Unifying while celebrating difference: Incorporating EDI into the curriculum

Posted on: 25 Sept 2023
Posted by: Nell Bond

Nell Bond, deputy head at Holmewood House School, reflects on the importance of embedding EDI into school life and offers suggestions to those looking to do the same.

‘The purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.’ – Sydney J Harris.

The education sector is increasingly filled with discussion points surrounding themes of equality, equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging. And rightly so. If the purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows, then schools are responsible for enabling learners to understand realities beyond their perspectives and ensuring that pupils are best equipped for active citizenship in a future, globalised world. But given the exponential pace of development, how can schools fully prepare pupils for challenges unknown and pastures unseen?

The assertion popularised by the Shift Happens video - which states that ‘we are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist, using technologies that haven’t been invented, in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet’ - is almost cliché, having gained such traction in advocating for educational reform. However, increasingly, it feels that this statement falls short. While it remains true that problems, technologies and jobs continue to evolve at an unprecedented rate, it fails to consider one of the most influential elements of human progress: social cohesion. The world’s population continues to expand and diversify with technology connecting people who would never have come into contact before. Traditionally marginalised groups arguably have a greater social visibility, and technological advancement means pupils are able to access such diversity from younger ages and often with less adult awareness. No longer as tightly bound by things like geography, medicinal shortcomings, religious homogeneity or social stigma, our children and young adults are confronted with a far larger variety of people than the generations which preceded them. Therefore, any institute providing a modern education must acknowledge the importance of considering elements of equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) within both its written curriculum and its hidden curriculum.

How can a school deliver an education which goes beyond the initial challenge of preparing them for the jobs of tomorrow, and successfully prepares them to be, and to meet, the people of tomorrow?

In the first instance, it is important to acknowledge that diversity and inclusion cannot be a bolt on. Nor can it be promoted in a top-down fashion. Instead, schools must endeavour to ensure that all of their members of staff (teaching and non-teaching) have an awareness of, and encourage an openness to, discussions circling this theme. Staff buy-in is a must and is easier said than done. Schools are famously time-poor, so time needs to be scheduled to give EDI the platform for discussion that it deserves. Some ideas which Holmewood House has used include:

  • INSETs on EDI and unconscious bias training to help pool the staff together (not just the teaching staff) so that there is clarity and unity in message.
  • Setting up ‘Teacher Learning Communities’ within the school, which meet regularly purely with a focus on EDI, providing opportunities for open and honest discussion.
  • Heads of department meetings ringfenced for reflecting on curricula and the variety of role models captured within it (social and emotional learning should not only happen in PSHE)
  • Heads of year and pastoral lead meetings ringfenced for keeping abreast of social pressures impacting our pupils and how they might manifest in the classroom.
  • Library leads auditing the books available to pupils and the hidden messages they might contain. Following this, book recommendations and reading challenges can be drawn up as age and stage appropriate.
  • Learning walks with specific perspective focus, such as speaking other languages or walking at different eyelines. It is an interesting way to open up discussion.
  • Calendar reviews, which consider dates of cultural significance.
  • Big picture pupil experience plans for staff to complete. An example of this would be: ‘By the time a pupil leaves this school they should have experience of… X’.
  • Pupil interviews and discussion groups to talk about various themes they are currently interested in and how they feel school prepares them.
  • Discussions about language and the appropriateness of explicit references to initiatives to boost diversity (should we be referring to a minority group as having a ‘month’, or should it be that this awareness is normalised in a more subtle manner?)
  • Planned Pupil Voice initiatives which capture the whole pupil body – not simply those who speak the loudest (and the same goes to the parents!)
  • Staff training on explicitly teaching collaboration and communication skills and how to embed these in lessons. 

Of course, this is not a definitive list, and as a school evolves and progresses on its EDI journey, ideas and approaches will evolve too. Schools ultimately have the tricky task of binding opposites: being both proactive and responsive, unifying while celebrating difference, capturing both the micro and the macro perspectives. And what a wonderful privilege it is.

About Nell Bond

Nell Bond is deputy head of Holmewood House School.