In a recent meeting with a group of BAME educators, we were discussing concerns about the current situation that we find ourselves in – the coronavirus pandemic. Talk was of being seen, being heard, challenging the status quo, as well as talk of those who hold power ‘allowing’ educators a space to discuss issues of race. I cannot remember my exact words, but I raised the question:
…are they ready to have a discussion about race?
Responses from the group varied but the overwhelming response was that leadership teams must be ready. How do we know that those in authority are ready to have such conversations?
In having conversations about race in the context of education, and an understanding of how discussions can be approached safely needs to be considered. Alternative points of view can be presented to leadership teams, and those interested encouraged to change their curriculum and locate alternative resources. But, how does this disrupt convention, and impact upon the bigger picture? How does it ensure there is a true willingness to listen, plan and act, particularly when policies and processes currently in place maintain the status quo? There is no one size fits all, off the shelf, solution.
What follows is a (brief) critical reflection that will hopefully encourage you to reflect, discuss and challenge.
How can a reactive approach to planning a new curriculum be conducted without harming the future chances of students?
As I write, educators at different stages of their career are entering discussions on how to adapt and create a new curriculum. This is a fantastic opportunity but writing a curriculum is an onerous task requiring expertise. Think about your setting, how many educators (teaching assistants, classroom teachers, middle leaders, etc.,) have been released for training on how to develop a curriculum? How many BAME educators in your setting have been asked to work with Senior Leadership Teams in developing a culturally appropriate curriculum?
Initiatives such as the One Bristol Curriculum, and The Black Curriculum, focus on incorporating Black History into the curriculum. These are good starting points for leaders to gain an understanding of how much change is needed, as well as recognising the depth of experience required to create these curricula. It is important to note that discussions on these initiatives started at least two years ago and involved many educators. This suggests current reactive approaches may not be as effective. However, we must start somewhere. With changes to the History curriculum continually gathering momentum, and with a steady flow of ‘new’ resources being created for History lessons, parity is required in other parts of a schools’ curriculum. The discussion must therefore shift towards learning from the approaches taken when incorporating Black History into the curriculum and encouraging similar thought leaders’ involvement in school conversations.
Further to global ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests, a wealth of resources aimed at children have been circulated via Local Authorities, Multi-Academy Trusts in England, and across Social Media platforms. Resources are also directed towards adults in the hope that a documentary will be watched or, a book read, and minds changed overnight. Information is everywhere: Netflix collections, updated booklists on issues of race, social media #BLM, to name just a few.
With a heightened level of attentiveness due to current issues, educators (and many others) are taking the time to listen. Listening may in part be borne out of curiosity but this is a ‘captive’ audience who will face further changes, and their conversations/contributions to their field will be influenced by previously unheard actors (educators, academics, poets, film makers, musicians). In addition, recognition of a need to align with the increasing BAME student population makes this an issue requiring a fresh approach. It is an opportunity to highlight new resources from different voices and to hear different perspectives. Through initial discussions of these and other resources, educators will collectively contribute to the contemporary conceptions of content that students will study in the future. Depending on the school, clarity may already exist in how to identify areas (resources) for improvement, with recommendations for change being proposed, but who has the final say? Who makes decisions about this?
Allocating time to be proactive in the review and creation of school policies is a challenge. Identifying who is best placed to lead, and who is responsible for implementing and monitoring policy presents difficulties. Also, whether allocations may need to be further reduced to accommodate this as part of a role, hinders progress. These are vital considerations before policies at the school level can be changed and approved. Thus, it becomes clear why it has been this way for such a long time; it impacts on a myriad of processes.
Questions such as, ‘What are our policies on Equality & Diversity, Religious Observances, Pupil Behaviour & Discipline….Radicalisation…?’, ‘How can we show that we have reacted to change?’ and variants of these questions have probably been raised in meetings in recent weeks. The fact that a school is being reactionary in relation to a major global issue speaks to how they potentially address policy. Are policies reviewed regularly, only introduced further to Ofsted inspections, are they truly a part of the golden thread that binds all parts of a school together? How these questions are answered will vary depending on the type of school, where it is in its development journey and what policies are already in place.
So, what is getting in the way of action being taken? One could argue there is a lack of ethnic minority leaders in place to affect change. But how do we increase these numbers when we have so few minority teachers? (Runnymede Trust, 2017) Even with ethnic minority leaders in place, policies are likely to remain unchanged, which leads to ethnic minority leaders perpetuating the status quo through outdated policies.
To conclude, I urge you to think about the conversations that have happened and will happen in your settings. Some schools are being naive, taking advantage of BAME staff for various initiatives. Some will continue to follow directives from ‘the top’, but equally, there will be many that embrace an approach that places the student at the centre of change.
Change is required, so amidst the discomfort and sideways glances in meetings, we must discuss these issues and contribute to a transformative change in education by confronting bureaucracy, highlighting outdated policy, and challenging reluctance to overhaul the educational system.
Runnymede Trust (2017) Bristol: A City Divided? Ethnic Minority Disadvantage in Education and Employment Ethnic Diversity and Inequality in Bristol
Measuring Local Ethnic Inequalities. Available at: www.ethnicity.ac.uk (Accessed: 17 October 2018).
A version of this blog was originally published on the BAMEed Bristol and South West blog on 10 August 2020, and has been republished with permission. The original piece can be read here: https://www.bameedbristolsw.co.uk/blog#h.1kmzwq7og4ss
About BAMEed Bristol and South West
We represent the full diversity of the educators that we want to see in our schools right across the South West region from Swindon to Cornwall. Our core contributors derive from all ethnic backgrounds and a wide range of professional backgrounds from senior leaders in both primary and secondary schools both state and independent sectors, learning support assistants, recent university graduates, colleagues from the alternative provision sector, educational consultants, university professors and colleagues from the local authority. Find out more: www.bameedbristolsw.co.uk