The Importance of Empathy

Rebecca Ferdinand portrait

Written by Rebecca Ferdinand

Marketing manager at Lyfta. She has a BSc in Psychology from Durham and has worked for a range of organisations including the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education.

Empathy is one of the fundamental values underpinning our work at Lyfta. In this blog we discuss the scientific evidence for empathy, and talk about how we can nurture it in ourselves and in the children we teach.

This blog first appeared on Lyfta.com. Lyfta is a partner organisation and supporter of DiverseEd.

At a time of continued global disruption and isolation, the importance of being able to have empathetic connections with others – to feel with them and care about their wellbeing – will be critical to ensuring that we build workplaces and societies that can thrive into the future. The children of today all have the potential to build a more peaceful and sustainable world, and empowering them with a strong sense of empathy will enable them to navigate this challenge with sensitivity and compassion.

“Empathy is a quality of character that can change the world.” Barack Obama

But what is empathy? Some confuse empathy (feeling with someone) with sympathy (feeling sorry for someone), but Dr Brené Brown does a good job of explaining this and highlighting Dr Theresa Wiseman’s four attributes of empathy: the ability to perceive others’ feelings, to not stand in judgement of those feelings, recognising or imagining the other person’s emotions, and communicating this effectively. When we connect empathetically, we have better relationships, we become better co-workers and managers, but more importantly, we become more compassionate people – and compassion is vital to a sustainable and humane future.

“Empathy has no script. There is no right way or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of ‘You’re not alone’.” Dr Brené Brown

Over the past two decades, the evidence that human beings are wired for empathy and social cooperation has grown considerably. Neuroscientists have identified areas of the brain that, if damaged or compromised, can affect our ability to identify and understand others’ feelings. Psychologists have shown that children as young as 18 months are capable of attributing mental states to other people. But empathy is not a fixed ability. Evidence suggests that we can continue to develop our capacity for understanding others throughout our lives, but busy lifestyles and our tendency to surround ourselves with people who look and think like us, mean that we are not often encouraged to take a moment to connect with others. So how can we actively become more understanding, and nurture this ability in the children we teach? Here are four ways we can develop empathy in ourselves and in others:

  1. Be curious.  We increase our capacity for empathy when we interact with people outside of our usual social circle, and encounter lives and world-views very different from our own. You could actively seek out new perspectives by seeking out people on social media who you wouldn’t usually follow, or, if you’re brave enough, making the effort to start up meaningful conversations with any new people you encounter day-to-day. 

Research has shown that reading fiction helps people to improve their ability to understand others. Try to seek out stories from as wide a range of perspectives as possible for both yourself and the children you teach. Of course, Lyfta can help you bring real human stories from around the world into your classroom. 

  1. Challenge your prejudices. We all make assumptions about people, and often these are completely unconscious. These might be based around gender, age or racial stereotypes that prevent us from appreciating each person’s individuality. Our biases can seriously hinder our ability to become more empathetic, but acknowledging and challenging them is the first step toward becoming a more understanding person. You can learn more about your biases by taking an unconscious bias test, and tackle them by attending diversity, equity and inclusion workshops or discussions such as those run by the #DiverseEd community.

In the classroom, you could open up discussions on the nature of stereotyping and prejudice, and ensure that you expose your students to people, places and stories that defy widely held expectations. Lyfta gives you access to real immersive human stories from around the world, helping you to start conversations that might otherwise be difficult to initiate during lessons.

  1. Listen (and be vulnerable). Being an empathetic conversationalist means listening actively. Try to be completely present to the feelings that a person is communicating in their conversation with you. Whether it’s a quick chat with a colleague, or a catch-up with an old friend, do all you can to understand their emotional state and needs. You can model active listening with the children you teach by making sure you give them your full attention during one-on-one conversations, and by reflecting and repeating back what you think they may be feeling to make sure you fully understand.

It isn’t enough to just listen, however. Being vulnerable and revealing our honest thoughts and feelings to others is vital to the creation of strong empathic relationships with both adults and children.

  1. Take action. Volunteering can be a great way to experience other lives first hand, create real change, and model empathy to students you teach. You can also encourage your students to join (or set up) clubs at school, such as environmental or equalities clubs, or to take action in response to local issues such as going on a litter pick, or organising donations to a food bank in your area.

“Empathy has always been important. Through empathy we understand and support others; it helps us build trusted relationships and our own peace of mind. Building on the strong foundations developed by its founders, Lyfta, and the approach that it nurtures, helps teachers and students raise their awareness of what is going on around us, of other people’s lives and of the wider world. Such awareness is probably more important now than ever before – at school, at work, and in life. I am glad to have experienced and grateful for Lyfta’s contribution to raising awareness, thinking of others, and developing skills appropriate to learning development; to strengthening of empathy; and to building the capability of all students.” Gavin Dykes, Director of the Education World Forum

Nurturing empathy is one of Lyfta’s fundamental aims. We believe that empathy is the first, and possibly most important, step to building a more compassionate, sustainable and equitable world. Our real immersive human stories provide a powerful way to foster empathetic understanding by giving students access to a wide and diverse range of global perspectives, challenging their misconceptions, and motivating action. 

Join a free webinar to find out more about using Lyfta’s impactful stories in the classroom, and access a free trial of the platform.

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Improving Support for LGBT+ Young People in Schools and Colleges

STEP logo

Written by STEP Study

The Schools Training to Enhance support for LGBT+ young People (STEP) study, funded by the TRIUMPH network, is being co-led by a research team at the ESRC Centre for Society and Mental Health, young people, and the Mosaic LGBT+ Young Persons Trust.

For many LGBT+ young people, school can be a place of growth—a “home away from home”—or an environment just as bad as the alternatives.

Bullying and peer victimisation experiences such as violence, anti-LGBT+ language, exclusion, and pressures to conform are all more common for LGBT+ students. These experiences adversely affect mental health and well-being, such as a sense of belonging, feelings of physical and psychological safety, and access to support. These things contribute to higher levels of problems such as depression, poor body image, self-harm, substance misuse as well as suicidal thoughts and behaviours among young people who identify as LGBT+.

Teachers and other staff who create more accepting environments can break this cycle. To support LGBT+ students, it is important that they understand LGBT+ issues and how being LGBT+ might affect students; and stand up for them and actively challenge bullying and discrimination, to create more accepting environments and help prevent mental health issues.

The Schools Training to Enhance support for LGBT+ young People (STEP) study, funded by the TRIUMPH network, is being co-led by a research team at the ESRC Centre for Society and Mental Health, young people, and the Mosaic LGBT+ Young Persons Trust. We are working together to:

  • Identify what training is already available to school/college staff
  • Understand what makes it easier or more difficult for schools to access training, and to find ways to support uptake for different schools/colleges.
  • Improve training for secondary schools/colleges to better support LGBT+ pupils, focusing on what young people and staff think is important for school/college staff to know.

We want to ensure that our work is intersectional. We are learning more about how schools and colleges can better support the well-being of all young LGBT+ people. This includes minoritised racial and ethnic groups and faith communities, young people from low-income families, as well as young people living in rural and coastal areas. 

So far, we have conducted interviews and focus groups with training providers in the UK to learn more about what their training covers, how it’s developed and links to student mental health. Through these conversations, we have started to identify barriers that schools face in taking up and implementing training to support LGBTQ+ students.

Next, young researchers will lead group discussions with pupils (aged 13-19 years) and school staff to identify what they think is important for school staff to know.

We will then hold two creative workshops, both co-led by young researchers and including:

  1. Students aged 13-19 years: to identify and design potential improvements to existing training.
  2. School/college staff and people who run teacher training courses: to design ways to increase training uptake by schools.

We will use our findings to recommend changes to schools training, and to plan a larger research project to test out these improvements in terms of their impact on young people’s mental health.

Get involved in the STEP study

We are currently recruiting i) young people (aged 13-19), ii) school staff and iii) providers of training to schools on LGBT+ issues to take part in an interview or focus group, and/or a creative workshop co-led by young researchers. Please get in touch if you would like to get involved and feel free to share with anyone who may be interested.

We would particularly like to hear from you if any of the following apply:

  • You identify as LGBT+
  • You identify as Black African, Black Caribbean, Asian, Latin American, Middle Eastern, from a mixed or any other racial or ethnic background 
  • You are a person of faith
  • You live in a rural or coastal area

 

Why is the STEP study important to young people?

Juliet, student and young adult researcher in the STEP study coproduction team

“I think this project is really important to young LGBTQ+ people, because when we get together as a community, we see that there are huge school to school and regional differences, in how topics like relationships and sex education are addressed. And that this also influences young people’s obviously mental health and coming out journeys, or many of them struggling with their sexuality. A good school versus a bad school, can mean the difference between getting into a good university versus, and having a good job, versus not being very successful in life.”

Further information

To get involved in the project or for more information visit: http://www.stepstudy.co.uk/

You can also e-mail: steps@kcl.ac.uk

Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/TheStepStudy or Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thestepstudy/

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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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Reflections on the Edurio EDI Summit

Iona Jackson portrait

Written by Iona Jackson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Telling it Like it is: Decolonisation is Not Diversity

Tre Ventour portrait

Written by Tre Ventour

Northamptonian writer-poet, educator and curator, whose work has often revolved around arts, Black history and issues of race and social justice.

Previously published in Northampton Chronicle [edited]

Since the Murder of George Floyd, there has been renewed interest in Education to decolonise the curriculum, but I have so often seen this term decolonisation lumped with Diversity and Inclusion [D&I]. 

Movements to decolonise curricula have been around for years but progress has been little. To put more Black and Brown authors on course reading lists is simply diversity. And as Sofia Akel writes, “diversity can still exist within this western bias.” D&I and decolonisation are not the same. Academic Kavita Bhanot states that “the concept of diversity only exists if there is an assumed neutral point from which ‘others’ are ‘diverse.’” So, in responding to the Black Lives Matter movement, diversity can only exist in proximity to White people because diversity is “the new corporatized version of multiculturalism” and what we should be exploring is decolonial thought. 

In order to understand decolonisation, we must look at colonialism, specifically how it was more than the brutalisation of a set of peoples and cultures. It also includes intellectual genocides through knowledge production (i.e the erasure of African history), or if you want the jargon, epistemic violence. Epistemology is the theory of knowledge, so epistemicide is in reference to a violence committed through knowledge. This combined with the codification of White western European thought into our structures, very much a by-product of colonial epistemologies, is what we are living with today. Meaning these codifications have also centralised White western experiences and ways of thinking/acting as the universal norm, with Dr. Shona Hunter describing Whiteness as “the ethos of the impulse to govern. … it is not just that whiteness is sameness. It is the generalizing universalizing impulse, the impulse to have power over life, the ultimate controlling impulse.”

 Sofia Akel also says “decolonisation typically refers to the withdrawal of political, military and governmental rule of a colonised land by its invaders. Decolonising education, however, is often understood as the process in which we rethink, reframe and reconstruct the curricula and research that preserve the Europe-centred, colonial lens.” So, this is something undiscussed in just putting ‘diverse authors’ on reading lists. Prof. Gurminder Bhambra and colleagues believe decolonisation should provoke a change in our thinking about the world – where racism, empire and colonialism are placed at the centre and positioned as objects around which our present world is shaped. 

During the Labour Party’s Black History Month debate in October, the term decolonisation was contested by members of The Government. Bhambra and colleagues think that “one of the key challenges that decolonising approaches have presented to Eurocentric forms of knowledge is an insistence on positionality and plurality.” This means the conflicting different stances that can be taken in relation to arguments about decolonial thought. One such example could be to look at how colonialism is discussed in geographies situated in the Global South compared to the Global North(west). On a personal note, to me decolonising the curriculum could begin with looking at what epistemic violence looks like in STEM subjects. We could start by interrogating our very language in relation to Whiteness, (terms like East and West) and how the words and terms we use are vital to how we relate to our identities, communities and each other. 

Since the 2020 anti-racism resurgence, there’s been much debate about White privilege, a notion that has a long history in print with work having been done by thinkers, including WEB DuBois, Kalwant Bhopal, Peggy McIntosh, Theodore W. Allen, and more famously in the mainstream with Reni Eddo-Lodge. In our want to decolonise, it would be of value to also critique Whiteness, especially by looking at the work of Black and Brown authors, since Whiteness is often better critiqued from those outside of it. If we look at the current colonised curriculum as a symptom of White supremacy, we might be able to change our thinking beyond individuals. Just as Charles Mills writes, “unlike the currently more fashionable “white privilege” white supremacy implies the existence of a system that not only privileges whites but is run by whites for white benefit.”

So, when we think about decolonisation, we must the consider language. So, here we begin to see that D&I and decolonisation are different, and it’s often infuriating to see them lumped together. In admitting school, FE college and university curricula are colonised, we must then see how our education system is complicit in White supremacy. The Murder of George Floyd was a wakeup call for many. Movements to decolonise the curriculum have been around for decades and this is simply the latest chapter in a much longer, subtler history. Decolonise, not diversify, and with universities as well, in the tiger’s mouth of Coronavirus and students being fed a colonised curriculum in the White academy, you really have to ask, what exactly are students paying for?

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How Can We Create a Curriculum that is Inclusive of Queer Theory?

George Hayward portrait

Written by George Hayward

(he/him), English Teacher in East London, LGBTQ+ Advocate.

During my time as a student, I often felt a lack of inclusivity in the curriculum I was studying. Reading great classics and beloved page turners such as To Kill A Mockingbird and Lord of the Flies, I found myself wondering why none of these stories were about people like me. When I reached university, I discovered Queer Theory and I was mindblown. Not only were there stories about people like me, but there were academics studying and rereading the texts I grew up with and held dear through a lens of queer understanding. One such text was Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. I had the opportunity to study these readings during my time at university, so when the opportunity arose to deliver a lecture on it at my school in East London, I was overjoyed. While planning the session, I drew upon the essays and research I had from my undergraduate degree, revisiting the work of prominent theorists such as Elaine Showalter, Judith Butler, Eve Sedgwick and Michel Focault. The most extensive in relation to Jekyll and Hyde being Showalter’s paper Dr Jekyll’s closet

 

Queer Theory aims in principle to challenge heteronormativity: the assumption that heterosexuality is the default state of being. It digs into the structures of understanding within art, literature and society and dismantles them. This is an important area of theory as it provides visibility. It allows students of all backgrounds and identities to see themselves in the curriculum they study. It shows them that they are seen and that different people exist. There is a lot of talk about ‘acceptance’ of LGBTQ+ peoples and while acceptance is a great first step, what we need is celebration and understanding. The teaching of Queer Theory and narratives provides this understanding and promotes the celebration of all our students and their identities. It promotes a culture of inclusive allyship and support, where students, staff and their families from all walks of life can lift each other up and be their true authentic selves. All our students deserve to feel they are lifted up in a space where they are safe and important.

 

The session was received well by staff and students alike. I was able to offer the session twice, firstly to the staff of the English department and secondly to our year 10 students. Staff were engaged with the topic and felt that Queer Theory provides another framework of understanding to utilise in our classrooms. It provides another tool in our analysis toolbox to dig deep into language and encourage our students to be critical thinkers. Similarly, students in my year 10 class that attended the session found the subject refreshing and interesting. I found that while Queer Theory and readings may seem oblique to some, students and staff alike were able to engage with the topic and take away some food for thought. The opportunity to deliver the session was incredibly fulfilling for me on a personal level and it is my true belief that the teaching of these theoretical frameworks is of benefit to every student. I believe it is crucial to foster this culture of inclusivity and celebration for all our learners and I hope that Queer Theory will be a valuable step on this journey. 

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How does material deprivation intersect with ethnicity to understand the variations in the achievement among BAME students?

Nicole Edwards portrait

Written by Nicole Edwards

Deputy Curriculum leader for Social Sciences/Aspiring Heads Student 2020-21

This blog will explore the relationship between material deprivation (social class) and the differences in achievement among Black and Minority Ethnic Groups (BAME) within the United Kingdom. 

It can be argued that there are differences in achievement on groups classified as BAME. According to a report published by the UK Government (2019) titledGCSE results (Attainment 8)’ highlights that overall, students classified as Chinese or Asian tend to have a high attainment 8 score. For example, on average Chinese students scored 64.3 out of 90 and Asian students scored 51.2 out of 90, whereas students classified as Black, scored on average 44.9 out of 90 (UK Government, 2019).  However, there are some significant differences in achievement among students classified as Asian. For example, according to the above report, Indian students tend to have a higher attainment 8 score, of 50.6 out of 90 (UK Government, 2019) compared with that of Pakistani students, who score on average, 46.2 out of 90. Similarly, there are variations in achievement amongst students classified as Black. For example, Black African students on average have a higher attainment 8 score of 47.3 out of 90 compared with Black Caribbean who score on average 39.40 out of 90 (UK Government, 2019). 

The material deprivation theory (which links to social class) could be useful in understanding why there are variations in achievement among BAME groups, which could have an impact on life chances. The term ‘material deprivation’ refers to households which are unable to afford basic resources (including educational resources, school uniform, food etc). The term ‘life chances’ coined by sociologist, Weber, refers to the chances that different social groups have of obtaining those things in society regarded as desirable. For example, educational qualifications or of suffering those things regarded as undesirable, such as, low income. According to Guy Palmer (2012) almost 50% of BAME students tend to come from low-income families which can impact their life chances. For example, some may lack the necessary economic capital to access high-quality education. This includes, not being able to afford extra tuition to support with their learning outside of the classroom, computer devices and internet access for online learning. An article written by Jimenez (2020) discusses the impact of the ‘digital divide’ during the COVID-19 pandemic, on ethnic minority students in the UK, highlights that some students from low-income families less likely to have access to the internet, leading to a gap in educational progress.  

Furthermore, the intersectional relationship between ethnicity and material deprivation, can be reflected in statistical data on Free school meals (FSM) and achievement. In a report by UK Government (2019) indicates that a number of Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Black African and Caribbean students from low-income families are eligible for FSM. The material deprivation theory can therefore account for the underperformance of some Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Black African/Caribbean students are on FSM, because some of them are unable to afford the necessary academic resources to help them with their studies. As a result, ethnic minorities who are materially deprived and who on FSM tend to make less academic progress than that of students who are not on FSM. As supported by UK Government Report (2019) highlights that pupils on FSM made -0.53 progress, compared with students non-FSM students, who made 0.05 progress on average in 2019. However, not all ethnic minorities who are classified as FSM underperform significantly in education.  It is important to note that Chinese students classified as FSM, made an average progress of 0.66 (UK Government, 2019). In addition, the difference between the progress of Chinese students on FSM and Chinese students who are non-FSM tends to be minimal. Therefore, in this instance, it might be worthwhile understanding whether culture, rather than material deprivation, has more of a significant impact the achievement of Chinese students. 

In conclusion, this blog has discussed how material deprivation intersects with ethnicity in relation to achievement among some BAME students. It has referred to statistical data on attainment scores of BAME groups, including, Chinese (who tend to have a high attainment score) Asian and Black ethnic groups. Notably, there are variations in achievement within both Asian and Black ethnic groups. The material deprivation theory has proven to be useful in understanding the impact of lack of income and resources upon the achievement of some BAME students.

References

Jiménez, D (2020) The Disproportionate Educational Impact of Covid-19 on BAME students. Available at:  https://epigram.org.uk/2020/09/03/the-disproportionate-impact-of-covid-19-in-bame-students/ .

Palmer, G. (2012) The Poverty Site. Available at: www.poverty.org.uk.

UK Government (2019) GCSE results (‘Attainment 8’). Available at: https://www.ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk/education-skills-and-training/11-to-16-years-old/gcse-results-attainment-8-for-children-aged-14-to-16-key-stage-4/latest 

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Research Assumptions: Collaboration with The Centre for Education and Youth

Alix Robertson portrait

Written by Alix Robertson

Associate at The Centre for Education and Youth

A decade ago, a Canadian professor of human evolutionary biology named Joseph Heinrich published a paper with the curious title: ‘The weirdest people in the world?’.

The study explored how behavioural science was dominated by the perspectives of researchers who drew on samples from Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) societies. It has often been implicitly assumed that the results produced from working with these groups are as representative of the human species as any other population.

But are researchers justified in making this assumption? Heinrich and his colleagues, psychologists Steven Heine and Ara Norenzayan, pursued this question by carrying out an empirical review of studies involving comparative experimentation on important psychological or behavioural variables. While not all research is created equal, the study was published in the international journal ‘Behavioural and Brain Sciences’, as well as in the renowned British scientific journal ‘Nature’, and Henrich went on to develop the idea into a book that was released this year.

The researchers reported that findings based on ‘WEIRD’ subjects are actually particularly unusual, compared with the rest of the human species, across a range of areas including fairness, cooperation, reasoning styles and self-concepts. The study suggested that members of WEIRD societies, including young children, are among the least representative populations when it comes to generalising about humans. Heinrich concluded that “we need to be less cavalier in addressing questions of human nature on the basis of data drawn from this particularly thin, and rather unusual, slice of humanity”.

Given these findings, the team at CfEY are keen to use our expertise in research to support Diverse Educator’s goal of improving diversity, equity, and inclusion in education. To do this we will be acting as ‘ambassadors’ helping DiverseEd to establish its own research strand, made up of studies carried out by or focusing on groups within DiverseEd’s nine categories of protected characteristics – and beyond.

To kick start this work we have contributed some of our existing research to seed the collection and we look forward to supporting DiverseEd in growing this bank in future.

Among our initial contributions are the following reports:

We hope that these examples of our work will inspire others to join in with this exciting initiative. At CfEY we apply a critical lens to everything we do, and while anyone who is interested will be free to submit their research to the collection, we encourage the sharing of robust findings. By contributing quality work on the important themes that DiverseEd spotlights, you will be helping to build up a growing bank of studies that will encourage readers to think carefully about diversity and equality, and how they can drive improvements in representation.

Watch out for two events Diverse Educators (with support from the CfEY) will be running early next year to introduce the DiverseEd research strand.

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