Laura Morris portrait

Written by Laura Morris

Laura Morris (@MissMorrisManc) is head of RS and Citizenship at a secondary school in Gorton, Manchester, with additional whole school responsibilities for SMSC and anti-discrimination. She has been teaching for 15 years. Her website is

Before the Black Lives Matter mobilisation of 2020, and all that followed, staff at the school I work at in Gorton, Manchester, would largely have felt positively about the work we were doing to celebrate our students, myself included. We went all out for Black History Month every year with relevant lessons across departments and external visitors invited in (as showcased in this video from October 2019), we had very few complaints of racist incidents from the students, and some work had been undertaken to decolonise the curriculum, particularly in subjects like RS, Citizenship, History and Geography. We could pat ourselves on the back for a job well done!

With all the work we’ve done since, and the huge changes that have been made, I now feel embarrassed to reflect back to pre-2020 when I thought we were already doing enough for our students. We weren’t.

Before we broke up for summer this year, I wrote a report detailing what we’ve done so far with the hope it could give ideas to other teachers and save them some time if they are starting from scratch. It’s been a process of trial and error and, while we’re still far from perfect and keen to collaborate with other schools to help us further improve, I am confident that we are now having a much more positive impact on our students in making them feel seen, appreciated, safe and loved. 

In this blog I will summarise the most important parts from the report for people who are keen to improve the anti-racist practice in their school.

Named members of staff

Towards the end of the 2020-21 academic year, my colleague Ben Wilson was given a TLR to focus on anti-discrimination work in the academy and I was made associate assistant head with the same priority, which I realise puts us in a very fortunate position. Our head teacher included this anti-racist work as an objective in the school improvement plan and believed it was necessary to appoint people in posts to achieve our goals. I can’t stress enough how important it is for all schools to be willing to give time and money to staff doing this work and can only hope the example from our school will help other teachers feel confident to take similar proposals to their head teachers. 

Staff groups

If I had to single out the most impactful elements of our process, it would be the staff and student groups. So many changes have been made but it’s hard to think of anything we’ve done that didn’t first come from conversations held in these spaces. 

I realise how lucky I am to work alongside enough people who recognise the institutional racism present in education and were prepared to give up their time to do something about it, and that’s how the anti-racist working group (ARWG) was formed in September 2020.

We created sub-groups, each taking responsibility for a different area that we decided needed to improve, like the behaviour system and reporting incidents of discrimination, student voice, the curriculum, and staff CPD.

If you don’t feel as though you’ve got enough members of staff with the interest or time capacity to take on this work, there is no need to panic, as it is the students who have guided so much of what we’ve achieved. They are the experts and are invaluable to bringing about change.

Student voice

Student meetings started in early May 2020 during lockdown on Zoom with organisations like Kids of Colour (who still lead student meetings half-termly) and The Black Curriculum, and continued informally during lunch times when we returned to school the following academic year. It became clear how important it was for our young people to be given time to talk about their experiences of racism both in and outside of school.

At the start of the 2021-22 academic year we interviewed Year 11 students for anti-discrimination ambassador roles. They decide the agenda for the separate fortnightly KS3 and KS4 meetings, which are held during the 30-minute form time slot, lead the discussion, and, while I am in the room (to take back any pressing concerns to the ARWG), the ambassadors take responsibility for the meetings. Students discuss their personal experiences outside of school, what they believe needs to change in school, and anything that is going on in wider society that they would like to talk about. Any students who don’t feel comfortable reporting incidents of discrimination to teachers can go to the ambassadors who then feed back the details to Ben or me. 

One of last year’s anti-discrimination student ambassadors said: “I feel like having this space for students is really important because we come together as a community to discuss issues that really matter to us and we think of ways to resolve it and deal with it.”

We have an annual anonymous anti-racist student survey, to help us identify issues that may be affecting students who don’t attend the meetings, and the student groups have delivered assemblies in response to the feedback to educate all students on discriminatory behaviour they might knowingly or unknowingly be perpetuating.

Towards the end of the 2020-21 academic year, Year 11 students wrote down examples of times that staff had said or done racially or culturally insensitive or offensive things. I recorded them reading out the statement of another student, to ensure anonymity, and played the video to staff during a CPD session. 

Hearing the accounts woke up so many members of staff to the experience of the students, which has meant that all the work that has followed, that has resulted in an extra time commitment for pretty much everyone working in the academy, has been easier to achieve. There’s little room to question or complain about the need for change when you have student testimony to support the cause.

Discriminatory incidents

Discussion in the student groups highlighted the need for us to better deal with incidents of discrimination between students. Racism was very rarely reported but feedback from the student groups revealed this was down to the students feeling as though nothing would happen as a consequence, either because they had reported something in the past and hadn’t heard how or if it had been dealt with, or their belief that it wasn’t a priority for staff.

Ben created a reporting system (that you can read about in more detail in the report), which was trialled at the end of the 2020-21 academic year and put in place the following year, which has currently significantly increased the workload of staff who deal with behaviour incidents. But it has also meant we are in a much stronger position to educate and sanction students involved in discriminatory behaviour, as well as validate the feelings of, and bring resolution to, the victims. Different forms of microaggressions are the most commonly reported incident and students have responded incredibly well to the educational sessions they attend with Ben or me as a consequence. Victims are given the opportunity for a restorative conversation, once pre-restorative work has taken place with both students, and they almost always choose to take up this offer in the process. 

The number of repeat offenders is minimal, if not close to non-existent. But the number of reported incidents has increased. Students now have the confidence in the school to respond appropriately to accusations of discrimination.

As one of last year’s ambassadors put it: “when I look back at when I was in Year 9, if someone said something racist to me I would just go home and cry. But now I would feel empowered enough to report it and I hope younger students feel that way too.”

Curriculum changes

All subject leaders completed The Key’s anti-racism curriculum review document, which identified areas for improvement for departments already on the journey of decolonising their curriculum and served as a fantastic starting point for teachers who didn’t know where to begin.

After being given department time to plan and create new resources, we’ve had a carousel format for whole school CPD sessions to share these across departments. Most departments now have a member of staff with an objective in their appraisal relating to diversifying their curriculum. During the carousel CPD we have a ‘speed dating’ format where staff spend a few minutes listening to the changes each department has made, and having discussions on the impact and any possible cross-curricular links, before moving on to the next department.

We recognised the need to better signpost these changes to students. Bennie Kara delivered a bespoke CPD session for our staff last December where she suggested posters to be placed around school. Now every classroom has a subject specific poster highlighting content relating to race (as well as sexuality, gender and religion) in our curriculums. Before breaking up for summer, subject specific PowerPoints were shown to all students too so they knew what to expect in the year ahead. Examples of what we teach can be found on our school website.

For more details on the processes above as well as other initiatives we’ve implemented, check out the report in full. Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter too!