- Published: September 2022
- Authors: Laura Mistry and Dr Mark Price
In an effort to ensure authentic EDI strategy in the English classroom, English consultant Laura Mistry shares the reasons behind her creation of a new anti-prejudice pedagogy and hopes for its place in future English curricula across a multi-academy trust.
The need for a common approach
When initially leading on EDI in the English curriculum, it became apparent that although our teachers felt that this was important, they didn’t necessarily feel confident in successfully embedding a strategy into a curriculum plan. What is diversity? How is it different to decolonisation? What does it look like when it is ‘effective’?
The National Curriculum for Secondary English never specifies texts to teach, and so EDI work in the creation of an English curriculum is deeply rooted in text choices, the rationale that accompanies them and the way they are taught in the classroom. The anti-prejudice pedagogical approach aims to support teachers to use their classroom as a vehicle for positive EDI discussion through the texts and topics that they’re teaching.
However, the project evolved as I recognised that teachers were not always creating something new but were attempting to diversify an existing scheme of work. The term decolonisation then applied to a new way of teaching these certain texts and topics. This is completely different to diversifying a curriculum from scratch; this is about working with what you have. Thus, the anti-prejudice project became a two-pronged beast and evolved into supporting diversification and decolonisation within the English curriculum.
Decolonising or diversifying?
Often, teachers are grappling with the ‘why’ – what are their reasons for their text choices and how do they support their young people in achieving their academic outcomes? Canonical literature, as well as more modern texts, often include controversial and sensitive content. Conversation on social media platforms about the appropriateness of texts such as Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird have been prolific and led to some questioning whether we should teach these at all.
Throw in the news coverage of the idolatry of controversial historical figures and we can conclude that our teachers, as well as our young people, are constantly surrounded by arguments for and against the inclusion of texts, authors, ideas and history in our curricula. Decolonisation would imply a removal of texts and replacing them with something else, or teaching them completely differently, but is the right course of action all of the time? Should our young people be protected from these issues in the classroom due to our fear of leading these discussions?
I set out creating my pedagogical approach by questioning how we, as teachers, are mitigating against, educating, and protecting our young people from views and opinions that are potentially harmful, as well as encouraging and supporting tolerant, respectful and most importantly, well-informed beliefs and opinions. Upon reflection, I wondered how many of us just avoid having these conversations in our classrooms out of fear, censoring lessons and resources to avoid challenging discussion topics.
Curricula should be wide-ranging and broad, a true reflection of the entirety of our history, even if it is uncomfortable for us at times. It was important that this project didn’t give tokenistic advice with text recommendations chosen merely for the protected characteristic of the author. Aside from this not being very helpful, teachers were potentially already aware of other texts out there and were making these changes independently in line with their curriculum intent.
Doing this is not rooted in any pedagogical practice and is an unsustainable and inauthentic approach to ensuring a diverse and inclusive curriculum. Under the new Ofsted framework, curriculum design has to be rationalised and have a clear intent – when asked why choosing a certain text, “because the author is black” or “because the author is a woman” is not a good enough reason and instead should be about the critical thinking it allows our pupils to participate in.
The Anti-Prejudice pedagogical approach to teaching English in secondary schools
The approach supports the aim to authentically create an environment in classrooms that allow pupils and teachers to have challenging discussions. The fundamentals of the anti-prejudice pedagogical approach are:
- Equip professionals with the tools they need prior to the lesson to have objective conversations – this would usually take the form of published, academic research and pre-reading, video recordings etc;
- Set up a community of like-minded professionals who are responsible for ensuring curriculum is diverse and inclusive and meet regularly;
- Regular self-reflection and communication with departments and teams – what is the role each lived experience plays in the reading and teaching of this text? More importantly, why might this be significant? This includes modelling of how to have conversations about lived experiences;
- Represent protected characteristics positively in text choices. If teaching a topic where historical context forces you to confront single-story narratives, springboard into alternative representations to support the delivery of EDI conversations that are not just focused negatively on race, gender, religion etc
- Know your subject and know your pupils.
These four basic principles encompass the approach as a whole and, in theory, can be applied to the creation of any new scheme of work in the English curriculum. It can also be used to amend existing schemes of work, should a curriculum rationale include texts such as Of Mice and Men, To Kill and Mockingbird and The Tempest. This makes the approach suitable for diversifying AND decolonising, supporting teachers to know the difference and plan accordingly.
Looking to the future
Pressures and requirements of education are evolving, and so we need to plan a curriculum that supports our young people as they navigate their way through a world where these issues surrounding EDI are a permanent part of their lives – not to protect them from it, but to educate them in it. This means confidently being able to choose nearly any text or topic and doing justice to the subsequent EDI conversations and discussions, rather than just avoiding them completely.
My hope is that all our schools will take on this approach and implement it within their curriculum, ensuring that our pupils become global citizens that can discuss sensitive topics inclusively with the knowledge and confidence to support them in doing so. Without this, we may be consigning our future generations to a narrow, exclusive experience in our English classrooms, where single-story narratives become the norm and the inability to express and articulate considered opinions is accepted.
About the authors
Laura Mistry is an English Consultant for the Harris Federation, supporting English departments with curriculum design and outcomes for pupils across London.
Mark Price is a senior lecturer, St Mary’s University, and co-researcher on the project.