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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The Importance of Empathy

Rebecca Ferdinand portrait

Written by Rebecca Ferdinand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Global Learning, Digital Global Citizenship and the SDGs – 8 Learning Opportunities for SEND Settings

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.

The challenge of bringing the outside world into an indoor learning space has had a lot of attention recently as a result of ‘lockdown-learning’ requirements. However, many in the field of global learning have been actively working on this pedagogical task for decades in a variety of ways. Recently, practice has been ramped up a gear, thanks to youth mobilisation to stop climate change, David Attenborough’s chart-busting ‘Our Planet’, the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and a new range of digital global citizenship education opportunities.

Global citizenship education, sustainable development education or human rights education can be an empowering, enriching, and transformative educational experience. The extent to which UN states also believe this work crucial is manifested in Target 4.7 of the SDGs:

By 2030 ensure all learners acquire knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including among others through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship, and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development. (Source: sdgs.un.org)

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the resolution adopting the SDGs, pledged to ‘leave no one behind’ and recognises the dignity of all and equality among all. The plan therefore rightly highlights an opportunity to consider complex global issues relating to equality, diversity and inclusion in all sorts of settings – including schools.

There are many ways in which schools are opting to bring in global learning – from school awards (such as UNICEF’s Rights Respecting Schools) to working with regional Development Education Centres to engaging in programmes like the British Council’s Connecting Classrooms. Some teachers are familiar with publications such as Oxfam’s Guides for Teachers on the ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ or ‘Global Citizenship Education’ and so use these to identify a curricular and pedagogic strategy right for the needs of their students. Research hubs such as the Development Education Research Centre (UCL London) have also now established global learning as a credible educational field by researching practice around the world and producing peer-reviewed publications such as the International Journal of Development Education and Global Learning. However, we do not yet know enough about effective global learning practice in SEND settings – but we do know that some exciting and transformative practice is taking place.

An increasingly popular methodology for supporting global learning and empathy-building combines both an ancient pedagogic technique with a modern-day one – storytelling and film making. We believe in capturing human stories through powerful short films which can then be turned into 360-degree interactive spaces for learning. Through this, students and teachers can navigate a virtual globe, explore different countries and visit various storyworlds. The films offer a unique glimpse into someone’s life and/or home and a snippet of how they see their lives and the world at a particular moment in time. No story provides a complete picture of an issue, but it helps bring things to life for students by using real-world examples and themes. Aligning this with lesson plans and resources mapped to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals will also help build cultural awareness and global citizenship amongst students.

Let’s take a look at some of the ways in which global learning can positively impact students with special educational needs (SEN) and/or disabilities by drawing upon schools already doing this through various global learning methodologies:

  1.   Enhancing independent learning and confidence building: Most case studies and reports emphasise how digital global learning resources can enhance independent learning and build confidence – something educators working with students with SEN have especially noticed and appreciated. One teacher from Elms Bank school has been using Lyfta’s global learning immersive digital stories with her class of students with autism. Although at first sceptical about how students might respond to the international storyworlds and subtitles, she noticed the extent to which the children engaged and empathised with the people featured in the stories and how it opened up opportunities for them. The teacher explained, “it brings the outside world into the classroom without having to go anywhere… it immerses them and engages them in a world which isn’t open to them, which they would find so difficult to be able to go and travel to places and talk to people…it allows them to do that without having to leave a space… without the pressures of unknown and the pressures of communication which might happen, they can become more independent”. Another example relates to how teachers and students are often similarly unaware of the details of global learning issues and this more level knowledge playing field can be empowering for students – offering them an opportunity to lead on topic direction or independent exploration on a range of levels. 
  2. Supporting blended, remote and flexible learning: Global learning through immersive platforms can support a blended learning approach in a variety of settings. Digital resources that offer flexibility and choice about delivery methodology support SEN teachers in their unique settings. From a group of physically disabled students in Finland who have enjoyed the post-viewing discussions after watching real-world videos covering specific scenarios and themes to a UK teacher in an alternative provision setting who found students actually participated thanks to the option of collectively inputting ‘student’ responses to global learning questions (thus navigating obstacles to participation such as the shame felt by ‘poor spelling’).
  3.     A useful opportunity to map, connect and combine different global learning approaches and pre-existing activities: Combining a whole school award with deeper-dive resources can provide the collective overview and the bespoke teaching methodologies required for SEN settings. For example, one teacher from the Venturer’s Academy said “I work with students who require a lot of sensory input to their learning so I’m using Lyfta to support them by creating an immersive learning experience. We are a Rights Respecting School and the platform works alongside this perfectly, enabling me to fully embed the Rights and SDGs across the school.” Other teachers have talked about how the practice of reflecting upon where global learning is already taking place in the school (such as gardening projects for sustainable and healthy lifestyles or international school-linking initiatives) can be helpful in many ways.
  4. Increasing engagement with physical activity (and other subjects): The UN’s SDGs combined with an immersive digital global learning resources can support PE teaching with children with SEN. For example, alongside the Youth Sport Trust and Lead Inclusion Schools across the country, we created a guide that uniquely connects PE, school sport and health and wellbeing together through immersive storyworlds aligned with the UN’s SDGs. The aim was to provide practitioners with the opportunity to engage young people in their schools that may not have previously accessed school sport, and develop confidence to access new opportunities, with the long-term outcome of increasing take up in physical activity. 
  5.     Global learning resources offering a non-sequential (and non-hierarchical) ordering of themes can fit in well with student interests and curriculum topics and priorities. Global learning is a lot about values and attitudes, but it is also about real world knowledge which has been reported as being perceived to be both relevant and interesting by students. Teachers in SEN settings have also talked about how immersive technology and storytelling can be used within a range of subjects, providing links and continuity to support student understanding.
  6. Global learning and digital global citizenship resources can be a way of teaching across different age-groups. Linked to point 5, opportunities for vertical teaching strategies are often useful when working with mixed-aged groups of students with different needs. The consistency of common themes can also assist in transition work.
  7. Building intercultural understanding and meeting those from other countries without traveling: One teacher at Rivermead School (post-16 Partnership) said how much she had enjoyed seeing her students engage with resources: “I work with students with SEN and we are a very small provision (seven students) but I have loved seeing their reactions and behaviour during our sessions where we discover new worlds. They are very respectful of other cultures and it is lovely to hear them discuss these later on that week or even a few weeks later.” Another teacher who worked with students with autism said that it was a unique opportunity for students to feel part of the world and meet people from other cultures or countries when they are highly unlikely to in their non-digital lives in the near future.
  8. A useful pedagogic technique for bringing in PSHE, relationships, challenging stereotypes, life-skills and self-care themes. Storytelling can help reinforce life-skills around subjects such as hygiene and health by addressing these themes but in a different context. The same can be applied to introducing more sensitive topics such as stereotyping and difference.

Prior to 2020, we could not have predicted the vital role remote learning would play in delivering the curriculum and enhancing human connection at a time of physical disconnection. While most evidence here is anecdotal and there is a need for more rigorous research on the extent to which global learning can facilitate a greater understanding of other communities and cultures, there are several educators working with children with SEN who have discovered many reasons to be optimistic. In fact, some settings may even be able to lead the way in developing innovative and useful methods, strategies and pedagogies when working with digital global learning resources.

If you would like to hear more about Lyfta or access free teacher training and trial access, sign up here.

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#DiverseEd’s Top 10 Videos of 2020-21

Hannah Wilson portrait

Written by Hannah Wilson

Founder of Diverse Educators

We love to amplify the voices, share the journeys, and celebrate the stories of our community.  Our events are inclusive and representative. Our speakers provoke reflection and stimulate discussion by: 

  • sharing their lived experience; 
  • reflecting on their classroom practice and curriculum design; 
  • evaluating the impact of policy changes; 
  • disseminating strategies for diversifying recruitment and governance.  

Last year we hosted:

  • 4 virtual conferences
  • a #DiverseGovernance series
  • a #FastForwardDiversityInclusion series
  • Bennie’s book launch
  • World Book Day
  • A Conversation With…

You can meet our speakers here you can review our events archive here.

Deepening our thinking around DEI starts with who and what we listen to, helping us to develop our confidence and our competence, both individually and collectively. Listening to our community provokes learning through reflection and conversation to help us all understand the breadth and the depth of DEI issues we need to develop an awareness of. 

Themes explored in the 2020-21 video collection include: allyship, belonging, coaching, community, culture, curriculum, governance, identity, leadership, mentoring, policy, recruitment, representation, role models, student voice, teaching and wellbeing.

 

Here are our Top 10 Most-Viewed #DiverseEd Videos in the 2020-21 academic year:

  1. #DiverseEd Live 2 – Oct ‘20 
  2. #DiverseEd Live 1 – June ‘20 
  3. #DiverseEdGovernance – 14th Jan ‘21 
  4. #DiverseEd Live 3 – Jan ‘21 
  5. #DiverseEdGovernance – 19th Nov ‘20 
  6. Bennie’s Book Launch – 14th Nov ‘20 
  7. #DiverseEdGovernance – 3rd Dec ‘20 
  8. #FastForwardDiversityInclusion Episode 3 – 19th July ‘20 
  9. #DiverseEd Live 4 – April ‘21 
  10. #DiverseEd Live 1: Session 2 (Curriculum) – June ‘20 

 

Thank you to everyone who has spoken at one of #DiverseEd virtual events to date – we appreciate you sharing you experience and expertise with our audience. 

Our calendar for 2021-22 is updated regularly here. Please do get in touch if you would like to speak at one of our future events or indeed host us! You can complete our google form for speakers for 2021-22 events here.

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#DiverseEd’s Top 10 Blogs of 2020-21

Hannah Wilson portrait

Written by Hannah Wilson

Founder of Diverse Educators

We love to amplify the voices, share the journeys, and celebrate the stories of our community.  Our blogs vary from sharing lived experience, to reflecting on classroom practice and curriculum design, to evaluating the impact of policy changes. We published 150 blogs from our network last academic year. You can meet our bloggers here and you can review our collection here.

Deepening our thinking around DEI starts with who and what we are reading, helping us to develop our confidence and our competence, both individually and collectively. Reading the blogs by our community provokes reflection and stimulates conversations to help us all understand the breadth and the depth of issues we need to develop an awareness of. 

Themes explored in the 2020-21 blog collection include: allyship, belonging, careers, coaching, commitment, community, curriculum, culture, governance, HR, identity, ITTE, language, leadership, policy, recruitment, reflection, representation, research, safeguarding, strategy, teaching, wellbeing. 

 

Here are our Top 10 Most-Read #DiverseEd Blogs in the 2020-21 academic year:

  1. How do we deal with racism in the classroom – Hannah Wilson 
  2. How to promote an anti-racist culture in social work – Wayne Reid 
  3. Interactive diversity calendar 2021 – Carly Hind/ Dual Frequency 
  4. How does material deprivation intersect with ethnicity to understand the variations in the achievement among BAME students – Nicole Edwards 
  5. Don’t tuck in your labels – Bennie Kara 
  6. Dear Secretary of State – Hannah Wilson 
  7. Gender is wibbly wobbly and timey wimey and gloriously so – Matthew Savage 
  8. Engaging with diversity – giving pupils a voice – Gaurav Dubay 
  9. Black lives matter, then now always – Wayne Reid 
  10. Breaking the cycle anti-racist plan term 1 – Dwain Brandy 

Thank you to everyone who has contributed to our #DiverseEd date and please do get in touch if you would like us to publish you. You can find out more about how to submit here.

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Broaden Horizons with Technology

Serdar Ferit portrait

Written by Serdar Ferit

Filmmaker, digital experience designer, and teacher who has won numerous awards and worked in over 20 countries on film, new media and education projects. Co-CEO of Lyfta.

This article first featured in the July edition of Headteacher Update Magazine.

While great strides have been made with LGBTQ+ equality in recent years, there is still so much more to be done to improve how these topics are discussed in school. Teaching children about sex education, human relationships and gender identity is vital to creating more accepting and well rounded global citizens. Education plays a fundamental role here and this is an area about which many teachers are passionate.

As of September 2020, it is mandatory for all English schools to teach an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum. Educating children from an early age about diversity and equipping them with the skills to better understand and celebrate this is one of the most important things we can teach in schools. It is the key to eradicating discrimination in society and fostering a future generation who are more empathetic and inclusive towards one another. 

Teaching pupils, particularly younger children, about Pride and what it means to be LGBTQ+ is sometimes perceived as a thorny subject. Sex education should be treated with sensitivity in schools, to ensure that children feel safe if they wish  to open up and express themselves. It’s vital to equip teachers with the resources and skills that will help them confidently teach diversity in the curriculum and usualise it as a subject for children. Sharing real-life stories from people who come from different backgrounds can be a powerful way for schools to approach this. Hearing people share stories of their own lived experience, helps to nurture empathy and understanding and can make  sensitive themes such as inclusivity and sexuality easier to understand. 

When these real-life, story-based lessons are presented in an immersive way, the impact is even greater, offering an incredibly powerful and engaging way to introduce children to different themes and allowing them to explore new cultures and perspectives which they otherwise might not experience. This is especially powerful when teaching an inclusive curriculum. Some pupils might have never met someone who is openly LGBTQ+, or they might have even witnessed, or been subjected to, negative stereotyping and homophobia. Sharing human stories with pupils through an interactive, 360° learning environment gives them the freedom to explore and hear first-hand from people whose lived experiences can help broaden understanding and foster inclusivity.  

Immersive storytelling platforms like Lyfta allow schools to take pupils on virtual trips, for example to Curacao in the Caribbean, where they can hear from Qwensley, a young gay man living in a conservative Christian community. Children explore what it means to Qwensley to be part of the LGBTQ+ community and the challenges he faced, whilst discovering the power of resilience, empathy and acceptance. Introducing children to multiple perspectives, and demonstrating diversity will not only help to broaden pupils’ horizons and sense of cultural capital, but will also equip them with the knowledge and confidence to express their own identities and be proud of who they are. Human storytelling enables teachers to bring depth, breadth and meaning to sensitive and complex concepts for children and can create a safe space for the class to discuss and engage with the themes. 

With the coronavirus pandemic limiting travel and close human interactions, speaking to children about diversity around the world is more important than ever. Technology is a wonderful tool for broadening students’ horizons, bringing human stories to life and helping to develop more confident, empathetic and globally-conscious thinkers who will go on to make a positive impact in the world.

You can find out more about Lyfta and sign up for free training and trial access here.

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Racist Language within an SEMH Context

Sophie Tales portrait

Written by Sophie Tales

Associate Assistant Principal for the Mead Educational Trust in Leicester. Sophie leads on Social, Emotional Mental Health, SEND Support and Development, Transition, Oracy, Team Teach and is chair for SENCo and Family Support Worker Networks.

What does it mean when students with SEMH show prejudice within a state of crisis? How can this be managed? How should this be tackled?

Within an SEMH context there are high staff to student ratios. Therefore, in the best of settings, there is very little behavior that goes unnoticed. This means that as staff you have a very insightful position within the lives of the SEMH students that are in your care and, therefore, have an opportunity to support students within any ounce of behavior that has been shown; positive or negative. 

When it comes to times of crisis for students with SEMH, this can manifest in different ways. Behaviour that can be shown as an SEMH student reaches crisis: verbal abuse, physical abuse, controlling behavior, damage of property or self-harm.

Verbal abuse can often be part of an individual student’s behavior when they are in or reaching crisis. When an SEMH student is in crisis they are in ‘Fight, Flight. Freeze.’ Fight and flight are often seen within SEMH contexts. Verbal abuse is part of the ‘Fight’. Typically abuse that I personally get is “fat”, “bitch”, “slag”, “slut”; all very much to do with my body and being female. Within this state of crisis an SEMH student is in such a state of unrest that they are attempting to show you just how badly they are feeling; sometimes they want you to feel just as badly as they do – hence the abuse. What I, as a white woman, haven’t experienced is any abuse about the colour of my skin. However, what I wish to discuss within this piece of writing is that when working with students with SEMH, racist language may well be used as abuse towards anyone; regardless of the colour of their skin.

As with any SEMH context, the behavior policy of that setting is a fundamental part of the running of the school and provides a clear set of rules, as well as opportunities, for students to follow to be rewarded for positive behavior. Racism is a key part of the policy which outlines steps of action if a student shows racial prejudice. However, what I would argue is that all contexts, SEMH or not, alongside their behavior policy, equally need a defined focus within the setting’s curriculum where ‘racism’ is being taught; for SEMH students, especially those who are white, racism is a very hard concept to understand.

The importance of having a differentiated curriculum designed to discuss what race and racism is became increasingly apparent to me when dealing with a group of white students who were increasingly using racist language towards members of staff when they were reaching a state of crisis. It became increasingly apparent that this needed an individual approach as no form of sanction was helping them change their behavior. For instance, these students all hated working away from their main class group and this was the first part of the sanction for the racist words that they had used. In the past, working away from their main class group would help these particular students to understand what they had done wrong and to stop any repeat offenses. However, with this incident, it didn’t. The words these students were using became worse and, strangely, the targets of these racist words became more varied. These students started to use these words towards anyone who was around at their point of crisis. They were not directing these racist words towards any particular skin colour; they were saying them to anyone available – white or black. This change in word direction helped me to see the issue. These students were not showing their prejudice; they were using words that they knew offended and upset people, without having any real understanding of what they were talking about.

This is where I realised I had overlooked something. I had overlooked just how complex a social construct such as racism is for any child, let alone a student with SEMH. To be able to understand racism, you are not just having to teach how historically people of colour have been treated as inferior to white people – you have to help teach the impact of community, culture, religion and, above all else, empathy. This is not an easy endeavor for students who struggle with social understanding. Yet, once this has been identified, you can identify what needs to be broken down for those students to understand the impact of their words and behavior.

For the students I was working with they needed context. They needed to understand what the words they were using meant to the staff they were saying it to. This could not come from me. A white woman telling them how it made another person feel wasn’t enough context; they needed to hear it from the person they had said it to. Secondly, they needed to see what this meant in context. They needed to see the community of people that they were directly offending when using those words. Finally, they needed to be in that community, to see those faces, and to discuss, in front of the community they were offending, when out of crisis, and to feel the weight of the language they had used.

The above approach worked. These students no longer use racist language within a state of crisis; it has been put back into a box that they know is not to be touched; regardless of the level of distress they are feeling. This is not to say that I think they will never use these words in a state of crisis again; they most likely will. But what they have now is a foundation of understanding that can be used to remind them of who they are not to use such language. Most importantly, it helped everyone involved to see that these students were not prejudiced. They were not targeting race; they were seeing a way of hurting someone as a tool for communication, without an understanding of the historical and social weight of the words they were using.

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The National Curriculum - What Needs to Change?

Molly Burbridge portrait

Written by Molly Burbridge

Molly is a teacher based in Greater Manchester, she founded AC in September 2020. She has a BA from Manchester University in American Studies.

Why is the national curriculum so limiting?

The national curriculum determines what is taught in our schools and colleges. It not only establishes who deserves to be celebrated in our country’s classrooms but also which students are represented. The content of our curriculum, the privileging of some forms of knowledge and aspects of lived experience over others and even pedagogical practices themselves serve to prioritise some voices and marginalise or silence others.

Even though educational establishments are required to abide by the Equality Act of 2010 our national curriculum does not reflect the nine protected characteristics equally. There is no requirement to learn about how institutionalised racism impacts our society; most authors of GCSE English texts are White heterosexual cisgender men; there is little scope for the celebration of the diverse array of cultures and identities that exist in our society. Even in PSHE, a subject that can be considered to have the most freedom to explore topics relating to the nine protected characteristics, is curtailed by DfE guidance limiting the external visitors that can support the delivery of a PSHE curriculum to disallow those, ‘promoting divisive or victim narratives that are harmful to British society’ (https://www.gov.uk/guidance/plan-your-relationships-sex-and-health-curriculum#using-external-agencies). This has been seen as an attempt to limit educators from teaching about activist groups such as Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion (https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/dec/15/education-department-to-review-schools-guidance-on-anti-capitalist-groups?__twitter_impression=true). It would be an impossible task to effectively teach about the nine protected characteristics of the Equality Act of 2010 without discussing the actions taken by marginalised groups to fight for equality however the DfE seem to be trying to prevent this.

Why does a representative curriculum matter?

Lack of representation or misrepresentation prevents society from progressing. When harmful, inaccurate or ignorant portrayals of groups of people exist in the media or cultural industries it leads to discrimination and harassment. If students don’t see themselves represented in topics they learn at school whether that be due to their race, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability then it becomes a barrier to achieving a sense of equality in schools. A lack of representation can also perpetuate existing inequalities that exist in society. Pupils who belong to groups that hold power in society are not given an opportunity to locate themselves within this position of power in society and are therefore not encouraged to consider how they benefit from it and what they can do to promote equality. 

How we want to make a change!

Here at Alternative Curriculum, we want to widen the educational conversation and deepen an understanding of many subjects that are often airbrushed out of our national curriculum.​ We create free online resources that can be used by teachers in their classrooms, parents/carers as learning tools at home or young people as an opportunity to widen their cultural capital. Our aim is to amplify diverse voices and give young people the chance to learn about the varied histories, cultures and communities that have contributed to society. Our lessons focus on minority groups and those whose histories and cultures are not as thoroughly covered in the mainstream curriculum, with lessons on various topics within areas of history, science, media, literature, cultural studies and more. Example lessons so far include:

We have even started creating adult resources as it’s important that we continue to educate ourselves and continue the conversation around anti-discrimination and equality. Here are some examples of our adult resources:

As conversations around the creation of a diverse and representative curriculum continue we hope that it is prioritised in classrooms across the country. Until then we will keep creating resources that amplify and celebrate unheard voices and change the narrative or our national curriculum.

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Reflections on Improving Diversity and Inclusion in Science Teaching

Suzanne Wood portrait

Written by Suzanne Wood

Chemistry teacher in an all girls school in London.

“Think of a scientist… imagine that scientist in your mind, imagine what they look like, what they do at work, the clothes they wear…. Now imagine them at home with their family, think about what their family looks like.”

I often start my year 7 and 8 classes with this exercise at the very beginning of the year.  I ask them to draw a picture of the scientist and their family.  Around 95% of them draw an old, white man with slightly fuzzy hair wearing a lab coat, his wife and their two children. It is always clear that the prevailing idea of scientists as straight, white men is still dominant in today’s society.

Looking at the numbers working in science careers, it is easy to see why.  Despite there being over a million women working in science technology, engineering and maths (STEM) careers, this still represents only 24% of the work force1. More worryingly, black students represent only 6.2% of university entries on STEM courses2 and LGBT+ people are 20% less represented in STEM fields than expected3.  The number of people with a known disability working in STEM subjects is far lower than those working in non STEM fields4.  Yet, there remains a well documented skills shortage in this industry, costing around £1.5billion per year, coupled with a continued growth in jobs year on year5.  It is clear therefore that the argument for the improved representation amongst minority groups in science is not just a moral one but also an economic one.

Discourse on diversifying the school curriculum frequently suggests that this is significantly more challenging for science or maths compared with English, history or the arts6.  But as we know, you can’t be what you can’t see, and with this in mind,  I personally took on the challenge of leading the science department to decolonise and diversify our curriculum.   My aim was to reflect back to our students a vision of science that included them and their many and varied individualities. My project was ambitious, I created diversity resources for all three sciences across key stages 3 and 4 for each unit of learning. These were integrated into the existing curriculum for teachers to use.  Examples include challenging our year 7’s perspective of families by exposing them to diverse ways of having children when studying reproduction, or introducing year 8 to Stephanie Kwolek, the woman who invented Kevlar when studying materials. We explore why female only pairings are beneficial to some species in GCSE Biology and the inequalities that exist as a result of climate change in GCSE Chemistry along the work of Stephen Hawking in GCSE Physics.  We celebrate black history month in science with year 7 & 8 by looking at the life and contribution of Henrietta Lack’s HeLa Cells and in year 12 Chemistry and Biology we discover how the first HIV drugs were designed during LGBT+ history month.  I found, when you scratch the scientific surface and get creative, you can quite easily find rich and varied examples of diversity and inclusion. 

An added layer to this project was my realisation that we needed a significant and sustained culture shift within the department to put diversity and inclusion into the forefront of our teaching and learning strategy.  I worked with teachers to help them understand the importance of their role in this by inviting them to attend a whole school CPD session that I ran on supporting LGBT+ students and why this was essential in terms of student wellbeing.  I worked with the department to evolve the learning environment and make it more inclusive. Our science class names were changed to reflect a diverse group of scientists and time was built into our teaching schedules for diversity to be celebrated.  These changes have had a significant impact on teachers and our students.  A recent staff survey demonstrated that 100% of the respondents felt that diversity and inclusion is an important aspect of their teaching role and most teachers (90%) feel confident delivering this within the department.   Student surveys have also revealed that pupils enjoyed learning about diverse science and that they saw this as an important aspect of their science education.  Since these changes, staff have told me that students seem more at ease with starting conversations with them that have diversity and inclusion at their core and I see this as a positive outcome.  Personally, the biggest change for me is that diversity and inclusion is now a collective effort for the entire department. It is no longer just me talking about this, but all of us.   

  1. https://www.stemwomen.co.uk/blog/2021/01/women-in-stem-percentages-of-women-in-stem-statistics 
  2. https://www.stemwomen.co.uk/blog/2021/03/bame-women-in-stem 
  3. https://blogs.imperial.ac.uk/imperial-medicine/2019/02/27/stem-needs-to-face-up-to-its-problem-with-lgbt-diversity/ 
  4. https://royalsociety.org/-/media/policy/topics/diversity-in-science/210118-disability-STEM-data-for-students-and-staff-in-higher-education.pdf 
  5. https://luminate.prospects.ac.uk/the-uks-stem-skills-shortage 
  6. https://www.runnymedetrust.org/uploads/publications/pdfs/Runnymede%20Secondary%20Schools%20report%20FINAL.pdf 

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An Anti-Racist Approach to Physical Education

Mo Jafar portrait

Written by Mo Jafar

I am currently Head of PE at an all boys school in East London. I have been appointed Subject Lead for PE at the Havering Teacher Training Partnership.

It can be difficult to recognise how your practice can have a detrimental effect on Black people if you are unaware of the issues Black people face. It could be argued that a lack of Black people in middle leader positions in Physical Education can have a profound effect on the experience young Black people have in PE and this lack of representation is one reason why organisations such as BAME PE are so important. 

There are the classic stereotypes with regards to athleticism and power that are associated with Black people in sport and physical activity but what if you do not fit this model? If you are a Black girl in PE and not athletic what does PE offer you? Conversely, if you are athletic and Black how does this narrow your opportunities or change the way you are treated in PE? 

These are important questions and unfortunately may never be addressed if we don’t bring them to the table. As stated by Clark (2020) “People in power are pragmatic when working on behalf of those that don’t have it”. Clark’s comments are from a paper he wrote last year based on applying a critical race theory pedagogy towards Physical Education. 

Below I have highlighted some examples of how we might break through this pragmatism and actively adopt an anti-racist approach to Physical Education. I discussed this back in April on the PEPRN podcast by Dr Ash Casey which can be found here.

#1 The Changing Room

If you understand the black body you will know that moisturising is a religious art. How does this relate to PE I hear you say? 

The changing room is rife for ridicule and if someone has forgotten to moisturise their legs then they are now a target for verbal abuse from peers. 

If I noticed this happening over a number of weeks I would raise this with my designated safeguard lead as to me it’s not as simple as they have just forgotten. It might be the start of a thread that unravels later down the line.

As a Black person this type of issue is in my immediate attention but I’m not sure that it would be for others. Furthermore, the people in charge of designing and delivering safeguarding training are predominantly white and may not have this knowledge. 

Including insights such as this in safeguarding training would not solve all the problems of racism but it may well be a start.

#2 Swimming and golf: limited opportunities 

According to Swim England, the sport’s governing body, 95% of black adults and 80% of black children in England do not swim, and only 2% of regular swimmers are black. See Guardian article here and also the short documentary film by Ed Accura “Black’s Can’t Swim” on YouTube. 

Having an acute awareness of the impact race has on an activity like swimming could encourage PE subject leads to be creative and ensure swimming for black pupils is a necessity and not a luxury. These statistics show there is a huge gap that PE can and should attempt to fill. 

Another example came from a recent parents evening as one parent made me promise to offer opportunities for black boys in sports like golf. 

Not all places feel accessible for black people or are experienced the same way as their white counterparts and for a long time I wouldn’t have felt it was my place to explore golf as a black man let alone a young black boy from East London. 

We can change this by committing to offering young black people the opportunity to explore environments like golf and break down the idea that it is not their place to be.

Storytelling…As a tool for change

As PE teachers, the challenge now is to ensure that young black people (and all young people really) have the opportunity to experience a range of activities that historically and for a variety of reasons may never cross their radar.

It’s about knowing the people in front of you. Trying to understand all of their complexities as individuals, whilst appreciating their socio-cultural constraints and the role racism can play on a day to day basis.

Lastly, listening to the stories of Black people without judgement and acknowledging that you may not fully appreciate the world they experience could go a long way to enriching the PE experience. For a more in depth reading on this topic and other PE related posts please visit my blog site teaching2move.wordpress.com

References

Langston Clark (2020) Toward a critical race pedagogy of physical education, Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 25:4, 439-450, DOI: 10.1080/17408989.2020.1720633

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