Recently, Derek Chauvin, the ex-police officer who was convicted of murdering George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020, was sentenced to 22 years and six months in jail. Floyd’s murder prompted global protests against police brutality and racism and raised questions in many organisations about the degree of progress that had been made with regard to equality, diversity and inclusion.
In the UK, Floyd’s murder and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests triggered the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (CRED) to explore racism in the UK. The Commission called for evidence on ethnic disparities and inequality in the UK, and reported in April 2021: Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities: The Report – March 2021 (publishing.service.gov.uk).
CRED’s report made 24 recommendations which work to forward these four aims:
- to build trust between different communities and the institutions that serve them
- to promote greater fairness to improve opportunities and outcomes for individuals and communities
- to create agency so individuals can take greater control of the decisions that impact their lives
- to achieve genuine inclusivity to ensure all groups feel a part of UK society.
However, the report was widely critiqued on publication leading to many questions about the quality of the interpretation of research used and the validity of the conclusions reached, while headlines told of “no evidence” of institutional racism in the UK. Dr Tony Sewell, who led the commission, said “This report is about how we really deal with the issue of race and social mobility. We know that education is the best vehicle for this.”
Dan Sanders, Countering Extremism Practice Development Officer, Community Safety & Wellbeing at West Sussex County Council, recognises that there is a great deal of evidence highlighting the inequalities still impacting people within society. He explained, “Some children will experience daily barriers and prejudice normalised and embedded into their everyday reality.”
Sanders feels that in order to best challenge these imbalances, it is essential that we continue to explore the ways in which racism and inequality impacts us all and work to challenge unconscious and conscious prejudices in ourselves, in others and seek out and tackle the way it influences systems, attitudes and practice. “This requires us to approach equality and inclusion as an ongoing journey in which we may make mistakes but as long as we continue to be open to learning we are more likely to be part of the solution, rather than be complacent and not recognise when we become part of the problem,” he explained.
Many schools have already begun to work on improving equality, diversity and inclusion for all in their communities, providing extensive expertise on what works to bring about positive change. Raj Unsworth, chair of governors and advisor to Headteachers Roundtable, feels that it is important for schools to continue the good work they had begun with regard to equality, diversity and inclusion, especially in the light of the Sewell CRED report. “The Sewell (CRED) report was heavily criticised as being out of touch with the lived reality of people of colour,” she explained. “Commissioners ignored years of data and the many reports from mainstream experts. Its findings were rejected by hundreds of organisations including those in education. Against the background of the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter Movement many in education had already commenced the process of addressing inequality, lack of diversity and racism through the introduction of equality, diversity and inclusion policies. These policies cover all aspects of school life including curriculum, staffing, leadership and governance. School leaders should continue with this work or if embarking on it collaborate with others who are already on this journey.”
Back in West Sussex, Sanders points to many examples of work in progress to address inequalities. “The Ethnic Minority and Traveller Achievement Service works with West Sussex schools to raise the attainment of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME), Gypsy Roma Traveller (GRT) and bilingual pupils. They provide advice, guidance and training. They currently co-deliver training with the Community Safety and Wellbeing Team a Recognising Racism and Promoting Equality and Diversity online seminar to schools within West Sussex. The Hate Incident Support Service provide guidance and support to anyone who experiences any type of hate crime, including racism, homophobia, disablism, transphobia and religious intolerance.”
If you are starting out on your journey to explore ways of improving equality, diversity and inclusion in your school, these ideas may help:
Five useful steps
1. Explore… there are very useful resources to support your journey, for example:
2. Collaborate… If you are starting out on this journey, Raj Unsworth suggests collaborating with those who are already further along the path, for example, Greenwood Academies Trust (@GreenwoodAcad), East Anglia Anti-Racist Education Collective (@EAAREC) and Suffolk Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Network (@SuffolkDEI).
3. Be an ally… Be aware of allyship and the ways in which we can support each other to speak out when we witness discrimination.
4. Read… Keep learning, and teaching. Authors such as Reni Edo-Lodge, Sashi Tharoor, Emma Dabiri, Niven Govinden, Paul Stephenson, Kalwant Bhopal, Akala, Ibram X. Kendi, David Olusoga among many others, will be helpful.
5. Celebrate… many schools are achieving great success in their work on making sure equality, diversity and inclusion run through the heart of everything they do. If that’s your school, take time to celebrate that and share your ideas and successes with your wider community.
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.