Why inclusion is the key to unlocking a lifetime of learning
Reshaping the implicit and explicit signals of curriculum formation can turn students on to the benefits of education, says IOE’s Ben Hammond.
22 December 2021
When I started teaching 15 years ago, I didn’t think or understand much about the priorities and lives of the students and their communities. I didn’t consider how I represented gender or race or ethnicity in my teaching. Through pedagogy, my teaching had some inclusivity. But it could have been so much more.
That’s why, when I took up my current position at IOE, we were determined to create a professional studies course which takes into account of what we teach, how we teach it and who teaches it. The IOE was founded on principles of social justice, after all. It’s so important to us that our teachers have the tools to show every child in their classroom that they are valued for who they are and what they bring, just as much as knowledge and skills are valued.
We quickly realised that the experts we invited to speak on the course had been extremely limited and non-diverse. In the year I took over, just two non-white representatives gave talks throughout the year – less than five per cent. Three years later, that proportion is 40 per cent. This year, we are working with the BAMEed grassroots network of teacher educators and practitioners to further diversify. Almost half our student cohort are now from black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds or heritage. The leaders they see now are representative of them.
But we also looked at what concepts we addressed, and when we addressed them. Previously, the issue of race was addressed once, on the last day of the year. We now run a session on teaching for social justice right at the beginning of the course, so the theme can run throughout. Other sessions look at protected characteristics and the diversity of young people in the classroom.
We’ve done a lot of work reshaping the implicit and explicit signals we are sending to our students in terms of curriculum formation. One of our sessions is a debate that thinks about curriculum decolonisation and recolonisation. Ultimately, the problem with the word decolonisation – as understood by our experts – is that ‘de-’ is about taking something away from the curriculum. For example, a common critique of curriculum decolonisation is that you are ‘not allowed’ to speak about great figures who had an impact on British history.
But decolonisation is about expanding the perspectives you consider. Hitherto, curricula have been designed from Eurocentric perspectives, for example. Decolonisation seeks to critique and redraw such underlying biases. That’s why some experts suggest that the word recolonisation may work better: it’s about enriching the curriculum. You might study Winston Churchill and his impact on the Second World War, for example. But you can also look at his perspectives on India and the Bengal famine, and the political decisions he made that may have contributed to that. It’s about looking at things in the round, in a much more inclusive way.
All our Institute of Professional Studies sessions have 90 per cent or greater satisfaction ratings, but the most popular have been the ones on anti-racism and teaching for social justice. The comments we have received demonstrate that our student teachers like being allowed to talk about these issues right from the start. The 47 per cent from diverse backgrounds – who may not have been allowed to talk about ethnicity and diversity in teaching – appreciate being encouraged to embrace it. And the 53 per cent who are not from these groups are more comfortable tackling these issues that they can feel alienated from, as in terms of race they are the majority community and haven’t necessarily had to question these things in the past.
The best way to engage kids in this curriculum is to understand them, their communities and what they bring to the learning table. Inclusion is the way to unlock children’s interest. Giving our student teachers this understanding can counter the stereotypical notions of groups of young people who ‘don’t get on with education’ – and turn them on to the benefits of education that they will carry throughout their lives.
Ben Hammond leads Secondary Initial Teacher Education at the IOE.