Using stories and voices to combat the narrative of antisemitic hate: opportunities afforded by the Curriculum for Wales.

Jennifer Harding-Richards portrait

Written by Jennifer Harding-Richards

Jennifer is currently on secondment working as RVE and RSE adviser to schools across three local authorities as well as RVE adviser to the SACRE’s in each of the three authorities. She is passionate about education and especially keen on ensuring that social justice and equity are at the heart of all RVE and RSE curriculum planning, development and pedagogy within the Curriculum for Wales. She is the RE Hubs lead for Wales and a member of the steering committee for the Welsh Jewish Heritage Centre. She has previously worked as a freelance educator for the Holocaust Education Trust and has an MA in World Religions.

According to a recent report (ref 1), there were three times the numbers of antisemitic incidents reported across Wales in 2023, compared with 2022. The incidents which included threats, abusive behaviour and assault, represent a rise of 338%.

Wales is the first, and so far, the only home nation to have made the teaching of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic histories a mandatory element of their curriculum and are committed to being an anti-racist nation by 2030. The anti-racist action plan (ref 2) includes the vision, values, purpose and strategies needed to support this and understandably, education has a large role to play.

The Curriculum for Wales, introduced in 2022, empowers individual schools to craft and cultivate their own unique curriculum. The aim of each school’s curriculum is to nurture students who are:

  • ambitious, capable learners, ready to learn throughout their lives
  • enterprising, creative contributors, ready to play a full part in life and work
  • ethical, informed citizens of Wales and the world
  • healthy, confident individuals, ready to lead fulfilling lives as valued members of society.

As we work towards an anti-racist nation, we are reminded about the power of education. Nelson Mandela’s infamous quote ‘education is the most powerful weapon with which you can change the world’ really resonates with the vision that we have in Wales. We know that far-right philosophies and beliefs are infiltrating mainstream culture, and our children are intoxicated with the images, speeches and behaviour of those that preach such ideologies. As educators, we have the responsibility to counteract such narratives and use our privileged position as curriculum designers and teachers to support our learners to become ethical and informed citizens, able to not only take their place within our diverse society, but to contribute and make positive change.

Wales has a rich, diverse and multi-cultural history. We have a rich legacy of inclusive education as well as a welcoming acceptance for the many diverse cultures and followers of faith that have made Wales their home. The story is told of how some of the first Jews in Wales, arriving in Merthyr Tydfil in the eighteenth century, peered through the windows of some local homes, and on seeing a Bible in every one, decided that this was a place where they could stay and be welcomed.

Using Welsh Jewish stories and voices within our school curricula, whilst obviously not eradicating antisemitism in its entirety, will help develop a generation of young people who are able to humanise and personalise others, avoiding stereotypes and challenge the narrative of the media and those with the loudest voices. We want our children to become ethical and informed citizens, capable of independent thought and able to critically engage with the toxicity of hate that surrounds us on a daily basis.

There are so many Welsh Jewish stories that deserve to be told, individuals who have helped shape our society and made a positive impact on others. Leo Abse, for example, a social reformer, and Labour MP for 30 years. He was influential in the shift in laws and norms towards the acceptance of homosexuality and divorce. We want our pupils to engage with discussion around his ideals and values and how they have changed Wales for the better. His aunt, Lily Tobias, had a multilingual childhood in Ystalyfera which fostered in her a political activism, a sense of social justice and a determination to try and change the world. Her legacy cannot ever be underestimated. Kate Bosse Griffiths, escaped Nazi Germany and along with her husband, became a founding member of ‘Cylch Cadwgan’, an organisation that welcomed and celebrated writers, poets and pacifists. Her own writing focused on her feminist ideals and sense of spirituality. She made a huge difference to those around her.

In working towards an anti-racist Wales, in celebrating and recognising cynefin (ref 3) and using our subsidiarity and autonomy to design our own bespoke curriculum for our learners, we have a real opportunity to use stories and voices to challenge stereotypes, antisemitic tropes and narratives of hate.  

References

‘We’ve not seen this since the Holocaust’: Antisemitism in Wales up by 300% after outbreak of war:

https://www.itv.com/news/wales/2024-03-01/300-rise-in-antisemitism-in-wales-is-unprecedented-since-the-holocaust

Anti-racist Wales Action Plan

https://www.gov.wales/anti-racist-wales-action-plan-contents

‘cynefin’

A Welsh word for which there is no direct translation. It refers to the ideas of habitat and a sense of rootedness, It describes the environment in which one is naturally acclimatised.


#AllTheThings

Helena Marsh portrait

Written by Helena Marsh

Helena is a WomenEd co-founder, mum of three and experienced school and Trust leader. In her ninth year of secondary headship, Helena has also held the role of MAT CEO. An advocate of flexible working, Helena co-wrote the ‘Flexing our Schools’ chapter in the first WomenEd book and has been an active supporter of the Flexible Working Ambassador Scheme and the MTPT Project.

Spending the day among some incredible inspiring women at the ‘Breaking the Mould’ event on 9th March at Milton Road Primary School, Cambridge, was a fabulous way to mark this year’s International Women’s Day. 

Hannah asked me to contribute to the event when we met for an after work mocktail in May 2023. At the time, having this little spot of feminist joy to look forward to on the horizon really uplifted me at a particularly bleak moment in my leadership career. 

Several months later, I was not disappointed. Featuring amongst a programme of kick-ass women gave me a real sense of personal and professional rejuvenation. 

My session, entitled ‘What’s the point of cake if you can’t eat it?’, focused on my experiences, as a mum of three, of gendered perceptions of leadership. In my 15 years as a senior leader, I’ve been conscious of women stepping away from the profession, and their leadership potential, citing selfishness and a pragmatic need to focus on their families, as the reason. 

To coin a phrase by Summer Turner, I questioned: ‘Are the boys also worrying about this?’ Do men perceive becoming a dad and maintaining their career as ‘having it all’?

Gender pay gap research reveals that they don’t. The Fatherhood Bonus, in stark contrast to the Motherhood Penalty, rewards men for becoming fathers. While women are stepping down or away to focus on caregiving and accepting the inevitability of this pause/permanent freeze in their professional journey, men are, statistically, enjoying promotion and pay progression when starting a family. 

My presentation focused on the factors, institutional, societal and personal, that lead to women feeling as though progressing professionally is not a viable choice once becoming a mum. I concluded that wholesale changes to sector expectations of leaders is necessary. As Jill Berry wisely observes, if having a job and a life isn’t achievable, there’s a problem with the job. 

The other inputs to the day complemented this theme. Particularly Niamh Sweeney’s rousing cry to tackle the injustices within the profession that inhibit and preclude. Niamh’s anecdote from her recent trip to the States chimed with many of us in the audience. The audacious goal of winning ‘all the things’ spoke to a refreshing cultural ambition. Meanwhile, many of the other talks highlighted the importance of acknowledging feminine leadership traits and valuing the benefits of diversity in leadership teams.   

I left the day reflecting on how often ‘having it all’ is misunderstood for ‘doing it all’. My Mother’s Day stash of gifts that I received the following day from my little ones included various iterations of listing pads. As a fan of organisational stationery, I was chuffed with my haul. However, it did make me recognise how much of my sense of success as a mum and leader is measured through my accomplishment of ‘stuff’. Many women that I have worked with pride themselves on getting all the sh*t done and to an exceptional standard, often at the expense of their personal health and wellbeing.

As I acknowledged in my IWD talk, the weight of the mental load that mums carry, let alone mum leaders carry, is immense. It’s important that having #AllTheThings doesn’t necessitate us doing everything but having our fair share of whatever it is we strive for, whether that’s cake, career development opportunities or childcare responsibilities. 


Should schools provide prayer spaces?

Zahara Chowdhury portrait

Written by Zahara Chowdhury

Zahara is founder and editor of the blog and podcast, School Should Be, a platform that explores a range of topics helping students, teachers and parents on how to ‘adult well’, together. She is a DEI lead across 2 secondary schools and advises schools on how to create positive and progressive cultures for staff and students. Zahara is a previous Head of English, Associate Senior Leader and Education and Wellbeing Consultant.

The recent High Court decision, ruling in favour of headteacher Birbalsingh’s decision to ban prayer spaces has created quite the media storm. The decision has raised concerns about the precedent it sets for schools creating safe spaces for students and staff, Muslim students and staff in particular. It has also raised conversations about what schools are for and how schools and workplaces can fulfill their obligation to adhere to the Equality Act and The Public Sector Equality Duty – and how they can get around it too.

The responses to the verdict reveal that we live in a society and online world in which Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate is increasing; whilst we have ‘come a long way’ in overcoming Islamophobia since 9/11, a high court ruling like this makes me wonder if we’ve made any difference at all to the safety of Muslims for future generations? The verdict also reveals the disconnect that exists within the school system itself: we have some leaders who are not interested in creating unity and understanding within a diverse country – yet at the same time they ‘tokenistically’ take pride in multiculturalism too. And, we have other leaders in education giving us hope, embedding inclusive and equitable practices in everyday school life. I find it baffling that a simple question about prayer spaces ends up at the gates of a High Court. To me, this not only reveals a lack of unity and understanding in a school but also an absence of a critical skill that should be at the centre of schooling: listening.

Many educators and commentators have been sharing their concerns and outrage about the decision. It will also concern parents and students who regularly use prayer spaces in schools, maybe even at work (many teachers use prayer spaces too). It’s a disappointing decision and whilst several anti-woke keyboard warriors rejoice at the ruling, we cannot let it set a precedent for schools – and I don’t think it will. Schools absolutely should provide prayer spaces and they will continue to provide such safe spaces for students – it’s quite simply common sense. For this blog, examples and explanations are practical and experiential, based on what life is like ‘in school’. Whilst research and data are important, progress, collaboration and community cohesion are also nurtured by listening to the candid, lived experiences of staff and students in schools.

Time and space to pray

In line with the Equality Act, allowing students and staff to pray is reasonable and proportionate to a school and working day. It is comparable to allowing students to have break times, music lessons and god-forbid, toilet breaks. Different forms of prayer and spiritual practice are a part of nearly every faith. In Islam, praying 5 times a day is an integral part of the faith. It takes 5-10 minutes to pray. For the duration of that time, a prayer mat takes up just as much space as a two-seater desk. Depending on the time of year, prayer usually fits into a lunchtime. Just as schools host extracurricular clubs, music lessons sports fixtures and more, prayer can usually fit into this time too. It is not a big ask and it is not disruptive.

Some schools may have a designated prayer room, which is great. Other schools may allocate a classroom, usually near a space where a teacher is ‘on duty’ anyway; the last time I checked, prayer doesn’t require back flips, cartwheels or balancing on one’s head…the health and safety risks are fairly manageable. Some schools might even say, ‘if you need to pray and you have what you need with you (prayer mat, head covering, beads, holy book etc…), feel free to use a designated safe space. It does not need to be complicated.

Prayer spaces are not the problem

To blame prayer and collective worship for peer pressure and bullying is deflecting from the real problem. If children start praying as a result of seeing others pray, or if they simply observe with questions and curiosity, why is this such a problem? If they find it to be a positive experience, surely that can only be a positive learning experience. If the opposite happens, it’s not necessarily a problem either. Rather, it’s a teachable moment and reveals hostile attitudes any school should be aware of. Knowledge about the prejudices within our communities is the first step to safeguarding young people in education. ‘Cancelling’ or banning prayer spaces is not. 

‘Banning’ or ‘cancelling’ (on and offline) doesn’t work. It is a power-based behaviour management tool fuelling a notion that education is based on ‘controlling the masses’. We all learn through conversation, discussion, listening, knowledge, understanding, boundaries and respect, not necessarily in that order. By no means are any of the latter ‘easy’ to achieve, but from working with teenagers I’ve found they’re open to a heated debate, discussion, learning, understanding and compromise. 

School is a place of work and I’m not sure why we expect teenagers to just abide by ‘yes and no’ rules with little to no explanation. Plus, if they find a reasonable solution (like praying in a classroom for 10 minutes at lunchtime), what’s the big deal? Secondary school students are a few years away from further education and the workplace, which we all know thrives on innovation, creativity and autonomy. In this case, a blanket prayer ban in a school (their current place of work) completely contradicts the 21st century workplace they will inhabit. It doesn’t make sense. 

‘It’s inconvenient: we don’t have time to police prayer spaces’

Like any theory of change, whether that be introducing a mobile phone policy or changes to a uniform policy, navigating any arising teething issues (by students, parents and the community), takes time and flexibility. None of this is impossible if it is built firmly into the school culture, relevant processes and policies. These policies and processes may be safeguarding, anti-bullying, behaviour management and curriculum. All of the above are part of a teacher’s and a school’s day-to-day functions; navigating prayer spaces is no different to introducing a new club or curriculum change. Plus, we somehow managed bubbles and one-way systems post-lockdown…I think schools are pretty well equipped to create a prayer space for all of a matter of minutes in a day!

Prayer is not ‘an add on’

Faith is observed differently, from person to person. It is a way of life, and an ongoing lived experience; for some it is an integral part of their identity and for others it is their identity. Prayer is a major part of several religious practices. Like some people are vegan and vegetarian, prayer is not just a choice and something to switch on and off – it is an intrinsic part of an individual’s life. Some individuals, as far as they possibly can, plan their days, weeks, holidays and more around prayer. Not only is it a religious obligation, it is also a source of wellbeing and peace. In a time where health and wellbeing are paramount in education, denying prayer spaces seems counterintuitive. Enabling some form of space (like we do options on a menu) for individuals to pray is a minimal request and something schools can do with minimal disruption. However, if cracks in the system are revealed and outrage spills online and at the High Court, there are bigger questions and concerns to address.

Schools don’t need to be ‘impossible’ or difficult spaces – and they shouldn’t be made out to be like this either. One high court ruling does not define the state of schooling in the UK. I have too much respect and experience (or maybe good fortune) of working in schools that enable, or at the very least, welcome conversations around inclusion, safety, flexibility and authenticity. None of the latter disrupts mainstream education and a student’s chances of attaining a grade 9. However, many other things do and those are inequitable opportunities, ‘belonging uncertainty’ (Cohen, 2022) and denying the identities of the young people we teach. 


Breaking the Silence: Empowering Education in the Israel-Palestine Conflict

Angel Hinkley portrait

Written by Angel Hinkley

Mathematics Teacher & facilitator of the Anti-Racism Society at Drumchapel High School.

In the midst of the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict, a silence pervades many educational spaces. As a facilitator of an anti-racism club at my school, I’ve witnessed firsthand the impact of this silence. Young minds, already vulnerable to the nuances of prejudice and discrimination, now grapple with the weight of divisive rhetoric surrounding the Israel-Palestine conflict. They perceive this silence as implicit approval of ongoing injustices, further deepening their sense of injustice and helplessness.

The reluctance of educators to delve into the Israel-Palestine conflict is understandable. The daunting prospect of navigating this politically and emotionally charged topic—compounded by the fear of inciting controversy or inadvertently projecting personal biases—often leads to a preference for silence. However, this silence is more harmful than engaging with the complexity of the conflict. Within this complexity lie the most profound lessons of humanity, empathy, and critical thinking. By choosing silence, we fail our young people, perpetuating ignorance and apathy in the face of suffering and injustice. To combat this, as educators we should acknowledge and understand our own biases, being transparent about them with our pupils, fostering an environment that encourages insightful conversations, thereby promoting critical thinking, understanding, and unity.  

Recognising the need to break this silence, I embarked on creating a resource that could serve as a bridge to support educators. This resource is the result of deep reflection, where every word and every activity were meticulously crafted to promote love over hate, encouraging pupils to think critically. At the core of this resource is the work of Banksy, an artist known for using his art as a form of activism. Banksy’s pieces provide a unique perspective on the conflict, blending political and social commentary with powerful visual storytelling. This approach offers young people a unique lens through which to engage with the complexities of the Israel-Palestine situation, challenging their preconceptions and encouraging them to confront injustices and connect with the human stories at the heart of the conflict.

PSE teachers warmly welcomed this resource, and a defining moment for me was during a school assembly when the resource was showcased on the “Respectful” slide, aligning perfectly with our core values of being Ready, Respectful, and Safe, signifying the end of silence. This moment filled me with hope for the potential to effect change, but it also served as a reminder that our work is far from over. Breaking the silence is an ongoing journey that requires continued effort and commitment. Together, we can amplify unheard voices, challenge perspectives, and build bridges of understanding, paving the way for a future rooted in empathy, justice, and peace. 

In the heart of every educational journey lies the potential to shape a more just and empathetic world. Breaking the silence surrounding the Israel-Palestine conflict is not just an educational imperative; it’s a moral one. As educators, it’s our responsibility to equip our young people with the knowledge, skills, and empathy they need to navigate the complexities of our world and to advocate for a more just and peaceful future. 

I am immensely grateful to my Education Scotland Building Racial Literacy colleagues and Jehan Al-Azzawi for their invaluable feedback and support in refining this resource. Their input ensured its accuracy and effectiveness in fostering meaningful discussions within the classroom.

Here is the link to the Israel-Palestine resource


ADHD Heads: How can we utilise neurodiversity in shaping the future of schools?

Nadia Hewstone portrait

Written by Nadia Hewstone

Nadia is a certified executive school leadership coach. She left headship to start Destino Coaching and now supports school leaders with their own development as well as development of their teams.

Below is what I shared at the ‘Breaking the Mould 2’ in Cambridge for #IWD2024. I would love to hear from you with your thoughts and reflections on the themes I explore:

I am Nadia, founder of Destino Coaching – an organisation that supports Headteachers to remain strategic while tackling the enormous amount of operational challenges in schools. 

I want headteachers to increase their influence over policy. 

Usually, I’m invited to speak about ways to stay on track with your big goals in headship. Over many years I have developed several planning strategies to help me stay focussed and on track. The main principles are now tools I teach the headteachers I work with. 

Looking back over my career I see that I became hyper focussed on finding ways to overcome the challenges I faced associated with being neurodivergent. This is what I want to explore with you today.

Over the next 10 minutes, I want to make a case for the need for neurodivergent leaders in schools as one of the key ways we will address the multiple systemwide issues schools are now facing. 

  1. My story

Like many parents of neurodivergent children, I started to look at some of my own behaviours through the lens of my developing understanding of autism and ADHD about 10 years ago, when I was a headteacher. Both of my children have autism and ADHD and my own assessment of ADHD raised a question about potential ASD too – I have yet to find the time and space to investigate this but I have ADHD and while I am just one person with ADHD, I have now worked with many neurodivergent headteachers and have thought long and hard about what we bring to schools as a group. 

As a woman with ADHD I face several struggles and I also experience a freedom I believe is unique to neurodivergent women. Here are some things about me that can appear strange to others:

  • I stand up for meetings or regularly leave my seat if I am required to be seated.
  • I often put tasks off until the last minute
  • I find it difficult to follow people when they give long explanations or instructions. I can appear to be bored – and often I am!
  • I have to try very hard not to finish other people’s sentences and speak over them in an attempt to speed them up
  • I have to work extremely hard at relaxing and being calm – even though I know it is essential to my well-being 
  • I need others around me to attend to details as I find detail painfully difficult and race forward
  • I break rules – especially when they don’t make sense to me
  • I do not proofread my documents 

The first time I went on a road trip with my deputy Steff, we stopped at a service station and her standout memory of this day was me getting out of the car before she’d finished parking. She still laughs at this memory now. While I see the funny side I also stand by the decision to do this – she is a stickler for doing things correctly, accurately, by the book – I am not. I saw an opportunity to get our Starbucks order in while she finished her perfect bay parking exercise – therefore cutting down lost time. 

Steff and I were a match made in heaven! She was accepting of my pace and challenging about my shortcomings – she gave me space to lead my way and facilitated my growth through her attention to detail. I will love her for this forever.

Now that I recognise many of my behaviours as part of my ADHD, I am learning to work with them, quieten my inner critic and communicate more effectively so that others do not take offense. 

As a headteacher, I implemented change very quickly and my high energy meant I took my team with me – they told me I was full of purpose and great fun to work with. I also disregarded things I saw as unnecessary restrictions. This was sometimes significantly risky but meant we cut through challenges and achieved things more quickly. 

I’ll leave it up to you to imagine the downsides of all this for my school business manager!

I have had 12 female coaching clients over the past 5 years who have a diagnosis of ADHD and all of them report frustration with the restrictions placed on them by the education system. 

Neurotypical heads undoubtedly experience this too – the difference is that people with ADHD view this as intensely impossible to work around. 

Coaching women with ADHD is generally focussed on how to achieve their massive, exciting, propositus goals despite external barriers such as Ofsted, the National Curriculum and prescriptive working practices. Mostly they are successful once we work out how to embrace the difference.

People with ADHD are 60% more likely to be dismissed from a job, and three times more likely to quit a job impulsively (Barkley, 2008). This is a great loss to society and I hope we can reverse this in schools so that we can secure a way forward that serves young people.

2. Broken system – needs radical change

If you work in a school, I don’t need to tell you the system is broken:

  • A widening gap between rich and poor educational outcomes
  • Fewer resources
  • Greater mental health needs in our young people
  • Fewer services to support children and families

I believe that we need a different type of school leadership, a different kind of teacher. 

Teachers and leaders are still trapped by the exam treadmill, still unable to have in-depth curriculum discussions or spend proper time collaborating. 

Imagine if we flipped the story and leaders and teachers were designing the curriculum, to better match modern societal needs with an intelligent approach to assessment alongside it.  

I suggest that neurodivergent thinking is a great way to flip any story.

3. Creative thinking

Take impulsivity, one of the main symptoms of ADHD. The studies suggest it might lead people to have more original ideas. That’s because people with ADHD often lack inner inhibition. This means they have trouble holding back when they want to say or do something.

Many of my neurodivergent clients have found a new voice and new priorities, including giving attention to staff wellbeing and rethinking the micro-management that characterises so many schools. But achieving this small-scale will not have the impact we need it to have and they often do this at the cost of risking their career. 

Women with ADHD, in my experience, tend not to fear the truth and make brilliant cases for what new approaches might look like when systems are broken. More importantly, they often have the drive to see it through. This can appear radical, stubborn even, but for us it’s just about doing what makes sense. 

In my book, the Unhappy Headteacher, I explore ways we can still have influence and find joy in the role – because I believe we can. I also believe the system needs drastic change with an uncompromising model of implementation. To me, it is clear that neurodivergent women have a valuable part to play in this.

And gender does matter here. According to Association for Adult ADHD (AAD) men with ADHD are likely to develop aggressive and defensive behaviours in response to being misunderstood, Whereas women with ADHD are more likely to mask and experience self-doubt. This self-doubt can be a gift in headship as with support, it is the place where growth and empowerment can be found. 

What all adults with ADHD do have in common, in my experience is inner steel. We find EVERYTHING hard and to find fulfillment and do the stuff that lights us up – like pursuing excellence for a school – we have to accept that we will face tremendous amounts of challenge. Mostly because others often misunderstand our intentions. We share a bounce-backability that is unique to neurodivergent leaders and has prepared us well for the current state of affairs. When everything is hard anyway, dealing with the funding crisis seems surmountable somehow – leaders with ADHD believe there is a way to do the impossible, we just need to find it and we know we can

4. Representation

And let’s not forget the importance of representation in all of this. I have a client who has a diagnosis for autism and fears being open about this with her seniors because of her perceived risk of not being considered for promotion. This saddens me when I think about how far we still have to go in exposing our students to the talent and capability of people with ADHD. Our young people deserve to see examples of adults like them leading schools successfully yet as a culture we still shy away from celebrating the gifts of ADHD – these ‘gifts’ scare us rather than inspire us – what message does that give our young people with ADHD and what potential are we stunting?

Neurodivergent students need opportunities to learn ways to manage the challenges associated with serial rushing and extreme procrastination – what better way to do this than having high-performing leaders with ADHD modelling this around them.

My son has an EHCP and was recently interviewed by an Ofsted inspector in his college who asked him why he thought he’d been so successful at 6th Form, after performing below average at all other stop-off points. Lucas cited the single most important factor as being taught by a maths teacher who is autistic and comfortable with it. Could it be true that to become a mathematician, Lucas needed to see someone like him in the role first? And if so, what does this say about representation among our teachers and leaders in schools?

So how can we utilise neurodiversity in shaping the future of schools?

  1. Create a climate where neurodivergent school leaders feel free to be unapologetically themselves
  2. Celebrate neurodiversity in schools and society
  3. Recognise behaviours associated with ADHD and get excited about them as a sign that creative thinking is taking place
  4. Follow women with ADHD – they have survival mechanism we need right now in schools


Open-mindedness: The most important thing we can teach young people

Liselle Sheard portrait

Written by Liselle Sheard

Liselle is an experienced Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion professional, driving change in organisations of all sizes including global ftse 100 companies. Liselle is passionate about having a positive influence and encouraging others to do the same.

In a study by Mind UK (2021), 78% of young people said that school had made their mental health worse. 70% of young people who experienced racism in school said that it had negatively impacted their wellbeing. These stats are expected to increase further for minoritised young people. At such a critical age, children are internalising negative beliefs about their differences, and are questioning their place in society. Can we expect young people to achieve top grades and sail through school when the environment is excluding underrepresented groups and shaving their confidence at the very beginning of their journey into adulthood?

Complex data analysis and strategic models have a necessary place in the fight to drive systemic change, but are we overlooking the power of fundamental traits such as curiosity and open-mindedness? Can educational institutions model these traits to drive inclusion, and teach young people to follow suit?

Open-mindedness is the willingness to actively search for a diverse range of information, perspectives, and solutions when navigating through life. It’s the ability to admit that we always have more to learn, and that our experiences shape our perspectives.  

In the education industry, open-mindedness can drive an inclusive environment for young people, whilst also encouraging them to be a catalyst for change themselves. In this sense, open-mindedness is about encouraging individuality whilst forging togetherness in the process.

Open-mindedness and finding identity:

Navigating the education system as a young person can bring about complex emotions. Systemically, individual differences and needs have been left out of the conversation, with a holistic service delivered in the same way to everyone. Young generations have expressed feeling stripped of their individuality and self-expression, making it difficult for students to find out who they really are, and grow confidence in their own identity.

To overcome this, self-exploration must be encouraged and welcomed wherever possible, and students should be given the power to consider what is important to them. When this culture is embedded into schools and colleges, it’s embedded into the outlook that young people have on life, increasing their respect and empathy for those around them. 

An open-minded education system would fuel a culture of acknowledging the positives of our differences, giving young people the tools they need to support one another. 

Open-mindedness can break down the stigma and shame attached to diversity and begin to replace this with pride. However, achieving this culture shift requires commitment from everyone, from industry bodies to individual teachers. 

On one hand, it’s crucial that we take steps to increase the diversity of leaders in the education system so that representation is visible to young people during their childhood. On the other hand, we also need to be working to diversify the content covered in the curriculum so that young people are educated on different cultures and perspectives. Students should be able to learn about their own histories in school, as well as uncovering the histories of people with different identities to themselves.

Open-mindedness and finding purpose: 

A wealth of research highlights the link between happiness, success, and purpose (Harvard Business Review, 2022). Rather than mapping out young people’s lives for them and pushing them to follow a rigid process, students should be taught the importance of finding their own purpose. 

Young people should be supported in finding a purpose that will give meaning to whatever they do. By adopting this mindset, we can encourage students to create their own opportunities, and be ready to explore anything that comes their way. 

With an open-minded outlook, young people are more likely to engage in information from a diverse range of creators, encouraging them to build connections with those who have different backgrounds to themselves, and expanding the opportunities that become available to them. Young people should be encouraged to remain curious and enjoy the journey of growing older. This journey is inevitably more educational and colourful when diversity is embraced. 

Open-mindedness and its impact on others:

Being open-minded not only helps individuals to increase their understanding of the world and access opportunities, but it also helps young people to make more well-rounded and empathetic decisions that support others.

Open-minded young people bring a future of more inclusive friends, colleagues, innovators, and leaders. As the future of the planet and society becomes ever more uncertain, it’s fundamental that we support young people to build a future where everyone can thrive together.

If we look at many of the most widely recognised thought leaders across the world – from storytellers to artists, to activists – a key trait shared amongst them is their own open-mindedness, and their ability to open other minds to new ways of thinking. The most influential art, music, films, books, and speeches are those that stimulate; blurring societal boundaries and questioning norms. 

As younger generations become increasingly more attached to the mission of driving wellbeing and inclusion, they themselves should be empowered in the education system to offer reverse-mentoring and share their ideas for change. Welcoming diverse young perspectives will build the confidence of students and teach them how to find their own power. Opening opportunities for students to be the ‘teachers’ would help to highlight how young people feel, where improvements can be made, and what actions can be taken to drive a more inclusive education system. 

         


Safeguarding Inclusion: Nurturing Diversity in Educational Settings

Caroline Anukem portrait

Written by Caroline Anukem

Caroline Anukem is Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Lead at Beaconsfield High School in the UK. She is a driving force, a change-maker, and a relentless advocate for equity.

In the intricate cosmopolitan British society, the journey of being black and British often interconnects with the educational landscape in profound ways. From the halls of primary schools to the lecture theatres of universities, the quest for inclusion and diversity shapes the experiences of students and educators alike. As someone who has navigated this first-hand, I have come to understand the vital role that practice and policy play in safeguarding the well-being and success of every individual within these institutions.

Reflecting on my own educational journey, I recall moments of both triumph and tribulation. From the early days of primary school to the complexities of university life, I encountered an array of challenges and opportunities that shaped my sense of self and belonging. In the midst of this journey, the importance of representation and inclusivity became abundantly clear. Seeing individuals who looked like me in positions of authority and influence instilled a sense of pride and possibility, while the absence of diverse perspectives served as a reminder of the work that still needed to be done.

When I applied for the role of Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Lead. Initially, it struck me as a novel and innovative approach to promoting inclusivity within the educational setting. However, as I delved deeper into the role and its implications, I came to realise the profound parallels between EDI and safeguarding.

Just as safeguarding measures are in place to protect the physical and emotional well-being of students, EDI initiatives serve to safeguard the diversity and inclusion of all individuals within the educational community. From ensuring that curriculum materials reflect a diverse range of perspectives to implementing policies that promote equality of opportunity, the role of an EDI Lead is multifaceted and far-reaching.

In many ways, the principles of safeguarding and EDI are intertwined. Both prioritise the creation of safe and supportive environments where individuals feel valued, respected, and empowered to thrive. Just as safeguarding protocols employ a triage system to prioritise the most urgent needs of students, EDI initiatives must also adopt a strategic and targeted approach to address the unique challenges and barriers faced by marginalised communities.

One of the most profound benefits of a truly inclusive and diverse educational environment is the transformative impact it has on individuals and communities. When students see themselves reflected in the curriculum, when they encounter diverse perspectives and experiences in the classroom, it enhances a sense of belonging, wellbeing and empowerment which will ultimately correlate to improved academic achievement. It cultivates empathy, resilience, and a deep appreciation for the richness of human diversity.

As an EDI Lead, my role is not just about implementing policies and practices; it is about embedding a culture of inclusivity and respect that permeates every aspect of school life. It is about amplifying the voices of marginalised communities, challenging systemic barriers, and championing the rights of every individual to learn and thrive in a safe and supportive environment.

The journey towards creating truly inclusive and diverse educational settings is a collective endeavour that requires commitment, collaboration, and courage. This has prompted Beaconsfield High School (BHS) to take the bold step of hosting our first EDI conference in April this year. We will focus on highlighting the parallels between safeguarding and EDI. We will strive to communicate better understanding of the interconnectedness of these principles and the profound impact they have on the well-being and success of students. 

In conclusion, the journey from the simplicity of my village education in Liverpool to the vibrant inclusivity of BHS is a testament to our progress. Yet, it serves as a reminder of how much further we can go. As an EDI Lead, my commitment is to develop a learning environment thriving on differences, not just educating minds but nurturing hearts, building lasting friendships, relationships and encompassing the British Values in our daily practices. The journey toward a more inclusive and equitable educational landscape continues, one story at a time.


The reality of being black in Durham - a diversity deficit

Written by Charlotte Rodney

As an undergraduate student currently pursuing my law degree at Durham University, I am an advocate passionate about Human Rights, hoping to propel into a career at the Bar. Public speaking, debating, and writing have always been passions of mine, placing conversation at the forefront of my passions. With a willingness to better understand intersectionality that is necessary but often lacking in educational institutions, I continue to pursue ventures that raise awareness on the topic of racial injustice. Writing for Durham's student publication, Palatinate, and immersing myself further into the legal field as a Durham University Women in Law Mentor, as well as being a mentee of a leading Professional Negligence barrister myself, I hope to always remain immersed in academic and working practicing fields.

467.

That is how many Black students there are, including those of a mixed background, who attend Durham University as of the 2020/2021 academic year. What’s more, that is 467 students out of roughly 22,000. Whilst, as a Black student myself, I am not shocked to see that only 2.3% of Durham is Black, this may seem low to others when considering that this is well below the national university average of around 8%, and the Russell Group average of 4%. What then is causing this? In conversation for a second time with the newfound community for Black women in Durham, Notes From Forgotten Women (NFFW), we have gone further into sharing the experiences of what it is like to be Black in Durham, delving to the root cause of the problem. 

Co-founders of NFFW, Chloe Uzoukwu and Subomi Otunola gave their opening remarks on what their experiences have been like as Black women in Durham. Subomi discusses coming from a largely white background having studied in Bath, and how “I got to Durham and it seemed like that same cycle was going to continue where I barely had any black friends”. Subomi then goes on to describe her experience as “disheartening” being one of the only Black people in her History and Classics modules. “Even within my college, if I wasn’t placed with black people, I would not have spoken to them because the majority of my other friends and the people I’ve met within my college have been either people of colour, broadly or White.” Chloe echoes much of Subomi’s sentiment, describing her experiences growing up in Switzerland. “I would say that my experience in Durham has actually been arguably a big improvement from what I’m used to.” 

…we ARE still here 

One of the key points our discussion led us to was the difficulty of Black people coming together and finding one another at Durham. Chloe describes struggling in having to reach out to others of a similar background during her early time at the University. Whilst there is a general experience shared by all university students of having to reach out to others in your new environment, Chloe emphasises how other White students have the luxury of not needing to further search for people that look like them. “I actually really had to go and branch out on my own to find other Nigerian people… which is something that, you know, white people don’t necessarily have to do.” Sara Taha, NFFW’s social media manager, added her remarks on what she believes the key issues to be. Firstly, Sara highlights that “a lot of black people feel pressured to assimilate into a traditionally English culture”. Whilst Sara emphasises that this is not to say there is no place for Black people in a traditionally English culture, “the assimilation that a lot of black individuals feel they must do is at the expense of ever talking about their culture, heritage or race again”. Secondly, the discussion led us to the opposing point that in creating Black communities within Durham, with the hopes of bringing people together to share cultural experiences, this may in fact only help perpetuate stereotypes within the Black community. Sara adds, “ACS is a crucial society in many universities, just as it is in Durham…But, ACS does cater to certain people. It is usually led by a certain demographic.” What then is Durham not getting right about diversity at university, and perhaps more importantly what is going on within the student community that leads to these two polarising cultures? 

Many readers might be familiar with a recent ranking that the University received via The Times, where we placed last out of 115 other institutions on the measure of social inclusion. Whilst this is an internal factor that many students may be aware of, it feels as though Durham aren’t doing enough about it. Chloe explains that “this reputation it has for not being socially inclusive, hasn’t affected them in the slightest. And if it hasn’t really affected them in the slightest, why would they care about changing?” As Sara would put it, “Durham has a certain aesthetic it has garnered over the years.” She explained that she believes that, “rather than try to seem integrated and diverse (like so many other universities), Durham values its inherent whiteness above all else.” So, with a socially exclusive culture that evidently does not prioritise Black students, what is Durham left with? 

… Durham values its inherent whiteness above all else 

To address the ever-metaphorical elephant in the room, it wouldn’t be fair to discuss diversity at Durham University without talking about the diversity in County Durham, and the North East as a whole. The Office for National Statistics has revealed that County Durham is 0.3% Black as of 2021. Nonetheless, the University isn’t made up entirely of students from the North East; in fact “Durham’s recruitment has not traditionally focussed on the local area, with large numbers instead coming from outside the North East”. So why is this University continuing to fall below the national average for Black students who attend university? 

Durham University published their Access and Participation Plan, a 5 year plan set to conclude in the 2024/25 academic year. Within this plan, their section dedicated to all Black Asian and Ethnic Minority (BAME) students explains that Durham’s BAME proportion of all domiciled UK students remains below the UK national average because “there are geographical factors at work. Durham’s position is consistent with its regional context. The population of the North East Region is not very ethnically diverse, and this is reflected in the ethnic diversity of the NE universities…”. Furthermore, they raise the issue of having “a particular issue around the proportion of black students, which we have begun to address…” and this is a point we will return to later. For now, this is what the response has been. Sara comments that, “as a northerner, I know that there is a significant lack of black people here than down south. However we ARE still here.” Subomi added her remarks on the wider experience of what it means to be a student in higher education. “The very stereotype of what it means to be a student in the first place is to be white and to be of a certain privilege standing… we’re going to have to seek out these places to actually create a space for ourselves.” This is why, as Subomi remarks, there are no societies dedicated for white people. It is acknowledged that black students are in a minority, and hence communities are set up to facilitate a sense of belonging that doesn’t automatically exist like it does for white students. The sentiment may be there, yes, however it perpetuates a system where Black students are put in a space of being reminded they will always be disadvantaged. Afterall, you are perceived Black before you’re a student. 

When asked for a comment, A Durham University spokesperson said: “We’re building a diverse, safe, respectful and inclusive environment where people feel comfortable to be themselves and flourish – no matter what their race, background, gender, or sexual orientation. “We recognise we have more progress to make in attracting black and other under-represented student groups to Durham, to ensure they feel welcome and to support their development while they are here. 

“In making progress, it’s important to identify and develop solutions with our students, drawing on their lived experiences, as well as working with partners and specialist advisers. As part of this, we are consulting with student groups on the development of our new Access and Participation Plan. “We are also hoping to get a deeper understanding of the lived experiences of our racially minoritised students through our upcoming Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Survey which will open on 5 February. We encourage our students to respond so we can build as accurate a picture as possible – further details of how to get involved will be shared very shortly.” 

Whilst statistics are great, and plans towards diversifying the University community may be well-intended, one can’t help but get a feeling that this isn’t an active priority for Durham University. For instance, their five year action plan “intends to add 100 UK domiciled black students by 2024/25”. That would be less than 0.5% of the student community. Sara expressed her disdain of the wording of a following paragraph which reads “Durham is not based in an area of the UK with a great deal of ethnic diversity and students with low aspirations are often unwilling to move significantly from their local area.” Sara explains that “I find the label ‘low aspirational’ to be offensive and based in racist stereotypes that black people ‘are not trying for a better future the way white people and other races are’.” What’s more, she calls for more compassion from the University in acknowledging the intersectionality of this issue. 

I now call each and every reader to a point of reflection. As a Black student, would you find yourself recommending Durham University as an institution? The differing responses I have had perhaps speaks to the complexity of the issue. Chloe explains that, “I hate that we have to feel like we need to downplay ourselves simply because we’re afraid of stepping into white spaces. I don’t think that’s fair on us. And so I would 100% recommend the University to other Black students…but not without its warnings.” On the other hand Sara notes, “I am not likely to recommend Durham to fellow black students/friends, if they are used to a certain standard of diversity. First year, first term, was one of the most isolating periods in my life because my college was not diverse in any sense of the word.” What then are we left with considering the space, or lack thereof, there seems to be for Black students in Durham? 

The very stereotype of what it means to be a student in the first place is to be white and to be of a certain privilege standing… 

The University may have a lot to answer for in terms of tokenised efforts to add a mere 100 Black students by 2025, but the issue goes beyond that. We are immersed daily in a culture at this University where Black people are invisible. And in efforts to make us more visible, we are confined to our black spaces that very much have their own shortcomings. What might there be for us? The answer is simple: plenty. There is as much at this University for a Black student as there is for a White student, and every other ethnic background in between. Although it may not look like it, because the diversity is not fairly representative at all, we are still here and calling for the University to make more substantial efforts at diversity, beginning with tearing down the harmful association with Black students and low aspirations. So, the next time Durham University ranks comically low in what are extremely important areas of social inclusion, ask yourself who that benefits, and think of the number 467.


Global Citizenship and the Role of a Global Network in Education

Nadim M Nsouli portrait

Written by Nadim M Nsouli

Nadim M. Nsouli is Founder, Chairman and CEO of Inspired Education. Founded in 2013, he re-evaluated traditional teaching methods and created a new model for modern education. Today, 80,000 students in 111 Inspired schools across 24 countries benefit from a student-centred approach and globally relevant curriculum.

With digital communication facilitating the exchange of ideas, the world is more interconnected than ever before. As such, it’s increasingly common for individuals to identify as global citizens. This presents opportunities for young people. Yet also poses challenges. 

Adapting to globalisation necessitates a strong sense of self-identity and an open mind. Individuals engage with other cultures and challenge stereotypes. Thus, learners must be equipped with the knowledge, skills, and values to navigate and contribute to the world in which they want to live. 

There’s a growing recognition that educating for global citizenship is of importance. In 2012, the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, said “Education is about more than literacy and numeracy. It is also about citizenry”. Global Citizenship is an all-encompassing concept that acknowledges the web of connections and interdependencies in the world. According to Ban Ki-moon, “Education must fully assume its essential role in helping people to forge more just, peaceful and tolerant societies.”

Students’ desire for international travel and cross-cultural programmes has been apparent for some time. In the past, a one-dimensional approach to this was for an institution to partner with a pre-existing educational facility in the location of interest. However, we’ve witnessed a substantial transformation in the way educational institutions operate, i.e., the emergence and rapid growth of global school networks. With a presence across countries and continents, they’re bringing about a new age of learning possibilities.

Educational institutions are recognising that global citizenship education can develop and enhance much-needed values and skills that will better equip students in a changing world. The concept of ‘global campuses’ has gained prominence, wherein the focus is on cultivating a multicultural ethos. 

The Inspired Education Group demonstrates this model with 111 institutions that provide its students with opportunities beyond the capabilities of a single entity. Nadim Nsouli, CEO and Founder, describes it: “We’re now present in 24 countries around the world. This allows 80,000 students from different cultural backgrounds to meet and learn from one another.” Each campus offers a safe space to explore complex and controversial global issues. This approach encourages learning from, and about, people, places, and cultures that are different from our own.

Beneficiaries of the Global Approach to Education

Academic freedom and inquiry are encouraged in international education. It’s a force for promoting open, safe, and peaceful environments. The ability to cultivate global citizenship is grounded in the commitment to giving learners the tools to bring about positive change. 

To be effective global citizens, individuals need to be proactive, innovative, and adaptable. They must be able to identify and solve problems, make informed decisions, think critically, articulate persuasively, and work collaboratively. 

An educational institution is traditionally centred on imparting knowledge to its students through academia. However, the acquisition of these ‘soft skills’ is also needed to succeed in workplaces and other aspects of 21st-century life. At the crux of fostering global citizenship education – and by association, these skills – is a network. 

How a Global Approach Translates to the Classroom

The powerful message of Aesop’s quote “In union there is strength” has never been more relevant than it is today, as educational institutions embrace multiculturalism. Many campuses are now interconnected, which allows students to access any of them – and their specialisms – with ease. This is even more powerful with the addition of extracurricular activities facilitated abroad, providing invaluable experiences. Nadim states: “To develop a rigorous global understanding, an education for global citizenship should also include opportunities for young people to experience local communities. Global campuses, exchange programmes and summer camps offer this.”

Teaching global citizenship itself requires methodologies that facilitate a respectful and empathetic atmosphere. This includes techniques like in-depth discussions and cause and consequence analyses. The objective is to foster critical thinking and encourage learners to explore, develop, and articulate their views while respectfully listening to others. “This is an important step,” says Nadim, “These methods of critical discussion may not be unique, but used in combination with a global perspective, they build understanding and foster skills like critical thinking, questioning, communication, and cooperation.”

Facilitating a participatory classroom environment requires a significant shift in the role of the teacher. They move from being the primary source of knowledge and direction to a facilitator. One which guides as students adapt to think critically, assess evidence, make informed decisions, and work collaboratively with others.

Creating an active classroom environment requires the adoption of a learner-centred approach. This means that the teacher becomes an organiser of knowledge, creating a holistic environment that supports students. As Nadim affirms: “Rather than being passive individuals simply answering questions and competing with their peers, learners must assume an active role. This means taking responsibility for their learning as well as their understanding of the global context of their lives”.

Summary

The notion that all human beings are equal members of the human race is central to the concept of global citizenship. Regrettably, entrenched beliefs in the supposed superiority of certain groups persist in our words, actions, and systems. The educational space is no exception. It can manifest, knowingly or unknowingly, in policies and curricula.

We view the world based on our own culture, values, and experiences. Hence a range of perspectives will exist on any given issue. Thus, gaining a comprehensive understanding of a subject relies on the exploration of other cultures.

As the world grapples with complex problems, global citizenship education has emerged as the gold standard of any institution. This is fuelled by a growing movement promoting peace, human rights, and sustainability. These three pillars are the foundation upon which global citizenship education stands. As Nadim remarks, “The future belongs to young people who can think critically and creatively, collaborating across borders and cultures.”


A Curriculum That Empowers Young People in Care

Anu Roy portrait

Written by Anu Roy

Anu is a TeachFirst leadership Alumni and digital trustee and teacher committee lead for charities in England and Scotland. She is currently a digital curriculum development manager and works in inclusive education projects incorporating tech.

This year is the first time I have developed and designed curriculum models for young people in the care system. Although students I have taught in previous roles come from a range of backgrounds, this role is the first time I have looked at curriculum specifically through the lens of an education that often forgets the difficulties faced by care experienced young people. 

Out of nearly 12 million children living in England, just over 400,000 are in the social care system at any one time. They face a lot of disruption in their learning journey due to personal circumstances, financial difficulties and challenging home circumstances. This means in comparison to their peers, care experienced young people fall behind in most education and health outcome indicators.

Working with a team of educators, social workers, web developers and UX/UI designers, these are the ways we believe curriculum development can help experienced young people thrive: 

  1. Introduce context alongside technical concepts: technical concepts across all subjects can be difficult for CEYP to master in a short space of time so contextual information wedged on either side of a technical explanation will enable their understanding and grasp to learn and embed the technicality in their wider learning framework. 
  2. Champion peer learning– CEYP could have challenging interactions with direct instruction if it reminds them of unpleasant previous instructor situations therefore activities that use peer learning not only lowers the stakes for them to develop their self confidence and interactivity in a lesson but encourages building friendships within the classroom while learning key concepts together.
  3. Open ended ethos– instructors and teachers should veer away from specifying the outcome of a learning topic as ‘to achieve grade _’- instead the learning objectives should first be anchored to exploring the curiosity around the topic with prompts such as ‘what would happen if____?’ or ‘what could we learn if we explored how___’. Academic pressure to perform instantly can feel overwhelming for CEYP. While they should not be met with lowered expectations, instead the reframing helps to welcome them to first explore before learning the topic and moving on to an evaluative stage where they gain more agency. 
  4. Knowledge connection outside the classroom-Learning feels more relevant for CEYP when they are introduced to topics through the lens of real world use. Introducing a curriculum through a skills development framework linked to increased employment motivates them to understand the use of each topic, further strengthened by real world examples, work based scenarios and soft skill demonstrations. It helps them bridge the transition from education to active skill application and any learning based curriculum should also have opportunities through project work for practical applications related to public speaking, project management, team building and problem solving for CEYP to gain experience in these areas. 

Many educators are unaware of the students in their classrooms who come from a care experienced background. While this should not be the only aspect of their identity to focus on, a student centered approach to relationship building alongside these curriculum findings should enable educators to build strong relationships by understanding the story and journey many of their students have taken to make it to the classroom and learn each day. Aimed with this knowledge and bespoke approach, schools and their wider communities can foster a sense of belonging for care experienced young people, something they have been denied of for too long.