When a topic or issue becomes present in the public eye (often despite having always been of paramount importance, as is the case with diversity and inclusion in education) or it begins to feel more urgent, there can be pressure to actively resist or even just to react.
The pressure that I am referring to here comes from the expectation that education should be diverse and inclusive, something which has failed to be considered over decades. The pressure point is the realisation of this failing; the need to respond becomes pressurising as organisations need to be seen as doing the ‘right’ thing.
But the bottom line is that schools absolutely must not be exhibiting knee-jerk or quick-fix solutions to improving the diversity and inclusion of education. We need to make it a priority to find that beautiful balance between speed and solutions; remember, the first organisation to make changes in the way of diversity and inclusion is not necessarily the organisation doing the work most properly.
Making time, not taking time
Showing support for a cause without taking action at first can be a good thing. Note I said “can”. Far too many organisations, schools included, have used the excuse of wanting to ‘take their time’ as a guise for the fact that, actually, diversity and inclusion isn’t their priority. To this aim, time must be carved out at a systemic level to plan, implement and maintain changes in the education sector.
What can this look like? In reality there isn’t a one size fits all approach, it can look like many things. For specific questions to help schools to approach changes or to reflect on whether their current approach(es) are purposeful in the ways that truly matter, please see the full version of this article on the Pearson website.
With so many pressures on our time and headspace, tokenism, virtue-signalling and ‘quick’ fixes (which usually fix very little) can be tempting. But when we look at the absolutely unarguable benefits of a truly diverse and inclusive education, we cannot afford to not consider every single aspect of the above questions in everything that we do.
Let’s look at the subject of English as an example. English A Level uptake has been declining for some time; research is still being done as to why but initial findings show that students do not feel that English is relevant for them or offers them career pathways. In 2018/19, only 19% of students who took English Literature at A Level were Black, Asian or of a Minority Ethnicity (Source: GOV.uk available on request).
Where does this lack of students studying English at A Level come from? In 2018 The Runnymede Trust found that nearly 92% of teachers in state funded schools were White, in 2020 Publishing Perspectives found that only 13% of people working in the publishing industry were Black, Asian or of a Minority Ethnicity and it is not unusual for a pupil to leave school having never studied a book by a Black author, as shown in research carried out by Penguin Random House. It does not take too much evaluation to see the vicious cycle that has been created: everywhere that young people turn they do not see themselves. This forms one example of why all the aforementioned changes need to happen, if it even needed to be pointed out in the first place.
A real reflection
As the writer Junot Díaz puts it:
“You know, vampires have no reflections in a mirror? There’s this idea that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror…It’s that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn’t see myself reflected at all.”
What Díaz describes here about representation is one facet of these changes; schools must look beyond “representation, and the pitfalls of tokenism, to thinking about how schools can be proactive in tackling racism” as The Runnymede Trust puts it.
Ultimately, what we are offering in educational settings is not truly an education until every aspect of education has changed to represent, include and celebrate every child. We are already behind, now we must come together and push forward diversity. There is no other option.