New Research: LYFTA Storyworlds Help Reduce Anxiety Around Meeting People From Different Backgrounds

Dr Harriet Marshall portrait

Written by Dr Harriet Marshall

Head of Educational Research at Lyfta and has been a global education advocate for over 20 years, as a teacher, researcher, consultant and education project leader.

A University of Tampere study found that virtual immersive environments that contain interactive human stories can help reduce learners’ social anxiety around meeting people from different cultural backgrounds.

A study using  teaching resources from Lyfta has found that the multi-sensory and participatory nature of immersive 360° experiences led to a decrease in learners’ sense of social anxiety about meeting people from different cultural backgrounds. Engaging with new people in an immersive virtual setting gives students the opportunity to identify common interests and, as a result, develop more positive feelings towards them. Although the study was completed with undergraduate students, we are excited about the implications for engaging school-aged students with digital immersive storytelling.

The study has been published in the International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning. Its findings show that the reduction in social anxiety was especially significant among those who had high levels of social anxiety before the learning experience, adding to our growing understanding that immersive digital storytelling can be of particular benefit to students who get little or no opportunity to interact with those from different cultural backgrounds.

The researchers were influenced by our own school-based research (summed up in the video here), where students were shown photos of six people featured in our storyworlds, and asked how much they felt they had in common with each person, before and after exploring their stories. We found that experiencing the storyworlds led to a significant positive difference in students’ attitudes towards the people they ‘met’ there. 

Our vision at Lyfta is that by the time a child leaves school, they would have had the chance to experience, and emotionally connect with, human stories from every country in the world. Lyfta stories give students the opportunity to see how interconnected and interdependent we all are. The findings of this study provide exciting evidence that Lyfta’s powerful and immersive resources have real impact in helping to nurture empathetic global citizens.

Read the University of Tampere study in full now

If you are looking to foster global citizenship and empathy in your classroom, you can Register now for free trial access to two immersive Lyfta storyworlds. https://registration.lyfta.com/

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Increasingly Visible: Being an ‘Out’ LGBTQ+ Educator

Vickie Merrick portrait

Written by Vickie Merrick

PE and History Teacher at an International School in Rome and has previously taught in Vietnam and the UK.

This post was very much inspired by Dr Adam Brett’s (@DrAdamBrett) recent talk about his PhD findings on what it means to be a visible LGBT+ educator. It is a personal reflection of my journey to becoming visible in an international teaching community.

During my ITT year there wasn’t the same talk and work that there is now about DEI, social justice and decolonising the curriculum. As a white British cis woman going through my training year, I never thought about the importance of representation. “If you can see it, you can be it” wasn’t a phrase that ever crossed my mind.

Now I realise and acknowledge that I have white privilege, I’m cisgender, I’m middle class (in that whilst my parents consider themselves working class, I went to a grammar school, I’ve gone to university twice and am currently back again completing an MSc and these experiences have afforded me the opportunity to emigrate and continue my career abroad) and I was lucky enough to be born in the Global North. There are many things about my life that mean I have an easier time than so many people in the world.

I’m also a member of the LGBTQ+ community. And I have a chronic health condition that impacts both my physical and mental health. These two areas are the only parts of my life where I have ever faced any difficulty due to my identity.

Section 28 left a strange underlying legacy on schools in England. Although I began working in schools a long time after its 2003 repeal, I heard “don’t tell the students about your personal life, it’s none of their business who you are” more than once in the staffroom. Even though my straight colleagues would quite openly talk about their partners/spouses, the insinuation was that I shouldn’t allude to being a gay woman in front of my classes.

In addition I was aware of the cultural background of my students and knew that some may not have heard positive things (or anything at all) about LGBTQ+ people at home. If I was in the same situation now I don’t think I would hide myself at the risk of causing offence (offence after all is taken not given) and would have used it as an educational opportunity to discuss embracing others regardless of their identity. But I was a new teacher concentrating on learning how to teach (something I’m still learning) and was not too concerned with being a representative of the LGBTQ+ community.

There were students who found out that I was gay and I never encountered any problems from them, if anything they were extremely positive and open about wanting to support LGBTQ+ people. On the other hand, I did once experience a student using ‘gay’ and ‘f**’ as an insult to another student in a lesson I was covering so I followed the school policy and the student waited outside for an on call member of staff. The member of staff had a chat with me and the student then brushed off the incident and sent the student back into the lesson. Again, looking back, as a more experienced teacher, I wouldn’t have let it slide. But as an NQT, I didn’t feel that I had any power to insist that this was homophobic language and should be treated in a serious way that shows the student it is not acceptable.

The final reason that I was never fully visible in my first school was more of an internal one. I teach history and PE. We’ve all heard of and perpetuated (myself included when I was a kid at school) the stereotype of the lesbian PE teacher. I didn’t want to be a stereotype. I’d previously been in the Army Reserves for a short time and found the same stereotype about female soldiers. That wasn’t my reason for leaving the Reserves but with the Army, working in sport, and being a PE teacher, it can get tiring constantly laughing with and brushing off people making jokes and having ‘banter’ about a part of who you are. And of course you laugh because they’re your colleagues and friends. They mean no harm but it’s the microaggressions that we know now to be aware of alongside our own unconscious biases that can build up and deeply impact people.

Leaving the U.K. and yearly visits to Pride Parades behind brought a change to my level of visibility. I left the U.K. with my partner and moved to Vietnam. Throughout the recruitment process we were up front about applying as a couple and didn’t face any problems when it came to contracts, housing allowances and dealing with HR in our new country. There was a surprising moment when the estate agent who was sorting out our rental apartment said the landlady was concerned that two single western women would have lots of men visiting and would receive complaints. The estate agent luckily had read the situation well and assured the landlady that she didn’t have to worry about frequent male visitors staying over…

In school itself it was a different story. We often talk about walking into our school and seeing a rainbow painted on one of the corridor walls with the words “love is love” below it. Talk about a welcoming sign. Again, at the beginning I didn’t intentionally come out to any of my students. Not through a conscious choice but I still didn’t really consider the positive impact it could have for LGBTQ+ students to see a visibly LGBTQ+ member of staff. There were other LGBTQ+ staff and couples at the school and openly LGBTQ+ students who felt they could be ‘out’ at school even if they couldn’t be at home due to the traditional values of their families. Over time, and partly due to the nature of international schools, many of the students my partner and I taught learnt that we were a couple- and exactly as it should be, they treated this as a total non-event. They treated us the same as the other teaching couples in the school. My form, however, were so excited on the day they noticed my engagement ring that I had to usher them out of the door to be on time for their first lessons because they wanted to stop and hear the full story of the proposal. And as we were getting ready to leave and say our final goodbyes in the midst of a lockdown and online learning, some of our grade 10 students were insisting that we sent wedding photos to one of our colleagues after the holidays so that they could see our dresses and hair and make-up.

In Vietnam, my visibility as an LGBTQ+ educator had increased because I felt supported by my colleagues, the school and the students. And the more visible myself and other LGBTQ+ educators were, the more I noticed the way the vast majority of our students, even though they were from all over the globe with different cultures, beliefs, values and backgrounds, treated their LGBTQ+ peers with an awareness, a kindness and acceptance. I left that school thinking that the kids are alright.

The transition into our second (well my third, as I had taught at two different schools in Vietnam) international school was where the first real challenges of being an ‘out’ educator were posed. And they were not posed by students. Recruitment during COVID was a struggle. We sent off around 40 applications and did about 15 interviews between us. We had been lucky to get jobs in Vietnam for our first international roles as it became quickly apparent that many other places were not as keen on hiring an LGBTQ+ teaching couple. Sometimes this was due to visa complications or job openings, other times it was the laws of the country (43 jurisdictions still criminalise lesbianism) and laws around housing. After a particularly challenging experience where we had offers rescinded because, after checking, the school decided their community wasn’t ready for an LGBTQ+ couple, we were feeling pretty disheartened.

Many of the schools we were applying to were IB schools. I still struggle to see how the IB, who preach about global communities and international mindedness, can promote schools and allow them to teach the IB programs when the school communities themselves are anti-inclusion.

Nearing the end of our tether with the recruitment process, my partner had an interview with a small school in Italy. Whilst they did not have a role for me, they were willing to make something part time if my partner was offered the job. The interview was a breath of fresh air. They were the first school who had asked about my partner or I as people and wanted to get an idea of us to find out how we’d fit into their community. They were upfront about wanting LGBTQ+ staff as they were aware that they had students who were part of the LGBTQ+ community and they didn’t always see themselves represented in the staff body. After accepting the jobs, my (now) wife was asked about joining the DEI team, and whilst she is careful as she knows this has become or can have the potential to be quite tokenistic in some schools, she is aware that she has the ability to do work with her team members around social justice and to help combat racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism and other forms of discrimination within our school community.

For the first time in a school, as an educator, I have been a visible member of the LGBTQ+ community from the beginning. I am aware that I have a-sexual, transgender and non-binary students (and probably others who identify as somewhere on the gender/sexuality spectrum) and delight when they come to tell me about the first time they went to a pride parade or show me the rainbow item of clothing they have worn that day. Whilst I cannot know or understand all of their experiences, especially as a cisgender woman, I can be an empathetic listener from the large umbrella family that is LGBTQ+. The school has an LGBTQ+ club run by a member of staff who is an ally to the LGBTQ+ community and who knows that providing an inclusive space for our students is everyone’s responsibility. The community isn’t perfect and the country, with its strong religious affiliations, has laws against gay couples adopting. It is a work in progress in our school that will require buy-in from all its members to fully promote inclusivity and celebrate diversity, no matter what that looks like. But it is not tiring to be visible here. Every day when I tie up my rainbow laces (a great campaign from @Stonewall) I know the importance of showing my students that LGBTQ+ people are a part of their community, we’re here to stay and that’s very much ok.

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We Wish You an Inclusive Christmas

Shuaib Khan portrait

Written by Shuaib Khan

Shuaib is a teacher, sociologist, poet and podcaster.

As the holiday season approaches, this can become a powerful point of reflection for schools on how inclusive their practices are. This is especially the case for how schools cater for the needs of staff and pupils who have mixed feelings about the festive period as they don’t celebrate Christmas. In this blog (originally published on the Leader’s Digest), we will be looking at ten ways your school can make Christmas celebrations more inclusive.

What is inclusion?

Diversity, inclusion, equality and equity are used interchangeably, but they have different meanings and interpretations. Many schools have their own equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) leaders in an effort to promote fairness, access and equity. During the Christmas period, there is a need to think about alternative provisions for those who, for whatever reason, do not wish to partake in festive activities. So, how do we define ‘inclusion’?

The diversity network Diverse Educators (DiverseEd) provide us with the following definition of ‘inclusion’.

Inclusion is the achievement of a work environment in which all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully, have equal access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute fully to the organisation’s success.

School communities are not homogenous and not every member of staff or pupils will celebrate Christmas. For some, the holiday season can evoke bad memories and the feeling of being excluded as everyone else enjoys school productions, secret Santa, Christmas lunch and the rest of the exciting festive activities. So, how can your school make Christmas inclusive?

DiverseEd reminds us that inclusion should not be viewed  as just  an add-on but rather as an institution-wide point of reference to meet the needs of everyone in your care. Inclusion should be practiced all year round and not just at the sight of a Christmas tree or at the smell of freshly baked mince pies. The conversation about inclusion is nuanced, requires deep personal reflection and remembering that the holiday season can bring mixed feelings. Leader’s Digest recommendations to make Christmas more inclusive is part of, rather than a substitute for your school-wide equality, diversity and inclusion ethos.

Ten ways my school can make Christmas more inclusive

Create a diverse planning committee

Planning Christmas events requires planning and preparation. As a school leader, having a  planning committee that is representative of your school community is one way you can ensure a diverse range of views, ideas and thoughts are heard. Planning committees could be made up of support staff, including teaching assistants and also staff who don’t celebrate Christmas. Your school’s Christmas events planning committee can be an excellent way of understanding the individual needs of your fellow colleagues and also of pupils. In making necessary adjustments or alternative arrangements for those who don’t celebrate Christmas, a diverse planning committee can help identify challenges and collaboratively find solutions.

Having an interfaith calendar

As the festive season approaches, it is important to remember that other faiths will have important events and traditions taking place too and these deserve to be acknowledged and celebrated too. For example, Hanukkah which is an eight-day long Jewish festival begins on November 28th and ends on December 6th. Also, Buddhists celebrate Bodhi Day on December 8th. Both of these religious events take place as the Christmas festive season commences. Your school’s interfaith calendar can be a powerful tool to plan celebrations for these respected faiths all year round and make staff and pupils feel respected and valued. An interfaith calendar can also help avoid scheduling mistakes, plan celebrations and guide your schools religious/PSHE curriculum.

Allowing staff and pupils to opt out

An important element of inclusion is offering people options. Staff and pupils should be allowed to opt out of Christmas celebrations if they wish to without fear of judgement or sanction. Christmas can be a really challenging time for some people and as a school leader, if a colleague or pupil doesn’t wish to partake, their wishes should be respected. A big part of inclusion is respecting others, their preferences and allowing them to have the autonomy to not participate.

Make events optional/voluntary

As with allowing staff and pupils to opt out, festive events should be optional and voluntary. Organising Christmas plays or concerts is often done in non-contact time and a lot of invisible labour takes place to make these events happen. School leaders should reiterate that attending events is always optional and that there will be no pressure or judgement if they cannot attend. For some staff, it is not necessarily the case of being unable to make the commitment to after school rehearsals or concert preparation, but rather they have additional responsibilities outside of work. The wellbeing of staff is of paramount importance in making festive events fulfilling and worthwhile for all.

Provide food options

Food is an integral part of Christmas. To ensure all staff and pupils feel included, just as your school canteen would do, catering for all dietary requirements and personal preferences is key. For example, a good idea would be to have separate tables with vegetarian, vegan,  gluten-free, Halal, or Kosher food. Another option would be to relay information to pupils and parents about the options and alternatives available during the Christmas period. These are small provisions which will make staff and pupils feel more welcome and included in the Christmas festivities. Going forwards, it is also a really important way of getting to know your staff and pupils. Further to this could be to avoid offering alcohol to staff who don’t drink to avoid offending or alienating them.

Ask staff what they want

How many times have you been stumped on ideas for a secret Santa gift or just unsure if a colleague will like how the school celebrates Christmas? Asking staff what they want is an excellent way to plan Christmas celebrations in your school. This does not mean you have to hand over powers to staff but rather use their intricate knowledge of the pupils to guide your decision making. As a school leader, having ideas put towards you from staff can help refresh how your school embraces the festive season. In liaison with staff, certain practices from previous years that didn’t go well can be rectified or replaced. For example, Christmas jumper day. If a significant proportion of your pupils cannot afford to participate, they will feel excluded. This could easily be replaced with something more cost effective for the local community such as a Christmas tombola. Asking staff, who know the pupils and the school community incredibly well, this can help make Christmas a more inclusive experience for everyone.

Be mindful of the cost

Recently Teaching Assistant’s Digest completed a series of articles on TA pay. Christmas is an additional cost, especially for TAs and support staff who are already facing financial hardships. A £50 staff Christmas meal may seem like a small amount but for support staff, that £50 is days worth of earnings. Part of an inclusive model is including groups who have historically been excluded and TAs definitely fit this criteria. Where possible, if staff events are free or at a reduced cost, SLT should be mindful of this. It’s all good inviting everyone which could easily be interpreted as ‘inclusion’ but what about those who cannot afford to attend? Just because everyone has a seat doesn’t mean everyone can afford to eat! School leaders should also encourage support staff not to spend their own money on school Christmas events such as parties. If they do, an opportunity to reimburse them should be available.

Offer holidays to staff and pupils of other faiths

Again, a part of having an interfaith calendar is knowing exactly when other faiths have their traditions and celebrations. Christmas is a holiday season for everyone but throughout the academic year, other faiths will have traditions and festivals that will require staff and pupils to have time off to observe and celebrate. For example, Eid or Diwaali. Staff and pupils should be entitled to an appropriate number of days to celebrate their religious festivals. As a school leader, it is important to empower your staff with the confidence to request time off and for pupils to feel as though their school values their faith. This can also be done by allowing all staff and pupils to understand the importance of different religious festivals through embedding these into the curriculum and the schools wider inclusive ethos.

Invite feedback

As a school leader, first and foremost, you are a reflective practitioner. The nature of education is that there will always be opportunities to reflect, improve and do better. If a specific event didn’t go too well, encouraging your staff to come forwards and provide feedback is how you can get things right next time. Inviting feedback is the ultimate way of highlighting what worked well and finding areas for development. Feedback could be anonymous, drop-in, staff surveys or asking the pupils about how they found Christmas celebrations at school.

See inclusive practices over Christmas an extension of inclusion

Inclusion should not be something that is centred around December or nativity. As a school leader, it is important to realise that creating a more inclusive festive period for everyone at your school is one step in the right direction. Inclusion is an on-going cultural process of learning, understanding, supporting and of course, including others. Christmas is an opportunity to embed inclusive practices which themselves should permeate throughout your school and enrich everyone along the way.

Although this list is not exhaustive, we hope that it can give you some food for thought. How are you going to make Christmas an inclusive experience in your school? At Leader’s Digest we would love to hear from you.

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The Words We Choose, the Words We Use

Chris Richards portrait

Written by Chris Richards

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

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

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

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

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

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Diversifying the Curriculum, A Perspective

Diana Ohene-Darko portrait

Written by Diana Ohene-Darko

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

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

Introduction 

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

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

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

A call for change 

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

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

The current picture

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

Consideration of history 

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

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

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

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

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

Bringing education into the 21st century 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion 

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

References 

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

History%20National%20Curriculum.pdf. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Equality Act 2010 guidance, can be found at: 

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

The National Curriculum 1999 available at:  

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

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

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Attention Policymakers: We Need to Update the School Curriculum

Naida Allen portrait

Written by Naida Allen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is not a plea. It is an order.

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Audit Your Curriculum for Gender and LGBTQ+ Inclusivity

Katherine Fowler portrait

Written by Katherine Fowler

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

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

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

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

Useful documents to review include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kit and Onni Flag

Written by Kit Heyam and Onni Gust

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

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

1. Avoid making assumptions 

 

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

2. Names and pronouns are all you need

 

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

Names:

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

Pronouns:

 

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

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

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

4. How else can I make learning more inclusive?

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Further resources:

 

For you: 

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

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

 

For trans and gender-nonconforming students: 

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

NUS Trans Students’ Campaign

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

Terra Glowach portrait

Written by Terra Glowach

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

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

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

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

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The Kate Clanchy Memoir: A Red Flag for DEI

Written by Chiaka Amadi

Chiaka has almost 40 years of experience as a teacher and EAL leader at school and local authority level. Her work as an independent consultant and trainer focuses on language acquisition, literacy development and multilingualism.

In August, I read a succession of tweets about attacks on three WoC writers, Chimene Suleyman, Monisha Rajesh and Sunny Singh which alerted me to the controversy around a book ‘What I Taught Kids and What They Taught Me’. https://minamaauthor.com/2021/08/15/a-controversy-i-recently-read/?like_comment=242 

 

The WoC had challenged the racialised and stereotyped language used by its author, Kate Clanchy, to describe her students. Numerous passages were criticised by a range of commentators citing derogatory descriptions of neurodiverse students; of some students’ choice of clothing; of the very carrying of their bodies. The lively discussion of the book on #DiReadsClanchy was then illuminating in helping me to understand the range of concerns concerning the depictions of the students.

 

What astonished me the most, however, was how such content could have ever been published as the considered writings of a teacher. How did the editors at Picador, Ms Clanchy’s publishers, perceive her writing? How could those critiqued sections of the book not have rung alarm bells during the editing process?

 

Even if knowledge of the protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010 didn’t alert editors to the need for sensitivity and respect in relation to Ms Clanchy’s students, a quick read of Part Two of The Teachers Standards should at least have made them ask if its “high standards of ethics and behaviour” were being fulfilled: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1007716/Teachers__Standards_2021_update.pdf

 

Did the editors really believe that the words in front of them truly treated pupils with “dignity” and were “rooted in mutual respect”?

 

It is the children in the book who flag up that there are different life realities, experiences and perceptions at work. Ms Clanchy acknowledges that they teach her “how white I am” and explains to the reader the way the children encode her “super-empowered” membership of the “world’s ruling class” into the word “English”. Did the editors really not feel the need to explore that dynamic both as it appeared on the page and as it evolved as a conceit throughout the book?

 

Or did Ms Clanchy avoid this particular lesson by diverting to the fact that she is Scottish? This artful manoeuvre leads to the uncritical acceptance by the editors and subsequently by many readers, of Ms Clanchy’s first person narrative. It centres the perspective of a white, middle-class, well educated, abled person as the default for our interpretation. It invites the reader to peer through that particular lens at the students, and as ‘we’ do so, ‘we’ lap up her observations about them and about social matters. ‘We’ are in danger of objectifying and diminishing any student described who does not fit into that normative default, even as Ms Clanchy thinks she is being positive. This is a red flag for DEI activism.

 

Picador have announced a re-write of the book to remove any “offensive passages”: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2021/aug/10/kate-clanchy-to-rewrite-memoir-after-criticism-of-racist-and-ableist-tropes. Various idioms come to mind, the most polite involving silk purses and sow’s ears. While Ms Clanchy claimed that listening to recent responses to her work had been “humbling”, her publishers by contrast seemed energised, recruiting “specialist readers” to assist with the re-working.

 

To express my concern at all this, I recently signed an open letter to the publishers: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1EWl1D-Duw2qiwAWUsRANfo8VcqzDMANJ/edit 

 

Picador have now replied to the 350+ signatories of this letter and you can read and evaluate that response here: 

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1e0uNH-ivVWBhXav7VD5yl_1mt5CgyAkz/view?usp=sharing.  

Please comment if you wish. The feedback is being collated for return to Picador. 

 

I was also pleased to read an open letter from a group of Ms Clanchy’s former pupils: https://www.thebookseller.com/news/clanchy-students-say-they-did-not-experience-safeguarding-or-consent-issues-1278744. I felt able to infer from their articulate and cogent advocacy on behalf of their teacher that their school experiences had contributed to an understanding what it takes to feel part of a community; of the give and take, the to and fro that is part of learning and teaching. They feel safe and confident. Their personal relationship with their former teacher is intact and strong. 

 

However, we cannot shrug our shoulders and say, ‘all’s well that ends well’. To date, no concrete assurances have been given regarding the future ethical standards we can expect from Picador in relation to non-fiction writing about children. The issue is not about the affection or regard that any individuals might hold for others, but the wider debate around representation, ethics, literature and publishing.  

 

As teachers, safeguarding children sits at the heart of our role. All stakeholders in education must ensure that our work does not reinforce stereotypical and clichéd views of children. The whole episode serves as a timely reminder of the need for each of us, in our own contexts to reflect on exactly what our gaze encapsulates. We must consider how our conversations and interactions with, and about children, respect their individuality and humanity. Our words can become wider, more permanent representations of them. We must endeavour to do no harm.

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