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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