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Diversity, equity and inclusion – “Our workforce often doesn’t reflect the diverse communities we serve”

Hannah Wilson explores what needs to happen if schools are to become truly secure, safe and inclusive for members of their local community…

Hannah Wilson
by Hannah Wilson
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Over the last 12 months, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) has become a hot topic in national educational discussions – particularly in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder and the growing profile of the BLM movement.

Diversity of people and perspectives. Equity in policy, practice and position. Inclusion via power, voice and culture. These are all issues that affect what goes on in our classrooms, staffrooms, boardrooms and playgrounds.

As competing priorities emerge ahead of the new academic year, how can we sustain momentum, preserve commitments and ensure some degree of longevity in the DEI commitments that have been articulated in 2020/21?

System-wide approach

Race is one of the nine protected characteristics identified in the Equality Act (2010). Across the school system we’ve seen a number of schools visibly commit to adopting anti-racist approaches, but how successful have those intentions been?

To what extent have they had any noticeable impact in terms of policies and actions? Moreover, is enough being done to approach DEI commitments in an intersectional way – holistically considering the whole person and being inclusive of all identities – or has the tendency been for schools to take a ‘single issue approach’?

We should all remember that DEI is a marathon rather than a sprint, and that transforming our culture and curriculum will inevitably take time. What’s needed is a system-wide approach to ensure that DEI becomes embedded, and can run like a golden thread through every aspect of the school.

It’s important to challenge ourselves and each other regarding our DEI beliefs. When engaging with this type of work, you’ll likely hear it expressed that one needs to ‘do the inner work, in order to do the outer work’, and ‘be comfortable with the uncomfortable.’

DEI work ultimately entails making a cultural commitment at a strategic level, which will involve evaluating every aspect of school life. It’s an invitation to take a long, hard look at ourselves, to step outside of our lived experience and consider who’s in the dominant group. This will often give way to a recognition that some individuals and groups are being marginalised and excluded.

Lean out

Getting DEI right calls for school and trust leaders who are prepared to be courageous, vulnerable and authentic. It requires leaders to lean out and let others lean in, and do the listening, rather than the talking. It encourages leaders to recognise their own privilege and power, and both challenge and dismantle those systems that have empowered them while simultaneously disempowering others.

Intersectional DEI strategies are necessary, since there is no set hierarchy of identities or oppression. Were we to take a single- issue approach by focusing on one protected characteristic at a time, we would risk inadvertently neglecting the safety of the other identities. DEI is ultimately about us creating an inclusive culture, where inclusive behaviours are foregrounded at all times.

It’s our belief that DEI work amounts to safeguarding work, since it involves reviewing who feels physically and psychologically safe, and who feels a sense of belonging within their organisations. The safeguarding, belonging and psychological safety of school staff is just as important as that of students.

This might all sound like common sense, and in many ways it is, but we have historically got it wrong. The data speaks volumes – who we recruit, who we retain, who we promote, who gets to lead our schools and trusts, and who sits on trust boards. Our workforce often doesn’t reflect the diverse communities we serve.

Dig deeper

We currently have rich data sets when it comes to our student cohorts, but still lack access to the kind of staff data that would allow us to identify and address the gaps, barriers and obstacles our colleagues experience. There has historically been a lack of national, regional and local data when it comes to staff representation, so that’s where we need to start.

We should then look to dig deeper by having courageous conversations with our stakeholders. What data do we need, and what stories will that data tell us about DEI in our schools? Student, staff and parent voice activities may well reveal some hard truths that will help us shape the direction of travel, so that our DEI commitments go beyond the merely tokenistic to instead creating meaningful, long-lasting change.

For us, addressing DEI issues within a given school amounts to a far-reaching role and remit that someone needs to be appointed to and remunerated for. It’s a role that will require time, resourcing, training, and just like safeguarding, a named strategic lead – though all staff will need to be trained in understanding the individual role they can play in their school’s wider DEI improvement efforts.

10 areas to consider in your DEI strategy

1 | The playground

How safe do children feel at breaks and lunchtimes? How integrated is your student body?

2 | The behaviour code

How inclusive is your uniform and hair policy? What story does your data tell you about who gets rewarded and who gets sanctioned?

3 | The inner curriculum

How are you developing understanding of other identities in your assemblies? How are you teaching acceptance through your school’s values?

4 | Curriculum diversity

Are you reviewing your current curriculum offer to ensure there are visible role models for all learners? How diverse are the texts in your school library?

5 | The training needs

Are you listening to your stakeholders? What are you doing to build in bespoke training that can help develop staff confidence and competence?

6 | The talent management

Have you ensured that your recruitment practices are appropriately inclusive? How are you developing and retaining your whole staff, whilst reflecting on who leaves your team?

7 | The governance

Are you sufficiently holding yourselves to account? To what degree have you invited challenge from peers across the sector who might hold a different perspective?

8 | The policies

Have you reviewed your policies through an intersectional lens? Are you ensuring your processes meet the needs of staff, as well as the needs of your learners?

9 | The culture

How are you empowering everyone to stand up and speak out about social justice issues? Is there a shared understanding within your school concerning individuals’ lived experience and appreciation for intersectional identities?

10 | Your form of communication

How are you anchoring your DEI commitment into your school’s vision, mission and values? Have you sought to build a coalition and distribute responsibility and oversight of DEI within your school?

Hannah Wilson is the director of Diverse Educators and among the contributors to Edurio’s new report, ‘Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Among School Staff’.

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