Advancing Black history education in the UK

Katie D'Souza portrait

Written by Katie D'Souza

Katie D'Souza is a recent MA Education graduate, whose dissertation titled "Understanding the impact of 'our island story': exploring feelings of identity and belonging for Black British students" is currently under review for publication in the Curriculum Journal. Katie has since worked for a small business called The Educate Group, supports university staff to diversify their curricula and lead more inclusively, and now works at the Office of the Children's Commissioner, helping to ensure that the government listens to the voices of the children and young people living in this country.

Did you know that you can ask your MP to host a roundtable for you in parliament? The Black Curriculum (TBC) founder, Lavinya Stennett, certainly knew this, and last week took the opportunity to bring together key players in the Black history sphere for a critical discussion of Black history education in the UK, hosted by Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP.

TBC’s mission is to work with key stakeholders to embed Black history into the national curriculum. This roundtable sought to find practical and productive actions for ways to achieve this, and further cemented the determination for Black history to be meaningfully incorporated into the national curriculum, all year round.

With contributions from Professor Deirdre Osborne, expert in feminism, race and poetics, Michelle Codrington Rogers, citizenship teacher and NASUWT President, and award-winning history teacher and author Shalina Patel, amongst others, participants left this roundtable energised to arm the next generation of students (and ultimately leaders) with the comprehensive knowledge of history they need to navigate our increasingly globalised world.

A survey conducted by Bloomsbury in 2023 found that more than half (53%) of those surveyed could not name a Black British historical figure, and that only 7% could name more than four. The same survey suggests that less than 1 in 10 Brits believe that Black people have resided in England for more than 1000 years, assumptions erring towards 200 years, when in fact the answer in closer to 2000. Is this really the state of our history education system at the moment?

More can, and should, be done. Teaching Black history does not just build essential knowledge about structural and institutional racism, and Black brilliance, joy, and success. It also helps to create a sense of belonging for students with diverse heritage in UK classrooms, which may even serve to improve attainment and academic progress.

However, as it stands, the only mandatory (statutory) topic on the Key Stage 3 history curriculum is the Holocaust. Whilst the Department for Education has defended this set up as giving schools and teachers the freedom and flexibility to include Black history, in practice, the non-statutory nature translates as schools having little incentive to change their existing approach to history.

Shalina’s powerful account of her experience as a history teacher of 15 years spoke to the importance of the supportive leadership team in her school giving her both the time and resources to construct a department that is committed to building an inclusive history curriculum. 

Unfortunately, this is not the case for everyone. When there is resistance to change at management and/or senior leadership team level, it can make it really difficult for teachers to do this important work alone.

Bell’s remarks further emphasised the role that teacher confidence and resources play in delivering a comprehensive Black history education. She reasoned that all teachers must be equipped to do justice to Black history in the classroom, so that the responsibility does not fall solely on teachers of colour. TBC’s resources are a great way to begin to do this, as Robert Primus, a secondary school history teacher, advocated, but this must be paired with some more concrete changes to the way history is taught in our schools.

Therefore, in the face of a general election in July, we urge the next government to consider the following asks from TBC and the other participants at this roundtable:

1 Introduce mandatory racial literacy training

The consensus at the roundtable was that we know teaching Black history is essential but that there are real, practical barriers to achieving this widely across the UK. TBC together with sisters Naomi and Natalie Evans who founded Everyday Racism ask that the next government introduces mandatory racial literacy training for school staff and leaders, under the rationale that racial literacy acts as a form of safeguarding for students from diverse backgrounds. Every adult interacting with children and young people must understand the intersectionality of identity in the UK and how the way that narratives and histories are told in the classroom deeply affects the sense of self and belonging of those listening. It’s imperative that teachers are given the time, headspace and resources to become more racially literate, and we believe making this training statutory is the way to make this happen.

2 Make Black history a statutory part of the curriculum

Recent RSHE guidance published by the Department for Education has proven that if they want to, the government is willing to prescribe what schools should and shouldn’t teach. Whoever forms the next government should make Black history a statutory part of the history curriculum. The reality is that value of teaching Black history for improving cultural understanding, increasing sense of belonging, and students seeing themselves reflected is unfortunately often overlooked by headteachers and senior leaders for whom the current school system places such great emphasis on grades and exam results. Making Black history statutory will support teachers to overcome challenge from their school leadership, as the content will be on official specifications and be included in exam materials too. There has already been some good progress in this space at Key Stage 4, where GCSE exam boards recently introduced a migration thematic study, covering migrants in Britain as well as the history of Notting Hill, but for the Key Stage 3 curriculum much remains to be achieved.

3 Equip teachers to meaningfully integrate Black history

Black history must not be seen as a tick-box exercise but should be meaningfully integrated into the curriculum. To realise this ambition, teachers must be equipped with the resources and empowered with the knowledge and confidence to do justice to Black history without ‘othering’ the stories of the past. For example, learning about Mansa Musa and the richness of West Africa before any mention of the transatlantic slave trade will support both teachers and students to reframe their understanding of Black history. Or when studying medieval England, to simultaneously look at medieval Mali, or Japan, or Baghdad. It is not necessarily a case of overhauling the whole curriculum, but weaving interesting and positive stories into the topics that are already so well known. It is about teaching a full history, not just the version constructed by the victors. As Bell summed up nicely, ‘you’re not learning a complete history if you’re not learning about black history’.


Supporting our neurodivergent girls with their Relationships and Sex Education

Alice Hoyle portrait

Written by Alice Hoyle

Alice Hoyle is a Wellbeing Education Consultant specialising in Relationships Sex and Health (RSHE) Education and Sensory Wellbeing with a special interest in Neurodiversity and girls. She has worked as a teacher, PSHE lead, Youth Worker, LEA Education adviser and now works with local authorities, academy chains, universities and schools. She has authored 3 very different books on mental health, RSHE and sensory wellbeing.

As an education consultant of over 20 years experience in Relationships Sex and Health Education (RSHE), and a neurodivergent (ND) mum of  ND daughters,  I am passionate about supporting this group of girls with their RSHE.  So here are some of my top tips for doing this work:

  • Support them to practise tuning into their guts & listening to their ‘spidey senses’

Teach girls to tune into their own bodies as much as possible, recognising that any issues with interoception/ alexithymia may mean this will need constant revisiting. The emotion sensations feelings wheel may help here. Use the model of ‘comfort, stretch, panic’ from our book Great Relationships and Sex Education to support understanding when to speak out and get help and who their trusted adults are.  

  • Embed the Ethical Relationships Framework across everything

Use this ethical relationships framework to help the girls understand what they should expect from their relationships from Moira Carmody and Jenny Walsh (page 11 and also in Great RSE). 

  • Taking Care of Me (meeting your own needs)
  • Taking Care of You (balanced with meeting the needs of the other person) 
  • Having an Equal Say (making sure there is no coercion, control or power imbalances)
  • Learning as we go (nobody is born perfect at relationships, there will be periods of rupture and repair or sometimes ending)

Constantly revisit and reinforce these simple ‘rules’ for ethical friendships and relationships so they become embedded across their interactions.

  • Explore ND specific nuances to ethical relationships

To build on this ethical relationships work, discuss masking and how we should feel safe enough and able to unmask with people we care about and trust and what that could look like (Taking care of me and you). Explore verbal and non-verbal ways of communicating our needs as well as how we can learn to tune into other peoples verbal and non-verbal cues. Explore the double empathy problem as a challenge for Neurotypical (NT) and Neurodivergent (ND) interactions. (Having an equal say and learning as we go).

  • Unpick social norms and expectations particularly around gender. 

Challenge gender stereotypes and celebrate what it means to be a neurodivergent female. The Autism Friendly Guide to Periods, Different not Less and The Spectrum Girls Survival Guide are fab resources to have in the room for students to flick through if in need of a diversion if the main subject of the lesson becomes overwhelming! Use resources such as this Padlet , the Autistic Girls Network and Girls have autism too.

  • Deconstruct Idioms and use clear language

There are many idioms around relationships and sex that can be confusing for ND young people; ‘Voice breaking’; ‘bun in the oven’;  ‘Netflix and chill’; ‘don’t give sleeping people tea’. You will need to do some research into the current ones for your cohort and help your group deconstruct them so they can ascertain the real meaning. Use correct words and not euphemisms for body parts. It is especially important to explain what a vulva is (a terrifying number of folk think it’s a type of car!).  

  • Use Games and Objects to increase engagement and practise communication skills. 

Use low pressure talking games like Feel good jenga (sentence starters on jenga blocks which works phenomenally well with ND pupils) or Attractive and Repulsive qualities in a magnet game to for discussions in low stakes fun ways. Build in opportunities for Object Based Learning, by getting models you can handle means the girls can really understand things in a more tangible way. 

  • Teach consent in direct ways. 

Avoid using the “tea and consent video” as it is an unhelpful confusing analogy. There are lots of different ways you can educate about consent. Parents and Teachers often don’t like hearing ‘No’ and societal expectations teach us that girls are supposed to be agreeable and passive. Therefore, it can be really helpful to go back to basics with teaching the 3 part No and the 3 part responding to a No. 

You can have a lot of fun practising saying and hearing NO and exploring role plays and social stories to build confidence with asserting boundaries! There is of course an important caveat that if a No is ever overridden and an assault happens it is not the victim’s fault, blame lies with the perpetrator, and there is always a trusted adult (help the girls identify who they are) who can help. 

  • Understanding the senses can support understanding of sensuality and pleasure. 

Research shows that good sex tends to be safer sex. Where appropriate (depending on the age and stage of development of the young woman) you may want to include safe conversations about forms of intimate self touch, (this could be stimming, sensory seeking or masturbation) as well as conversations about sensuality. More generally we need to do much more work on supporting ND girls to understand and advocate for their own sensory needs. Developing their sensory autonomy will go a long way in supporting their understanding of consent and bodily autonomy in relationships.

For more help doing this work then please get in touch via my website www.alicehoyle.com. Good luck!


Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Doors: A Metaphor for the Diverse Curriculum

Hannah Wilson portrait

Written by Hannah Wilson

Founder of Diverse Educators

In the dynamic landscape of education, the curriculum serves as the foundation for shaping young minds. As we strive for a more inclusive and representative educational experience, the metaphor of Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Doors offers a powerful framework for curriculum development. This metaphor, introduced by Dr Rudine Sims Bishop, encapsulates the essence of diversity, equity, inclusion  and belonging within educational content, emphasising the importance of reflection, observation, and engagement for all learners.

Mirrors: Reflecting Students’ Own Lives

Mirrors in the curriculum are essential for students to see themselves – their cultures, identities, and experiences – reflected in what they learn. When students encounter stories, histories, and perspectives that resonate with their own lives, they feel validated and recognised. This reflection fosters a sense of belonging and self-worth, which is crucial for their overall development and academic success.

For curriculum specialists and subject leaders, this means incorporating diverse voices and narratives across all subjects. For example, in literature, selecting texts from a variety of authors who represent different backgrounds ensures that every student can see themselves on the page. In history, presenting a more inclusive perspective that acknowledges the contributions and experiences of marginalised groups and provides a fuller understanding of the past.

Windows: Viewing Others’ Lives

Windows offer students a view into the lives and experiences of people different from themselves. Through these glimpses, learners develop empathy, understanding, and a broader perspective of the world. Windows help dismantle stereotypes and prejudices, fostering a more inclusive mindset among students.

To create these windows, educators need to curate a curriculum that includes global perspectives and diverse narratives. In geography, this might involve studying various cultures and their relationships with the environment. In science, discussing contributions from global scientists highlights the universal nature of discovery. Providing opportunities for students to engage with content that portrays different lifestyles, beliefs, and challenges cultivates an appreciation for diversity and interconnectedness.

Sliding Doors: Engaging and Interacting

Sliding doors represent opportunities for students to enter into, and interact with, different worlds. This element encourages active engagement and personal reflection. When students can metaphorically ‘step into’ the experiences of others, they gain deeper insights of different identities and build meaningful connections.

Interactive projects, collaborative learning experiences, and role-playing activities serve as sliding doors in the curriculum. For instance, a history project where students re-enact historical events from multiple perspectives can provide profound learning experiences. In literature, writing assignments that ask students to create narratives from the viewpoint of characters unlike themselves can deepen empathy and understanding.

Integrating Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Doors

To integrate these concepts effectively, curriculum specialists and subject leaders must be intentional and thoughtful in their approach. This involves:

  • Reviewing and Revising Existing Curriculum: Conducting thorough audits to identify gaps and biases. Ensuring that the content reflects a diverse range of voices and perspectives.
  • Collaborating with Diverse Communities: Engaging with parents/ carers, community leaders, and organisations to gather input and resources. This collaboration can enrich the curriculum with authentic, representative materials.
  • Providing Professional Development: Equipping teachers with the skills and knowledge to deliver an inclusive curriculum. Training on cultural competence, unconscious bias, and inclusive teaching strategiesl.
  • Utilising Technology and Media: Leveraging digital resources to access a wider array of content. Using online platforms, virtual exchanges, and multimedia can bring diverse voices and experiences into the classroom.
  • Encouraging Student Voice and Choice: Empowering students to share their stories and choose projects that reflect their interests and identities. Designing student-centred approach fosters a sense of ownership and relevance in their learning.

The metaphor of Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Doors provides a robust framework for creating an inclusive and representative curriculum. By reflecting students’ identities, offering insights into others’ lives, and facilitating active engagement, educators can cultivate a learning environment that values diversity, promotes equity, centres inclusion and builds belonging. As curriculum specialists and subject leaders, embracing this metaphor not only enriches the educational experience but also prepares students to thrive in a diverse and interconnected world.


New Official Study Guide for GCSE Set Text Leave Taking by Winsome Pinnock

Samantha Wharton portrait

Written by Samantha Wharton

Samantha is a seasoned educator from East London, with ancestral roots tracing back to the Caribbean nations of Antigua and Guyana. She brings a wealth of academic achievements, including a degree in Communications and Media from Brunel University, a PGCE in English and Drama from the Institute of Education at University College London, and an MA in Black British Literature from Goldsmiths University.

A new official study guide for Leave Taking by Winsome Pinnock, authored by educators Samantha Wharton and Lynette Carr Armstrong, brings a fresh approach to GCSE English literature, enhancing the teaching and learning experience for GCSE English Literature students and teachers.

Samantha Wharton and Lynette Carr Armstrong bring a wealth of expertise from over 50 years of combined experience in education. As co-writers of this study guide, they have meticulously crafted an in-depth exploration of Leave Taking, ensuring that it delves into the nuances of the text with precision and clarity.

But what sets this study guide apart is its academic rigour and its authors’ lived experience and insight. As children of the Windrush generation, Samantha and Lynette possess a profound understanding of the worlds depicted in Pinnock’s play. Their lived experiences and living memories enrich the guide, providing readers with authentic perspectives that resonate with the characters and themes of Leave Taking.

Crucially, Samantha and Lynette had the privilege of consulting with Winsome Pinnock herself during the development of this guide. Pinnock’s invaluable commentary is woven throughout the text, offering readers a rare glimpse into the playwright’s mind and enriching their understanding of her work.

Leave Taking is not just another set text—it is a vital piece of literature amplifying Black voices and sharing insights into the Black British experience. Samantha Wharton and Lynette Carr Armstrong emphasise the importance of showcasing these narratives through Black voices with shared experiences. In a world where the Black experience has been historically erased, texts like Leave Taking must be unpacked and explored with sensitivity and nuance.

This study guide is more than just a pedagogical tool—it is a labour of love, insight, and experience. Samantha has taught Leave Taking at St Angela’s School in London, where staff and students have met it with enthusiasm. The diverse cohort of teachers at St Angela’s have thoroughly enjoyed teaching the text, while the students are excited to see modern characters that reflect their own experiences.

The release of the official study guide for Leave Taking by Winsome Pinnock marks a significant milestone in GCSE English literature. With Samantha Wharton and Lynette Carr Armstrong at the helm, educators and students can embark on a journey of discovery that celebrates Black voices, amplifies lived experiences, and enriches the educational landscape for generations to come.

The duo are committed to supporting teachers in implementing Leave Taking into the classroom. They will offer future training experiences, including workshops and seminars, to provide educators with the tools and insights to effectively teach this text. These training sessions will cover various aspects of the play, including thematic analysis, character studies, and classroom activities. 

To inquire about future training opportunities or to reach Samantha Wharton and Lynette Carr Armstrong for further information on the study guide, educators can contact them via email at samantha.wharton@gmail.com and Lynettedcarr@hotmail.com. They are eager to collaborate with schools and educational institutions to enhance the teaching and learning experience of Leave Taking. They are available to answer any queries or provide additional support as needed.

The study guide has received recognition from Lit In Colour, a prominent platform championing diverse voices in literature. It was endorsed in their latest newsletter and featured in The (incomplete) Lit In Colour list, a curated collection of essential resources for educators looking to include diverse perspectives in teaching. This recognition reinforces the guide’s reputation as a valuable tool for promoting inclusivity and representation in education, making it indispensable for educators passionate about diversity and equity.

The official study guide for Leave Taking by Winsome Pinnock can be found through various channels. It is available on the Nick Hern Books website, the same publisher as the play, ensuring authenticity and reliability. Furthermore, the guide can be purchased on popular online platforms like Amazon!

The study guide and texts are available here: 

https://www.nickhernbooks.co.uk/leave-taking-gcse-study-guide

https://www.nickhernbooks.co.uk/leave-taking-bundle-deal 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Leave-Taking-GCSE-Student-Guide/dp/1839041366 

Press coverage about the play: 

‘The godmother of Black British playwrights’ – Guardian on Winsome Pinnock

Guardian  ‘Three decades since its debut Winsome Pinnock’s pioneering portrayal of the lives of black Britons feels shockingly contemporary… Pinnock was a pioneer and her piece still hits homethrough its often shocking honesty about the hazards facing black people in Britain’ 

Time Out ‘A devastatingly powerful story of a British-Caribbean family… whyWinsome Pinnock’s play isn’t on the English Literature syllabus is a mystery to me, given its shocking contemporary relevance… this play warms and devastates’ 

Two generations. Three incredible women. Winsome Pinnock’s play Leave Taking is an epic story of what we leave behind in order to find home. It premiered in 1987, and was revived at the Bush Theatre, London, in 2018, in a production directed by the Bush’s Artistic Director, Madani Younis. 


Five reasons why schools should teach Princess & The Hustler at GCSE

Jessica Tacon portrait

Written by Jessica Tacon

Jessica Tacon is second in charge of the English Department at City of London Academy Highgate Hill and is a member of NATE’s (National Association for the Teaching of English) ‘Reviewing Literature’ working group. She created The Right Writing campaign which aims to improve racial diversity in English Education.

In September 2022, AQA launched ‘Spark something’ to inspire and support English teachers to teach their new set texts. To improve the diversity and inclusion of their English Literature GCSE offer, particularly racial diversity and inclusion, AQA introduced a new novel, My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal, as well as a new poetry cluster and two new plays: Leave Taking by Winsome Pinnock and Princess & The Hustler by Chinonyerem Odimba. 

I was lucky enough to be asked by BBC Bitesize to become their lead writer on Princess & The Hustler. This is Odimba’s heart-warming and heart-wrenching story about Princess, a 10-year-old girl, and her family living in Bristol between Christmas 1962 and September 1963. In the play’s opening scene, her father, The Hustler, returns after being away for a long time.  Throughout the plot, Princess dreams of being winner of Weston-super-Mare’s Beauties of the West contest; Odimba says that part of her motivation for writing the play was to allow young Black girls to feel “beautiful” as well as “strong and capable”. The story is set against the backdrop of the Bristol Bus Boycott of 1963. At this time, the Bristol Omnibus Company was upholding a colour bar, which meant that they refused to hire Black or Asian bus drivers or conductors. The people of Bristol protested against this racial discrimination by refusing to ride the buses.

After the initial research stage, BBC Bitesize asked me to write revision-focused content for their website on the text. By this point I was already in love with Princess as well as Odimba’s story of family, struggle, and self-love. Below are five (of many) reasons why I believe schools should absolutely be teaching this text as part of the AQA modern text section of the literature GCSE.

Reason 1: Young people need stories about people like them fighting for what they believe in 

From early in the play, Wendell Junior, Princess’ older brother, is a devoted fighter of the cause of the Bristol Bus Boycott. He attends marches and speaks passionately about the need for change. Young people are the future, and this important aspect of the story can remind them just how much power their voices and actions can have. 

Reason 2: The play communicates important lessons and messages

The play, in very nuanced ways, teaches important lessons that will genuinely help students to understand themselves and to navigate the world around them. One example is the colourism that Princess experiences throughout the book which is often very subtle. There is an instance where her lighter skinned half-sister, Lorna, is invited to a birthday party by a girl at school, but she is not. Odimba does not explicitly point out that this is the reason why Princess is not invited, but the reader is encouraged to infer this through careful hints. This is an important lesson about how prejudice and discrimination are often insidious. However, this in no way means that these instances are any less harmful. This will show students that not all prejudice has to be explicit and obvious to be wrong and painful. 

Reason 3: The historical events are part of England’s history

Princess & The Hustler sheds light on a very important period in England’s history. It absolutely should be taught in a specification which aims to help young people to “appreciate the depth and power of the English literary heritage”. 

Heritage does not happen and is not learnt about in a vacuum; teaching texts about England’s heritage, whether showing aspects of the country in a good or bad light, are an asset to achieving the aforementioned aim. 

Reason 4: The play covers a variety of themes 

I was reluctant for any of these reasons to be about the exam itself. However, of course, it would be somewhat irresponsible to teach texts to students at a GCSE level with no consideration as to how it will help them to succeed in their exams (and, in lots of ways, consequently their future). That said, Princess & The Hustler covers a variety of themes that offer opportunities for students to analyse in detail. Themes like family, love, conflict,  prejudice, and power are all richly peppered and embedded throughout. Diversity has become somewhat of a buzzword. And yet, this play alone offers true diversity in the sense that in such a small story it covers so much. 

Reason 5: Young people need stories about self-love

We are living in a world of social media and, heartbreakingly, growing numbers of mental health issues among teenagers. It seems necessary here to celebrate the fact that at its very core, this is a story about a girl who, against a lot of external barriers, learns to love herself. 

Mavis, Princess’ mum, says to her when she is struggling with her self-image:

“Phyllis James you listen, and you listen good!//Whether your hair long or short. Skin good or bad.//Us…//Us…girls and women with our skin dark as the night, every shade of brown, glowing like fresh-made caramel, or legs spindly like a spiders we are everything that is beautiful on this earth.//And you…you the prettiest of them all because you are my girl”. 

I think we can all agree that this is absolutely beautiful advice for young people to be exposed to.

For more information about the BBC Bitesize revision resource to accompany Princess & The Hustler, please visit www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize


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. 


Why are we still denying part time and flexible working to those in leadership roles?

Maz Foucher portrait

Written by Maz Foucher

Maz is Regional Representative for the MTPT Project in Devon and a former Assistant Headteacher and KS2 lead, based in Devon. Having juggled full time teaching, school leadership and parenting, she has a great understanding of the challenges faced by those with a young family. After moving on from school-based roles, Maz studied for an MA in Education Leadership specifically researching teacher retention, and now works in education publishing.

While researching teacher wellbeing and retention, I have often come across the suggestion that working part time or flexibly aids both the wellbeing and retention of staff. However, I have also found that this is still not an option available to many of those working at a leadership level, so let’s look at the facts.

24% of employees in the UK work part time and these are primarily women (ONS, 2022). This is echoed within the teaching profession, also at 24% (School Workforce Census, 2022). However, while the education profession is predominantly female, fewer women work part time in education (29% – School Workforce Census, 2022) compared to the overall UK labour market (36% – ONS, 2022). Additionally, when compared to different age ranges and genders, it is most likely that those working part time are women between the ages of 30 – 39 (ONS, 2022) This coincides with the age where many women start a family, and this is also the demographic most likely to leave teaching entirely (DfE, 2022). 

If we look more closely at the 24% of teachers working part time, when this is broken down by role we can see that: 

  • 26% of class teachers work part time
  • 11% of deputy heads work part time
  • 6% of headteachers work part time.  

 (School Workforce Census, 2022).

It is clear from these statistics that, of the women in education who are working part time, the vast majority of these are not doing so at a senior leadership level. This could mean that they have decided for themselves that leadership is incompatible with part time working and parenthood. However, these statistics could also indicate that these women are not being encouraged, supported or allowed to work in senior leader roles part time. Indeed, despite ongoing headlines about the benefits of flexible and part time work, there are many schools and trusts who persist with a policy of no flex/part time at leadership level. 

It could be said that it is preferable for leaders to work full time. The need for leaders to be present to deal with staffing, behaviour and safeguarding issues is a very real and relevant argument. From my own experience, I know that when headteachers and senior leaders are not present, it can lead to additional pressures on those within middle leadership roles. In a profession where 78% of school staff are experiencing stress (Teacher Wellbeing Index, 2023), it could be argued that exposing staff to additional pressures that they are not paid/contracted to handle is counterproductive. 

Additionally, employers are within their rights to deny flexi and part-time working requests if they can prove that these will hinder business outcomes. In the case of education, I have heard arguments that part time leadership can impact on the smooth running of the school, its pupil outcomes, Ofsted ratings and pupil numbers, especially if parents consider leadership to be inconsistent and therefore chaotic. 

However, there are also many positives to having leaders work flexibly or part time. And given that women, particularly those in the 30-39 bracket, are most likely to request this sort of contract, the all-too-common policy of no flex/part time options at a leadership level could also be seen to be seriously disadvantaging aspirational women in education, forcing them to choose between their family and their career. Is not uncommon to see female education leaders step back from these roles, leave teaching entirely or indeed find themselves demoted, when family commitments require them to reduce their hours at work. 

The first question this raises is how valued these women feel within the workplace when their experience and expertise is suddenly overlooked once they become a mother and are no longer available for full time hours. I’ve heard this described as ‘Your skills are only valued if you’re there full time.’  I know many who suddenly feel like their level of competence or their commitment to their school is in question, made to feel like a burden on their workplace, that they are workshy or lazy if they can’t work in the same way that they could before motherhood. This additional pressure could be a catalyst for why these women often end up leaving education entirely.  While there are many inspirational female teacher-parents who are forging the way forwards in leadership roles, it is clear from the data that very few mothers are finding that the workload, the pressure, their school’s policies and their own family set-up are allowing them to do this full time.

With all this in mind, if we also consider the persistently huge gender pay in education – the third worst across all sectors at 20.4% (BBC, 2023) – alongside the knowledge that women who are mothers are the demographic who are most likely to ask for part time work, we can begin to see how the policies which do not allow part time and flexi working at a leadership level are in fact indirectly discriminatory towards women. When we know that it is illegal to discriminate against the protected characteristics of sex and maternity/pregnancy (Equality Act, 2010), it begs the question as to how long it will be before cases of this nature end up in court? 

Personally, I have often said that the teaching profession is full of intelligent and creative people who should be open and willing to rethink how we organise the workforce. Retention is always a better and cheaper option in the long run than recruiting and retraining new staff. In a teacher retention crisis, where we desperately need our experienced teachers to remain in the workforce to support and mentor the new teachers we require, we must celebrate and share examples of where flexible or part time working at a leadership level is proving to be a successful strategy for retention. There are many schools and trusts out there who are able to retain aspirational women at all levels of the profession when they become mothers by supporting them to work PT or flexibly. Imagine a world in which a mother returns to the profession with the conviction that they are still a very valued and an integral part of the workforce, even if they can only commit to part time work? Isn’t this better than losing them from the profession entirely? 


Diversity in the Curriculum: The Vital Role of SMSC Subjects

Laura Gregory-White portrait

Written by Laura Gregory-White

Laura is an RE Regional Advisor for Jigsaw Education Group. She has over 15 years experience as an educator and curriculum lead across Primary and Secondary.

In today’s pluralistic society, where diversity is a fundamental part of who we are, conversations around diversity in schools and the curriculum are increasingly important. Subjects like Religious Education (RE) and Personal, Social, Health, and Economic Education (PSHE) are vital tools in our curriculum offering. Investing in these subjects, invests in our children and young people’s successful development of the skills and knowledge that help to navigate the complexities of our diverse world with empathy, understanding, and a commitment to social justice.

In Primary schools, where all the teaching staff will have an impact on curriculum development, it is crucial that we are giving them the necessary time and expertise to enable this. From the teachers developing and delivering the individual lessons, the subject leads with oversight for the entire curriculum journey, to the senior leaders who set the values that underpin curriculum design within a school. We all share the responsibility of designing curriculum that not only imparts knowledge but fosters a sense of belonging and inclusivity preparing our children to become global citizens. This journey begins with a deliberate and conscious approach to curriculum design. Every decision we make, from the voices we amplify to the resources we use, must reflect the diversity of human experience.

When facilitating discussions with RE subject leads on this topic, we speak about the implicit and explicit features of the curriculum. The implicit being those decisions we make as curriculum designers about what we include and represent. It means asking ourselves critical questions: What perspectives are included in our syllabi? Whose voices are being centred? Are we offering a diverse range of representation? These considerations extend beyond the mere content of our subjects; they seep into the language we use, the images we present, and the values we share. These decisions may not be explicitly obvious to the children in our lessons, but it frames a journey for them that better represents the world they are growing up in. Without this careful consideration, we can unintentionally establish an unconscious bias or reinforce stereotypes. 

Alongside these implicit considerations is the explicit curriculum, where we dedicate time in lessons to directly address issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, justice, and belonging (DEIJB). It’s about more than just ticking boxes; it’s about fostering meaningful dialogue, challenging biases, and nurturing a culture of respect and understanding. SMSC subjects provide the structured opportunities for students to explore complex societal issues, interrogate their own beliefs and biases, and develop the critical thinking skills necessary to navigate an increasingly interconnected world. For staff to feel confident in leading these discussions, we need to support the ongoing development of their knowledge and understanding of these issues as well as the ways in which safe learning environments can be established, and discussion and debate can be managed. This will support them in feeling confident to plan in these explicit curriculum opportunities for our children. 

This is not a small job or short conversation with a defined end point. This is ongoing work, and it should be contextual. It is important that schools support their staff to engage with this through investment in high-quality resources, providing the time and opportunity for evaluation and review, and dedicating time to ongoing learning and development for staff. 

In a world dominated by technology, AI, and algorithms, education needs to do more than impart knowledge. It must nurture empathy, compassion, and a sense of collective responsibility. To achieve this, we must elevate and enhance subjects like RE and PSHE. They are essential components of a well-rounded education that prepares students to navigate the complexities of the modern world.


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


Leaving a Legacy: Saying Goodbye to My Shero – Karen Giles

Hannah Wilson portrait

Written by Hannah Wilson

Founder of Diverse Educators

There was a flurry of activity on my social media timeline yesterday following the devastating news that we have lost the beautiful soul that is Karen Giles. The outpouring of love is not a surprise as Karen is a well-known, well-respected and well-loved educational leader. We had been expecting the news for a while as she had been really unwell for a long time, but it is still a shock to realise that she has gone forever.

I had received an early morning text from a mutual friend and spent most of the day crying as different people reached out with personal messages to share their pain of losing our dear friend. I did not know if it was public knowledge so I did not share anything on my socials – just in case people who knew her had not heard the sad news, and to respect the family’s privacy at this difficult time, but by the evening I realised others had shared the news and the ripples of shock had widened. I thought about her and her impact on me all day and went to bed penning a piece to capture the essence of what a special human being she is (struggling to write her in the past tense).

Karen was and will continue to be the epitome of everything I believe in when it comes to leadership: she lives and models her values; she practices what she preaches; she is authentic; she has integrity; she is humble; she serves her community; she advocates for others; she has impact. Above all she has a huge heart, she is very kind and she nurtures everyone around her. She has a very special gift of making you feel like the only person in the room – totally seen, totally heard, totally understood and totally supported. Anyone in her orbit is lucky to sponge up a little bit of her presence. I think we all need to be a bit more Karen Giles.

I met Karen multiple times in a short period of time nearly a decade ago: we were both school leaders in London; we were both committed to empowering women leaders – she attended and supported #WomenEd events; we both contributed sessions to the Leading Women’s Alliance events; and as I started my NPQH she was one of the facilitators on our residentials with Ambition School Leadership. Every time I crossed paths with Karen I fell a little more in love with her. I don’t put many people on a pedestal but Karen was up there – she was one of my ‘wise women’ who became not only a guide but a friend. She relentlessly cheered on, championed and sponsored people around her. I am very lucky and very grateful to have been able to stand in her light and feel the warmth of her soul.

Every time I needed Karen she was there for me, and I know she was there for everyone else in her multiple circles too. She supported me out of a tricky Deputy Headship into Headship, she supported me out of my Headship and into my independent work. She held a mirror up to me to consider my future and helped me realign my Ikigai. I can remember visiting her at her school one morning following a breakfast meeting and she said to me: “Hannah Wilson, where ever you have been, whatever you have been doing, this is your calling”. I supported her through a relationship breakdown and into an Executive role; I supported her in considering her options post-retirement. I was excited at her becoming a coach, finding a home in Barbados and training to be a celebrant. We joked that if I ever got married she would host the ceremony for us. I told her she had multiple books in her and I think she had started a few of them.

We called each other for professional favours and the answer was always a Yes, no matter what it was/ when it was. She contributed to our #DiverseGovernance series during lockdown and she was one of our keynotes at our #DiverseEd event post lockdown. Lots of the posts on X reference how inspiring she was and comment on how she modelled inclusive, servant leadership. I spoke at a few leadership events at her school and spent some time with her associate headteachers. Karen was an introvert and a quiet leader but she had an enormous, yet gentle, presence, she hustled me into many an event that I was not on the guest list for with a smile and a polite request!

‘Yes’ was a word we had bonded over at LWA. I had a run a session at LWA on The Power of Saying Yes inspired by the book by Shonda Rhimes, about grabbing opportunities with both hands. She had made a deal with me, there and then, that if she said yes more could I say a few more nos.  As we negotiated there was a twinkle in her eyes – we were total opposites in so many ways but had so much in common when it came to the important stuff. I really valued the mutual respect, mutual trust and mutual love we held for each other.

When we were writing the first #WomenEd book, 10% Braver, each chapter author chose a role model to amplify and showcase. Karen was my natural choice. At the end of chapter 1 this is what I wrote about her:

“Role Model: Karen Giles

Values-led leaders demonstrate that you can be a leader with a soul. Karen Giles is an Executive Primary Headteacher in London and a facilitator for Ambition School Leadership. I remember meeting her at one of my first NPQH sessions where she invited 64 aspiring headteachers to go for a leisurely jog around the conference room. She was immaculately dressed in a purple shift dress, matching tailored jacket and heels and gracefully leapt like a gazelle. I fell a little bit in love with her on the spot. 

I was delighted Karen came to my session on The Power of Networking at the second Leading Women’s Alliance event. She is an old school networker and I am a new one, and we had a passionate discussion about Shonda Rhimes’ book ‘Year of Yes’. We both agreed that whilst ‘Yes’ is an enabler, women also need to be empowered to say ‘No!’ 

Karen has local, regional, national and global impact as a leader. She has taught and led in London schools for twenty-eight years and is currently a Local Authority School Effectiveness Lead Professional, working with leaders in sixteen schools. Karen has been a Leadership Coach since 2012, leading and facilitating a variety of mixed phase coaching groups and workshops as well as working with both Primary and Secondary participants. She served as an Ofsted Inspector from 2010-15, has been appointed as a Coach for the pan-London GLA Getting Ahead programme and is Primary Director for the London Leadership Strategy. She was the winner of the London Region National Teacher Award for Enterprise and Innovation in 2009 and serves as an advisory board member for the Varkey Foundation. Karen currently serves as Headteacher, a position she has held for thirteen years”.

I didn’t tell Karen I was writing about her, but I sent her a copy of the book with a post-it in it and a card when it was published. I know she was really touched and ever the humble person she was shocked I had chosen to spotlight her. Throughout her illness I have regularly sent her WhatsApp messages and voice notes to update her on the things we would normally discuss. I also sent her  Mum a copy of the book so that her family could read it and play it back to her so she could hear the impact she has had on so many.

Leaving London our in-person catch ups happened less frequently, but whenever we could squeeze in a lunch or a brunch we did. I often drove down to her flat and she would spoil me rotten, and if we met somewhere central she would often arrive giggling that I had made her come out to the sticks to see the cows and the mud. Those who know Karen will remember her for resembling a Hollywood actress as she climbed out of her nippy sports car in a glamorous faux-fur coat.

One of the last times I saw her in person I took her out for a belated lunch to celebrate her 60th birthday. She was so full of life and excited for what the future held for her. It seems so unfair at the timing of her illness, as she stood on the cusp of her 3rd quarter.

Preparing for her next chapter in life and her career she asked me to run a session for her and some of her friends on how to leverage LinkedIn to grow their network/ profile. Not that she needed help with either as Karen was a brilliant connector. This is my LinkedIn testimonial for her:

“I can still remember the first time I met Karen Giles, she glided into the NPQH room and captivated 64 aspiring Headteachers. I have had a professional crush on her ever since! If you have read the #WomenEd book 10% Braver, I wrote chapter 1 and Karen is my role model at the end of it. Making a big impression on me as a senior leader and aspiring Headteacher, Karen became my unofficial mentor and my critical friend (she didn’t have much choice in the matter!) I had coaching as a Deputy Headteacher, a Headteacher and as an Executive Headteacher but it was often Karen I would turn to in a crisis to tap into her calm wisdom. She has supported me through pivotal decisions in both my professional and personal leadership journey. I have learnt lots from her, but we have also become friends through it all. I have heard Karen speak on numerous occasions – for Ambition School Leadership, for the Leading Women’s Alliance and for Diverse Educators – what always shines through is her integrity, her resilience and her quiet determination to do the right thing by her people (her pupils/ her staff/ her community/ her network). She is a brilliant role model, a supportive mentor, a transformational coach and an inspiring leader. If you have not connected with her, then what are you waiting for? Witness her fabulousness for yourselves”.  

As you read the posts of Facebook, X and LinkedIn about Karen you will really capture the essence of her character, and will be able to appreciate the impact she had on so many people. Serving her community as the Headteacher of Barham Primary School for 20+ years she leaves behind her a huge legacy. More than that she was a global thought leader advocating for the rights of children around the world to have a good education.

To remember her, I was going to send something to plant in the school garden and some books to continue her commitment to diverse representation to the school but I have instead decided to create a Just Giving Page for her. The school can then work with her family on how to memorialise her. I love the idea of creating a school peace garden, or a mural, in her name if we can raise enough funds.

Find out more and donate to our fundraiser HERE.

Dearest Karen – you epitomised sisterhood and female solidarity. I am blessed to have met you and to have had you in my life as a mentor and a friend. Go join your loved ones and be an angel looking over us all. Thank you for everything you have done for us all. You will always be my Shero. All my love, Hannah xx