Helping practitioners manage the challenges of cultural diversity in schools


n our annual look at cultural diversity in the UK school system, Education Today speaks to Shirley Billage, an Intercultural Trainer and Consultant working at Cascade Cultural Solutions, to find out more about the importance of integrating children from many backgrounds into school, and to hear some

practical ideas on settling newly arrived children into the classroom.

Cultural diversity is a hot topic within education at the moment. Never before have British schools included children and young people from so many different ethnic backgrounds. This brings with it many positive outcomes, such as creativity, tolerance and understanding.

There are of course many students who tick the ‘cultural diversity’ box who are British citizens, and many of these will grow up with a British worldview; equally there are those who feel they transcend two or more cultural worlds, that of school and that of home and their community identity. Added to this are many newly arrived families some of whom will adapt to the culture of the UK more than others. Even this is an over- simplification of the many complex cultural identities that many children bring with them to

the classroom. The level of competency in English also varies greatly from student to student. All of this poses a number of challenges to practitioners as they seek to include all of these students into their classes. This article seeks to address some of these challenges.

How do teachers relate to students and their families from different cultural backgrounds? Most schools find that the cultural diversity of the children and young people is far greater than that of the staff group, even where staff come from a range of cultural backgrounds. According to naldic, the National Association for Language Development in the Curriculum, there are more than a million students in UK schools who speak more than 360 languages between them. ( information/eal-statistics/eal-pupils/) Staff cannot be expected to understand all of the different cultural norms and values of these students and their families, but they can seek to develop their cultural intelligence (CQ). This entails becoming aware of what culture is and how and why people from different cultures behave in certain ways or place values on different things. Thus, if a teacher comes across a parent who wants more homework for their Reception age child than the teacher feels is


appropriate, or a parent who won’t let an older child take part in outdoor PE if the weather is cold, they are able to question if there is a cultural element to their requests. This does not mean that the parents’ wishes should always be complied with, but the member of staff is able to engage in a much more meaningful dialogue with the parents. Developing an understanding that there is so much more to culture than we can see, is the first step in this process of becoming culturally intelligent. This understanding of culture is often pictured as an iceberg. The tip of the iceberg that floats on top of the water is formed of aspects of culture that are tangible, such as food, dress, language, music etc. What is sometimes referred to as ‘deep culture’ is the much larger part of the iceberg that sits under the water – importance of time, gender roles, religious beliefs, importance of personal space, views on raising children and many more. Of course, this understanding of culture applies to all of us and not just to those that are from the ‘other’ culture. Whilst this iceberg picture of culture is very helpful, the reality for an individual is often even more complex. We all have a personal identity that is made up of all of the different cultural influences around us. This certainly includes what we might refer to as our ‘home culture’ but is also influenced by the

January 2018

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