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Why Representation Matters in Primary

Associate and founder of black teachers connect, Rhia Gibbs, on why 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.

My Experience

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:

      1. Growing up – were you ever the minority in your class?
      2. Growing up – did you have teachers that looked like you?
      3. 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 sucessful 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.

Why is Representation Important

Diversity is important in education. Students need to be able to see themselves in their teachers. Of course, this isn’t to say that White teachers can’t bring value to Black and Brown students – they absolutely can. I had many White teachers who made a positive impact on my life.

But there is something empowering about having a teacher that you can see yourself in.

BAME teachers give minority ethnic students a chance to see what academic success looks like and it also gives them something to aspire to. For children, to see an adult which looks like them possess great qualities and an abundance of knowledge leaves them feeling inspired.

After all, you can’t be what you can’t see.

Having teachers of all ethnicities is important for White students too. It serves to dismantle stereotypes and helps them see the beauty of diversity for themselves. It also exposes them to different cultures and different views of the world. This is so valuable to students, especially if we are preparing them for the wider world where they will interact with people from all walks of life.

But this can’t stop with teachers in the classroom. School leaders also need to represent their students. Headteachers and senior leaders must also be diverse. For BAME students, seeing school leaders that reflect them is empowering and it also helps them to aspire to reach those positions.

Diversity vs Inclusion

Despite all the positivity around diversity, it’s important not to confuse diversity with inclusion. Having a diverse teaching workforce is great but to see the full impact, your institution must strive for inclusion.

Inclusion is giving all your staff equal opportunities and to ensure all staff feel comfortable and valued in the workplace. Only then will you see the real impact of diversity in education.

All staff should be able to have an input on policy and curriculum if there is truly going to be an education system which values all.

I believe that this is something which children should be exposed to from a very early age. Primary school is a time of curiosity and asking questions. If students are engaged in diverse and inclusive environments from this stage in their lives, it means that this will become their norm.

When they move through their lives, they will be able to question if certain environments they are in are not inclusive and they can work towards creating diversity in their own institutions.

What Can You Do?

How you can make change to have a real diverse and inclusive setting for your staff and students - it starts with small steps:

      • Training – it is important to raise awareness and tackle unconscious bias and stereotypes that both staff and students may hold.
      • Celebrate diversity in schools. Ensure that all holidays are celebrated and recognised.
      • Use images/resources that reflect your students. When delivering lessons think about the pictures you use and the names that are used. Can you use the name Emmanuel instead of Harry? Do you typically use images of White people – can you change this?
      • Get support – we can help support schools in creating diverse and inclusive environments.
      • Commit to long lasting change for the right reasons. Don’t engage in diversity for diversity’s sake.

The push towards a diverse and inclusive education system is not easy but it’s worth it and the we don't have to look too far for the consequences of not doing it. [ITL]


This blog first appeared on the Foundation Stage Forum website.

Rhia Gibbs

To find out more about booking Rhia Gibbs for your school, college or organisation call us on 01267 211432 or drop us an email on

About the author

Rhia Gibbs

One of our newest Associates, Rhia an experienced teacher and middle leader and founder of Black Teachers Connect. She is committed to helping schools become more diverse and inclusive to ensure equality of opportunity for staff as well as students

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