Diversity, Equality and Achievement in Education


Gianna Knowles & Vini Lander

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    Kishan, Matthew, Rebecca, Simran and Tejpal and to all children living on society's margins

    Abbreviations and Acronyms

    BMEBlack and Minority Ethnic
    CiCChildren in Care/Child in Care
    CRTCritical Race Theory
    DADDisinhibited Attachment Disorder
    DCSFDepartment for Children, Schools and Families
    DDADisability and Discrimination Act
    DEDDisability Equality Duty
    DfESDepartment for Education and Skills
    DfEDepartment for Education
    EMASEthnic Minority Achievement Services
    FSMFree School Meals
    GRTGypsy, Roma and Traveller
    INDImmigration and Nationality Directorate
    OfstedOffice for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills
    PEPPersonal Education Plan
    PSEPersonal and Social Education
    RADReactive Attachment Disorder
    TESSTraveller Education Support Services

    About the Authors

    Gianna Knowles is a lecturer in Educational Studies at the University of Chichester in the UK. She has also worked with teacher trainee students from across Europe at the University of Jönköping in Sweden. Before working in higher education, Gianna gained over 12 years experience of teaching in primary schools in England, in London and the Midlands. She has worked in Local Authority Educational Advisory services, working with individual teachers and whole-school staff to develop school-wide practice and policy. Gianna has experience of being an Ofsted inspector and reviewer for the Quality Assurance Agency. Her research interest is in the area of social justice and inclusion.

    Vini Lander is a Principal Lecturer with overall responsibility for all primary education provision at the University of Chichester. She has had experience of teaching science and working with Black and Minority Ethnic pupils and with bilingual and multilingual pupils in her time as a teacher. Vini has also been an Ofsted inspector for primary schools and initial teacher training.

    Until recently she was Deputy of Multiverse, a professional resource network on achievement and diversity. As part of this role Vini has worked with tutors and student teachers across the country to help them to integrate aspects of diversity and equality into their work. As part of her wider professional role Vini has delivered training sessions to a range of education professionals on diversity, inclusion and achievement across England and in Germany.

    Vini's research interests lie in the field of diversity and initial teacher education. She is undertaking doctoral research in this area.



    There is a well-known poem written by Pastor Martin Niemöller in the 1930s. Many of you will know it as ‘First They Came’, it begins ‘First they came for the Jews/And I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew’. (Niemöller, n.d.) It is a powerful poem and often cited because its seeming simplicity voices complex and challenging ideas, particularly about diversity and equality. The poem is about who individuals identify with and who they see as people who are different to them. It is also about their response to that perceived difference. The poem explores how individuals form alliances with others, especially those who seem to share similar values, attitudes and beliefs to them and how they can alienate those they perceive as being different. Part of what the poem expresses is how people may form these alliances or reject others, deliberately or unwittingly. That is, people, including ourselves, are not always aware of how our actions, or lack of actions, impact on others. The poem serves to remind us that we are, in the end, all part of the same community. Therefore, if we are looking out for others, we are also looking out for ourselves. Similarly, if we fail to support others, at some point, in times of our own need, we may find that there is no one there to support us.

    These may seem challenging ideas to open this book with. The power of the poem is that while it was written at a time of significant historical events in Europe, it still remains relevant today. The poem serves to remind us that, in diverse societies such as Britain, unless we remain aware of issues such as diversity and equality, deliberate and unwitting acts of discrimination may still happen. With particular reference to this book, the poem reminds us that as adults working in schools with children with diverse needs and from diverse backgrounds, we need to be particularly mindful of our role in schools in ensuring that all children are provided for and are not discriminated against, however unwittingly.

    In particular, as those concerned with children's learning, we need to consider not only that children come from diverse backgrounds, but that we also need to be proactive in recognizing the differences between children. We need to be aware of individual children's different learning needs and ensure that we are providing them with equal opportunities to learn. With regard to achievement, in terms of learning, we also need to be mindful, as Chapter 1 explores in more detail, of the link between diversity and a child's likely achievement – or underachievement in school. That is, it is part of our role to recognize and understand the diversity in our society and, as those who work with children, to respond to it in a way that enables children's achievement. We have a professional, moral and legal duty not to be culpable in allowing the diversity in our schools to lead to inequalities in educational experiences and underachievement for children.

    These ideas are not new. Since 1997 schools have been successfully addressing many aspects of diversity and equality in relation to educational achievement, through developing their inclusive practice. In particular, schools have worked hard to ensure that children with specific learning needs, needs that previously might have acted as barriers to their achievement, are being taught in such a way that they are enabled to access learning effectively. Many schools are now expert at providing an inclusive education that can meet a wide range of learning needs, be they needs such as dyslexia and other cognitive learning needs, or the needs of children who are, for example, on the autistic spectrum. Schools are providing equal opportunities for children that enable them to engage in all aspects of school life and to achieve in their learning. However, as understanding about inclusion has developed, so too has the realization of the diversity and breadth of need children may bring to the classroom. For example, increasingly since the inception of the Every Child Matters (ECM) agenda, it has been understood that if equality of achievement for all is really to be realized, schools must ensure the content and delivery of the curriculum they provide for children is designed and planned with a greater understanding of the wider social context that children are part of. That is, to provide equal opportunities for children to achieve, schools need an approach to learning that also encompasses understanding about the backgrounds that children come from. Be that background in terms of culture, socio-economic status, whether the child is living with their birth family or is a Child in Care. That is to say, it is necessary to have knowledge and understanding of how the life experiences children have had, their sense of self, or identity and their current home life, impact on how they access learning. Providing equal opportunities that enable all children to achieve is about understanding the diverse families or home lives and childhoods children have, and why these need to be taken in to consideration when planning learning activities.

    All those who work in the education sector are bound by legislation relating to the aspects of equality and diversity briefly outlined above, and the relevant legislation will be explored, as appropriate, throughout the book. However, depending on the role an adult holds in a school, there are also professional skills, knowledge and understanding relating to equality, diversity and achievement that they may need to demonstrate they have achieved. For example, teachers are required to understand how ‘developmental, social, religious, ethnic, cultural and linguistic’ (Training and Development Agency, 2008: 8) aspects of children's lives will impact on their engagement with their learning in schools. Teachers should also be able to take these considerations into account and ‘make effective personalised provision for those they teach’ (Training and Development Agency, 2008: 8). Professional development available for teaching assistants, including the achievement of Higher Level Teaching Assistant status also requires a similar understanding of these concepts. In the same way, all schools – and those working in them – are bound to consider aspects of diversity, equality and achievement as outlined in the Department for Children, Schools and Families (now the Department for Education) document (DCSF, 2007a) Guidance on the Duty to Promote Community Cohesion. This document states: ‘the curriculum for all maintained schools should promote the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society’ (DCSF, 2007a: 1). It goes on to say: ‘schools have a duty to eliminate unlawful racial discrimination and to promote equality of opportunity and good relations between people of different groups’ (DCSF, 2007a: 1). It is also worth noting here that, although the statutory curriculum in maintained schools varies depending on which country within Great Britain a school may be situated, the principles, with regard to inclusion, equality and diversity do not change. While the concepts explored in this book, and advice and guidance offered in translating understanding into action, might be discussed through particular aspects of specific curriculum documentation, the principles that underpin the ideas and practice discussed can be applied to most situations in many schools.

    This introduction began by discussing how discrimination can occur because of diversity and difference. We have also seen how Britain and British schools have already made great strides in seeking to include children with diverse learning needs in their learning provision. However, the research on children's achievement shows that while there has been progress in terms of providing equality of educational opportunities for some children, particularly those who have cognitive learning needs, there are still children, who because of needs that derive from their background, continue to fail to achieve.

    In seeking to explore diversity, equality and achievement in education this book begins, in Chapter 1, by discussing how our own understanding about ourselves, our own identities, values, attitudes and beliefs can impact on how we approach notions of diversity and, how those understanding then translate into our professional practice. Chapter 1 begins the exploration of the key themes relating to diversity, equality and educational achievement which will then be explored in greater depth throughout the rest of the book. In particular, the chapter examines how diversity relates to the well established inclusion agenda in schools. It introduces the link between diversity and educational achievement and underachievement and how the notion of identity is important for exploring diversity, equality and achievement.

    Chapter 2 picks up the discussion about identity and diversity begun in Chapter 1 and explores the concept further. This chapter broadens the exploration of why it is important to consider identity when thinking about diversity and examines what is meant by identity. The chapter also discusses how identity can be said to be formed and may change or develop over time, depending on a person's experiences and the influences around them. The link between identity, values, attitudes and beliefs is also examined.

    In Chapter 3 ‘Diverse Families, Diverse Childhoods’, how children need to form secure attachments when young to enable them to continue to thrive, is discussed. The chapter also explores that while for many children these secure attachments are with their immediate birth family, there is still considerable diversity in what might constitute a child's ‘family’ and who might ‘parent’ a child. In the same way, the chapter considers that, just as there is diversity in terms of what might constitute a ‘family’, similarly there are diverse experiences of what might be termed ‘childhood’. That is to say, no one family or one child may be the same as another. In relation to these ideas the chapter discusses the notion that, while of considerable significance in the raising and welfare of children, a child's immediate family is only part of the structures and systems a child interacts with to enable them to thrive. That is to say, schools too contribute to what happens to a child and their childhood and, therefore, need to consider how they respond to this aspect of their role, particularly where they work with children from a diverse range of backgrounds.

    In Chapter 4, the authors explore with the reader how, over the past 50 years Britain has become an increasingly culturally diverse society. However, the term cultural diversity itself is one that can be misinterpreted and not always fully understood. Often the term is used as if it relates only to race or ethnicity. Race and ethnicity are part of what is meant by cultural diversity, but essentially it refers to the wide range of differing values, attitudes and beliefs that many groups in British society hold. Therefore, the chapter seeks to clarify the meaning and importance of the term ‘ethnicity’. It discusses how, in terms of education, ethnicity and achievement are linked. It introduces the notion of whiteness, which is emerging as a concept in the literature on race and education in England, and explores how the concepts discussed in the chapter enable those who work with children to reflect on and evaluate their own position with regard to the ideas raised.

    Chapter 5 discusses class as the first of the chapters of this book that begin to explore diversity and equality by looking at how the factors discussed above can impact on the achievement of particular, identifiable, groups of children and their families. In particular, the chapter discusses why class is part of the diversity, equality and achievement in education debate and what is meant by class. It explores the link between class and poverty and discusses the term ‘social capital’ and how it is linked to class, diversity, equality and achievement.

    Chapter 6 discusses the debate surrounding boys, girls, gender issues and achievement, it acknowledges that gender is a factor that impacts on equality and achievement but also cuts across ethnicity and class. Exploration of gender issues and their impact on children's achievement at school have swung back and forth across the ‘gender divide’ over the past 30 years; therefore the chapter begins by exploring the salient contemporary issues related to gender and education in Britain. It sets these issues within the wider historical ‘gender’ framework and discusses prevailing myths about gender, seeking to provide counterarguments from recent research.

    Chapter 7 ‘Coming from a Traveller Background: Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Children – Living on the Margins’, explores the history and origins of Gypsy and Roma people and discusses the stereotypical assumptions about Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people. The chapter examines the educational debate related to children from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller heritages, discussing the difference between Gypsy, Roma and Traveller groups. The discussion also invites the reader to consider their positionality with regard to this most marginalized group of children.

    Chapter 8 ‘Refugee and Asylum Seeker Children’, explores what refugee status and asylum seeking means in terms of the law and personal experience in Britain. It discusses why people, children and families seek refuge or asylum. It explores the distinction between the terms refugee and asylum seeker and examines how the experience of refugee and asylum seeking children may impact on their learning and achievement in school, while also discussing how schools can support the well-being of refugee and asylum seeker children through understanding the wider needs of their families.

    Chapter 9 discusses what it means to be a looked-after child or a Child in Care, exploring what is meant by ‘looked-after’ and how children come to be Children in Care (CiC). The chapter explores the role of multi-agency teams and the family courts in the process and where children go when they are looked after. The chapter discusses why CiC are particularly vulnerable to underachievement and why being looked after seems to have long-term negative impacts on a child's life chances. For example, looked-after children go on to form a disproportionate sector of the prison population. The chapter will give examples of good practice in terms of helping looked-after children to thrive and achieve.

    The final chapter of the book, Chapter 10, concludes the book's exploration of diversity, equality and achievement by discussing enabling equality and achievement for children with disability. The chapter outlines what is meant by disability and the laws in Britain that schools need to be aware of, in relation to disability and working with disabled children. The chapter also explores what the barriers to learning for disabled children can be and what constitutes good practice in providing for disabled children and their families.

  • Endnote

    The last chapter ended with a discussion about personalized learning. While this discussion formed part of the chapter on children and disability, as with many of the ideas covered in this book, the ideas explored in the discussion are based on principles which should support the construction of all learning experiences to ensure they benefit all children. That is, in this last instance, with the discussion of personalized learning, we can see how because it is fundamentally a good way to design learning, it is an activity that encourages achievement for all children. And this can be said for most of the discussions throughout this book. While specific ideas and examples of good practice with regard to supporting children's learning have been discussed, with reference to the particular issues being explored in any one chapter, the truth is that any learning activity that takes account of diversity, and provides equal opportunities for learning will benefit the learning of all children.

    What the diversity, equality and achievement debate has served to do is raise awareness of what constitutes good learning for particular groups of children, and this has, by default, often improved the learning experiences of all children. Essentially, where you seek to develop your professional practice to improve your ability to provide motivating and interesting learning experiences for children, whatever prompts you to begin your research into how you can meet the needs of particular children you work with, your whole practice as a professional will become better developed. You may have picked up this book because you wanted to know more about working with children from a cultural background different to your own, or children who are a different gender to you, or are differently-abled to you but whatever your reason for reading this book, or parts of it, the skills, knowledge and understanding you will have explored will have a positive impact on your work with all children, whatever their culture, ethnicity, gender, class or background.


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