Inclusive Allyship

Yamina Bibi portrait

Written by Yamina Bibi

English Teacher and Assistant Headteacher

This is my speech from the virtual @DiverseEd conversation on 17th October 2020. 


Whenever I want to go ‘out out’, I think about my outfit, which colour scarf will match the outfit and the perfect handbag that will enhance that outfit. The handbag might be a large or a small bag. It might have many compartments or just have the one for my phone and purse. My handbags change according to whatever it is I’ve decided to wear that day. 


Sometimes, it feels to me like some organisations treat diversity and inclusion like it’s a handbag, picking and choosing the one that enhances their ‘outfit’ for that occasion.
 Do we just pick the protected characteristic that suits us or are we inclusive allies for every community that we say we represent? Are we committed to anti-discriminatory work in order to be the inclusive allies that we say we are? If so, how is this evident in every sphere of our organisation?


As a visibly muslim female leader, I have experienced workplaces where I have been one of a few Muslim women being represented at a middle and senior leadership level. I have known organisations where SLT are made up of male and or female white heterosexual leaders who claim to be inclusive allies but each time there’s a senior leadership role, it’s the same type of person that gets the job.


Can we truly call ourselves inclusive allies if our leadership teams do not reflect the staff and students we lead and represent? Can we be allies if we do not stand shoulder to shoulder with all marginalised groups and communities and actively ensure their voices are represented and heard? Can we call ourselves inclusive allies if we only stand and advocate for the rights of one community over the rights of other communities? 


A few years ago I realised the importance of inclusive allyship in the workplace when I had wonderful white allies advocating for my voice to be heard as a visibly Muslim British woman. I noticed its power when I had colleagues from different communities such as LGTBQ+ community standing shoulder to shoulder with me and others from my community. I particularly noticed how important was for me that, when I spoke about the islamophobia I faced and the way I felt as a Brisih Muslim woman in the workplace, I was listened to and supported by white allies. 


I also noticed the power of inclusive allyship when I stood and spoke to my students at an assembly for LGBT week alongside my colleague, Nick Bentley, about the power of intersectional and inclusive allyship. When a BAME student came to me to disclose that they identified as non-binary and they came to tell me because of an assembly I led on gender identity, I realised the power of representation and inclusive allyship. 


We cannot underestimate the power of representation and the power of being allies because in so doing, students and staff are taught that who they are matters. They know that they bring their authentic selves to school and work and there is someone who will be recognise them and advocate for them regardless of whether they are from the same community or not.


 I am very aware that my current workplace, where my Headteacher is a Muslim woman and where the Senior Leadership Team include BAME leaders, LGBTQ+ leaders and mothers, is different but it shouldn’t be. It should be the norm if we are truly dedicated to diversity and inclusion.


As a result of the diversity of my school, I am longer afraid to show up as my authentic self because I have allies who support me and advocate for me. 
I also look to actively and positively promote others from diverse backgrounds as a leader to ensure that diversity, inclusion and representation are not just words on our school walls or our School Development Plans but are lived by us all. 


At my school, we are aware that there is still work to be done in ensuring that we are truly representative of our staff body. 
We must actively promote and be held accountable for our anti discriminatory work if we are to call ourselves allies. 


So what can we do to ensure that allyship is not just another handbag we pick up when it matches our outfit?


Schools should provide coaching for members of marginalised groups and communities to help them develop professionally and to ensure they have someone whose key role includes eliciting the brilliance from within them

  • Actively partake in anti-discriminatory work and provide unconscious bias training for all staff regularly so we can recognise our own biases and challenge ourselves and each other to check our biases 
Provide opportunities for people from under presented groups to be seen and heard through in all spaces

  • Ensure the curriculum celebrates diversity and inclusion and is embedded in all we do. I am done with seeing curriculums where marginalised communities are always victims, enslaved or need rescuing by someone with privilege and power such as a white heterosexual man. While it is important to remember the hurt and horrors of past experiences, we need to also show our students and staff that diversity and inclusion is a part of any successful society. We must usualise this. We need to celebrate excellence within all communities and we need to scrutinise our curriculum and our organisational values and be held accountable for the narratives we are advocating through our curriculum.
Organise assemblies and events where colleagues stand shoulder to shoulder to show that inclusive allyship is the way forward in creating a society where everyone is welcome, represented and encouraged to thrive.


Let’s stop picking up D&I like it’s a handbag and ensure it’s a staple item in every organisation by standing with all communities in our words but most importantly, in our actions!



Supported by

Emotional Intelligence - A Dichotomous Variable?

Pen line drawing

Written by Aini Butt

‘If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.’


John Dewey wrote this distress signal over 100 years ago. Although it is more relevant now than it has ever been, once again it is being ignored.


As media brands students ‘The Lost Generation’ who will be ‘scarred for life’, The Sun’s leader column adds how ongoing school closures are a ‘scandal’, which ‘shames this nation’ because children continue to be deprived of an education while left to ‘flounder at home’. As refreshing it may be that The Sun has taken it upon itself to fight our students’ corner, fighting for a return to education as we know it, may not be in their best interest.


Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, announced on 3rd July 2020 that schools have been asked ‘to resume a broad and ambitious curriculum’, which was followed up in the same sentence with the expectation that exams are to go ahead as ‘normal’ in the summer of 2021. Furthermore, formal OFSTED inspections are to resume from January 2021 with no clarity regarding performance tables. How are schools to facilitate a ‘broad and ambitious curriculum’ when there is an unrealistic expectation to return to normal; whatever this ‘normal’ might mean in a (post-)pandemic educational context. To add to the irony, new government advice published on 2nd July states that schools should be using ‘existing flexibilities’ and ‘cover the most important missed content’ while advising that it may be ‘appropriate to suspend some subjects’ if students can ‘achieve significantly better in their remaining subjects…especially in GCSE English and mathematics.’ This was interpreted by the media as ‘Schools can ditch art and drama’ and ‘focus on Maths & English’, which isn’t far from what Dewey described as reducing ‘the material of education so largely to a diet of predigested materials.’ 


Once again, we are being directed towards an ‘industrial model of education’ to ensure that students are prepared for their exams in 2021 and the values reinforced through these decisions display a total disregard for the students’ needs regarding their long-term education. If Covid-19 has taught us anything at all, it is the fact that we do not know what the future holds; therefore, this relentless emphasis on academic achievements and Intelligence Quotient (IQ) should be shifted towards the development of Emotional Quotient (EQ) and resilience to equip students with the skills to recognise emotions and use this knowledge to tackle daily challenges. 


In society, and particularly educational and professional settings, IQ has been extensively researched and used in reference to mathematical and verbal ability to reproduce the deep-rooted belief that IQ determines academic success. However, Daniel Goleman brought the term Emotional Intelligence (EI) to educators’ attention and argued that IQ only contributes 20% to an individual’s success, while the remaining 80% is down to self-management and interpersonal skills, which are key components of EI. Although the term ‘Emotional Intelligence’ has not been exempt from criticism, it cannot be denied that developing its key facets is beneficial for all students.

Goleman argues that the five components of EI (self-awareness, self-regulation, social skills, empathy and motivation) are all capabilities that can be developed. Self-awareness and self-regulation are two components that go hand in hand with each other. Recognising and understanding one’s emotions and those of others while regulating them in an appropriate manner enables students to manage conflict and prevent the ‘emotional hijacking’ of the brain, which is our body’s ‘fight or flight’ response. It is these emotional reactions that are drawn upon to argue that the term EI is a dichotomous variable in terms of intellectual capacity. However, schools can and should actively teach students how to recognise their emotions and those of others and support the development of their appropriate expression. 

As students return to schools, it is crucial that we foster an empathetic environment to allow expression of and reflection upon their lived experiences – their realities- of lockdown. Such an environment can be facilitated through a philosophical approach.

Philosophy is a tool to reflect and analyse various perspectives; therefore, engaging students in a philosophical inquiry will promote a classroom culture where individuals’ diversity of thought is acknowledged and reflected upon. Philosophy for Children (P4C) was founded in 1960s by Professor Matthew Lipman to facilitate opportunities for independent thinking and reflection as he believed that the educational system was not teaching students how to think.


Jana Mohr Lone- director and founder of the University of Washington’s Center for Philosophy for Children also found that children as young as four were able to hold philosophical thoughts but their ability to think was being underestimated and their natural curiosity was not drawn upon to extend their questioning.


Philosophy for Children (P4C) creates opportunities for students to understand that things can be perceived in various ways while also exploring the values, thought and beliefs underpinning these views through questioning and reasoning. Students are encouraged to assess their perspectives and reaffirm or alter their views upon critical self-reflection. Educators need to equip themselves with the tools to facilitate safe spaces for students to share their lived realities. P4C is one of the many evidence-based pedagogical strategies to promote EI in the classroom as the teacher becomes the facilitator and allows critical thinking and individuality to flourish through tension-filled learning dialogues. Research published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) in 2015 found that P4C has a positive impact on pupils’ confidence to speak, their listening skills, self-esteem and attainment of 7 to 11year olds, particularly those of disadvantaged backgrounds. 


In the latest ‘Guidance for full opening: schools’, the words ‘disadvantaged’ and ‘vulnerable’ (in context of pupils rather than medical) have been used up to twenty times. 


If the government has a desire to address the ever-widening attainment gap, it needs to promote ‘an education system that enables them to thrive, a democracy that gives them voice, an economic system that rewards their skills and talents and a welfare system that supports them during a time of need (Khan, S.,2020). We need to ensure that our students are equipped with the right balance between academic skills and emotional intelligence, which will not be attained by reverting to a narrow curriculum where core subjects are prioritised. Therefore, as Sir Ken Robinson says, ‘The key to this transformation is not to standardize education, but to personalize it,’ and ‘recognize that human flourishing is not a mechanical process; it’s an organic process.’


As we try to envision what a post-Covid19 future may look like, we need to pay heed to Dewey’s words and question the emphasis we put on IQ while downplaying the role of EQ. This notion of ‘preparing our students for the future’ fails to recognise their emotional state in response to their daily lived experiences of harsh realities, such as: poverty, abuse, racism, sexism, bullying etc. Oxfam’s Teaching Controversial Issues’ guide for teachers recommends the use of P4C as it provides ‘an ideal framework for teaching controversial issues.’ Through P4C, we need to create safe spaces within our classrooms to ensure that we allow students to articulate these difficult truths and support the development of self-awareness, self-regulation and empathy to enable them to respond appropriately to a competitive and harsh society. 


We need to ‘cease conceiving of education as mere preparation for later life, and make it the full meaning of the present life.’  


Supported by

Growing Up Autistic and Undiagnoses

Teona Studemire portrait

Written by Teona Studemire

Writer and college student majoring in Library Sciences.

Trigger Warning: This post will discuss trauma around bullying and the ableist slurs “dumb,” “slow,” and “stupid.” These words will not be censored and may be repeated throughout as well as contain references to other ableist insults.


The summer before 7th grade, I was moved to South Georgia. I would only end up staying there for all of three and a half years but that short period of time made a huge mark on my life and who I was as a person.


For years prior to this move, I was severely bullied from the second I started Pre-Kindergarten through every single year of public school afterward. I thought that this move would mean things would change and that I could “reinvent” myself so to speak. I mean, no one seemed to ever like me and I only had a handful of friends (who weren’t very good ones by the way). The year before my move, I was going to this siditty “school of the arts” downtown. The population was pretty white and I felt like the token black friend amongst all of my peers. Moving, although jarring and painful, at first seemed like a nice silver-lining.


When I got there, I soon realized nothing had changed except the people and the scenery. The same bullying that took place in Florida started up again when I stepped foot in the marshland city I would reside for three years. People just… didn’t like me. I tried so hard to appeal to others but no one ever really properly understood me. I’d say things that came out all wrong even though my brain knew exactly what I meant but my mouth wasn’t on the same page. I had other girls wanting to fight me just because they could and everyone thought it was funny. I didn’t want to fight. I didn’t even understand how I ended up in a position to fight anyways. One second I’m on the bus and the next I’m in a field surrounded by other students egging another girl on to pull my hair out.


I just wanted to go home.


I thought going home would be a reprieve from the bullying I constantly had to deal with at school. How do you get away from bullying when you just seem to find it behind the front doors of your home?


I used to deal with constantly being picked on by my mom’s ex husband. When I would forget things or misunderstand something he was always quick to call me dumb and tell me that I was having a dumb blonde moment. I constantly had to hear “duh!” several times a day every day when I asked something that he deemed a “stupid” question. Since the answer wasn’t obvious to me, I had to be the problem. He insulted my intelligence often and laughed about it like it was some funny joke.


I didn’t get the punch line.


I remember he used to throw my trauma in my face and act like my suicidal ideations or threats to run away were all for attention. He never paused to actually ask me about it. No one did.


It was just assumed that none of it was real. That I wasn’t struggling to find reasons to live everyday even if it were small ones. I would have walked out into the woods in the middle of the night and never came back because that at least seemed like what everyone would have wanted from me. I mean, everyone made me feel unwanted and like I shouldn’t exist.


I was struggling to feel my place in a world that didn’t seem like there was a spot for me because I was dumb and I was stupid and I didn’t fit in anywhere.


I didn’t realize I was autistic or had adhd until a year or so ago. I never really connected the dots between my neurodivergent brain symptoms and my lack of true connection and understanding with neurotypical people. I thought I was just weird and extremely misunderstood. I was always being picked on and bothered for things that were out of my control. I thought I was just walking around with a huge target on my forehead that said “pick on me!!!”


When I started making friends with more autistic and/or adhd folks, suddenly I felt my place. I felt understood like this entire time I was speaking a different language and I finally found others who could understand what I was saying. It started out simple, seeing different memes about ADHD and ASD symptoms and relating to… almost all of them. Then I started seeing more people talking about their symptoms and it was like a million light bulbs started going off in my brain and endless repetitions of “that’s me!” every single day.


I wasn’t dumb or stupid or whatever. I was just constantly being held to a neurotypical standard my brain couldn’t function at and I didn’t see it because my brain couldn’t even tell that there was something different about itself. I mean, I knew I was different but not in the “your brain functions differently” way.


I realized I’ve been stimming my whole life and I regularly go nonverbal, sometimes as a trauma response and other times because talking is too overwhelming and exhausting. I’ve had so many hyperfixations that lasted an uncomfortable amount of times and my brain is a chaotic mess filled with swirling thoughts and intervals of emptiness.


Even knowing what I know now and feeling the comfort and safety that comes with at least knowing that it wasn’t my fault for walking around so misunderstood, it doesn’t erase or begin to help with unpacking the trauma that comes with being neurodivergent in a world that expects everyone to be neurotypical and held to neurotypical standards.


I will never get back the years of my life I spent being torn down and brutalized. The scars on my self esteem and self confidence are six feet deep. I often find myself beating myself up for not getting something or for forgetting something or for my brain wandering off. For hyperfixating and stimming and infodumping…


All the things that make me autistic and adhd were things I’ve been called dumb for for so long that sometimes I can’t help but think that maybe I am and have been this whole time but you know what?


I don’t owe anyone some extreme amount of intelligence and talent. I don’t owe anyone the autistic savant trope. I don’t owe shit to anyone so even if I were all of those horrible slurs and more, it wouldn’t diminish my worth, right to respect and basic human decency.



Supported by

#DiverseEd Virtual Conference - Reflections

Hannah Wilson portrait

Written by Hannah Wilson

Founder of Diverse Educators

Yesterday, Bennie Kara and I, the co-founders of #DiverseEd hosted our latest virtual event. Bennie is a Deputy Headteacher in the Midlands, and soon to be published author. I am a former Headteacher – we founded a values-based school with Diversity as a core value.


If you missed the event you can view the broadcast via Twitter here or Youtube here.


Panel 1: Diverse Children


Amanda Jane Carter-Philpott – a campaigner for inclusivity – shared her work with refugee children – encouraging us to consider the labels we use and the approaches we need to take to be both inclusive and trauma-informed.


Anton Chisholm – a Maths teacher – reflected on his experience as a black student and now black male teacher, sharing some of the stark workforce statistics. He shared a letter sent by a group of students asking their high-performing school to become actively anti-racist.


David Hermitt – a MAT CEO – shared his trust-wide approach to responding to the impact of COVID-19 on the children with protected characteristics his schools serve. He also suggested how trusts can deploy their diverse staff to enable more children to see visible role models.


Lisa Stephenson – the Founder of the Storymakers Company, one of our partners – encouraged us to consider how we can diversify storytelling to amplify pupil voices. Sharing the pupils’ feedback on their experience of co-creating their own stories emphasised the powerful impact the process had had on them.


Nic Ponsford – the Co-Founder and Co-CEO of our latest partner, GEC, challenged us to think about representation and how our biases are formed. The GEC app and #SmashingStereotypes campaign are some of the practical steps schools can take.


The threads, for me, from part 1 were the need for visibility of diversity, how we can increase and amplify diverse role models and who has voice in our school system.


Part 2: Diverse Curriculum


Amardeep Panesar – a Headteacher – shared her leadership of cultural competency in her school to develop her pupils’ ability to understand, communicate with and effectively interact with people across cultures by being aware of one’s own world view.


Christopher Richards – an international teacher in Spain – addressed the lack of diversity in textbooks and encouraged us to identify the gaps of who is invisible. He urged us to consider the voices being silenced through their absence.


Laila El-Metoui – a consultant and Stonewall Champion – shared her vision for a compassionate and trauma-informed curriculum. She reminded us that visibility and representation are needed every day, all year long. Moreover, that ESOL funding + provision of digital devices are important to ensure all children are supported to access the curriculum.


Sufian Sadiq – a Teaching School Director – emphasised that inclusivity needs to be part of the ethos and culture of the school, not just another box to tick, and it needs to be done in a way that adds value. He urged us to reflect on the micro and macro pictures of diversity and inclusion in the local context and to use the dominant characteristic in your setting as a catalyst for exploring other ones.


Penny Rabiger – our partner speaker for Lyfta – spoke poetically about the power of human storytelling. She invited us to get curious about each other and ask us to share our stories with each other. She is also introduced us to a new word: ‘Firgun (פירגון)’ an informal modern Hebrew term & concept in Israeli culture: genuine, unselfish delight or pride in the accomplishment of the other person.


The threads, for me, from part 2 were for us to consider our perspective, to explore human storytelling and to create opportunities for all stakeholder groups to be catalysts for change.


Part 3: Diverse Staff


Abena Akuffo-Kelly – a Head of Computing/ ICT and Councillor – unpacked her intersectional identity. As she peeled back each layer, she shared the challenges and conflicts of each circle she sits in.


Javay Jeff Welter – a MFL teacher – addressed the lack of diverse males in teaching and asked us to challenge the lack of visible role models. Reflecting on the lack of representation at every layer of the education system he challenged us to consider how we can meaningfully diversify the school workforce.


Lily Bande – a PSHE lead teacher and Councillor – encouraged us all to challenge inequality and discrimination as we see and hear it, by being upstanders and not bystanders, by being consistent in our commitment to making a difference.


Yamina Bibi – an Assistant Headteacher – shared the analogy of diversity not being a handbag that we pick and choose. She spoke passionately about inclusive allyship and how we each need to consider our power and our privilege to address inequities in our workplaces to give voice to those who are marginalised.


Tasha Fletcher – an international teacher – was our partner speaker for Teaglo. Joining us from Uzbekistan, she shared a A-Ha moment during lockdown. Tash was a central voice in the #DailyWritingChallenge and joined me at an #IamRemarkable workshop where we unpack our relationship with self-promotion. Her call to action was there is no better time than now for us to stand up and be counted.


The threads, for me, from part 3 provoked reflections on authenticity, allyship and the call to be upstanders.


Part 4: Diverse Schools


Andrew Moffat – a trust Personal Development Lead and the founder of the ‘No Outsiders’ campaign – reminded us that diversity is not a single issue (one protected characteristic) work but the need for true equality in context – the desired outcome of everyone being equal, everyone being welcome in our schools.


Ebanie Xavier-Cope – a Year 6 teacher and KS2 lead – shared her sobering story of dealing with racism as a teacher. Her distressing experience highlights the need for systemic change – she emphasised that schools need to address these incidents, not the individual who is the victim. The racism she has experienced has galvanised her passion for change and she is leading on projects to re-educate her school community.


Jared Cawley – an international teacher in The Netherlands – talked about the importance of feeling safe in your school, how diverse people can be celebrated not just tolerated. Being given opportunities to thrive, include creating cultures where diverse people can bring their whole selves to work.


Sajid Gulzar – a MAT CEO and OBE recipient – shared his thoughts on talent management and how we need to create open cultures and transparent conversations to have the difficult conversations. From recruitment, to retention to talent-spotting he shared some of the thinking and conversations his team have been having about how to commit to a system wide strategy.


Professor Vini Lander – our partner speaker from the Centre for Race, Education and Decoloniality, encouraged us to create a safe space for all of our children as racism is a safeguarding issue. Race and racism has to matter to all educational leaders because our CYP are demanding that their teachers are conversant in and cognisant of all matters related to race. Her call to arms was for “courageous leadership” to move beyond the status quo and to commit to being ”Racially literate”.


The threads, for me, from part 4 centred around safety and the need to create safe spaces where everyone in our schools can be themselves, where our commitment to inclusion is for our staff as well as our children, and the call for us to be courageous leaders in our commitment to this work.


A massive thank you to everyone who contributed to the event, your contributions were phenomenal. Thank you also to our partners for supporting the event, to my co-host Bennie and wingman (behind the scenes) Richard and to the audience for joining us – your engagement, reflections and questions brought the virtual event to life.


At the end of the event we invited everyone to revisit their #MyDiverseEdPledge from June and to make a new one – please do make a commitment for something you can actively make happen in our collective responsibility to improve diversity, equity and inclusion in schools.


If you have not yet visited our #DiverseEd website the quick link is here.


You can sign up for our monthly #DiverseEd newsletter here.


You can submit a blog for us to publish here.


We will let you know the details for how you can contribute to the Diverse Educators book and will update on the Diversity in Governance series once they are live.


Finally, Bennie and I are hosting Diversity Masterclasses during half-term on October 29th for Teachers, Leaders and Governors if you would like to join us.



Supported by

Student leadership programmes and celebrating diversity: students as drivers of change

Sadie Hollins portrait

Written by Sadie Hollins

Students are drivers of change. As educators I’m sure we can all think of times when students have been the key stakeholder that affected positive change in our schools, whether that be at the classroom level or at a schoolwide level. I have felt fortunate to witness a number of our students make a stand, whether it be fighting for the rights of the student body as a whole, or coming together to support a member of their peer group facing a particular challenge, such as ‘coming out’. This is student leadership.


I have been in awe of what our Student Council has been able to achieve in terms of the quality of events they plan and host, and the fundraising projects they have created. As well as how the Student Executive Board works together along with class and year group representatives for the Student Council to discuss ideas and how they might be implemented in the school. This is student leadership.


Students drive change.


It struck me recently that often this instinct to drive change comes intuitively to students. School is such an important and informing experience for young people to learn about leadership, and for some may be the only ‘organisation’ they experience being a part of until they reach university or work. How we define leadership, and how we lead as staff, will indirectly inform students how leadership works. For better or worse. 


Schools offer many leadership opportunities for students to be a part of, including captaining sports teams, editing school magazines, holding positions such as prefects, student mentors, peer tutors, Student Council members, and many more. However, a lot of these opportunities tend to be most readily undertaken by students that excel in some form, whether that be academically, socially, or physically. A lot of the time students that take on these roles are the ‘good’ students. This in turn can send a message to other students about what leadership is. Leadership is for ‘good’ students. 


A lot of these roles don’t come with any ‘Leadership’ training for the role, so it’s often implied that you learn by doing. Whilst I think there is a lot of merit to this approach, I feel that if we work with students to help them define what Leadership means to them and help them (all of them) develop their skills, perhaps we can empower a bigger portion of our student body to drive change.


Last year we started 2 different Student Leadership programmes (Level 2 and 3 Leadership programmes from Sports Leaders UK) in our school. We’ve just begun the Level 2 course with our new Year 11 cohort, and this week we got students to rate themselves according to the different Leadership skills outlined in their course booklets (communication, teamwork, organisation, problem-solving, etc). One of the areas that they had to rate themselves on, and explain a little more why they had given themselves their score, was ‘self-belief’. When going around and looking at their work I was struck by how many students had rated themselves so lowly in this area (scoring themselves less than 5 out of 10) which made me feel a little sad. How can students drive change or lead (or push themselves forward in whatever they choose) if they don’t believe in themselves? We can’t ‘magic’ ourselves into developing a greater sense of self-belief, but we can gain it through experiencing challenges and getting through them (imperfectly). I also wonder if this lack of self-belief sometimes comes from comparing ourselves to the narrow view of what a successful student (or adult) is – normally the best of the best.


The hope for our leadership course is that we can challenge students to redefine what a good leader is, and for them to realise their own leadership potential. We all need and want different types of leaders for all types of situations – we just need to empower students to believe that they could be the leader that someone else needs. 


In order to create a school (and organisation) that appreciates and celebrates diversity, we need to empower students to feel confident in who they are and drive the change they wish to see. Our job as teachers is also to be genuine and open about who we are, and model to our students that we all have the ability and power to affect positive change.

Supported by

‘Is she Somali?’

Baar Hersi portrait

Written by Baar Hersi

‘Is she Somali?’ 


This is the question I repeatedly hear in my first term in a new school. I hear it in the corridors, I hear it in their whispers and I hear it when I enter a classroom. This has been my normal for the past decade. 


It is so humbling to witness that moment of anticipation, where I get a glimpse of what my answer might mean to them. The question above may seem like a simple question, one born out of curiosity or just kids being nosy, but it is actually far more profound than that. The real question these students were asking was ‘Is she me?…..because if she is me then I can be her.’ Each time this question is asked it is loaded with hope because we know, they can’t be what they can’t see. The reactions on my students’ faces when I answer ‘YES’ is one of the reasons why I became a teacher. 


This question empowers me. It gives me superpowers to show up and overcome the challenges I face because there is no greater fuel and purpose than empowering a young person and giving them the permission to be themselves. No one gave me that permission during my school years, 11 years old Baar felt like that alien that no one can relate to but tolerated. I was a freshy for some, not black enough or holy enough for others and too foreign for most. I spoke three languages, performed in front of packed out theatres and could banter for days. I am a people’s person but I didn’t belong in that space. Bless my teacher, Ms Gleeson, who created a safe space for a young immigrant girl overwhelmed by her new adopted country. It took me years to be empowered, to be me and to feel like I belonged at school. I owe this to my mum, who fought for me and siblings to be safe and brave in our new home. 


‘Is she Somali?’ 


This question is my why! 


It is why I use my voice and experience to advocate for parents who struggle to navigate the education system and work tirelessly to bridge the gap between school and home. It is why I organise cultural events to instill pride in young people who for far too long have heard only negative narratives about their identity. It is why I donate books written by Somali authors to our school library and use my network to invite Somali professionals to be our guest speakers and mentor our students. I want to empower the next generation to ensure that their experience is different from my generation’s or even my own children who have never been taught by a black teacher (let alone a teacher of Somali heritage) in secondary school in one of the most diverse boroughs in London. 


We often talk about the importance of inclusion and representation and how important it is to have a staff body that is reflective of the students in a school. For me representation is more than whether or not the staff reflect the student they teach. It is about ensuring that students do not feel invisible in their own school. I have found that it is very possible to belong to one of the largest ethnic groups in a school but not see one poster of someone who looks like you. Schools are meant to be where possibilities are planted. Schools are meant to be a conduit for aspirations and inspirations but this is not the case for many BAME students. We really have a very long way to go. 


Many of my students are shocked when I tell them about my friends and networks which consist of Somali writers, doctors, lawyers, creatives, councillors, engineers, lecturers, teachers, film makers, health professionals, athletes and so many other distinguished professionals and leaders. I cannot count the number of times a young adult has told me that they wish they had a teacher like me. I think they mean someone who they can see themselves in. I would like to think they mean someone who is confident with her identity, who is driven by her values, who feels empowered to be authentic and is willing to open the BHM fashion show in her traditional attire in the first half term in a new school. Yes…..I did that! 


So if my representation, my narrative and my journey to self-empowerment helps empower another young person then I look forward to answering….. ‘Is she Somali?’

Supported by

The complexity of diversity: negotiating “possible spaces”.

Kathryn Kashyap portrait

Written by Kathryn Kashyap

Teachers often ask how they can approach the learning of pupils who are designated with more than one “label”- for example EAL, SEND and “disadvantaged”.  Looking at how to recognise and create “possibility” with all pupils in the spaces where they learn takes the focus away from within-child deficit views.  Instead, it makes us look at our practice and listen to our pupils about what works for them.  Here I set out how this idea of “possible spaces” can help us address the complexity of diversity.

Firstly, it’s important to interrogate the labels that are being used, challenging negative assumptions around race, gender, class and disability.  On further investigation, we find that pupils’ learner identities are far more complex than “just” EAL, SEND and disadvantaged.  It’s important to understand which black, Asian or other minoritised ethnic background they are from, and which (if any) religion they follow.  Some families may be dealing with the trauma of fleeing from war or persecution.  Their family may be living in a working-class context, but from a different socio-economic status in their home country.   Post-migration, they may be facing significant challenges.  There are also in-depth questions to consider about the aspects of SEND that teachers have identified or are suggesting might be present.  Alongside this we need to understand how academic English language acquisition, multilingual learning and for some the impact of disrupted formal education, both in the UK and prior to arrival, can be supported. 

Then, we need to talk with the children and young people we are teaching.  For my research, I asked a group of Somali young people who had migrated to the UK, and who were considered to need extra support (whether due to EAL, SEND, disadvantage or “underachieving”), where they felt they learnt best, with whom and why.  What came across very powerfully was their frustration and for some their anger about how they were often treated as “behind” or even as “unable”.  Their knowledge and experiences were ignored within a monolingual, mono-cultural curriculum.  Their needs were side-lined or only met partially.  Their hopes for making progress were squashed by systems that held them back.

These young people pushed back forcefully.  They sought out spaces, both formal and informal, where they could learn, with teachers, mentors or peers who recognised their skills and knowledge, who believed in their potential, cared about their wellbeing and could advocate for them.  Often this was about building confidence. Teachers asked the pupils what they knew rather than assuming they didn’t.  They used talk, not reading as a way into learning.  They drew on their strengths whilst supporting specific aspects.  They challenged them and expected them to aim high.

Where these possible spaces existed was not clear cut, however.  A lesson could be successful one week and not the next, or a session could shift moment by moment.  This could be due to the teaching strategies being used. It could be that the topic was seen as especially difficult or irrelevant, or the pressure to get through the curriculum felt overwhelming.  The pupil might be sitting next to a supportive peer one lesson and moved the next.  

Acceptance was also a vital aspect of possible spaces.  Managing to study and gain the help they wanted without being seen as a “neek”, whilst resisting being seen as unable, was complex.  Bending the class rules, but just enough to get a small warning from their supportive teacher.  Being the class joker to cover over difficulties with written literacy (but at the same time giving their peers great ideas for their story).  “Forgetting” homework when they couldn’t access it.  Copying surreptitiously from a neighbour.  Arriving late for a lesson which they felt even before they began was going to be a failure due to lack of appropriate support.  All tactics which could be interpreted as the pupil being disruptive or disinterested in learning, when in fact they were anything but.   Asking “why” in these situations was key to unlocking possibility.

The idea of possible spaces is that it cuts across the anxiety that many of us have as teachers that there are strategies “out there” where pupils are labelled in more than one “category” that no one has told us about that, if we knew them, would solve the problem.  It focuses on deepening our relationship with the pupil, looking at what works for them and replicating this across the curriculum.  It draws on their knowledge, skills and interests and puts them at the centre not the margins of our planning.  It reminds us that when they or we have an unsuccessful lesson, we can look outward at what was happening in the learning space, not inward at deficit or failure.  And usefully, given the turn to tuition in the government’s “catch up” strategy, it emphasizes the importance of all mainstream lessons being “possible” spaces.


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Did you think being a female leader was tough? Try being a diverse one.

Susie Fernandez-Gomez portrait

Written by Susie Fernandez-Gomez

Med in Educational Leadership, Head of MFL and SLE

There are studies concluding that race and gender may interact to shape different dimensions of women’s employment experiences. Therefore, understanding the interlocking system of intersections is key to addressing diversity challenges in education. The theory of intersectionality articulates a framework which can help address the challenges that minority women face with regard to their identities and their experiences. When race and gender act as a barrier, minority women in leadership positions may face specific challenges which are often unmet by others.

 I am one of those women. What some would class as the ‘too different type’ of leader.

According to research, women have developed values and beliefs that translate into specific behaviours. Women are considered to socialise to show feelings, compassion, patience and intuition. This has led to a judgement that all women need to showcase these attributes in order to become effective leaders. One could argue that this list of values and skills would be ideal if it wasn’t for the fact they have actually become barriers which women have to overcome to become leaders.

 I am one of those women. What some would class as the ‘soft type’ of leader.

On the other hand when women display attributes such as strength in character, being passionate about their own views, the ability to ask difficult questions or relentlessly having high aspirations from their followers as well as their own leaders, frustratingly, there is still a tendency to class these women as difficult and scary.

 I am one of those women. What some would class as the ‘hard type’ of leader.

At this point you are probably wondering:

 How can she claim to have all these attributes at once?

 I will answer your question by posing another: 

How could anyone become a leader and not be a mixture of all those attributes? 

Surely if you offer different views, can support and empathise with your  followers at the same time as showing the strength needed to lead them and challenge the establishment, would that not make you a true leader that can connect pretty much with any type of follower? 

It would seem not…

I have faced great challenges when attempting to reach senior leadership positions. In particular, I believe that cultural variations exist in terms of expectations of leaders. Kuckhohn (1951) defines culture as a pattern or way of thinking, feeling and reacting in specific situations. Culture signifies values, ideas and symbols. Leadership expression may therefore vary based on the values, practices and symbols followed by individuals within a society. Societies may support either masculine or feminine values. Societies like the UK which support feminine values are found to balance masculine traits like aggression along with feminine traits like cooperation and collaboration. When leaders from different cultures co-exist, it can lead to potential challenges regarding how a leader should behave. 

I am one of those leaders who happens to be culturally different. That combined with being a woman that shows ‘soft’ attributes as well as ‘hard’ characteristics, which only male leaders are praised for, makes me a bit too weird, I suppose… 

The truth is that many women, just like me, who attempt to reach senior leadership positions will need to balance potential biases from various levels. One such bias is expectations of specific qualifications and extensive experience, especially among those of different racial origin. The average white British male aspiring leader already has the most valued qualification desired for senior leadership that there is: the nationality and the gender. In regards to experience, as long as he can show potential, the box would have been ticked. Why not apply for the job, hey?

I am one of those leaders who is not British nor male so my lists of qualifications and proven experience do have to be quite extensive, indeed. Why would I dare applying for the job, really?

I have often felt that my non-Britishness has been a factor which has led to such lack of opportunities. 

Diversity is key to education leadership, as the intersection of different characteristics may highlight some systemic challenges faced by leaders. Awareness and alertness exhibited during communications, along with insight into the rules, practices and conventions to be followed in various settings, are often more evident when there is diversity in leadership.

Moreover, diverse leaders may respect the cultural differences of their teachers and remain well-informed about the various cultures. Therefore, a diverse leader may define the roles and responsibilities of the members while acknowledging differences in expectations. Communication management and trust are important factors which support success in institutions that have diversity in their leadership positions.

Time has come for schools to understand the benefits of diversity leadership. Diversity in leadership is key as it can enhance a wide range of views and opinions. It has also been argued that such different perspectives can help in problem solving. By supporting diversity in leadership, it is possible to improve self-efficacy, resilience and self-management. Research has also identified that by enhancing trust-based accountability rather than test-based accountability, it is possible to enhance the quality of outcomes. 

Women leaders are considered to establish better morale and therefore are able to achieve better results. A preference for diverse women leaders can help achieve such trust-based accountability. Diverse women leaders are considered to provide better support for employees. This can in turn mean that teachers are provided with independence, agency, and an ethical and righteous purpose, along with a trust-based accountability system.

I am one of those leaders whose team respect and love in equal measures, I can proudly say.

The key component to development of leadership is by establishing an identity as a leader. However, for the female leaders, it has been argued that the failure to include the discussion of the identity and the gender identity especially related to the leadership identity development can lead to additional challenges.  The failure to discuss the issues with gender identity and its effect on the identity and the leadership can be essential to understanding credibility in a culture that is deeply impacted by the external environment. 

Through the entire process of leadership identity development, the female leaders may be asked to prove their credibility as a leader. As a diverse female leader, at various junctures of my career I have been asked to mellow down my ‘Mediterranean’ ways. 

I am one of those leaders who has said NO. This is who I am and I will stand united with many other diverse female leaders out there who, I am sure, have some stories to tell about their own tough journey.

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The Absence of Diversity in the Literature Curriculum – and its Lasting Impact

Anjum Peerbacos portrait

Written by Anjum Peerbacos

20 years experience as a teacher

Riz Ahmed made a powerful speech regarding diversity in the Arts: Riz Ahmed warns Parliament that a lack of diversity in TV is leading people to Isis

He stated that if young people could not see themselves as part of the narrative or the mainstream representation, they would turn elsewhere to feel that they had a sense of belonging. He said it was the responsibility of the Arts to reflect society; to reflect the patchwork that makes up a wider world, and our global community. 

In so many ways, Literature is another Art form and should be doing the same. When we study texts in class, there should be an opportunity for students to be able to see themselves in the literature world. However currently that is not the case.

 For more than two academic years now, I have taught the new GCSE curriculum for English Literature, I have taught ‘Lord of the Flies’ by William Golding, ‘An Inspector Calls’ by J.B Priestly, ‘A Christmas Carol’ By Charles Dickens, ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ by R.L Stevenson, and ‘Romeo and Juliet’, by William Shakespeare. White males that are no longer with us, have written all of these texts.

It may be that because I work in a boys school that these texts have been chosen, as the demographic of the school is largely white and male; however one could argue that in such circumstances it is vital that we expose our young people to the width, and breadth of the spectrum of the society in which we live. Students regardless of demographic and gender should be exposed to a range of writers’ experiences and Literature. It broadens their horizons, and ultimately their experiences. Students have studied the above texts, in addition to a small collection of poems largely about war, with the anecdotal inclusion of Benjamin Zephaniah and John Agard. ‘The Conflict Cluster’ largely addresses the atrocities of war, and as a result these young people have not been exposed to the wealth of Literature that exists in the world. 

 Across the exam boards, the choices have been extremely narrow. There are few women and even fewer texts from a diverse or BAME background. I appreciate the need to study the works of Shakespeare but, not counting The Bard, on the AQA specification there are 19 opportunities to explore other Literature texts and only 2 are from non-White authors. 

 On the Edexcel specification there are 15 opportunities to study a text written by a white male, there is only 1 non-White BAME author. On the Edexcel specification, all White Male playwrights write the Modern Drama Texts. WJEC offers two options which are non-White authors, however is more inclusive of female writers over time. 

 Obviously, I understand that we want children to study, learn and love Shakespeare and he is a white male and is from the 17th century. There is one re-occurring BAME author for modern prose and that is Meera Syal and her novel ‘Anita and Me’, and I can’t help wondering how much of a token of her appearance on the curriculum is. 

 My other concern regarding the curriculum is does it need to be British? And is there a place for Modern World Literature or modern world prose or drama? Why are we limiting our young people to English British largely male Literature, which is no longer representative of the global world in which we all live?

In addition, what constitutes British Literature? Is Syal considered English Literature or British Literature? Moreover, why are we not considering the likes of Malorie Blackman? Blackman is a modern Black female author and is much needed. She addresses many sensitive issues within her texts which provide the debate needed, which would also meet the Social Moral Spiritual and Cultural (SMSC) criteria, which Ofsted demands of schools.

I happen to work in a boys school, and I am teaching an entirely male curriculum, bar a few poems in the poetry anthology, and my worry is that these boys are going to live, work, learn and prosper and flourish in a world which includes men and women. A world, which includes the young and the old.  A diverse world which includes people from all walks of life. So why is our Literature curriculum not reflecting this and preparing them for the alternative view? For the different perspective? For the obscure or the distance or the far-reaching? Why is it so inward looking and insular? Surely, this is then a potential breeding ground to consider anything different as ‘The Other’? How is this progressive?

 As Ahmed stated the Arts should be a representation of the world and narrative in which one can see oneself. Why aren’t ‘we telling these kids they can be heroes in our stories, that they are valued’? Ahmed goes on even further to state that if a young person cannot see themselves in the wider narrative then ‘we are in danger of losing people to extremism’. I think he makes some valid points. If you are studying a text for six weeks in a classroom, and potentially over five years you do not find yourself represented in any of those stories, then is Ahmed making a wider point? Do we not have a responsibility to deliver a narrative which is outward looking and less insular?

The curriculum was developed under Michael Gove, 

and I feel as though he has been able to dictate a curriculum, which he saw fit in an era, which is no longer fitting or applicable to our young people now. 

 The issue has been raised before, however I feel that now more when students are asked to regurgitate texts in exams, texts that they may not be able to relate to, or even understand, it has become a more pertinent issue. In light of recent events where we have witnessed a rise in hate- crime, communities feeling isolated and marginalised, immigrants being targeted; I think that now more than ever our young people should understand a wider broader spectrum of literature appreciating and celebrating difference and diversity. Of course, there is a place for Shakespeare and Romantic poetry, and of course, there should be an appreciation of the likes of Dickens and Austen. However, should there not be an opportunity to experience World Literature?

 Our young people are interacting on a global platform and developing a global community. If I were a young person living in 21st century Britain, I would not think the Literature that I am exposed to on the current curriculum is in any way reflective of me, or the world in which we all live.

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Why Diverse Representation Matters in Children’s Books

Orla McKeating portrait

Written by Orla McKeating

Entrepreneur, coach and motivational speaker

I started Still I Rise Diversity Story Telling for Kids in 2019 as a passion project as I really didn’t see enough representation in kids’ books. As a single mother of a bi-racial child I had learnt the importance of this for the well-being, influence and mental health of this for children, but I didn’t imagine the impact this would have on so many young people around the world. Still I Rise is now a global business, lockdown forced us to do virtual storytelling sessions which has massively built our community and the feedback we have received from parents, psychologists, teachers and the kids themselves has been incredible. And having worked with hundreds of children globally we can see the impact first-hand of the importance of diverse and inclusive books, how it builds confidence, empathy skills, how it inspires and creates impact and allows for deeper connections with society as a whole.


I was blissfully unaware of the importance of a diverse and inclusive world having been brought up in largely white Northern Ireland into a family of privilege and shielded from the Troubles we experienced until I was in my late teens. I lived in Belgium for 10 years post university in a culturally rich and very international society and moved back to Belfast in 2012 where I began to bring up my son as a single parent. We always read books together from when he was so tiny, and I wondered was it really that great to read from such a young age? But now at 7 years old, he is such an avid reader and communicator and I can see that it absolutely did. What I did notice was that there were so few characters in the books that looked like him. This baffled me and I wondered why this was. Of course, I could find the books when I looked for them, but they weren’t so readily available as they are now. Why is this representation so important though I hear you ponder …? 


Well. The whole world is not white, able bodied and with a nuclear family structure. When children read books and don’t see people like them in them, they don’t feel included in society which can have a massive effect on their own confidence and self-worth. However, when there are characters similar to themselves culturally or ethnically, I have seen it reinforce a more positive view on themselves and pushes them towards goals and allows them to believe that anything is possible! How can you be what you can’t see, right?


Seeing characters, ideas and experiences in books that are unlike ours allows our children to open their minds and teaches them (and us for that matter) to value the whole human race and not just people who look like us. This equity within literature teaches empathy from a young age which helps them build secure and strong relationships with those around them while promoting tolerance and acceptance.


Being included in books and seeing other people like them facing challenges and making a difference in the world really helps kids have a deeper understanding of our world and how great things are possible. It creates impact, allows them to have role models they may never have met who influence their actions and behaviour, help them to overcome challenges and push them to their full potential.


Books with a diverse and inclusive representation allow a mirror or a window for what our next generation can do for themselves. They read about a wide range of human experience – familiar or strange, real or imagined and they can manifest a larger window of opportunity for themselves. This allows for authentic connections which allows them to feel less alone, more important and increases self-esteem. 


While embracing books within education that promote diversity, equity and inclusion it is also important to encourage our kids to see colour, culture, history, identity and acknowledge the impact it has on our lives and experiences. Encouraging an actively diverse life through books, TV, films, toys, food music and embracing curiosity, welcoming questions and having the conversations can really encourage the next generation to have a clear understanding and acceptance that every human deserves to be treated fairly and with respect no matter who they are. And imagine the possibilities in a world like that.

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