Sunday, 30 October 2016

Thoughts on equality inspired by Dr Arshad

This week I was lucky enough to attend The Stanley Nisbet Educational Colloquium Lecture which was delivered by Dr Rowena Arshad OBE, of the University of Edinburgh. The title of the lecture was “‘Race’ equality and Scottish School Education: Lessons from Research”.
In my new role, I am looking at creating a Professional Learning Package to support teachers to contribute to the equalities agenda, as equalities is an area that I think we (as teachers) often take for granted and assume that we are inclusive. Each time I have heard Dr Arshad speak, the same key point she makes disrupts my thinking. She says that
"to be truly inclusive we first must work out who and what we exclude, because only then can have complete inclusion"
We have Equalities legislation in place relating to race, gender, age, disability, religion or belief and sexual orientation. The Additional Support for Learning legislation states that there is a duty to provide additional support for learning when any child or young person needs support for whatever reason. This should promote equality and challenges all teachers and the education system to embrace and respond to the diversity of our learners, but is this truly working in practice? Dr Arshad uses her research into ‘race’ to discuss how equality is working in Scottish education.
The idea of ‘race’ is a contested term that doesn’t really have meaning, it could mean culture, it could mean ethnicity, it could mean skin colour, it could mean religion, it could mean so many things that in fact in this context, it has no agreed meaning. In Scotland, we view ourselves as being inclusive and not ‘racists’ and view racism as ‘elsewhere’ but that doesn’t mean it does not exist. Since in Scotland ‘race’ has never been an identifier of social organisation, we are uncomfortable and lack knowledge and confidence in discussing with young people issues of racism. However, as Dr Arshad says “by not acknowledging discrimination you are discriminating”. Is this attitude of ‘it’s not really a problem’ an appropriate way to deal with such a complex issue that does exist? Are we not letting down our young people if we don’t give them opportunities to talk about racism in school as a ‘safe places’ because teachers are fearful and anxious not to offend? If we are to support our young people to develop the skills to be global citizens and thrive in a global economy, do we not have a duty to discuss issues such as racism?
All of the Standards for teachers in Scotland begin with a section on professional values and personal commitment and the following statements can be found under the heading of social justice;  
I am committed to the principles of democracy and social justice through fair, transparent, inclusive and sustainable policies and practices in relation to; age, disability, gender and gender identity, race, ethnicity, religion and belief and sexual orientation.

I demonstrate a commitment to engaging learners in real world issues to enhance learning experiences and outcomes and to encourage learning our way to a better future.

These statements should be lived and breathed and evidenced in practice not platitudes on a page. Equality should be ubiquitous in the curriculum, in teachers practice, in the structures and frameworks in the education system.  In HGIOS 4, Inclusion and equality is a separate subsection of the Success and Achievements: QI: Ensuring well-being and equality and inclusion, should equality not pervade all of the indicators? The education system needs to challenge and surface inequalities by not adopting a ‘happy families’ approach where it is perceived that everything is alright, but seeking opportunities to challenge and discuss inequality in its many guises.
It would be accurate to say that most teachers are not confident in discussing ‘race’ issues as the somewhat homogenous nature of the teaching profession means that many have never encountered being the victim of racism. Teachers “need space for deep meaningful discussions” to develop their thoughts and abilities in structuring conversation with young people to facilitate discussions. We have to be braver and have conversations which move beyond discussing racism in terms of artefacts and beliefs, and move these conversations into the reality of being. For example, for a person with a particular religious belief, how does their religious identity complement or conflict with the ‘social norm’ and what may lead to them being excluded? How does this impact on their confidence, their self-esteem, their own perceived abilities?

To promote equality all young people, need to see themselves in the curriculum, in the education system and in society, to support the development of their own identity and support their aspiration whatever that may be. It is incumbent on the whole education system to address the needs of all, to promote and support equality for all.

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