South Asian Heritage Month: free to be me.

Zahara Chowdhury portrait

Written by Zahara Chowdhury

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

This year’s theme for SAHM is beautiful: free to be me. As we celebrate lived experiences, storytelling and authenticity, it seems only right that freedom and embracing our individual narratives is next.

This year’s theme has made me think where have I felt my most free? It’s not an easy question to answer. You see, growing up South Asian, (in my case, a British Pakistani Muslim, who’s family was born and raised in Africa), masking your identity can often feel normal, particularly when masking makes you feel safe in public, school and at work. Returning home, comes with its own comforts and conflict: finding joy in your culture and sticking out because you don’t really ‘fit’ within it either. Freedom then becomes a rather grey area and one that does not feel easily attainable.

Over the years, particularly I adulthood, there are a few spaces where I have come close to ‘free’: one was in my classroom. When teaching, my classroom was predominantly full of students who looked like me, shared similar lived experiences and most importantly we connected over an understanding of shared ambitions, aspirations and values. I felt free in an office with a colleague who shared my heritage; breaktimes and lunchtimes were full of laughter, candid conversations and asking each other, ‘what did your mum use to store atta in the kitchen?’, ‘were your sofas covered in shrink wrap too?’

Since then, I have felt most free in conversation with South Asian educators across the sector, most recently in conversation learning all about the wonders of Pehalwaan Juice (if you know you know…I definitely didn’t!). In many ways I share this with caution: for someone who works to amplify diversity, is there a problem if my freedom is sought and felt within my own community? Do I then just enjoy being a part of my own echo chamber?

The answer is no. Within these spaces diversity thrives. Diversity of thought, feelings, faith, work, experiences – being South Asian does not make us all one and the same and every South Asian friend, colleague and student I have connected with has a different story and identity. If anything, the freedom I feel in these spaces makes me more determined to centralise my identity in mainstream spaces too.

My childhood and teen years were branded with the term ‘coconut’ – in many ways, I didn’t think much of it then and I don’t think much of it now. What I do think about now though is how the identity of a ‘coconut’ lacked freedom. Consciously and subconsciously (and I really hope fellow South Asians can relate) I spent my childhood and adolescence straddling between several identities, depending on the audience – and I happened to be pretty good at it; I still am (we are pros when it comes to masking). I (still) do not know enough about my heritage, and I still don’t feel very ‘white’ either. Perhaps this is what imposter really means.

I studied all of this at university, wrote about it for my dissertation. 15 years later, specialising in a field that very much reflects the truth of my life couldn’t be more imperfectly perfect, no matter how much I question it on a daily basis (awareness and celebratory months are only one piece of the ‘work’). If anything, my experiences as a teacher and now EDI trainer, speaker and consultant are in some ways liberating and in other ways, revealing of just how far ‘we’ (marginalised and minorities in the West) have to go to be free.

South Asian Heritage is rich, diverse, nuanced and just huge – I am so naive and ignorant of its beauty. There is so much to learn. I’m not sure I’m free to be me just yet…but I think (and hope) we’ll get there soon.

In light of this and all of the learning and connections we have to make, I’m excited to share a space, network and group for South Asian Educators to connect, talk and be. Assistant Headteacher and Author, Yamina Bibi has said, the network will be a space ‘for anyone who is looking for a safe space for those of South Asian heritage. The challenges and issues facing South Asian Educators is somewhat different to those from other heritage groups as they are often thought of as the hard workers, obedient, quiet, shy, oppressed by colleagues and society in general. This network will support more educators to have their unique voices heard.’  We want this network to be collaborative, safe, empowering and a community where we can learn from one another too. Please Join us here!

 


Supporting the Emotional Needs of Young People in Schools

Bianca Chappell portrait

Written by Bianca Chappell

Bianca Chappell is a Mental Health Strategic Lead, Cognitive Behavioural Coach and Mental Health First Aider.

As an educationalist with over 15 years of experience in secondary education, spanning roles such as Head of Year and Head of Alternative Education in both the UK and New York, and as a certified master NLP and Cognitive Behavioural Coach, I am passionate about providing opportunities for young people to thrive and excel in education by meeting their pastoral and emotional needs. 

The Importance of Emotional Support in Schools 

The ongoing challenges with mental health, exacerbated by lockdowns and social isolation, have brought to light the critical importance of providing a platform to support the emotional needs of young people in schools. The pandemic has exposed and intensified mental health issues, with 1 in 6 children now experiencing a mental health problem, up from 1 in 9 in 2017. Furthermore, approximately 1 in 10 students have yet to return to school due to poor mental health and social anxiety since lockdown. 

Emotional support is a crucial part of the wider pastoral offer in education. It goes beyond academics, encompassing the well-being of students, which in turn supports their overall development. By fostering positive well-being and emotional support, schools can significantly improve students’ mental health, self-worth, and confidence. 

The Impact of Emotional Support on Academic and Personal Development 

Providing robust emotional support for young people has a profound impact not only on their mental health but also on their academic performance and behavior. When students feel supported emotionally, they are more likely to attend school regularly, engage in their studies, and achieve higher academic outcomes. In fact, research indicates that students who receive adequate emotional support are more likely to pass their GCSEs and embark on a higher education journey, ultimately leading to a robust career path. 

Supporting emotional well-being also contributes to better behavior in school. Students who feel understood and supported are less likely to act out and more likely to exhibit positive behavior. This creates a conducive learning environment where all students can thrive. 

A Holistic Approach to Education 

My dedication to supporting young people in education has led me to write, implement, and project manage the delivery of a holistic curriculum that addresses the emotional needs of students. This comprehensive approach ensures that students receive the support they need to navigate adolescence with calm, clarity, and confidence. I believe that supporting the emotional well-being of students is as important as safeguarding, and it is our duty of care as educationalists to provide robust platforms of support. 

Creating an emotionally healthy school environment is not just a responsibility but a commitment to the future of our young people. By expanding our pastoral offer and integrating emotional support into the fabric of our educational systems, we can help students flourish both academically and personally. 

Can you make a difference?  

As educators, parents, and community members, it is imperative that we respond to the urgent need to ensure our schools are equipped to support the emotional health of our students. Let’s commit to creating emotionally healthy schools where every young person has the opportunity to thrive. 

Join me in making this vision a reality. Together, we can expand our pastoral offer, support the emotional needs of our students, and build a brighter future for the next generation. 

For more insights and strategies on supporting emotional well-being in schools, feel free to reach out or follow my work. Let’s make a difference in the lives of our young people.


Safe spaces: a process of co-creation

Sherine El-Menshawy portrait

Written by Sherine El-Menshawy

Sherine is a Primary Education Teaching Professional and DEI Lead. She is also a DEI Associate Consultant for Being Luminary, delivering training for school leaders, and is a school governor with a focus on DEI, RSE and PSHE. Her passion and interest in DEI and all things related to identity, culture and power stem from her mixed-heritage background which has shaped her diverse personal and professional journey. She holds an MA in Cultural Studies and lived in Cairo for 11 years working in the field of International Development for UN organisations and regional NGOs.

We often talk about ‘safe spaces’ in education, as we should. The safety of all our students, staff and stakeholders is paramount and protected through our safeguarding framework and responsibilities. However, consideration of what we mean when we say ‘safe spaces’ is an area worth exploration. When we say ‘safe’ we need to be clear on what we mean. We are talking about psychological safety as well as physical safety. Both are crucial for enabling a safe, inclusive learning environment where we can all thrive. And this is where things become more complex. Can we actually be sure that we are considering the psychological safety of our students and those we have a duty of care towards if we don’t make the effort to understand how they feel, why they feel that way and how their experiences, their identity affects their sense of safety in a given environment. Is it right to talk of creating ‘safe spaces’ without doing the work of understanding the power dynamics of any given space or environment, the wider power dynamics at play and how these impact our students differently? Is it right to come up with ambitious plans of how to create ‘safe spaces’ without engaging everyone in the process? I would argue that there is a danger of missing the mark without this deeper understanding. That just as good teaching considers who students are, what they bring and where they are on their own learning journey, and adapts accordingly, schools need to do the same when talking of safe spaces. Safe spaces for who? Safety from what? And what external factors, outside of the school, may be contributing to the need for safe spaces in the first place?

Firstly, we need to explore the feelings of safety and belonging and how they impact learning. We know from our Trauma Informed training that a student who doesn’t feel safe will not be in a position to learn. Safety comes first. So perhaps if we consider, why some students find our learning environments safe spaces and are able to access and learn with ease, while others struggle we may start to understand more. If we apply this lens, we can see the impact of belonging on behaviour and in turn learning attitudes. So how equitable are we being when we rate a student’s ability without considering the impact of the environment and their sense of safety to function on their ability to learn in that space? We need to go deeper, build stronger relationships with our students to be able to see the real barriers to learning, as well as understand the power dynamics of the other relationships in the learning space or classroom.

We know that children who have experienced trauma have so much more to process in order to feel safe and to learn. We try and make accommodations for this in our schools and classrooms. But how far are we considering the child that is too fearful of putting up their hand and getting the answer wrong and asking ourselves what the barriers are for that child to confidently engage with the learning in an outward way? How much effort are we placing on fostering a safe culture in the classroom, modelling these behaviours, celebrating them between peers and insisting on them? Setting clear boundaries for all, that keep us all feeling safe. We need to be amplifying the strengths of all our pupils clearly and overtly for them and visibly in front of the rest of the class. Explicitly recognising the little triumphs that perhaps go unnoticed and encourage all pupils to do the same for themselves and for each other. 

When looking at a class of children and considering their progress, what is not represented in the data is the disadvantage of not fitting in and how this impacts a child’s learning and their experience. The nuances of identity and how parental networks, language, cultural mannerisms affect how easy it is for a child to fit with the group and feel like they belong all have an effect. How far are they actively hiding aspects of their identity because they don’t feel safe to bring their full authentic selves to the space? As adults, I think we can appreciate the difficulty of not belonging and how this presents as disadvantage in terms of friends, allies, networking, connection, having a voice, being heard, being seen, self-confidence, willingness to take risks, self-esteem etc. Applying the same to a classroom of children, we need to understand exactly those dynamics, listen to our children, and actively foster an inclusive culture, which will go some way to enabling safer spaces. 

We can’t assume that these principles are being endorsed and applied outside of school. In fact, we can assume that cultural biases and hierarchies are prevalent and active outside of school in the wider world and that these will impact the dynamics and realities of all our stakeholders – our children, our families and our staff. We need to consider this when we talk of safety and think about creating a truly inclusive culture. The alternative – assumptions and assertions of safety and inclusivity which is not the experienced reality of our stakeholders – only serves to disempower, alienate, isolate. It leads to masking, compounds feelings of being unsafe and essentially excludes. This can have serious consequences for mental health and learning. 

What we are essentially talking about here is culture. The culture in the classroom, in the school and of course the consideration of the wider culture within which the school and the education system are positioned, as well as our home cultures which shape each of us as actors in that space. Now ‘culture’ is one of the terms that we all feel we have an idea of what it means but struggle to explain. When I embarked on my Cultural Studies Masters Degree at the Birmingham School of Cultural Studies at Birmingham University more than 20 years ago, we started by researching, and thinking developing a deeper understanding of what we mean by culture. We discussed the term at length, each of us having a different perception of what we were talking about when we used the term ‘culture’. I urge you to investigate the term yourself and consider the multiple ways and contexts in which we use the term. A simple google search will bring multiple usages and definitions, all somehow correct yet different. What we really started to understand was the fact that culture is not static, it is not fixed in time or space, it is not a thing, it has multiple dimensions and multiple understandings, meanings and applications. It is when we talk of culture as something that can be conceptualised as having a set meaning and is fixed that we find we are trying to make things fit with an assumption that there is a shared understanding of what the word means. And this is important because when we are able to understand ‘culture’ in this fluid sense, we can really see how it is collaborative, changing all the time, it belongs to us all and we all have an impact and influence the culture at any given time in any given space. One cannot be a static part of a fluid concept unless disengaged and isolated from it, and even then one’s presence, even if not overt, would influence the culture. There are power dynamics yes, but essentially culture is always changing and has the possibility to change through our interactions and engagement with each other building connection. We are all active actors in any given space or time that influence the culture. So if we now think about a classroom made up of 30 students and a teacher, we would be wrong to think that the teacher is the only one that can influence the culture of that space at that time. We would be wrong to assume that the teacher can dictate the culture and make it whatever they want it to be because cultures develop from the ways in which those sharing a space at a particular time build connection, develop common meaning, learn, interact, and engage with each other to co-create common codes of practise for those interactions. The culture is co-created by each person that shares that space and how they interact with all the other people. Each of us is different and brings something different to that space, so creating a safe culture must include everyone – it is a co-creation process and cannot be dictated and created by one person of authority from above. 

With this thinking in mind, we cannot approach this fluid co-creation of culture in a particular space with a rigid approach that essentially forces its participants to fit. Instead, we need to truly understand difference and ensure we are not coming at this with our assumptions. We need to be human-centred in this pursuit. The golden rule: don’t assume that what may feel safe for you, feels safe for everyone. In the first instance, we need to engage our students with this and provide different ways for them to have a voice, express themselves. A collaborative approach is needed, understanding and learning together about safety and how inclusive practice is central to enabling us to feel safe to learn. Remember, not all students feel safe to speak out loud, but this does not mean they don’t have a voice and that their voice is not valid and central to contributing to a safe culture. We need to use various channels of communication for student voice that don’t leave students feeling exposed and vulnerable. This methodology requires careful consideration and should not only take one form. It also needs to be ongoing. Think of it as a journey we embark on together, there is no final destination, just a common direction that we are exploring together, checking in on each other as we travel.

Next, and this is so important – we need to look at our data, our context, and listen to what the data and the responses tell us. This can be difficult. We all want to believe that in our pursuit of putting the students first that we are actually achieving the aims of inclusivity and safety and it can be difficult to be confronted with pupil voice to the contrary. However, we must take comfort in the fact that engaging with this process in the first place, embarking on the journey together, listening to our students, even if we don’t like what they tell us, is us supporting them and putting their needs first. So we must properly respond to the data and include our students in that process. There is nothing worse than asking for opinions, asking questions, receiving feedback and then not actively working with that feedback. Student voice is not a one-time question, we need to keep assessing, building in lines of communication through which our students can feedback, and we need to ensure that students are involved and engaged in this process every step of the way. Remember we are co-creating and this process is fluid and developing all the time.

Finally, being open to broaden and deepen our own lens to understand the realities of those in our care is essential to embarking on the journey of co-creating safe, inclusive spaces.  This is a journey of learning for us as teachers and leaders too and we need to be open and curious to the idea of creatively navigating this process. Educating ourselves on inclusivity, belonging and always positioning ourselves as a co-creator and learner is key. Safety and inclusivity are not an additional consideration to layer on top of our work they are integral to a learning environment and culture that enables everyone to flourish and grow – they are central to what we do as educators. The golden rule: don’t assume a space feels safe for others just because you say it does.


Advancing Black history education in the UK

Katie D'Souza portrait

Written by Katie D'Souza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Introduce mandatory racial literacy training

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

2 Make Black history a statutory part of the curriculum

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

3 Equip teachers to meaningfully integrate Black history

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


LGBTQ+ teachers don’t receive the training and support they need

Dr Adam Brett portrait

Written by Dr Adam Brett

Adam has completed a doctorate exploring the experiences of LGBT+ secondary teachers. A presentation of his findings can be found here. He also co-hosts a podcast called Pride and Progress, @PrideProgress, which amplifies the voices of LGBT+ educators, activists and allies.

Originally posted on The Conversation in May 2024:

https://theconversation.com/lgbtq-teachers-dont-receive-the-training-and-support-they-need-228162

Republished with permission of the author.

LGBTQ+ teachers report feeling stressed and even discriminated against in the workplace due to their identity. This is a problem when keeping teachers in their jobs is vital. Teaching is facing a crisis in both recruitment and retention: in 2021-22, more than 39,000 teachers quit the profession.

But there is no formal support or training offered to LGBTQ+ teachers by the Department for Education. Supporting the teaching workforce who identify as LGBTQ+ and making teaching a welcoming profession should be a priority for the government.

For LGBTQ+ teachers, working in UK schools may no longer be the deeply traumatic and dangerous experience it was under Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act, which was repealed in 2003. This law sought to ban local authorities and their schools from promoting the acceptability of homosexuality as a “pretended family relationship”.

But LGBTQ+ teaching staff continue to face challenges such as feeling unsafe in their workplace.

Throughout their careers, LGBTQ+ teachers are placed in the difficult position of deciding whether they should conceal or reveal their sexual or gender identity. This is not a decision they are trained to deal with, nor a decision they make just once. It is particularly tricky in schools where teachers must decide if, when, and how to be open with different groups – staff, students, parents, and others involved in school life.

As an LGBTQ+ former teacher, I know first-hand the emotional tax that comes with continuously negotiating LGBT+ visibility and identity within school.

Unsafe spaces

For my doctoral research I worked with 12 LGBTQ+ teachers from a variety of contexts, including faith, private, and single sex schools. The teachers took photos to represent the spaces where they felt most and least safe within their school, and described the significance of their photos.

The teachers changed how they behaved out of fear of being seen as LGBTQ+. They did this in particular in open or visible spaces, such as when on break duty, leading an assembly or in the staffroom.

In these spaces, the LGBTQ+ teachers were fearful of comments or incidents related to their identity that they felt unequipped to deal with. One teacher said:

I give my assemblies quite often, and I don’t hide my sexuality from anybody, so the student body knows that I’m gay … but when I’m doing my assemblies I feel, I feel scared and I don’t know if it’s because I know that they know that I’m gay and therefore, I’m like afraid of them … I don’t know hurling a slur or something.

By contrast, the teachers often described their classrooms as the spaces where they felt most safe. Here, they had created their own routines, relationships and systems.

Among the 12 participants, there were teachers who had been told not to discuss their sexual or gender identity. One teacher told me that they and others had been asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement in a Catholic school: “We weren’t allowed to talk about the fact [that we were gay],” they said.

These are extreme examples. Generally, though, the assumption of heterosexuality in schools can lead to personal questions and situations that LGBTQ+ teachers often feel unequipped to deal with.

Cisgender and heterosexual teachers might be asked about their partners and families and would feel no fear of retribution or backlash in answering those questions. But what might be an entirely unremarkable conversation for a heterosexual teacher might well be deeply fraught for an LGBTQ+ teacher. This can be understood as “heterosexual privilege”.

Despite thousands of the teacher workforce identifying as LGB+, they receive no formal support or training for the challenges that they are likely to experience in their career. Sending LGBTQ+ teachers into schools without adequate support or training will probably lead to these teachers experiencing discrimination and stress.

Some teacher training providers ensure that trainees from minority backgrounds receive training and support to help them face the additional barriers they may experience in schools. However, implementation remains inconsistent.

Future reforms to the Initial Teacher Training and Early Career Framework, which outlines the minimum entitlement for trainee and early career teachers, must reflect these challenges to ensure a minimum and equitable level of provision for LGBTQ+ teachers. If they don’t, fewer LGBTQ+ teachers will enter or remain in the profession. Students and families won’t see themselves represented, and young people won’t be equipped for life in a diverse society.

LGBTQ+ people have the potential to make exceptional teachers and leaders. With the right support, they can thrive in the profession and provide young people with the role models that they desperately need.


Help Unlock Your Students Potential & Revolutionise Your Teaching Approach with The Young People Index®.

Cecilia Harvey portrait

Written by Cecilia Harvey

A quadrilingual Social Anthropologist whose passion for the richness of diversity and the psychology of the human race, Cecilia focuses her Equity, Diversity & Inclusion work on connecting people through difference. As a subject matter expert, Cecilia has driven and coordinated strategic initiatives centred around identity, gender, LGBTQ+, ethnicity and disability, working with multiple stakeholders. Accomplished in designing training programmes such as unconscious bias awareness, microaggressions and inclusive language, Cecilia’s deep understanding of culture, psychology and behaviours has allowed her to become an Accredited Facilitator in Cultural Intelligence (CQ ®).

When we work with young people in an academic setting it can sometimes be difficult to grasp some of their unique attributes as they all learn the same curriculum. During these years, these young people have likely not yet developed the self-awareness to understand how they can best harness their skills. What benefit would a better understanding of your student’s natural proclivities in terms of the way they work have in your classroom? 

The Young People Index® (YPI) is a digital online assessment tool designed for 13-18 year olds to help individuals identify their natural energy when it comes to working in groups / teams, now and in the future. This is vital in deepening a young person’s self-awareness and builds confidence in how they work with others, and in teams. 

The Young People Index® can considerably improve the performance and engagement of young people and help teachers, youth workers, and sports coaches to understand the unique contribution each young person makes, or has the potential to make (their energy for impact!). This knowledge can be used in many ways, some of which are: to develop questioning skills, adapt teaching and communication methods, and analyse group dynamics to create more impactful results, be this in the classroom or on the sports field.

The Young People Index® is a product from the The GC Index®, a similar tool that focuses on adults and their impact in the workplace (over 18s). The YPI helps young people at a much earlier age, enabling them to consider environments where they will thrive, not just survive!

What are the benefits to students?

The YPI measures a young person’s energy to make an impact in a team, project, or future organisation and does not measure academic ability. This knowledge of their energy to make an impact can benefit them in various ways:

 

  1. Boosting self-awareness, leading to increased confidence in their ability to make an impact on the world. The YPI encourages young people to consider career opportunities aligned with their interests and unique energy for impact.
  2. Discovering their unique contribution to a team, supporting teamwork and communication.
  3. Enhancing interview skills by helping them to articulate their unique impact and how they are best utilised in a team at an interview.
  4. Exploring their leadership potential.
  5. Identifying areas where they have less energy for impact to build awareness of the need for complementary team members—perfect for aspiring entrepreneurs!
  6. Facilitating better relationships with teachers and creating optimal learning conditions.

 

How does it work in practice within Schools?

When a young person completes the online questionnaire, a personalised report is generated, guiding them toward areas where they can thrive based on their unique proclivities.

In Schools, the YPI is usually used as part of an existing career guidance framework. Students complete the assessment at school and then either an in-house trained teacher, or external YPI trained consultant works with the students over the course of term, running workshops that focus on building self-awareness, team working, leadership, and an understanding of personal and organisational values, and how to choose an organisation in the future that aligns with these. 

The YPI’s insights significantly improve performance and engagement, whether in the classroom or on the sports field. It’s a powerful tool for shaping young individuals’ futures! 

Find out more about us by visiting our website www.youngpeopleindex.com

To download case studies & our brochures, click here. 

To arrange a discovery call, email Cecilia Harvey, Accredited YP Gcologist cecilia@culturalnexus.co.uk.


Supporting our neurodivergent girls with their Relationships and Sex Education

Alice Hoyle portrait

Written by Alice Hoyle

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

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

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

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

  • Embed the Ethical Relationships Framework across everything

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

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

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

  • Explore ND specific nuances to ethical relationships

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

  • Unpick social norms and expectations particularly around gender. 

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

  • Deconstruct Idioms and use clear language

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

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

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

  • Teach consent in direct ways. 

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

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

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

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

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


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

Hannah Wilson portrait

Written by Hannah Wilson

Founder of Diverse Educators

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

Mirrors: Reflecting Students’ Own Lives

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

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

Windows: Viewing Others’ Lives

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

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

Sliding Doors: Engaging and Interacting

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

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

Integrating Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Doors

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

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

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


Do you feel like you belong at work? Here’s why it’s so important for your health, happiness and productivity.

Dr Nilufar Ahmed portrait

Written by Dr Nilufar Ahmed

Dr Nilufar Ahmed is a multi award winning Chartered Psychologist, Academic, and Accredited Psychotherapist. She works as an academic at the University of Bristol where her research and pedagogy focus on Inclusion and Engagement. Her work is situated in an antiracist and Intersectional framework. She is regularly invited to comment in the media on all things psychology and has delivered training, keynotes, and consultancy services across sectors including HE, business, and Government.

Originally published for The Conversation on May 9th 2024, republished with author’s permission.  

 

We all want to feel like we belong. Psychologists have known this for a long time, describing belonging as a fundamental human need that brings meaning to our lives.

Traditionally, this need was filled by family and community networks. But as society becomes more individualised, with many people moving away from their community and family, the workplace has become an increasingly important source of meaning, connection and friendship.

Many employers know the value of belonging, boasting that their organisation is like a family – a place where everyone is welcome and takes care of each other. But in reality, just being hired isn’t necessarily enough to feel like you belong. Belonging is about feeling accepted and included. This might mean feeling “seen” by your colleagues and manager, and that your work is recognised, rewarded and respected.

Most people want to do meaningful work, and belonging and feeling connected with others is part of this. Meaning in work may come from the job itself – doing something that aligns with our purpose – or from the relationships and roles people create in the workspace. Consider someone who has a (formal or informal) position of offering support to their colleagues. This sense of connection and belonging can make the job feel more meaningful.

Belonging is also good for business. Feeling excluded and lonely can lead people to disengage, negatively affecting their work performance. Surveys have found that over 50% of people who left their jobs did so in search of better belonging, with younger workers more likely to leave.

The exclusion that comes from not belonging can be as painful as physical injury, and feeling isolated can have a range of negative health impacts. In contrast, when employees feel they belong, they are happier and less lonely, leading to greater productivity, fewer sick days and higher profits.

In my role as a psychotherapist, I work with countless people who feel unsupported and alone in the workplace due to direct or indirect discrimination and exclusion. The instinctive response can be to work harder to be accepted and belong – but this can lead to burnout, trying to get the approval that might never come.

The pandemic altered how we think about and engage with work. Some businesses may feel that bringing people back into the office is the answer to building connections and fostering belonging. But the truth is such actions alone could have the opposite effect.

People may withdraw and become less connected in such spaces. Those who prefer working from home may feel unsupported by their workplace if they have to come in to the office to deliver work they can do equally, if not more productively, at home.

On the flip side, for some people, being in the office offers a sense of belonging and connection that can be missing when working from home. Ideally, enabling a balance between the two allows people to benefit from the advantages of both spaces and work in a way that maximises productivity and connection. But it may be some time before employers figure out how to get the balance right.

Finding belonging

Belonging is particularly important to consider as workplaces become more diverse. Workplace discrimination is more likely to be experienced by marginalised groups, and is a major barrier to belonging.

Employees in organisations that are more diverse, particularly in senior leadership positions, are more likely to feel a sense of belonging. Diversity is also related to greater productivity and profitability. But organisations must consider the diversity distribution. While grand statements of inclusion may attract new workers, if the senior leadership team is predominately white and middle class, these statements have little meaning.

For diversity to effectively create belonging, it has to go hand-in-hand with psychological safety. This means that everyone – not just those who share characteristics with the majority or the leaders – feels they have a voice and are listened to. A workplace where people feel nervous about raising concerns, are worried about making mistakes, or feel there is a lack of transparency is one that is lacking in psychological safety.

When people feel unable to bring their authentic selves to work, they may end up performing different identities or codeswitching – adjusting their language – to become more “acceptable” and fit in. These strategies initially help workers create a sense of safety for themselves in the workplace, but can result in exhaustion and burnout.

Creating ways that people can express their authenticity – for example, through employee resource groups such as women’s staff networks – can create a safe space to share with others who have similar experiences in the workplace. For those who are self-employed or work mostly from home, to combat isolation, consider finding online groups or local coworking spaces that mirror the social benefits of a workplace community.

Employees feel more connected with the wider team when their efforts are recognised and rewarded. But this does not have to be through a pay rise or promotion – even an email from a manager can boost someone’s sense of belonging. The more recognition and appreciation for the work we put in, including from our colleagues, the more positive the benefit.

Not everyone has the opportunity to leave workplaces that make them feel unsafe or unhappy. If you are in this position, you can minimise the negative impact by finding connection and belonging outside of work, and reconnecting with people and activities that bring you meaning and joy.


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

Samantha Wharton portrait

Written by Samantha Wharton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The study guide and texts are available here: 

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

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

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

Press coverage about the play: 

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

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

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

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