My 5-year-old daughter started school during the pandemic (in September 2020). I had so many questions and fears: Will she get sick? Is the school safe? What kind of learner will she be? Will she be behind and when will she catch up? Will she make friends? Will she fit in? Will she feel a sense of belonging at school?
As parents you too will be familiar with some (if not all) of these questions. My colleagues and friends who have been parents for a lot longer tell me that some of these questions remain, even as children get older.
I have to say the last three questions are the ones that had me worrying the most. Diversity was a key factor I looked at when applying for schools. If my daughter felt inspired to learn, had role models she could look up to and peers that looked like her that would go a long way in making her a more confident learner and individual. Right?
My mistake was that I focused too much on diversity alone and having a mix of different people and identities. What I should also have been thinking about was ‘inclusion’, and asking myself questions like:
What is the school learning environment like? Does the school respect and embrace diversity and difference and is this reflected in the curriculum that’s taught? Are all students accepted and welcomed and treated equally? How does the school deal with discrimination, bullying or racism? Is the school helping all students to make progress and achieve their potential? How does the school foster an inclusive environment that enables all children to thrive?
‘Diversity and inclusion' has been a topic of discussion in the education sector for decades, but let’s face it, with a lot more focus and intent in the last few years.
For a start, what do these terms actually mean?
They can mean many things to different people – especially in relation to schools and learning.
I’ll share my own understanding of these words and invite you to share yours.
Diversity – Diversity is about embracing our unique identities. This not only about what you can see on the outside but the core of who we are and what makes us unique. Diversity can encompass many things including gender identity, race, ethnicity, religious beliefs, disability, sexual orientation and race. Many of these are protected, which makes it illegal to discriminate against a student or member of staff at the school based on these characteristics (under the Equalities Act 2010).
So when we talk about a school or education setting being diverse it means you have students, teachers and staff from all walks of life, and the make up of the school reflects the modern world we live in and this is something the school actively celebrates. Diversity is also something all students should learn about early on, recognising that all people are not the same, that difference makes us all unique and it is something that should be respected and valued. But we can also risk focusing too much on what makes us different, instead teaching diversity is also about understanding that there many more similarities between any two people than there are differences.
Inclusion – is where the hard work is because it’s about putting diversity into practice. Inclusive education allows all students to take part, learn and thrive and this is to the benefit of all students. It is about removing barriers, and anticipating a variety of learning needs so that every student (regardless of circumstances outside of their control) can achieve their full potential.
For our children, inclusion is also about belonging. In your family unit or mine, though they may be very different, there is no question of whether our children feel a sense of belonging. This sense of being part of a whole needs to be extended to a school family unit. When children feel safe, cared for, a sense of being accepted and valued by others this is positively associated with academic success and motivation (Freeman, Anderman and Jensen 2007).
This is a lot easier said than done, and inclusion is made possible because of the amazing efforts that teachers and school leaders go to for their students – our children.
I see every day through my work at learning company Pearson and as a parent, how teachers are helping to raise our children to be exceptional human beings and to flourish in their own unique way.
However, there is more that we can achieve together when it comes to diversity and inclusion and parents as well as schools have a key role to play in that.
Understanding your views
Earlier this year, Pearson published its Diversity & Inclusion in Schools report, which explored gathering the views of 2,000 teachers and leaders on these issues. It showed a desire for change among the teaching profession, with many school staff saying that they have reflected on the diversity of their curriculum and where it is falling short for their students. Four in five educators felt that more can be done to celebrate diverse cultures, people and experiences in UK education.
While the report highlighted the fascinating views of those working in schools, we at Pearson and Parentkind are also keen to understand what parents and carers make of diversity and inclusion in education today.
What questions are you asking of your children’s education? Do you, and your children, feel included in what they learn? Are there any more ways they can be supported to flourish at school?
Over the coming weeks, keep an eye on Parentkind’s social media channels, as together we will be sharing short social media polls and questions for you to share your views on this important topic.
Together, we can work to build learning environments where every child feels that they belong.