Class Dismissed? The importance of the intersection of social class in educational research

Dane Morace-Court portrait

Written by Dane Morace-Court

Education Leader, Sociologist and PhD Candidate at the University of Chichester. Research explores the intersection of class, gender and ethnicity in the formation of identities. Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Teaching Academy. Member of the British Sociological Association.

Narratives around developing students’ Cultural capital is en vogue in contemporary education. Few educators, however, have had the opportunity to explore the term in its relation to social-class, education and, in particular, working-class underachievement in schools. 

The term cultural capital was coined by French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, to describe the education levels, hobbies and interests of individuals within a particular social group and, in turn, how these experiences conflate to create a schema (or habitus) through which the individual interprets and navigates their social world. Cultural capital is, then, a conduit through which working-class underachievement in schools can be considered and explored. 

As a sociologist, and one who identifies as a ‘working-class academic,’ my research focuses on the construction of identities for white, working-class boys within the neoliberalised (secondary) education system. Accordingly, I often have the opportunity to share my work with a range of educational professionals, academics and researchers. In doing so, I can usually count on the following two questions being asked of me: ‘how do you define social class?’ and ‘what can I – a white, heterosexual male (with all of the obvious privilege that comes with this) – contribute to discussions on diversity in education?’ Both fair questions. 

Before I answer them, however, allow me to set out my stall with the following statement: any exploration into students’ experiences in education, be they based on ethnicity, gender, disability, religion or sexuality, must consider social-class as part of its framing. To dismiss social class (or any other characteristic that could impact on an individual’s perception-of-self) from discussions around equality and diversity is to argue for a homogenous experience of any and all members of a social group. Thus, social-class should, as Block & Corona (2014) note, be one of multiple intersecting factors considered when looking to understand the educational experience of any and all social groups. 

So how are we to define and contextualise social class? this complicated, mercurial term, which seems to paradoxically explain so much and nothing at all. Indeed, the history of academia is littered with researchers offering us definitions, models and paradigms through which to offer clarity to the term. Marx and Engels (1848) famously offer us examples based on ownership of economic production. Goldthorpe (1992), meanwhile, directs us towards a schema (unsurprisingly known as the Goldthorpe Schema) which asks us to consider social positions in relation to occupation. More recently, Savage (2015) fractures the issue further, arguing for a model of no less than seven different social classes. Meanwhile, some postmodern scholars, such as Beck (2004, cited in Atkinson, 2007, p.354), argue that class, as a concept, is no longer relevant (Beck famously described class as a ‘zombie characteristic… the idea lives on even though the reality to which it corresponds is dead.’)

It is, however, Bourdieu to whom we can once again turn, in order to offer us the critical lens through which to consider social-class in relation to educational experiences and achievement. For Bourdieu, class can be considered as the intersection of three different types of capital: economic (wealth and assets), cultural (education level, hobbies and interests) and social (who one interacts with socially and the advantages this may offer). When conceptualised in such a way, the notion of social-class becomes intrinsic in informing not only students’ educational experiences but also their opportunities for success. 

Because, of course, students are not operating within neutral classed territory. As Archer et al. (2010) argue, the education system values, above all else, a middle-class habitus, middle-class culture and middle-class aspirations. In doing so, many working-class students are operating within an education system in which they are not valued and their own culture is not reflected back at them. This, argues Archer et al. (ibid), is an act of symbolic violence. 

So, to our second question, what can I, as a white, heterosexual male offer in relation to discussions on diversity in education? The answer is simple, let us not dismiss social-class as a lens through which to consider the experiences of students. Let us consider students in all of their intersecting complexities and in doing so, offer classed-identities the same gravitas we offer to more prominent conversations around protected characteristics. It will be to the benefit of all stakeholders in education; teachers, leaders, researchers and, most importantly, the students we serve. 

Class dismissed? Not for me. 




Archer, L., Hollingworth, S. and Mendick, H. (2010). Urban Youth and Schooling. McGraw-Hill Education.

Atkinson, W. (2007) Beck, Individualization and the Death of Class: A Critique. British Journal of Sociology 58, 349–66.

Block, D. and Corona, V. (2014) Exploring class-based intersectionality. Language, Culture and Curriculum, 27(1), pp.27-42.

Goldthorpe, J.H. (1992). Individual or family? Results from two approaches to class assignment. Acta Sociologica, 35(2), pp.95-105.

Marx, K., & Engels, F. (1848). The Communist Manifesto. Selected Works by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. New York: International Publishers.

Savage, M. (2015). Social class in the 21st century. Penguin UK.

Accessing the voices of students with SENDs: barriers faced by a PhD researcher

Klaudia Matasovska portrait

Written by Klaudia Matasovska

Former SEND teacher. She worked for 16 years in London, specifically in the areas of autism and sight impairment. She is currently working as a researcher at Goldsmiths, University of London.

I am really enjoying my PhD journey and I wanted to share some of my key experiences here. In particular, I wanted to talk about the issue of access to students with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) which I encountered during my recent data collection. My PhD research interests centre around LGBT inclusion with pupils with SEND. For those who have an interest in intersectional research regarding inclusion and equality in education, this blog might be of use. 

Based on my previous practice as a former SEN teacher, the barriers to disabled students’ voices being heard are often there because of the attitudes of others. Sometimes the barriers are (openly) presented via the attitudes of those who are supposed to be on their side. I once had an ex-colleague, a senior leader in one of the schools I worked at, confiding in me that she did not regard disabled students’ right to information about LGBT as ‘important’ because she expected them to have no romantic lives due to their disabilities. Other barriers can be presented via fear rather than stigma. Research shows that there does appear to be a deep-rooted fear amongst educators that talking about non-heterosexual intimacy and relationships with students with SEND is somehow risky.

Research involving the actual voices of students with SEND is limited and I wonder if this is partially due to restrictions imposed on researchers by students’ gatekeepers. This has been my experience, too. Earlier this year, I organised a series of research trips for the Year 1 evaluation of the ‘Equally Safe’ anti-bullying project of the EqualiTeach charity. I worked with a sample of eight mainstream primary and secondary schools including faith and church schools across a range of areas. During my interviews with staff and focus groups with students, I asked about aspects of the Equally Safe programme, such as creating inclusive policies and tackling identity-based bullying using a whole-school approach. I was viewing this research project via an intersectional lens and therefore, the evaluation was also seeking to elicit discussions about the LGBT and SEND intersections amongst other things. The gatekeepers, members of the leadership teams, were asked to select focus group student participants representing a wider selection of the protected characteristics of the Equality Act (2010) and involve student participants who traditionally might not have a voice, such as students with SENDs. Unfortunately, as it turned out – there were no focus group participants present who had any recorded SEND. 

I understood that this type of research project can feature sensitive information and there is a need to protect any vulnerable students, ethically speaking. Despite this, the gatekeepers’ efforts to deny those from the under-represented groups an opportunity to have a voice in a research project on identity-based bullying was surprising. In sharp contrast, the focus groups included other types of under-represented pupils. For example, they often (but not always) featured pupils who had come out as LGBT. This is an interesting phenomenon given the fact that the controversial Section 28 of the Local Government Act (1988) is still impacting school culture in England. This is evident in misconceptions about what is suitable and ‘appropriate’ to teach which some educators can still struggle with. Often when I interview teachers about LGBT RSE topics or the SEND/LGBT intersection regarding their school policies and inclusive practice, I notice a hint of anxiety in their responses. They tend to stress that they follow the Equality Act (2010) and often mention having a considerable number of students with SEND. My experience with having no access to this category of students in these schools makes me question the cause behind this. Is this all happening because these schools just do not see these intersections? If that is the case indeed – why don’t they see them? Could the cause of this phenomenon be partially the result of the influence of Section 28? Do educators find dealing with certain types of intersections difficult and uncomfortable despite the law?

I will carry these questions into the second year of my PhD studies. It will be interesting to see if these issues with having access to students with SENDs will still be evident in the next sample of schools I am planning to visit. I would be interested to hear about your academic experiences in this area and any barriers you may have experienced in collecting data involving those who represent the ‘less heard’ category of students. Please, do not hesitate to get in touch with me. 

Sowing the Seeds of Love...

Audrey Pantelis portrait

Written by Audrey Pantelis

Audrey Pantelis is an associate coach, consultant and trainer. She is a former Headteacher of a Special Educational Needs and Disabilities school and a current Diversity, Equity and Inclusion consultant and leadership coach.

This blog is inspired by a thread by @msybibi – Yamina Bibi – that I responded to following her attendance at the @ChilternTSH #REND event on July 15th.  REND stands for Racial Equity Network Dinner.  This wonderful event, amongst other key messages, showcased leadership narratives from people that, on first glance, would not have been considered as leaders.  I was struck by the subsequent tweets of appreciation, love and respect from those school leaders and supporters who attended who were inspired by the journeys of others who had made the journey.    What exactly does a leader look like?  Exactly.  There is no formula, no pre-requisite, no ‘ideal’.  Yet, the number of Global Majority leaders in schools is still unacceptably low. As Yamina pointed out, listening to stories of challenge, unconscious bias and racism are now a common part of a leadership journey that Global Majority school leaders must navigate.  You may argue that all leaders must navigate challenge and unconscious bias – but speaking from personal experience – race is an added layer that hinders talented and very able Global Majority teachers and middle leaders from making the leap.  This article on systemic racism published in January 2022 in the Guardian articulates their reality – and mine…. 

‘There is absolutely systemic racism’: BAME headteachers share their views | Race | The Guardian

Why must it be an exception?  Why is it not the norm?

Well – we can look at what is happening in the classroom and recognise that the experiences that our Global Majority children have do not necessarily lend themselves to a lifelong love of education.  This is not a universal experience – but the statistics show policies rooted in white culture are used to punish Global Majority children for their cultural values and norms.  Children from Black African or Black Caribbean descent are more likely to be suspended than their White counterparts. 


Suspension (rate) Permanent Exclusion (rate)
2019/20 2018/19 2017/18 2019/20 2018/19 2017/18
Ethnicity Minor Black Caribbean 7.03 10.37 10.46 0.14 0.25 0.28
Ethnicity Minor Black African 2.95 4.13 4.08 0.04 0.07 0.08


Suspension (rate) Permanent Exclusion (rate)
2019/20 2018/19 2017/18 2019/20 2018/19 2017/18
Ethnicity Minor Bangladeshi 1.93 1.97 1.42 0.04 0.04 0.03
Ethnicity Minor Indian 0.75 0.88 0.53 0.02 0.01 0.01
Ethnicity Minor Pakistani 2.52 3.10 2.05 0.06 0.06 0.04

The statistics, taken from the Department for Education’s publication Permanent Exclusion and Suspensions in England 2019-2020 identify children and young people by characteristic.

Understanding the reasons for suspension and exclusion are complex and I will not  unpack all of the reasons within this blog – but we need to recognise that socio-economic factors, alongside 

We can see the changes over time and for black children, they are going in the opposite direction to their Bangladeshi, Indian and Pakastani peers. 

How do we ensure that these statistics tell a different story?  How are we going to grow, nurture and develop future school leaders from diverse backgrounds if we are unable to keep them interested in learning?  When exactly does the disconnect happen?  

As a keen gardener I am always looking for ways that I can make my plants grow stronger and faster.  I have been known to buy the best plant food or read the latest natural solutions to ensure success.  If I need to, I will move my plants to a better position in the garden in order to encourage them to thrive. 

Do we do this sufficiently well in education?  Are we suitably committed to providing high quality education to all so that ambitions are realised?  Does our curriculum reflect and enable our diverse cohort within our (school) communities?  Are we sufficiently sowing the seeds of the love of education for our Global Majority students?  Until every school addresses these concerns with a more holistic and strategic approach and is less reliant on initiatives and carrot-and-stick strategies, nothing will change.  It feels like those of us from the Global Majority who enter education as teachers and leaders may approach our roles in one or some of these approaches where we may:

  • Choose not to acknowledge our race/ethnicity/visible diversity traits OR
  • Fully acknowledge our race/ethnicity and utilise our unique diversity traits OR
  • Desire a genuine meritocracy 

One does not cancel out the other, as we all belong to the Global Majority, but our identities are many and varied, and therefore we bring our unique perspectives that may well ‘chime’ with our Global Majority young people, seeing us, appreciating our contribution to society and to their understanding of the world.  I am committed to supporting school leaders in nurturing ALL children – but especially Global Majority children and young people, because the situation regarding a diverse workforce in our schools will not improve if we are not nurturing our seeds, our future diverse school leaders, with love. To return to my opening comments, what exactly does a leader look like?  Exactly.  There is no formula, no pre-requisite, no ‘ideal’.  We can create what we want to see.  Let us do our best to get the best.

Extending our welcome, transforming our schools

Artemi Sakellariadis portrait

Written by Artemi Sakellariadis

(she, her) Director, Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education (CSIE)


Artemi Sakellariadis’ contribution to Diverse Educators: A Manifesto is a detailed look at disability in education, drawn from her substantial experience in working with CSIE. In her sub-chapter, she cited guidance from CSIE that was edited for brevity. Following discussions with Artemi, we have decided to publish the original version of the text, with the edits removed, to ensure that the full meaning of the guidance is clear and evident. 

“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” Albert Einstein

This chapter is a call to transform schools on the grounds of human rights.  It invites us to reflect on how we treat disabled people and explores:

  • inconsistencies in the implementation of law and policy
  • established practices which are incompatible with disabled children’s rights
  • perceptions of disability and the impact of stereotypes on children’s life chances.

National laws

The Human Rights Act 1998 brings the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law and asserts people’s fundamental rights and freedoms.  It lists 16 basic rights, including the right to an effective education, and specifies that all rights must be secured without discrimination.

The Equality Act 2010 protects people from unfair treatment with regard to nine protected characteristics, including disability.  It also places a duty on all public service providers, including schools, to make reasonable adjustments in response to people’s impairments, for equality of opportunity (UK Government 2010). This is an anticipatory duty: organisations must not wait until a disabled person arrives, before transforming their cultures, policies and practices.  The aim is to ensure no disabled person misses out or is disadvantaged.

Part III of the Children and Families Act 2014 concerns the education of children and young people identified as having special educational needs or disabilities (SEND).  It confirms every child’s right to a mainstream education, as long as this is consistent with their parents’ wishes, the efficient education of other children, the efficient use of resources, and that the education offered is appropriate to the child’s needs.  The last three conditions are often cited as reasons why a child cannot be included in a particular school, even though these issues largely depend on the way teaching and learning are organised in school.

The SEND Code of Practice explicitly states in paragraph 1.26 that the UK Government is committed to inclusive education and that the law presumes that all children and young people will be educated in a mainstream school (Department of Education and Department of Health, 2015, p. 25, emphasis added).

International laws

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990) protects all children (0 – 18) from discrimination (Article 2) and states that all decisions should be in the child’s best interests (Article 3), aiming for the child’s optimal development (Article 6) and taking into consideration the views of the child (Article 12).  Article 23 confirms that disabled children have all rights in the Convention and Articles 28 & 29 that every child has a right to an education which develops their personality, talents and abilities fully.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child has issued a number of General Comments (documents clarifying the meaning of the Convention).  General Comment no. 9 (2006, on the rights of disabled children) states that disabled children are still facing barriers to the full enjoyment of their rights, that the barrier is not the disability but a combination of social, cultural, attitudinal and physical obstacles which disabled children encounter, and that “inclusive education should be the goal”.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2008) states that all disabled children and young people should participate in the state education system and that this should be “an inclusive education system at all levels”.  General Comment no. 4 (2016) clarifies that inclusion necessitates ‘systemic reform’ involving changes in content, methods, approaches, structures and strategies in education, so that all pupils can have an equitable and participatory learning experience.

Putting laws into practice

It follows from all the above that the legal imperative for including disabled children in ordinary schools is clear and undeniable.  To achieve this, it is essential that examples of effective inclusion are shared widely and that educators are better prepared and better supported to work with disabled pupils.

At school children learn more about themselves and others, develop their sense of identity and belonging, and can make life-long friends.  All children should have these opportunities together, and learn from and about one another.

Some people argue that disabled children should not be included in local schools because teachers may not have the training, experience or time to respond to their needs.  Initial teacher education and continued professional development can, indeed, be improved, as can practical support to make inclusion effective.  As for evaluating what time is considered well spent and what not, we may need to pay closer attention to who is valued and on what grounds.

Judith Snow, Canadian Disability Rights Advocate, describes (2001, pp. 53-54) her experience of having a classmate who was an Olympic diver.  She lists the support offered when this other girl had to miss school for training or competitions, and compares it to her own experience of missing school for medical appointments. She concludes that adults seemed to find it exciting to support an Olympic diver to achieve in sport, and a burden to support a disabled child to attend their local school.

Recent evidence suggests a twofold benefit of supporting disabled children’s learning and development in ordinary schools: it leads to improved educational outcomes for disabled and non-disabled children, and better supports the social and emotional development of every child (Hehir et al, 2016).

In England the picture is patchy. Latest figures show an almost tenfold difference between the local authorities which send the highest and the lowest proportions of children to special schools (Black and Norwich 2019).

There is much that schools, other settings, or individual educators can do to honour disabled people’s rights and help align education practice with education law.  If nothing else, it helps to make disability visible, treat it as an ordinary part of life and ensure our language and interactions reflect this.  Here are some suggestions from CSIE’s equality toolkit (2016) and online Knowledge Box (2020):

  • Ensure disabled people are represented in positive ways in the curriculum, displays, books and other resources.
  • Maintain a positive attitude and ask “How can we …?” (rather than “Can we …?”).
  • Ask for the support that you need to make inclusion effective.
  • Ensure that disablist bullying and any indication of prejudice or harassment are consistently challenged.
  • Help disabled children get a stronger sense of belonging in school.
  • Ensure disabled people are treated in ways which confirm they are valued and respected.


A widespread assumption that separate special schools are usually preferable is out of sync with the law, and inconsistent with contemporary values of disability equality and human rights. This chapter invites readers to contribute to the long-overdue transformation by becoming agents of change in their own setting or sphere of influence.

Key Takeaways

  • National and international laws call for a transformation in education, so that disabled children can be routinely included in ordinary schools.
  • There are likely to be more similarities than differences between any two people. We must not let one striking difference overshadow many similarities.
  • We are all of equal value, by virtue of being human, and should all know not to judge a book by its cover.

Key Questions

  • On what grounds is it acceptable to exclude disabled children from their local community?
  • If we do not question the futility of stereotypes about beauty or intelligence, where does that leave those of us who do not have what society values?
  • Are you, or your school, working in ways which breach disabled children’s rights?

Manifesto Statement

Education practices need to be brought in line with education law as a matter of urgency. This is a call to action to challenge inequitable practices and develop more inclusive settings.


Black A and Norwich B (2019) Contrasting Responses to Diversity: School Placement Trends 2014–2017 for all Local Authorities in England. Available at: (accessed April 2021).

Children and Families Act (2014) Available at: (Accessed April 2021).

Committee on the Rights of the Child (2006) CRC/C/GC/9 General Comment no. 9 (2006) The rights of children with disabilities.  Available at: (accessed April 2021).

Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2016) CRPD/C/GC/4 General Comment no. 4 (2016) on the right to inclusive education. Available at:  (accessed April 2021).

CSIE staff and associates (2016) Equality: Making It Happen – A Guide to Help Schools Ensure Everyone is Safe, Included and Learning. Bristol: Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education (CSIE).

Department for Education and Department of Health (2015) Special educational needs and disability code of practice: 0 to 25 years. Available at: (Accessed April 2021).

Equality Act (2010) Available at: (accessed April 2021).

Hehir T et al (2016) A Summary of the Evidence on Inclusive Education. Available at: (accessed April 2021).

Human Rights Act (1998) Available at: (accessed April 2021).

Knowledge Box on Disabled Children’s Rights in Education (2020) Available upon free registration at: (Accessed April 2021).

Snow, J. (2001) ‘Dreaming, speaking and creating: What I know about community’, in Great Questions: Writings of Judith Snow. Available at: (accessed April 2021).

Tackling Sexism in Schools Needs to Start with the Curriculum

Rachel Fenn portrait

Written by Rachel Fenn

Co-Founder of End Sexism in Schools and former Head of English.

End Sexism in Schools (ESIS) is a grassroots campaign organisation set up in 2020. Our aim is to support girls and boys to fulfil their potential, without gendered expectations, in a safe and supportive school environment.

Over the past two years, numerous scandals have revealed the widespread extent of sexual harassment, sexism and misogyny in schools, with Ofsted’s 2021 report into this commenting on how boys have a sense of ‘superiority’ that makes them feel they can treat girls as they wish. The answer to this has been to overhaul the PSHE curriculum to explicitly teach consent, but we know that this is merely treating the symptoms, not the cause. 

The reality is that women are virtually invisible within the content of the academic curriculum, and we draw a direct line between this invisibility, and the sexual harassment boys inflict on girls. Without ever hearing women’s voices, reading and discussing women’s experiences, and learning to value and respect women’s contribution to the world, is it any wonder that boys grow up viewing women as inferior, and worthy of little respect? 

When our founder first made this connection and began to campaign to change the curriculum, she was met with a problem: she had no concrete evidence to back up her claims. Research into the content of the curriculum in secondary schools was limited, and little proof beyond anecdotal evidence was available to demonstrate the extent of the problem. As such, ESIS’s first project was to uncover gender bias in the teaching of English Literature at Key Stage 3 (school years 7-9) in England’s schools. English was chosen due to it being a core subject studied by all pupils to the age of 16, and it being straightforward to identify gender bias in the curriculum content by collating data on the sex of authors and protagonists on set text lists.

In 2021, using a small army of volunteers, we researched the English curriculum in nearly a third of England’s secondary schools. With no requirements to teach any specific texts other than Shakespeare, schools have free rein to teach what they like at Key Stage 3. Given this freedom, the lack of diversity we uncovered is shocking. Our key findings are as follows:

  • 82% of novels taught feature a male protagonist 
  • 77% of schools teach one or no whole texts by female authors across the three years of KS3, with 44% teaching none at all and 33% only teaching one; this is out of an average of nine whole taught texts across the three years 
  • However, the actual number of whole novels taught by female authors is likely to be even less because a larger percentage of male authored texts were mandatory (as opposed to being on a list of choices) than female – 68% compared to 57% respectively
  • 99% of plays taught are by male writers, only 1% by female, and only 2% have a lead female protagonist
  • A small number of schools account for the majority of female-authored texts taught; 16% of schools teach 50% of those listed in school curricula 

Coupled with the fact that only 7% of pupils study a book by a female author at GCSE, this means that most children educated in England will go through their entire compulsory education never having studied a whole text (as opposed to an extract, poem or short story) by a female author. Considering that schools have free choice of the texts they teach, and that 77% of secondary school English teachers are female (the highest proportion of any academic subject), the fact that most are continuing to fall back on the teaching of male authored texts with male protagonists is powerful evidence of how engrained misogyny and patriarchal values are embedded in our society.

English is just the tip of the iceberg; the invisibility of women is evident in every area of the academic curriculum, and it is our mission as an organisation to carry out the research required to prove this, and then campaign for change. PSHE cannot continue to be touted as a panacea for solving misogyny in schools when every other lesson pupils attend teaches them that women have no value. Cultural change will only happen when the academic curriculum is overhauled to create an equal space for women’s achievements, voices and experiences alongside those of men. 

You can read our report into the English curriculum here. If you’d like to join our efforts to End Sexism in Schools, we are always looking for new volunteers. Please do contact us at

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

Corinna Richards portrait

Written by Corinna Richards

An avid crocheter, who also happens to teach, train and lead.

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

— Andrew Grant.

Whether Oscar Wilde or Will Rogers said it first, isn’t for this purpose particularly important. What any student or teacher with a facial disfigurement will tell you, is that it’s true. And the experience of that is hugely important. It’s always been true, but in our “beauty bias” society, looking different – whatever that difference may be, is a big deal. Having a facial or ‘visible difference’ can be excruciating. Our physical appearance matters in first impressions. I’m not saying it should, but from my experience it does. 

I blog about this from two perspectives. Firstly, as a person with a congenital facial disfigurement who works in Education and secondly as an EdD student. I’ve just turned 50, and “back in the day” plastic surgery wasn’t as developed as it is now. I had my first plastic, corrective surgery at the age of 11, so I spent my primary school years looking very different. My skull fused together in the womb prematurely which caused my eyes to be extremely wide set and for my nose to be virtually flat with two small nostrils. You can imagine…

However, like everyone, I’ve adapted, over-compensated and fought my way back. I always wanted to teach and that’s what I’ve always done. Apart from three terms in suburbia I’ve always taught in inner city London and only once did I have any issues regarding my face from a pupil. I loved and still do, the diversity of the inner-city, the children were remarkably accepting of my appearance, we were all shapes and sizes together, the issue of ‘normal’ just never seemed too prevalent. The same couldn’t be said for the parents! The suspicion of my appearance was always there, in some heated exchanges a name regarding my appearance would slip out (yawn… I’ve never heard that one before…) and I’ve even had some parents ask my secretary what is wrong with my face!  (One of the many reasons I prefer children to adults!) 

But last year, I had a bit of a shock. 

I am in the third of year of EdD at UEL and I am studying the lived experience of Imposter Phenomenon in Teacher Educators. It’s really interesting, but it wasn’t my first choice. Initially, I wanted to study IP in teachers with visible differences. I couldn’t find any. I didn’t know any. I didn’t know any teachers with facial burns, or severe acne, or disfiguring birthmarks or craniosynostosis… statistically they must exist (I am for one)… but where are they? I then thought about all the pupils I have taught over nearly 30 years… lots of differences, but when did I teach a child who was like me? I don’t think I have. Where are these children and where are the teachers?

Recently, in an updated version of Malory Towers, a young actor, Beth Bradfield, with a visible difference joined the cast, but how often do we see actors with facial burns or scars? Possibly in James Bond, but then of course, only as the villain. I attended my first DEI event last weekend, it was brilliant. Representation matters. Yes, it does. So how do I help other people like me have the courage to stand in front of groups of people and teach. I spent decades of my life trying to hide my face. I was desperate to make my visible difference invisible. It seems like I might not be the only one. 

For more information visit: 

‘Changing Faces’: 

The Katie Piper Foundation:


The Words We Choose, the Words We Use

Chris Richards portrait

Written by Chris Richards

MEd in Applied Linguistics and currently works as a Teacher Mentor in Madrid

This year, the blogs I’ve written as part of the #MonthlyWritingChallenge have often explored the etymology of the theme chosen. Language and linguistics is my field and I suppose I am interested in exploring where the words we use come from and how they change. 

Although my pedagogical roots lie in a (now demolished) secondary school classroom in Birmingham, I now teach English as a foreign language in Madrid. Appropriacy is a key concept in language teaching. Appropriacy is about ‘whether a word is suitable for the context it is being used in. It is an important aspect of language but an extremely complex one, as decisions about how to say things depend on understanding exactly what is right for the context and the culture’ (British Council). Just knowing the spelling, pronunciation, meaning and morphology (how the word changes according to tense or person) isn’t enough; you need to know the context(s) in which you can use the word. Think about the contexts in which you might use the following range of greetings: ‘Good morning’, ‘Hello’, ‘Hi’, ‘Hey’, ‘Alright?’ and perhaps you use a few more. They’re not interchangeable and this is appropriacy. New speakers of a language have to learn more than the vocabulary and the grammar, they also have to learn when and where and with whom words can be used. What does this mean for native speakers, though? The challenge for us is that like every other aspect of language (spelling, pronunciation, meaning, to name but three), appropriacy is always changing. And we need to keep up. Complaints about language change are commonplace: common across historical time and across languages. “Why can’t we say X anymore?”or “I hate that people say Y now, that word always sounds hateful to me”. Such comments make me think about the story of King Canute commanding that the tide stop. Language change is normal.

Conceptual baggage is another important concept to consider. Conceptual baggage is the associations we have with words and such baggage varies from person to person. As a result, effective communication takes account of these potential associations and when we are speaking formally, or with strangers, we probably avoid potentially problematic, colloquial terms in order to reduce the chance of causing offence. A perfect example is the word “queer”. To some people, it’s an inclusive term that they embrace; for others, especially those who have been on the receiving end of its use as a derogatory term, it retains its power to hurt. The words we choose to use depend on context. Appropriate words in a situation vary across historical time (common words becoming slurs, slurs being reclaimed and embraced) and they vary according to the audience (the words you use with your mum are different to the words you use with your friends, your boss, your students, and so on). 

It’s often said that all teachers are teachers of literacy and it follows that all of us are teachers of language. We all have a role to play in showing our students that language is not fixed, but shifting, and its use is contextual. This is not about being Orwellian language police, proscribing terms without explanation. This is about providing an explanation and explaining the importance of context. Take the example of swear words: there are adults who don’t use them, but many do and children hear them being used. Simply telling children that they shouldn’t swear is likely to be ineffective. However, explaining that adults do swear in certain contexts but not in others is more likely to have the desired effect. If we want young people to use language effectively and with empathy, they need to be taught the rules. The rules of appropriacy are as important as spelling and grammar: why one word is considered offensive and why another is considered a more polite and appropriate alternative.

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. 


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: 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. 


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.’


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  


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: from-the-great-dictator 

Department for Education (2013) The National Curriculum in England: Framework  Document. Available at:  

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 workforce/latest 

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

Macpherson Report (1999), as part of The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry available at: ment_data/file/277111/4262.pdf pp.382 

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

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: 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: hierarchy-topped-by-male-pale-and-stale-voices-and-decolonise-the-curriculum 

The Equality Act 2010 guidance, can be found at: 

The National Curriculum 1999 available at:  pp. 10, pp.12. 

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

One Year Later: Lessons Learned from a Whole School Approach to Decolonising the Curriculum

Terra Glowach portrait

Written by Terra Glowach

Lead Practitioner for literacy and decolonising the curriculum at Cathedral Schools Trust in Bristol

After a year of working with teachers across the curriculum to decolonise, I’d like to pass on some key lessons for new EDI Leads, Curriculum Leads, Lead Practitioners and anyone trying to do similar work in schools. 

Here are my top 10. Some of these I got right first try; others I learned the hard way. Hope it helps. 

  1. General reading on the topic of anti-racism, decolonising, and education will give you the knowledge and confidence to have critical discussions, and wider frameworks for doing anti-racism work in schools will give you an idea of where to start. But the impactful work starts when you look at your specific school cohort, the data on ethnicity, outcomes and behaviour, and qualitative data on the experiences of Black and Asian staff and students. Know the specific and concrete issues in your institution. For my school, the issues were a lack of Black representation in the curriculum, the teaching staff, and in top sets. You can’t get people on board unless you can present the problem in cold hard numbers, and show that it’s in their immediate context.
  2. Seek out local academics who are working on decolonising and race equality within the Education faculty of your nearest universities first, and those passionate enough to work with schools even if they are not in the Education faculty. Teachers are disciplinary experts, researchers, community workers and curriculum designers, but rarely recognised as such. Organising discussions between subject leads and academics working in the same discipline to tackle what decolonising looks like in their subject gives teachers this recognition. Academics have often done their decades in school teaching, and can bring fresh research and challenging ideas to the table. Teachers, in turn, get to practice criticality in the face of research and work out what approach would work best for them in their context. My first go at providing readings for decolonising Maths didn’t stick because it necessitated the addition of history content which the teachers felt was forced. But Prof Alf Coles pointed out that decolonised pedagogy was a powerful way to both respect students’ ways of knowing and improve attainment. Get the experts in!
  3. Disrupt the school culture and curriculum by centering voices which have been previously marginalised. For example, I got Somali students to teach Somali to their teachers, and prepared form time materials, a whole-school assembly and a scheme of work on Somali contributions to UK communities and literature. Show people that the status quo can shift, and take the blinders off. You have to model decolonising work and show how it creates belonging, a more informed curriculum narrative, and a sense of excitement and discovery – THEN start getting people on board for work across the curriculum..
  4. If you are white, find the Black and Asian staff in school and the academics and practitioners out in the local community who have been doing this work longer than you and with a far better idea of how and why it should work. Put them forward for the opportunities and pay that you are offered but which they deserve, and watch them knock the dust off your school. 
  5. Model what colonial frameworks and lenses look like in textbooks and in practice – have discussions about the limitations of these, how they position the global majority and the Global South, and the way they reproduce racial hierarchies. So for History, Science or Geography, is the seizure of land from indigineous peoples, the extraction of natural resources and the pollution of their land, air and water presented as an unfortunate but inevitable consequence of competitive capitalism and the discovery doctrine? Do you look at what established, indigenous science and resource management achieved and how this was exploited? Do you consider what fair trade and sustainable, mutual development might have looked like? 
  6. Do form-time focus group and questionnaire research with the students so you promote discussion and give space for students to feed in anonymously. Use the collated data – like the percentage of students who want more Black representation – and powerful anecdotes from students as stimulus for planning. Go back to students with these plans , and check back after a term or a year to ask them how your school is doing. So often we ask for student voice and don’t keep students in the loop. Why not make them your associates?
  7. Staff need reading and training on how to talk about race, and how to structure and deliver a curriculum that empowers rather than silences, humiliates and traumatises. Just like students, they need to see this modelled in their own discipline (not just yours). 
  8. Students at my school said effective discussion facilitation was key to challenging racist ideas in their curriculum and providing a safe space for people to explore and develop more informed opinions without ego or defensiveness getting in the way. If oracy and explorative discussion isn’t explicitly taught in your school’s classrooms, this may seriously hamper your progress. 
  9. Show off and celebrate the work teachers have done to decolonise the curriculum in your school on a public forum. Think newspaper article, conference, festival, exhibition, trust-wide INSET day. They are leaders and change agents, and deserve recognition. It will also inspire the people waiting in the wings to join in and make a difference.
  10. You will soon realise that you have only scratched the surface, and that school priorities may change with the news cycle. This is unglamorous, thankless, difficult and ground-up work that has been going on for centuries. You are not a pioneer. Find and maintain your network – you will need each other.

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 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.