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There’s No Point Paying Lip-Service to Diversity and Equality – It Needs to be at the Core of Everything a School Does, and Is…

Our staff all champion who they are, says Hannah Wilson

  • There’s No Point Paying Lip-Service to Diversity and Equality – It Needs to be at the Core of Everything a School Does, and Is…

I co-founded #WomenEd, a grassroots movement for gender equality in our schools, three years ago, and I met both my deputy headteachers, Julie Hunter and Bennie Kara, through this community.

My assistant headteacher, Amjad Ali, is also one of the co-founders of #BAMEed. We are all passionate about not only equality of opportunity for all, but also social equity for underrepresented groups.

During our pre-opening Ofsted Inspection, our inspector had done his homework about our school’s plans and our staff members’ backgrounds.

He interrogated our Equalities policy and shared his interest in our plans to develop a provision for staff, students and the wider school community that addressed the protected characteristics from the Equalities Act.

Shared values

Our values-based education frames every lesson, every activity and each day/week. We have 12 values and we explore each for a whole month, then repeat the cycle.

So, when I was teaching Shakespeare last term we had an ongoing dialogue about the representation of diversity in our production of A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. Our assemblies are some of my favourite times of the week, as our staff deliver powerful messages about authenticity and celebrating our differences.

One of the highlights of our training this year has been our partnership with Educate and Celebrate, an organisation that seeks to make schools more LGBT+ friendly.

I attended the school leaders’ training with founder Dr Elly Barnes, and she then ran an INSET for all of our staff to start our spring term. The feedback was that they felt both inspired and empowered to tackle homophobia and transphobia in our school.
 
Beyond our school staff, we seek to influence the wider educational community through our Teaching School outreach. Throughout 2017 I curated three of the Diversity Grants, and we bid for funding to develop BAME and women leaders in South London, Essex and Surrey through our Teaching School Partners.

Indeed, we curated one mega programme where we brought together the 75 delegates to create one sustainable network, and we have successfully impacted 50% of this cohort being promoted to leadership roles this year.

An exciting event

To raise the profile of national diversity and equalities initiatives – and to challenge how many educational events have all white, all male speaker lineups – we created and hosted an event called Diverse Educators in early January.

At this event #BAMEed met #WomenEd met #LGBTed met #DisabilityEd. Two hundred educators came to share best practice across the different grassroots networks and to strengthen their collaborations.

As humans, we wear multiple labels and we need to address barriers that a whole person faces, rather than subsections of their identity. Intersectionality was the buzzword of the day. It was a great success and the energy in the room was palpable!

All of this activity culminated in a Diversity Roundtable at the DfE with Education Minister Nick Gibb at the end of January, chaired by Roger Pope.

Thirty stakeholders came together to draw together the strategic vision for our national diversity and equality activity. The desired outcome for the day was to create a joined up approach, a shared vision and tangible outcomes for all of the different projects.

There is a lot of funding being injected into the school-led system, but at times it can feel like a ‘scattergun’ approach.

One holistic approach, with shared outcomes and strategic funding for targeted support could change the face of our profession. Moreover, there was a lot of dialogue about the change needing to come from the top down, not the bottom up!

Reflection and discussion

I am excited that we can model how it’s possible to embody the values of diversity and equality throughout a school’s vision and provision. We shared our desire to empower and recruit a diverse staff team throughout our recruitment process for teachers, leaders, governors and support staff.

As a consequence, our staff all champion who they are and are much happier for it – and it’s a powerful message for our students to have such inspiring role models.
 
It has not been plain sailing. Our local community is going on a journey with us.

Our Halal kitchen has created a lot of debate; our LGBT+ posters have upset some of our current and prospective parents; our gender neutral uniform and our inclusive toilets with the universal transgender signs have ruffled a few feathers – but each question provokes reflection and discussion from our students, who can confidently articulate why our shared values are integral to who we are as a school.

Hannah Wilson is headteacher of Aureus School in Didcot and co-founder of #WomenEd. Find her at thehopefulheadteacher.blog and follow her on Twitter at @thehopefulht.

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