Hello everyone, my name is Ben, I am a senior lecturer at Newman University. I am a recovering primary school teacher (!) and have spent the last couple of years lecturing on an Education Studies course which I thoroughly enjoy. My Phd research explored how schools challenge heteronormativity and create LGBTQ+ inclusive schools and I have a deep interest in critical pedagogy and the ways in which we can develop more inclusive practice which is what I want to explore with you in this blog post.
Growing up gay, I never saw LGBTQ+ people represented in the curriculum, granted this was during the dark days of Section 28 but it left a lasting impression on me as a young person and then later as a primary school teacher. What impact does a lack of visibility have on children and young people growing up? For me, and many others it leads to a sense of othering, questions of belonging and whose identities hold value in society and whose do not?
This year marks 20 years since the repeal of Section 28, so has progress been made? Unfortunately, years of neoliberal economic policy creating culture of datafication, narrowed curricula (McDonald and Zeichner, 2009) and accountability (Ball, 2021) coupled with the government and media’s insistence on driving culture wars around ‘woke’ agendas has meant that social justice issues are still side-lined within schools and teacher training. As an educator in this climate, why would you want to engage in the complex, murky waters of discussing ‘difficult’ (Britzman, 1999) topics when you are trying desperately to keep your own head above the water?
Inevitably, burnt-out teachers feel ill-prepared to take on this work and it tends to fall on the shoulders of minority teachers (Richard, 2015). However, there are not enough minority teachers, and we are all allies as issues of social justice are increasingly central to children’s lived experience. Firstly, almost a third of children live in poverty (Reay, 2017) and still only a tiny fraction (0.9%) of children on free school meals end up in Russell Group Universities. Additionally, 95% of children are witnessing racist language in schools (YMCA, 2020) and half of LGBT+ children being bullied in schools (Stonewall, 2017). These statistics begin to paint a picture of how much more work is needed to be done.
So where can we start and how can we further enrich education with EDI and attention to issues of social justice? Here are some of my recommendations gleaned from my own practice, training and research:
- It starts with teacher training, how do we equip our students with the skills to engage with this work? Are we finding space to engage meaningfully with these topics and embed their importance throughout each module we teach?
- Support leaders. In schools, Heads and increasingly leaders of MATs (Multi-Academy Trusts) set the tone for schools, and if they are prioritising this work others quickly follow suit. Therefore, how can leaders be supported to make space for critical conversations, sharing of resources and opportunities for whole staff CPD?
- Decolonising the curriculum. Whose perspectives are present? Whose are not? Is there a culture of celebration around minority role models or are minority identities principally explored in terms of deficit? E.g., just exploring race through the lens of racism.
- Critical thinking skills are paramount. Not just for children but teachers and students too, how do we sensitively engage with a child espousing the misogyny of Andrew Tate in the playground? How do we make space to develop critical thinking skills in a culture that prioritises regurgitation of facts over critical analysis?
- Spend time unpacking the invisible knapsack (McIntosh, 1989) of your own bias, we all have bias and ways in which we are privileged and marginalised but how does this impact our relationships with others and the decisions we make about whose voices we bring to our students?
- Use children’s literature. This is a fantastic way to explore ‘big’ topics in child-friendly ways. Books like Introducing Teddy break down complex topics like gender identity into simple, accessible conversations for all ages.
- Ultimately, and most importantly, involve students, what is important to them? How do they understand these issues and what support do they feel is needed to better develop inclusivity and awareness?
Ultimately, norms shift over time and engaging more robustly with EDI issues in schools has been demonstrated to help support the development of children’s empathy and reduce bullying and harassment (Kosciw et al. 2014) meaning more children can thrive. Ultimately, engaging in this work is key, we will make mistakes and anything is better than silence and keeping in mind the words of the late Maya Angelou ‘When we know better, we do better.’
Dr Ben Johnson is a Senior Lecturer at Newman University and can be contacted at email@example.com
Ball, S. (2017) The Education Debate. Bristol: Policy Press.
Britzman, D.P. (1998) Lost Subjects, Contested Objects: Towards a Psychoanalytic Inquiry of Learning. New York: State University of New York Press.
Kosciw, J.G., Greytak, E.A., Palmer, N.A., and Boesen, M.J., (2014) The 2013 National School Climate Survey: The Experiences Of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual And Transgender Youth In Our Nation’s Schools. New York: GLSEN.
McDonald, M., & Zeichner, K. (2009). Social justice teacher education. In W. Ayers, T. Quinn & D. Stovall (Eds.), The handbook of social justice in education (pp. 595-610). Taylor and Francis.
Macintosh, P. (1989) ‘“White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.”’ Peace and Freedom. Pp.1-3.
Reay, D. (2017) Miseducation: Inequality, education and the working classes. London: Policy Press.
Richard, G. (2015) ‘The pedagogical practices of Quebec high school teachers relative to sexual diversity.’ Journal of LGBT Youth. 12(2). pp.113-143
Stonewall, (2017) The School Report [Available at] https://www.stonewall.org.uk/system/files/the_school_report_2017.pdf [Accessed 30th January 2023]
YMCA, (2020) Young, discriminated, and Black: the true colour of institutional racism in the UK. [Available at] https://www.ymca.org.uk/press-statements/young-discriminated-and-black [Accessed 30th January 2023]