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Cultural Diversity

Managing the inclusive classroom


s the number of schools which include pupils with English as an additional language rises, set against the backdrop of an increasingly multicultural society, Professor Mike Hardy, Executive Director at the Institute of Community Cohesion at Coventry University asks: as educators, are we are managing cultural diversity effectively?

When we consider school performance in managing cultural diversity, we need to be clear about the consequences of action or inaction. Will building cohesive communities necessarily be at the expense of individual academic excellence? Will the current refocus on traditional and less practical curricula be at the expense of strengthening social interactions? And overlaying all of this is the big question: do we expect too much from our schools? Undeniably it will be the youth of today who will build the diverse but integrated communities required in the future. It therefore follows that it is the schools and colleges of today that need to step up to the challenge of providing support. Indeed, the Education and Inspections Act 2006 saw schools, wherever located, with whatever intake, as important agents of social change which could help create better integration and cohesion. The Act ensured that schools have a legal duty to address issues of ‘how we live together’ and ‘dealing with difference’, however controversial and difficult these might sometimes be. Until recently, Ofsted inspections included cultural diversity, but since this measure was dropped, performance in schools has been mixed.

Long-term change

Many school leaders and teachers do not regard a focus on cultural diversity as necessary or important for the overall success of the school. As a result, we may be missing an important opportunity to help young people manage and thrive within the growing cultural diversity found in their neighbourhoods, their future workplaces and even their families.

Diversity is not going away. The 2012 data for England for state-funded primary and secondary schools showed two key trends when compared to 2011: the proportion of pupils from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) backgrounds increased and the proportion of pupils who speak English as an additional language increased. By 2012, 17.5% of primary school pupils and 12.9% of secondary pupils did not have English as their first language. In 2006 the comparable figure for primary schools was 12.5% and secondary schools 9.5%.

But cultural diversity is not just about ethnicities and languages, though these matter hugely, it is also about changing experiences and expectations and changing relationships. The issue of constant change in both cultural presentation and identity is a major challenge for schools as is the development of coherent ideas about how we should help learners with the complex issue of citizenship in the modern age.

“Management MUST appreciate the diversity of their schools” J

ane Farell, CEO of the EW Group, provides consultancy, strategic advice and training on all aspects of equality, diversity and inclusion. Here, she shares her thoughts on diversity within schools with Education Today I was a teacher in London over 25 years ago and then set up a successful company that specialises in weaving diversity and inclusion issues into all aspects of an organisation’s life. My work in schools taught me you cannot be an excellent leader or manager without understanding how subtle advantage and disadvantage works, and doing something about it. Whether designing a curriculum or writing a business plan, good leaders should be able to articulate how they have taken account of students from all religions and those who are not religious, or how they have segmented the markets in terms of age and gender. As a teacher, I had to understand and take account of the fact that some pupils were from economically disadvantaged

backgrounds; some had learning disabilities; some had experienced racism on the bus on the way to school, or harassment for being different in some other way from the majority. It didn’t mean expecting and accepting less, but meant we had to be creative in lesson planning, develop different styles of classroom management, and work with other teachers to develop ways of working that took appropriate account of difference in order to deliver the best education possible.

At EW Group we work in global companies, and across the public and third sectors (including in schools), and the same questions are relevant: ‘How do we take gender, socio economic factors, race, different learning styles, different aspirations and levels of cultural capital, and all other factors into account in our day to day work?’ Whether teaching a group of diverse students,

performance managing a member of staff, or deciding how we are going to recruit the best from around the world, we need leaders to have both


confidence and the skills to ask these questions and then take action to ensure we recruit the best rather than, for example, unconsciously select the people who look like us (i.e. clone ourselves).

I still hear people say ‘I don’t even notice that people are….’ I understand the spirit behind that but when we are on salary, we have a professional responsibility to notice differences and think how those differences might relate to the harassment of lesbian or gay students, or disabled students for example, or use our awareness to track black and minority ethnic pupils’ exam results to ensure they’re achieving as well as they should be. I am lucky enough to be the Chair of Governors of a fantastic school in Tower Hamlets. The school really does deeply understand how to ensure equality is at the heart of the school both in terms of what is offered to the pupils in and out of the classroom, and in the way that staff are managed. The practice in this school mirrors the best practice

that many of our clients demonstrate. One example is a global bank where we are training the top 1200 leaders to leverage real and measurable benefit from diversity rather than see it as a problem to be managed. The degree of change and financial constraints are challenging of course, and yet good schools focus on what can be done, not what can’t.

May 2013

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