Why Representation Matters in Primary
Schools - Part I
ASSOCIATE AND FOUNDER OF BLACK TEACHERS CONNECT, RHIA GIBBS,
ON WHY OUR SCHOOLS NEED TO BE MORE REPRESENTATIVE AND
DIVERSE TO BETTER REFLECT OUR MULTICULTURAL SOCIETY
Following the murder of George Floyd in 2020, the world finally began to have a long, hard look at itself.
Institutions began to reflect on the structures and systems they had in place and many had to ask themselves if they were truly representative. This included the education system here in the UK.
Questions about whether the curriculum was representative of our students and whether the staff body, including those in leadership, reflected the student body.
Of course, these questions have been asked before – but they were brought to the forefront by the unfortunate killing of an innocent Black Man and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. An opportunity arose to make a real transformation to the education system as we know it.
Many of my staff and students began to ask uncomfortable questions. Working with older children who often have access to what is happening in the world meant that I had to prepare for some tough and difficult conversations about how, if Black lives matter, it still means that all lives matter.
And, of course, the importance of having Black and ethnic minority teachers.
The phrase 'representation matters' has gained traction over the past year. For some, it is because they want true change; for others it is a form of tokenism with no real intention behind it. For that latter group, it seems they don’t understand the value and importance of having representation everywhere, especially in the education system.
I want you to take a moment and to ask yourself three questions:
- Growing up – were you ever the minority in your class?
- Growing up – did you have teachers that looked like you?
- How did the above make you feel about your education and what you can achieve?
For me, I was always the minority in every classroom and I rarely had a teacher that looked like me. Through my entire school career, I only ever came across two Black and one Asian teachers. I have never had a Black or ethnic minority headteacher, either then as a student or now as a teacher.
As I never got to see myself represented in the teaching profession, it meant that teaching was never seen as a profession to aspire to.
At college, however, I had two Black teachers and they changed my outlook on life, on education and how I could be suvcdsseful being me.
I am now a teacher of older students, young people who have navigated much of their education already, many of whom will have formed a stereotype of what a teacher or headteacher looks like, many of whom have ruled out teaching as an option because they can’t see themselves represented in the teaching staff.
This is worrying and I have often asked myself what the solution could be.
I have come to the conclusion that the only way we can change things is if we build representation into every stage of the education system, including early years and primary school. A more culturally diverse education system can only do good, it can only serve to bring together a more diverse amount of thought, ideas, and experiences to create an education system which truly values everyone in it.
Click here to go to part two.
This blog first appeared on the Foundation Stage Forum website.
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