear of being rude, making things awkward or making other people feel bad. It is not ok, and should not have taken me 37 years of life to realise this. It is my duty as a role model for children to address this but for my entire life, I have placed the feelings or others ahead of my own; clearly I did not feel my name was worthy enough of causing a stir.

Bite your lip:

On the same note, causing that stir is a real predicament for those in my demographic in far more contentious circumstances than pronunciations. I have heard many a story of meetings, conflicts and general grievances of women who look like me, shut down because they were deemed too “aggressive”. Conducting myself in sensitive circumstances is a tight-rope I tread very carefully on. I always say, with a strong hint or irony and an even stronger note of bitterness, that my life would be so much easier if I was a cryer. If, when it came to conflict, I was the sensitive one who could alleviate circumstances and even shift responsibility by showing my emotions and expressing my hurt/offense in a more “feminine” way. Now I’m not saying all tears are manipulatory nor am I condoning toxic femininity but there have been times and continue to be so where I am unable to express my offense at derogatory comments or behaviours towards me, no matter how professionally or politely I handle them, for fear of becoming the aggressor. I have bitten my lip, publicly and privately because when it comes down to it, I am afraid that I will be blamed for upsetting the other person despite being the offended party. I always assumed it was a “me” thing, perhaps even a “female” thing, but once again, this reflection has led me to connect the dots. Women of colour being branded and dismissed as “aggressive” is a historical thing; it does not stop at me nor did it begin there.

This post has been very difficult to write. I have taken a look at myself and honestly I do not like what I see. I thought I was strong, I thought I was a good role model and discovering that I am far from that has been a difficult discovery indeed. But now I have seen that despite my “aggressive” nature, I am still doing myself and every woman of colour after me, a huge disservice by bowing down, and sitting quietly. My teeth may have been blunted up until now, but at the risk of ending with a huge cliche, I will make sure my lioness comes out in full force, not only for myself but also for those I model my behaviour for.

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Attention Policymakers: We Need to Update the School Curriculum

Naida Allen portrait

Written by Naida Allen

Naida is a writer and blogger, fuelled by coffee and dark humour. She is a mental health advocate and regularly uses her own experiences to raise awareness about social issues. Her aim is to break stigma around taboo topics and enlighten the masses through the art of words. She loves dogs, and hates the patriarchy.

Given the significant impact of the Black Lives Matter movement on the criminal justice system, it’s only natural for this event to trickle into the education system. The British school curriculum is outdated at best. It will come as no shock to know that 85% of secondary school texts studied were written by White authors. The lack of diversity is damaging both socially and educationally. The year is 2021, and we are still waiting for change.

After the murder of George Floyd, the world woke up. We could no longer stay silent; the time to take action had arrived. Amongst many deep-rooted racist issues that still exist in British society, one that became impossible to ignore was the issue with the school curriculum. Secondary school pupils across the country (and the world for that matter) are not taught the truth about the UK’s shady history. The broad lack of diversity exists across all school subjects, from English and Drama to History and Science.

Even the American K-12 curriculum lacks punch. The Coalition of Educational Justice (CEJ) in New York recently published a shocking set of statistics that puts the school curriculum to shame. Their enquiry into the lack of diversity found that 4 out of 5 books studied in English were written by a White person. Similarly, a national UK study by Penguin Books found that less than 1% of GCSE students studied a book by a writer of colour. 

It goes without mentioning that it is not just Black authors and people of colour who are marginalized. No; it is also women — and worse still — Black women who are frozen out. There is rarely a platform for LGBTQ+ authors, or awareness in their struggles, which adds to the exclusion and creation of ‘otherness’.

Yet it has to be a top-down approach for us to succeed in any social change. The current school curriculum contributes to perverse attempts to sugarcoat the past, allowing White people to hold the monopoly of power. Gestures that arguably verge on tokenistic, like “Black History Month” are the bare minimum. They are designed to keep the peace, but are ultimately just performative in nature. As Jean Alexander states, “it is a game play for the survival of a democratic society”.

My message today is to the policymakers: we need to update the school curriculum. If history, implicit and institutional racism, or celebrating Black achievements are not prioritised in schools, we can assume change still sits on the backburner. Young people will only learn when we own up to our mistakes. For there to be any hope in a harmonious society, we need to right our wrongs as best we can. The optimum approach is an authentic one.

So, teach students about Britain’s role in colonialism. Explain why the prison population is overrepresented by Black people and ethnic minorities. Study fiction and non-fiction texts across all subjects written by non-white authors. Take English as an example; whilst Shakespeare is undoubtedly important for the development of language, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God remains underrepresented. Consider adding Zadie Smith and Reni-Eddo Lodge to the English syllabus. This will by no means erase centuries of oppression; it will, however, inspire development.

The fact of the matter is, these texts are not hard to come by. There is a long list of potential contenders written by Black women, from textbooks and fictional narratives to plays; and they are all critically-acclaimed. Why, then, are we not capitalising on this opportunity? There is no better way to teach students about human rights and social justice than directly from the horse’s mouth. 

An example of where this sincerity has worked is in Germany; their school curriculum shows significantly more willingness to revisit and admit to past mistakes. Teachers will openly discuss the German role in the Holocaust and WW2; many students will at some point visit a concentration camp. At no point do they attempt to disguise their atrocities. In doing so, they are now more respected by other nations. This is how to rewrite the future.

The irony is, British schools are the first to slander Nazi Germany for their war crimes, particularly when it comes to the Holocaust. Where is this zealous attitude when documenting our own actions on the History syllabus, for example, as colonialists? Instead, students learn about what makes Britain so Great. We share how we were the first to abolish slavery, but not that explorer, John Hawkins, was the first to start the slave trade in 1562.

Reform starts in school. We cannot expect the youth of today to differ from our predecessors if we do not light the torch. For students to thrive, they need to be represented in all their diversity. It is simply not good enough for only 0.1% of pupils to study a text by a Black female author. When you do not see yourself represented, your dreams and options are extremely limited. This is what inevitably leads to apathy and missed opportunities in the community.

We need to mention the achievements and discoveries of both people of colour and Black people – scientists, mathematicians, poets, historians. For example: Madam C.J. Walker who created the first African-American hair care products; Elijah McCoy who invented the ironing board; Tu Youyou who discovered artemisinin, the treatment for malaria. 

At the very least, we need to incorporate texts written by minority authors to study in the classroom. It’s important to keep current and move with the times, rather than promote a false representation of the “good old days”.

Let’s inspire all students — regardless of their gender, race, or sexuality — to know their worth. Britain as a whole needs to understand their history and address their ignorance. The only way to do any of this is through policy change; otherwise we remain stuck in bad habits. It is time to update the school curriculum.

This is not a plea. It is an order.

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Unlocking Identity for the 21st Century - Building Identity Literacy with Children

OICD Maze logo

Written by Chikara Shimasaki and Bruce White

Chikara Shimasaki: Project Development Officer at OICD. Former primary school teacher, vagabond permaculturalist, part-time pizza oven master.

Bruce White: Anthropologist. A consultant to international NGOs. A Founding Director of the OICD. Former Dean at Doshisha University Kyoto, and an honorary research fellow at University College London's Department of Anthropology.

Mass displacement and migration due to climate change, resource wars and sea-level rise are now near certainty, meaning that many communities will likely experience a greater influx of ethnic, religious, linguistic and cultural diversity. 

Political polarization, racial, ethnic and religious disharmony and conflict already characterise the nature of community life for increasing numbers of people around the world. The potential for the problems in the global economy to exacerbate the large-scale migration we have seen over the last decade seems higher than ever.

How, then, can we prepare our communities and our children for an increasingly complex future? Can we resist and counteract division as fear is used to turn ordinary men and women against those that are seen as different? Can we equip children with the ability to resist propaganda disseminated through social media and the pressures of their peers, parents and manipulative influencers? 

Can we give them the resilience needed to fulfil their potential and maximise their development? What can we do now to better prepare the next generation to cooperate and thrive in the rapidly changing world that is unfolding?

The Potential Power of Identity

One path forward is harnessing the latest understanding of how identities work – as a psychological and social system that helps to fulfil universal human needs and solve everyday problems. With increased identity literacy we can empower ourselves to self-actualise, build resilience and find freedom from self-concepts which lead to division.

Nobel Prize Laureate Amartya Sen, states that the richness of identity comes from the fact that “…the same person can be, without any contradiction, a Norwegian citizen, of Asian origin, with Bangladeshi ancestry, a Muslim, a socialist, a woman, a vegetarian, a jazz musician, a doctor, a poet, a feminist, a heterosexual, a believer in gay and lesbian rights”. This plurality means that identities can and should be entities that empower and liberate us to fulfil our potential and stimulate us to grow. 

However, when this ‘state of plurality, of multiplicity and choice’ is diminished and restricted, we are only able to see ourselves in singular ways such as members of only one ethnic, religious or political group, diminishing the ability to meet our core human needs through many different expressions of identity. 

For example, during terrorist or gang recruitment or in preparation for genocide, an individual’s identity options are gradually stripped away. The subject’s sense of who they are, where they come from, and who their enemy is is rewritten. A “depluralised” identity can convince people that they are divided from one another, severing their ability to feel an affinity with manufactured enemies and potentially turning these targets of manipulation into weapons capable of orchestrating terrible acts of violence.

With the ever-expanding reach of the internet and social media, these manipulations of identities are now easier and more scalable than ever before in human history. When compounded with the disruptive climatic and demographic trends we face, these technological vulnerabilities represent an existential threat to humanity as we know it. 

Identity Literacy in Education

But there is hope. Schools and educators are in a powerful position to recognise and help solve this urgent problem. By identifying the risk of ‘identity depluralisation’ in each child as well as in the community in which the school serves, we can intervene effectively in the early stages. And we can do more than just safeguard and protect. All those involved with children can learn to empower them with the understanding and mastery of how their own identities function, in turn helping them to recognise and maintain flexible and diverse identities. 

Helping children to build “Identity literacy” will allow children to better understand the deeper roots of their own and others’ behaviours, build empathy, and hone their skills to effectively resolve issues at their root. As a consequence, mastering identity not only allows more effective learning experiences to take place within and beyond the classroom, but also increases the resilience and actualisation of the child and, eventually, the wider community.

We believe that identity literacy must be integrated into our education as it is the foundation of our lived experience and a critical component in how we prepare for and thrive within the increasingly complex and diverse world of the 21st Century. 

The Organisation for Identity and Cultural Development (OICD) has developed a program to help educators and schools incorporate identity literacy into their classrooms, policies and communities. The organisation offers schools the ability to conduct an ‘identity audit’, as well as train staff with a CPD course ‘Helping Children to be Identity Literate’ available through Goldsmiths University’s Teaching Hub

For more information on the OICD’s work on Identity Literacy in Education and how it might be useful to your institution, contact Chikara Shimasaki at cshimasaki@oicd.net

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Aspiring Heads Leadership Summit Conference 2021

Javay Welter portrait

Written by Javay Welter

NPQ, MSc, Outstanding MFL teacher, public speaker, mentor and linguist.

On the 16th of October, I witnessed greatness. The Aspiring Heads Leadership Summit was phenomenal. Nadine and Ethan Bernard hosted a truly remarkable conference. Above all, this was the first leadership conference I had witnessed led by a current existing Black Headteacher, Nadine Bernard. Well done Nadine for your initiative, creating this platform and elevating future leaders. This was a pioneering conference, very timely and extremely forward-thinking.

The wide array of speakers in different fields provided a variety of perspectives and insights. Topics ranged from mentoring, strategic leadership to financial literacy. The speakers were all leaders and thought leaders in their respective fields. They shared their journey, resilience and barriers they had to overcome. The optional workshops were uplifting, insightful and edifying. I left feeling empowered, inspired and acquired so much wisdom. 

The first keynote speaker Bose Onaboye, who is a business strategist and leader, spoke about finding your leadership style and being highly reflective. Leadership development is a process. She encapsulated that leadership is a journey and not a destination. Leaders are readers. Therefore, one must strive to keep developing oneself and undertake CPDs. I fully agree that leading is a journey, not just a title. We must strive for excellence.

Another charismatic speaker Karl Pupé, an educator and author, highlighted that we must step out of our comfort zone to grow. Leadership is not easy and we must embrace change to grow. We must embrace more black leaders in all walks of life and value their unique and valuable skill sets and contributions. He mentioned that his various previous jobs have helped to strengthen his behaviour management, for example, negotiation, conflict resolution and dealing with challenging behaviour. His book Action Hero Teacher: Classroom Management Made Simple is an exemplary book on behaviour management. A must-read for new teachers.

Diana Osagie, a former black Headteacher and CEO of Courageous Leadership focused on being a human first and a leader second. Well-being is key to longevity. If you do not have health, you cannot lead. Sayce Holmes Lewis, Founder and CEO of Mentivity advocated that we need more servant leaders rather than being ego-centric ones to promote positive change. We need to lead from the back like Nelson Mandela. Sayce passionately highlighted that positive black male role models are crucial and that Devon Hanson, a former black Headteacher acted as an inspiration. Lavinya Stennett, founder and CEO of the Black Curriculum pointed out that Black History should be incorporated in the national curriculum and that representation is vital to success.

The second keynote speaker, Dr Leroy Logan MBE who is a former Metropolitan Police superintendent. He was also the chair of the National Black Police Association and discussed fear. He eloquently commented that his father feared his career choice. His father suffered police brutality. However, he had seen black role models and police officers in Jamaica which inspired him and it was his calling. Leroy emphasised that he entered the police profession to make a positive contribution and to help change the Met. His book ‘Closing Ranks’ shares his incredible journey from humble beginnings to becoming one the first black police superintendent in the UK. Leroy faced many adversities, barriers and did not give up. Importantly, he had a dream just like Dr Martin Luther King Jr. 

In conclusion, representation matters. Young pupils deserve a diverse education, inspiration and representation. Fundamentally, it is pivotal that they see leaders from diverse backgrounds to prepare them for the world of work. I believe that it would be beneficial to have more black and global majority leaders like Nadine Bernard leading conferences to elevate future generations and make a difference. Nadine has started a legacy. The next step is a follow-up conference.

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Hear Our Voice

Audrey Pantelis portrait

Written by Audrey Pantelis

We have lived and are living through tumultuous times.  We have had to strengthen our resilience like never before.  The world has changed, and we are having to change or potentially get left behind.  As the world becomes more aware of the inequity of black and minority ethnic people and the lack of racial justice in many aspects of everyday life – we hear a lot about ensuring that we ‘have a seat at the table’.  This is indeed progress – after generations of ‘peering in’ as the decisions that impacted black and minority ethnic people were made to them rather than with them or for them.  However, I am reflecting on this concept and wondering whether our voices are actually being heard?

Getting to the table and ensuring that the seat is not only offered but taken has been both long and difficult and it continues to be, despite all the high-profile progress made during the past eighteen or so months.  We also know that this struggle has been long fought for.   It’s hard to know whether we should be pleased or whether we should feel justified – a bit of both maybe?  Either way, one thing that I am sure of is that once you arrive at a longed-for destination, you should be able to look around and discuss what you can see without fear, hesitation or retribution.  Is this the case as these improvements take place?

Once we have spoken – are our views really considered when decisions need to be made?  It is hard to know.  Relinquishing power and agency to those that you have once feared, hated or simply ignored is not easy – so it may be more palatable to be performative – being seen to be making changes ‘ticks the boxes’…. doesn’t it?

So how can we ensure that we are heard?  That our voices matter and that they are kept in the mix when those key decisions need to be made?  We need to remain mindful that shouting is not the only way that we are heard.  The structures that have caused inequality will not magically ‘disappear’ and if there is a perceived threat to the status quo it is possible that the structures will be strengthened to ensure silence from those that want to speak.

 “Although we all have the right to communicate, historic patterns of privilege, injustice and marginalization mean that we have inequitable access to the tools and resources necessary to fully exercise this right. Bottom line: no change in a communications strategy is complete without investments in communications and organizing infrastructure that address these inequities.”

~ Makani Themba, Higher Ground Change Strategies

In June 2020, we were saying ‘I can’t breathe’.  

Are we saying in October 2021, ‘I can’t speak’?

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Audit Your Curriculum for Gender and LGBTQ+ Inclusivity

Katherine Fowler portrait

Written by Katherine Fowler

Katherine Fowler is a specialist content editor at The Key, a provider of up-to-the-minute sector intelligence and resources that empower education leaders with the knowledge to act.

Committing to improving diversity across your school’s curriculum is a big task, but it’s also a really important one. You’ll know that lasting change isn’t created by talking about gender and sexuality in a few PSHE or RSE lessons, but by really taking time to embed inclusivity throughout your curriculum. So how can you do this?

  1. Ask questions of your current curriculum. In particular, look for weaknesses or gaps in each subject and consider how you can fill these with inclusive materials (such as books written by female authors, or LGBTQ+ STEM role models). Specialist audit tools are available to help you spot these gaps and make changes, such as The Key’s LGBTQ+ and gender curriculum audit tool.
  2. Always take a moment to think about intersectionality. While you’re focusing on your representation of women and LGBTQ+ in your curriculum, it can be easy to slip into defaulting to, for example, white, able-bodied examples. Try to balance your examples to include women and LGBTQ+ people of colour, and of different abilities and body types.
  3. Encourage staff to educate themselves. If your staff don’t understand the importance of doing this sort of curriculum review, you’re not going to achieve lasting change. Ideally, you’d want to spend time with all your staff, but, if time and resources are tight, at least make sure the staff who are going to take the lead on the audit are aware of current issues surrounding gender and sexuality. There’s a host of reading material, podcasts, documentaries and TV shows that cover these topics – signpost some to your staff, and make sure they are given an opportunity to discuss their thoughts and feelings (for example, in a dedicated staff meeting).
  4. Create a cross-curricular working group to take the lead. As already mentioned, committing to this curriculum review is a large task, and shouldn’t be put on the shoulders of one or two people. Get a group of staff together to work on this instead. As a minimum, you’d want to involve:
  • The subject leader/co-ordinator for each subject
  • PSHE/RSE leads, who will be most familiar with the content of this audit 
  • Any other members of staff who show interest in the work (these don’t have to be teachers – passion is what’s key!)

Even though different members of the group will be focused on different parts of your curriculum, the kinds of questions in an audit and their overall aims should be aligned, so encourage them to work together and support each other.

Useful documents to review include:

  • Curriculum maps
  • Short and long-term plans
  • Individual lesson plans and resources

The working group should also take into account cross-curricular events/days, trips and assemblies.

Get the working group to meet regularly and review progress. This also lets the group share ideas and resources. Aim for a meeting at least once a term, but half-termly would be ideal.

  1. Involve the wider community. Consider running an INSET or CPD session for all staff to kick-off the curriculum review, to encourage interest and participation. All staff should feel able to feed in suggestions or ideas of what needs to improve via their subject leader.

Parents and pupils should also know that you’re carrying out this audit and be able to share their thoughts and ideas.

Your governors should know you’re doing this, too, especially any curriculum link governors. Give them the opportunity to get involved in the working group if they’re keen!

  1. Be prepared for this to take time. A full review could take up to a year, and will never truly be ‘finished’ – your working group should continue to meet, review and look for more ways to adapt and refine the curriculum. Encourage this by making sure the group has protected time, such as INSET days and staff meetings, to dedicate to the work. Consider adding the audit to your school improvement plan, so the work gets tracked and resources can be considered at the start.
  2. Go beyond your curriculum, too. If you want a truly inclusive environment, you’ll need to think about the ethos and culture that surrounds your curriculum. Consider whether you can improve inclusivity in the following areas:
  • Staff hiring and training
  • The school environment (e.g. displays, shared spaces such as the library)
  • Policies (e.g. anti-bullying policy, behaviour policy and child protection policy)
  • Meeting your requirements under the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED)
  • The language used across your school (Stonewall’s primary curriculum contains useful glossaries for pupils and staff)
  • Your school’s involvement and engagement with your wider community

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Men, women and the rest of us: a brief guide to making university classrooms more accessible to trans and gender non-conforming students

Kit and Onni Flag

Written by Kit Heyam and Onni Gust

Onni Gust: Associate Professor of History, University of Nottingham. Author of Unhomely Empire: Whiteness and Belonging, c.1760-1830.Kit Heyam: Lecturer in Medieval and Early Modern Studies at Queen Mary, University of London, freelance trans awareness trainer, and queer public history activist.

This is a guide for academic teachers who want to get the best out of their trans and gender non-conforming students, and to ensure that they can fully participate in the classroom and in their studies.

1. Avoid making assumptions 

 

Don’t assume you know a student’s gender based on body-type, voice or even dress. If they do disclose their trans status, don’t assume that they have or will undergo any form of medical transition; ask them how you can support them. All you really need to know is how to address them.

2. Names and pronouns are all you need

 

Names and pronouns are all you really need to know from your students.  For trans and gender non-conforming students, the name, sex or title on their student record may be wrong. Using a student’s ‘old’ name may force them to come out, which can be incredibly distressing as well as violating the Equality Act.  To avoid this:

Names:

  • Instead of calling out the register, ask students to either write or say their names.  
  • Be up-front with students and ask them to see you, or email you, after class if for any reason their name has changed.  
  • Online platforms often automatically display names from University records. Familiarise yourself with your university’s name-changing processes – and if there aren’t any, insist that they be put in place.

Pronouns:

 

  • Even if you think it’s obvious, explain to students how you like to be addressed.  This models the process for all students and makes it much easier for trans and gender non-conforming students to state their own pronouns.  Regardless of whether you’re trans or not, it also sends a powerful signal, showing you’re aware you can’t tell someone’s gender just from looking at them.
  • If you ask students to introduce themselves to the class, give them the opportunity, but not the obligation, to include their pronouns. 
  • Gender-neutral pronouns, which some students will use, include the singular they/them/their; ze/hir/hirs; fae/faer/faers.  The list is growing: if you’re unsure, ask the student to model the usage for you, or research it online.
  • If you get a student’s pronoun wrong, apologise, correct yourself and move on.

3. What if other students constantly misgender a student in your class?

If a trans or gender non-conforming student brings this to your attention, it may be worth taking that student aside and talking to them.  If, as a transgender teacher, I suspect that this is active transphobia, I would probably ask a cisgender colleague to intervene. 

4. How else can I make learning more inclusive?

 

Consider your syllabus.  It may be necessary to teach material that uses outdated/pejorative language, or ideas, about gender and sexuality (and/or race, class and disability).  Flag up the problems, explain to your students why these texts are necessary to engage with, but make it clear that you do not support these ideas and that you invite critique.  

 

Think about how you’ll manage any resulting questions or disagreements. How can you help your students to create a trans-inclusive seminar environment without making them feel overwhelmed, alienated or defensive? 

5. Pastoral care for trans and gender non-conforming students

 

Awareness of trans and gender non-conforming identities is moving at a fast, but very uneven, pace.  While your students will hopefully have support at home and at university, that’s still not the case for the majority. In a recent UCAS report, 17% of trans university applicants reported having had a bad experience at school or college, and trans applicants were less likely than LGB applicants to have good expectations for university. The report recommends that universities and colleges introduce bespoke resources to support trans students.

 

Trans people remain disproportionately affected by mental health problems.If your trans and gender non-conforming students disclose mental health problems to you, treat them as you would any other student, butbear in mind the following:

 

  • Not enough counselors or GPs are trans-aware; some have been known to do more harm than good.
  • Specialist gender services have waiting lists of over two years from referral by a GP.  

 

If a student comes out to you as trans part-way through a semester:

 

  • Think about your reaction: this is a vulnerable moment for the student. If you don’t understand something, ask politely and calmly for clarification.
  • Don’t make any assumptions: trans people differ in their identities and their choices about social and/or medical transition. 
  • Let the student take the lead: support them if they want to come out to their class, but don’t force it.

Further resources:

 

For you: 

UCAS, Next steps: What is the experience of LGBT+ students in education?

Equality Challenge Unit, Trans staff and students in HE and colleges: improving experiences

 

For trans and gender-nonconforming students: 

GIRES (Gender Identity Research & Education Society – including a directory of support groups) 

NUS Trans Students’ Campaign

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