Anti-racism & diversity: Curriculum, policy and practice

Written by: Laura McPhee | Published:
Diversity: Loughborough Primary School has carried out a thorough review of the curriculum, policies and procedures in the context of diversity, equality and inclusion (images above and below)

Decolonising the primary curriculum, embedding diversity, and becoming an anti-racist school is a challenging and at times difficult process. Headteacher Laura McPhee describes how her school reviewed and reformed its curriculum, policy and practice


In the wake of Black Lives Matter protests over the murder of George Floyd in the United States and the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on black and minority ethnic people, traditional approaches to the curriculum are facing increased scrutiny.

Campaigners have called for a “decolonisation of the curriculum”. While this campaign is not without its detractors, some of its loudest supporters have been young people themselves.

It may surprise some to learn that it is not compulsory for Britain’s role in colonisation, or the slave trade, to be taught in the national curriculum. While pupils must learn “how people’s lives have shaped this nation and how Britain has influenced and been influenced by the wider world”, colonialism is not referenced until key stage 3.

It is for schools and teachers to determine which examples, topics and resources to use to stimulate and challenge pupils, and reflect key points in history. Campaigners world-wide have been vocal in calling for existing biases and omissions that limit how young people understand the world to be challenged.

One such campaigner is Orlene Badu, a system leader for the Young Black Men project and school improvement leader for Hackney in east London. She explained: “To effect profound social change that leaves a legacy we need to change policy and practice. No longer do we want to be non-racist, which is passive and seeks to propagate inequality. We want to be anti-racist: an active role that seeks to disrupt cycles of inequality.”

Orlene describes the process of becoming an anti-racist school and the difficult work that is required as part of this process, acknowledging that individuals are often required to move within three zones:

  • The fear zone: Avoiding hard questions and denying that racism is a problem.
  • The learning zone: I listen to others who look differently to me, I educate myself about race and structural racism.
  • The growth zone: I sit with my discomfort and yield positions of power to those otherwise marginalised, I promote and advocate policies and leaders that are anti-racist.

At Loughborough Primary School, we were determined to carry out a thorough review of the curriculum, policies and procedures rather than develop a “bolt-on” to our existing practices. However, knowing where to start was initially overwhelming. Our school community has benefited from Orlene’s expertise. Staff and governors received training on racial bias and her extensive research in this field has informed our wider school approach to becoming a culturally competent school. As a result, we developed the following areas.


Accountability

The MacPherson Report, published in 1999, recommended that consideration be given to amendment of the national curriculum aimed at valuing cultural diversity and preventing racism. The report also acknowledged the importance of addressing systemic inequality in order to better reflect the needs of a diverse society.

As a leadership team, we embarked upon our journey to become a culturally proficient organisation with the ambition of viewing each aspect of our work through the lens of diversity and inclusion. We felt compelled to re-examine our systems, policies and procedures alongside the curriculum.

This required us to become comfortable having “uncomfortable” conversations. We began by reviewing a number of our procedures including the child protection, behaviour and pay policies. This resulted in us introducing new monitoring processes that have informed our practice. Our practitioners have adopted a “child-centred approach” and we now use software that analyses behaviour incidents according to gender and ethnicity. This enables the leadership team to identify trends and proactively support staff and families.

In recognition of national and local exclusion trends, we also introduced after-school and Saturday “reflections”, so that pupils have the opportunity to engage in restorative justice.

Policy reviews also enabled us to introduce systems designed to tackle inequalities in pay that will benefit support staff, teachers and leaders. A clear framework for career and pay progression has been introduced as part of the appraisal process. This is supported with robust and transparent discussions by governors during pay committee meetings. The school has also committed to producing an annual report of salaries analysed by ethnicity and gender for the resources committee to review.

Following a review of governance in the summer of 2020, we set out to ensure that we had the appropriate systems and structures in place to review the school’s work on diversity and inclusion. This involved establishing a taskforce of governors led by Dr Nicholas Mullings. As link governor Dr Mullings has been instrumental in providing supportive challenge and co-authoring the school’s Diversity and Inclusion Manifesto (see further information).

Nic, who completed his PhD in race and education, including a thesis on Race, education and the status quo (2018), leads the taskforce. He explained: “It would have been easy for the school to have taken a superficial approach to this important area of work – particularly given all the challenges schools have faced over the past year. I am incredibly proud of the school’s diversity and inclusion manifesto. It’s an authentic plan that includes tangible actions that will, over time, make a real difference to the whole school community.”


A road map for decolonising the curriculum

We began by auditing the curriculum to understand where improvements could be made. This has led us to introducing a range of texts from early years through to year 6 to ensure there was appropriate representation.
As a team we have discussed the need for leaders to challenge discrimination and exclusion, dismantling bias through pedagogy and encouraging practitioners to lead by example. We recognised that while practitioners were well intentioned in stating their commitment to “anti- racism”, a lack of subject knowledge sometimes left staff unsure about how to demonstrate their willingness to become an ally.

Through offering teachers and support staff access to professional development, we endeavour to empower teachers and in turn, our pupils.

Literacy leader Tenisha Jones has modelled critical thinking and assessment for learning strategies to teachers throughout the pandemic. Through developing teachers’ understanding of questioning, we are beginning to see pupils connect with the material, question, challenge, and form their own opinions.


Racial literacy

As an organisation, we were keen to create space for open dialogue, self-reflection and growth. For this reason, Tenisha also developed a multi-media “reading list” to develop the school’s racial literacy (see further information). Teams have been asked to select a text to read, a podcast to listen to, or a film to watch. This will culminate in an informal sharing between teams – each team will have the opportunity to share their thoughts through a medium of their choice. In keeping with our commitment to life-long learning, our reading list was also shared with the governing body.


Our Diversity and Inclusion Network

We recognise the need for teachers to have continued access to professional development and we remain committed to providing teachers with dedicated time for reflection. For this reason, we have invited Black Learning Achievement and Mental Health (BLAM) to deliver further training in the autumn term on how teachers can incorporate Black British cultural heritage and African and Afro-Caribbean histories into their everyday teaching.

BLAM will also be working with year 4 pupils delivering Black History to Black pupils over 12 months, using a curriculum devised with the support of the Institute of Race Relations. Founder Ife Thompson explained: “The Grounded project is focused on building positive racial identity in young Black children through culturally specific narratives. At BLAM, we encourage and support children to foster a new love of learning that improves their racial esteem, wellbeing, and educational outcomes.”

Pupils in upper key stage 2 have also taken part in Diversity and Inclusion Workshops delivered by the Women and Girls Network. The workshops promote culturally responsive teaching and further develop pupils’ capacity to understand multiple perspectives.

Situated in Lambeth, the school also has access to Raising the Game, a two-year project developed by the local authority. The project is based on extensive research running in selected Lambeth schools to improve outcomes at all key stages, raise aspirations and reduce exclusions for

Black Caribbean pupils who underachieve in relation to their peers nationally and locally. In order to achieve this, teachers across Lambeth have developed an impressive set of teaching and learning materials which have been shared across the local authority.

We continue to widen our network, seeking out and engaging with local and national organisations, such as A Better Community (ABC), a CIC founded in south London championing equality and justice through education and community action.


Consultation with our community

We place a high premium on parental engagement and understand the powerful partnership that can exist when school and parents collaborate. We also appreciate that our school community have had their own experiences of the education system which may not always have been positive. For this reason, we have established a parent forum dedicated to issues related to diversity and inclusion. While the forum is open to all parents who wish to attend, careful scrutiny of internal data prompted the leadership team to invite specific groups, including families of identified black pupils that may benefit from pastoral support and families of black pupils that need to make accelerated progress.


Conclusion

This is the beginning of our journey. Becoming a culturally proficient organisation is a process and we are all learning. We have had the privilege of working with phenomenal practitioners and our school community has approached this work with a tenacity and humility that is inspiring. As a result, we are beginning to really see and feel the impact.

The vision? For identity, diversity and action to pervade all aspects of teaching, learning and policy; to deepen pupils’ understanding of social justice and to empower pupils to become agents of change. 

  • Laura McPhee is headteacher at Loughborough Primary School, Lambeth. Visit www.loughboroughprimarylambeth.org.uk. She is also board member of the Virtual School Management Board and governor at Sellincourt Primary, Wandsworth. Read her previous articles for Headteacher Update via http://bit.ly/htu-mcphee


Curriculum Design Online Conference

  • Laura McPhee will be discussing her curriculum review at the Headteacher Update two-day curriculum design conference taking place online on July 6 and 7. Visit www.curriculumconference.com

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