At Sutton SCITT, a relatively small ITT provider in South London, a focus on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) is part of the ongoing development of our professional studies programme.
This year, we committed a whole day of professional studies with both our primary and secondary trainees joining together to explore some of the most challenging aspects of race and inclusion in education, the historical context and development of LGBTQ+ inclusion in schools, and diversity in children’s literature.
Glenthorne, the SCITT Lead School, took part in the BAFTA-winning Channel 4 Documentary ‘The School that Tried to End Racism’ and much work continued afterwards with the young people and staff. Together with our expert colleagues who led much of the work on race at Glenthorne, trainees explored the issues and challenges of race, unconscious bias and inclusion, generating rich dialogue, sometimes difficult and challenging conversations for some but always in a supportive and safe space.
The training involved real scenarios in a school environment including racism, unconscious bias, and the complexity of micro-aggressions. The session also focused on ensuring inclusive teaching and a sense of belonging in a school through the curriculum, school culture and pastoral care. Trainees were given a framework to support them in responding to incidents where pupils engage in overtly racist, sexist, disablist or homophobic language; sample questions to use to challenge (identify), calm the situation (diffuse) explore (inquire) and support young people to think differently (reframe).
Our expert colleagues also gave trainees the language to support a student affected/targeted by unacceptable language used. Trainees watched extracts from the Channel 4 documentary, together with our colleagues, to support further discussions and questions resulting in rich conversations about identity and experience both in school and society in general, as well as reflecting on the impact of this documentary on the children involved and the school in general.
The LGBQT+ part of the diversity professional studies session set the context of inclusion in schools as it is 20 years since the repeal of Section 28. Many trainees had little knowledge of Section 28 and the session explored the impact of this law on LGBTQ+ children and teachers at the time, including the experience of Catherine Lee (former teacher and now Professor of Inclusive Education and Leadership at Anglia Ruskin University) recently shared on a BBC Radio 4 podcast. Much progress has been made on inclusion since, but homophobic language/bullying is still prevalent in schools and there was a focus on how trainee teachers can confront and challenge this.
The session on diversity in children’s literature from primary age to young adult books challenged trainees to think about the diversity of their own reading as well as their role in sharing reading/books with young people. The school library was ‘brought’ to the session to look at the range of books available to support children to see themselves reflected in the characters and/or to support their wider learning about the world and diversity. A young person’s blog on how diversity in characters and books should be presented was a powerful narrative of the importance of diversity in literature.
Feedback from trainees was very positive (e.g. ‘The delivery of the session was exceptional! It was highly educating and engaging’), and indeed there was much interest and thoughtful engagement, if tentative at times, as trainees considered how they might come across. Trainees were really challenged on the day to confront and question their own understanding, perspectives, and position within the context of the themes explored, whatever their background.
For the team planning and delivering the day, it was also intense in terms of navigating and contextualising some sensitive and challenging content and conversations; personal situations/emotions were disclosed by some trainees to staff during the breaks and trainees who wanted to ask questions privately did so. It was very important to create ‘spaces’ with the availability of staff to address this in, and as, a team.
We held a debrief for staff/contributors once the session had concluded to reflect on the session and its impact, not only on trainees but ourselves. Our trainees receive ongoing support and follow-up to ensure we fully address the issues they raise with us.
Our commitment to DEI in our SCITT training programme is not limited to one professional studies session, but the day developed important knowledge and understanding and most importantly opened conversations and the confidence to be able to talk about the most challenging issues and barriers to truly achieving DEI in education.
Kate Potts is SCITT Director, and Sophie Cabral is Deputy SCITT Director/Secondary Lead, at Sutton SCITT.