This was a question Ruh Alford asked herself over and over again whilst deciding, as a family, whether to move from North-West London to rural Devon...
In the summer of 2017, the lure of the countryside pushed these concerns out of my mind and we made the move. I would have to make sure we regularly visited my family back in London so my children could stay connected with their Muslim, East-African Asian heritage.
I wasn’t too concerned with how they would be accepted, since my husband is White and originally from Devon. In fact, we moved to the same market town in which he grew up. I already knew quite a few locals and my children, being mixed-race, have fair skin so their difference isn’t immediately obvious.
In September 2018, I became the Executive Headteacher of The Carey Federation, comprising two rural village schools. In my first letter to parents, I played up my Devon credentials; made it clear I wasn’t an outsider, but very much a Devonshire person with my family connections and my traditional surname. In my first year, I didn’t mention my faith or heritage. I suppose I imagined with my surname and accent, nobody would realise I was different. Certainly, in the back of my mind Trojan Horse stories made me anxious that some would think I had an agenda if I was open about who I was.
In December 2019, two weeks before Christmas, we had an Ofsted inspection at Halwill School. I was grilled by the Lead Inspector as to what we were doing to expose our 100% White British children to other cultures. Of course, I talked about R.E. as I pointed out a Diwali display. She quizzed further, had we taken the children to London? No, I replied, the families weren’t ready for this sort of a trip. I had only been in post just over a year and was still gaining their trust. She pushed and pushed and in the end, I said, ‘Do you not think that as a Muslim, Asian woman headteacher, just me being here is showing the children diversity in action?’ This stopped the questioning from the inspector.
But not the questioning in my head. ‘How will my children feel about diversity if they live in an area with none?’ I knew I hadn’t really done enough for the Federation children. R.E. lessons with no opportunities to hear real lived experiences was only reinforcing that faiths other than Christianity are different, other and completely alien. Festivals are something to be in awe of, celebrated by unknown people in far off places. It was impossible to relay that faith is a way of life someone chooses to live, if the children never heard from people of faiths.
And what about ethnicity and race? How would the children see people of colour as a usual part of British society when there weren’t any people of colour in our school communities? Of course they had me but what use had I been really? Despite my claim to the inspector, the reality was that I had cowered behind my Britishness and hadn’t even shared anything about my difference with the children.
I was determined to do something. When we returned to school in January 2020, I hastily booked an African Drumming Workshop for the spring, started arranging a trip to Exeter and planned that I would do an assembly on Ramadhan and Eid in May 2020.
And then the pandemic came. As we went into lockdown my heart sank; just as I wanted to take my children out to experience the world around them, they were being asked to stay at home and hide from the world.
We were beginning to get to grips with remote learning and one of my teachers asked if I would answer the children’s questions about Ramadhan. On 25 May 2020, as I was contemplating whether I was brave enough to share about myself with the children, knowing parents would be listening at home, I learned of the murder of George Floyd.
This news woke me up. I realised that it was my duty and privilege as an educator to ensure that our children had a positive view of diversity and difference so that there would be no place in their hearts for racism. I knew I had to put my own insecurities aside and truly embed anti-racism and respect for difference in the culture of our schools.
I took the first step by making a video diary of how I fasted in Ramadhan, including what fasting meant to me and its challenges and benefits. Clicking ‘upload’ was terrifying – it would be out there, ‘Mrs Alford is a Muslim’. I was grateful for the strong support of my staff and I knew it was the right thing to do.
Next, I knew I needed a plan. Booking trips to cities and the African Drumming Workshop all seemed a bit glib. What would they achieve in isolation? Without clear thought and strategy they could be counter-productive, ‘Look children at all these different people…now let’s go back to the sanctuary of our White schools.’
My plan needed thought and a deeper understanding to cement it so I undertook equality and unconscious bias training and this gave me the knowledge and headspace to really consider what was required. Our children needed to learn about, and to learn from, real people from diverse backgrounds to enable the children to connect with these individuals on a human level, rather than seeing people as groups.
Through a series of weekly assemblies the children would be taught about inspirational people of colour, from the past or present. For example, Irena Sendler, the Polish woman who saved Jewish children from the Nazis; the grandfather of newsreader Mishal Hussain, who fought in the British Indian Army in World War II and Malorie Blackman, the Children’s Laureate.
Alongside this, I arranged for friends and associates to join the children for virtual assemblies. These included my Chinese friend who talked to the children about how she celebrates Chinese New Year and a Hindu friend who did the same for Diwali. The key instruction from me was that they keep it real. I didn’t want stereotypes. I wanted them to talk about what the festival and their faith meant to them and their family.
In addition, to widen the children’s world, I actively sourced people from different professions and backgrounds to join virtual assemblies, such as a wildlife film-maker from India who has worked with David Attenborough. My brother joined on World Book Day and talked to the children about being a literary journalist and Booker Prize Judge and Fair Trade Devon held a virtual workshop. In my weekly newsletters, I would share a little of what had happened in assembly. In this way, the promotion of cultural diversity became something parents became regularly used to seeing.
I was aware that I had been driving this and wanted my staff and Governors to be part of this journey.
I delivered equality and unconscious bias training to all staff and Governors. I was determined that this wasn’t a one of, tick-a-box training, but something that is revisited. Each time participants are able to think deeply about the issues, uncover and challenge their own unconscious biases and plan how this will impact how they behave and respond to situations.
Representation matters in displays, pictures and texts. A good start was to evaluate the library and incorporate stories, which represent children and families from a variety of backgrounds including race, disability and LGBT. Whilst stories such as ‘Handa’s Surprise’ are lovely classics to cherish, a balance of stories representing Black children in the UK, will help children in predominantly White areas see that Black people are part of British society.
The stories of Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups have for too long been left out of our history, Science and Art teaching in schools. Changing this is a huge undertaking and I am gladdened that a review of the History Curriculum in England will hopefully emulate what has already started in Wales.
In the meantime, all my teachers have been given a copy of ‘Black and British’ by David Olusoga.
Each chapter covers a different period of history and tells the story of people of colour who were part of that time period. For example, John Blanke, the Black trumpeter who played in the Royal Court of Henry VIII. Teachers are to incorporate these stories into their history planning.
As it happened, the African Drumming Workshop was postponed many times because of Covid; but by the time it happened, we were clear that it needed to be part of a Federation Geography and Music focus to enable children to see Africa as a huge, culturally rich and diverse continent. This meant the workshop put the learning in context and was not a bolt-on as it would have been originally.
I debated as to whether we should participate in Black History Month, as I don’t want Black History to be thought of as a one-off matter, but I decided it was too good an opportunity to miss. This year, the children researched their Black History Heroes. I was absolutely amazed by the inspirational projects and the support they received from home and I know that although we are still on the journey and there is a long way to go, I am proud that my children have such a positive view of diversity, even though they live in an area with none.
We thank Ruh Alford, for her reflective and honest insights into her role and work as Executive Headteacher of The Carey Federation as a Muslim, Asian female.
Our partners, Exeter Consortium and South West Teacher Training ITT Teams were pleased to present at a national conference in the Autumn Term.
Exeter Consortium Primary Initial Teacher Training Lead, Dawn Chapman and South West Teacher Training (SWTT) Team, Chloe Fox and Carrie McMillan were delighted to presented at the National Association for School Based Teacher Training (NASBTT) annual conference.
Exeter Consortium run a successful Primary Initial Teacher Training Programme in partnership with SWTT and offers a School-Centred Initial Teacher Training experience with an entirely practitioner-led programme. The course is designed and run by the schools and teachers from within its partnership.
NASBTT is a registered charity that represents the interests of schools-led teacher training provision in relation to the development and implementation of national policy developments.
Exeter Consortium Primary Initial Teacher Training Lead Dawn Chapman, talked about the work on mentoring developed from the curriculum redesign that had taken place prior to the team’s successful Ofsted in May 2021 and which recognised programmes were well sequenced and ensured that trainees built subject knowledge over time.
Associated Senior Leader, Assistant Lead and Subject Course Tutor for SWTT Chloe Fox showcased their work on mentoring with deliberate practice. The team have made instructional targets the heart of their coaching, raising standards in teacher training and ultimately in the experiences of children in schools.
The session was well-received with many comments from delegates on the ‘smart working practices’ and ‘fascinating grounded approach to empowering mentors.’
SWTT Lead Carrie McMillan noted:
“Our teacher training mentors are important to us, so it was fantastic to share the excellent work they’re doing at a national level. We hope this work will help make teacher training more efficient and powerful for all concerned.”
“Since the conference we have been happy to respond to requests for support from other providers and will enjoy building these partnerships and feeding into the national framework for Initial Teacher Training.”
You can find out more here:
ESW Associate & Strategic Leader of Teaching & Research Schools | Education South West Roger Pope CBE opens with an update, before wishing everyone a very Happy Christmastime.
"A White Paper is being prepared for publication in the New Year, and we are confident that a big section will be the continued investment in teacher recruitment, retention and development.
Go into your well-deserved Christmas break knowing that your excellent work has been noticed and valued by Ministers! "
You can also read more about upcoming CPD events and programmes and the next Professional Communities from our partners. Find out more about the Instructional Coaching Programme, the Get into Teaching Event in Plymouth and bookings are open for the SWIFT Literacy Conference 2022, and more besides.
You can read it here...
ESW Associate & Strategic Leader of Teaching & Research Schools | Education South West Roger Pope CBE opens with some praise.
"The Teaching Schools Hub Council met recently and took the opportunity to tell the new Minster, Robin Walker, about the excellent work you are all doing – and about how the Department can make things even better."
You can also read more about upcoming CPD events and programmes from our various partners - including more information about applying for the NPQs Cohort 1b, the EEF's new Effective Professional Development guidance report and the forthcoming Professional Communities, and more besides.
You can read it here...
ESW Associate & Strategic Leader of Teaching & Research Schools | Education South West Roger Pope CBE welcomes colleagues back to the new academic year.
"We have all been talking about how to re-imagine education in a post-lockdown world.
The clean sweep of Ministers at the DfE is surely a positive indication that the Government recognises that such thinking is now needed – and SWIFT are here to support you along the way..."
Find out more about our current CPD offers from various partners; many of which are free or discounted for SWIFT members. Plus an invitation to attend our Get into Teaching event next week.
You can read it here...
ESW Associate & Strategic Leader of Teaching & Research Schools, Roger Pope CBE contemplates the effectiveness of collaborative learning with our peers - true to the spirit of our SWIFT partnership.
In this issue, you can read an update on the RSHE Ready (Primary) programme and check out the sign-up journey for the reformed NPQ's and book your place at the Train to Teach | Get into Teaching Event next year. Plus the latest CPD offers from our partners in these final few weeks of the academic year. AND...don't forget to book your place - if you have not already done so - for the 2021 Summer Conference.
ESW Associate & Strategic Leader of Teaching & Research Schools, Roger Pope CBE inspired colleagues to look forward and plan more strategically for the next academic year with this quotation from Fletcher-Wood & Zuccollo:
“Professional Development is likely to be the most impactful tool at our disposal for improving teacher quality and increasing pupils’ learning”.
You can also find out more about the new NPQ's, the SWIFT membership 2021-2022 offer, live Q&A sessions with Ofsted Subject Leads, and the Meet the CPD Providers event after half term; as well as a wealth of latest CPD offers from our partners.
ESW Associate & Strategic Leader of Teaching & Research Schools, Roger Pope CBE keeps colleagues informed about forthcoming Early Career Framework engagement events and the new suite of NPQs...
"The Government rightly wants 'a Golden Thread' of professional development from ITT to NPQQEL and we are here to help you weave it."
In addition, you can read more and book your place at this year's TSSW Summer Conference with a stunning line-up of speakers.
There's more information about Early Career Framework School Engagement Events for school leaders to find out more about the national roll-out from September 2021 and opportunity to be part of a Teacher Research and Innovation Work Group about Parental Engagement in Maths with the CODE and Jurassic Maths Hubs.
Plus the latest offers and events from our partner Teaching School Alliances and Curriculum Hubs.
We hope you enjoy reading this issue.
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