Educating about diversity, identity and Britishness

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Following the London bombings in 2005 there was much debate about how some British born citizens were so alienated from society that they carried out acts of terrorism.The Department for Education and Skills wanted to know more about how citizenship was being taught in schools and how understandings about Britain as a diverse society were being developed as part of the National Curriculum, and commissioned Professor Uvanney Maylor, now at the University of Bedfordshire, and Professor Alistair Ross FAcSS and colleagues at London Metropolitan University to investigate these issues.

The researchers looked at how diversity was promoted across the curriculum and how the National Curriculum addressed contemporary British identities and values. They looked at the available research, including European studies.They also looked closely at six very different schools in England, where they talked with the leading staff and held focus groups of pupils, whilst also observing what was going on in lessons and assemblies and at the relevant schemes of work and policies.

They found that the existing curriculum did not promote understanding of the plurality of groups in Britain and
that many teachers avoided teaching about diversity, or failed to explore diversities within ethnic categories.

They also found that a very narrow view of Britishness was being taught within schools. They identified ways in which successful teaching about diversity could be embedded within schools and their work fed into the Ajegbo Commission’s 2007 report Curriculum Review: Diversity and Citizenship.The Review’s findings were accepted by the Secretary of State, and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) subsequently revised the National Curriculum so that pupils have received this education since 2008. Supporting resources were also developed and the Professional Standards for Teachers were revised to incorporate a set of professional attributes concerning diversity and the requirement that teachers take practical account of diversity and promoting equality and inclusion; the 2012 revision also referred to this research.

The University of Exeter said that “the fact that this area was now statutory was significant – it ensured that we explored these important issues of race and diversity. This was particularly important in the South West where there is still a tendency for schools to think ‘there is no problem here’”. In their grading of schools, Ofsted inspectors now include an assessment about the extent to which children have understanding of other people and different cultures (i.e. people who are different to themselves) in order to be graded outstanding, as exemplified in a nursery school which had its Ofsted rating downgraded from outstanding to good.

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