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VIEWS From the pen of... Pamela Aculey Introducing children to


diversity and inclusiveness In November 2019, in our regular series profiling authors working in UK education, we heard from PAM ACULEY, author of Just Like Me Picture Books – books that champion diversity and inclusiveness.


In 2017 my eldest son Walter was diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). He was four years old and completely non-verbal. As parents we found it incredibly hard to find books where children like Walter could see themselves in the pages of books. They say “create the things you wish existed” so I started to write a children’s book series called ‘Just Like Me’ – where at the heart of each story we explore and promote diversity, inclusiveness, acceptance and


kindness. Because we all know the world needs more of this! I am a mother of three and one with additional needs has


completely opened up my eyes to the work that needs to be done in relation to representation. There are very limited resources when it comes to diversity and inclusivity. There are more children’s books being sold in the UK than ever before – but how accurately do they represent the society we all live in? How many of your favourite picture books feature a disabled protagonist? I can’t name any. And when I say the world disabled, I don’t just refer to wheelchair bound. I also include those with motor disabilities, visual disabilities, learning/cognitive disabilities, psychiatric disabilities, neuro-diverse disabilities to name a few. 1 in 20 children have a disability. That gives 19 children a daily


opportunity to learn about diversity, inclusion and friendship. We know that children’s books can act like both mirrors and windows on the world. Mirrors in that they can reflect on children’s own lives and windows in that they can give children a chance to learn about someone else’s life. Research has shown that when we are exposed to different ethnicities and abilities, when we learn about different cultures and traditions, it helps to reduce stereotypes, bring new life experiences, different ideas and a deeper connection to others. Books can serve as a first introduction to the outside world and


they should be as diverse as the people who read them. We can’t build an inclusive society when certain ethnicities, genders and disabilities are still represented as second class. Books have the power to change lives, so we owe it to young readers to show them reality in the books they’re reading. If all children could see people who looked like them doing amazing things; could you imagine what that spark could do in their mind for their future? When we see people like ourselves in the media, including fiction, we get a glimpse of who we might become and we feel validated. Today’s young generation are tomorrow’s musicians, teachers,


artists, doctors, engineers etc. We need to start young and ensure children accept disability as part of the norm. Adding diversity into their daily diet of stories will create a society where no one feels disadvantaged or restricted by their ethnicity, their gender, their background or their disability. Where we celebrate differences and the uniqueness of all children. Because every child should be able to say they’re a hero in their story.


uwww.justlikemebooks.co.uk Editor’s Choice 2020 From the pen of... Ghislaine Kenyon The arts in primary


schools In our regular “From the pen of…” piece this January, we heard from GHISLAINE KENYON, author of The Arts in Primary Education: Breathing Life, Colour and Culture into the Classroom, who discussed the motivational power of using the arts in primary education.


For a few years I was a primary teacher. This was during a pre-1989 utopia when I had the luxury of planning and delivering my own curriculum without having to angst about OFSTED - just as well given the circumstances: I was teaching in a small London church school near Paddington station, where there was a 90% turnover of children every year. Each new wave of


refugees or asylum seeking families seemed to be temporarily placed in nearby bed-and-breakfast accommodation and their children turned up at our school, mainly without English and more or less disoriented. Some months later they would be rehoused in distant boroughs and we didn’t see them again. For this reason, I decided I needed to connect directly and


powerfully with my Year 3 class and that the most effective way to do this would be to use the arts as a medium. Because I knew that the arts can bypass language and reach people personally. In my classroom we took broad themes such as New Life which could encompass the seasons (Spring) or new experiences in a new country, or Easter (we were a church school) or the life- cycles of birds or animals - there were so many possibilities. We read picture books, listened to, composed and played music, and made art of all kinds. I’ll never forget the look on Bushra’s face when, newly arrived from Pakistan, she made a wonderful pastel drawing on black paper of a budding daffodil. She had never drawn before and this early success was one of the experiences that helped her enthusiastically embrace her education. We also made regular use of the many free museums and galleries that were in easy reach of the school. Fifteen years later I had crossed the divide and was working at


the National Gallery, running programmes for schools. I soon realised that teachers’ courses were the best way to connect with our large national audience and in them we would often focus on one painting from the Collection looking at it from many perspectives, including how to use it to enrich the curriculum. One attendee was so inspired by the picture in question that he


planned a whole term’s work on it for his Year 6 class. And his headteacher, impressed with the work, invited me to see it. I immediately felt that this response to a National Gallery painting should be shared with many more people, in the Gallery itself. It became the first ever Take One Picture exhibition and I’m proud to say that the scheme has just celebrated its 20th season. Since those days I’ve been lucky enough to visit hundreds of


primary schools who, despite all vicissitudes in Education policy, have used the arts in creative ways throughout the curriculum because they believe in their motivational power. My book, The Arts in Primary Education (Bloomsbury Education) is both a tribute to these heads and teaching staff and a call to heads who have not yet done so to use the arts to breathe colour and light into their own schools.


The Arts in Primary Education: Breathing Life, Colour and Culture into the Classroom is available now from Bloomsbury.


www.education-today.co.uk 17


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