From the discussions about tuition fees to free schools and academies, it seems that we are still not learning what equality means despite much work being done in our schools. According to a report from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission their vision of
‘a society at ease with its diversity, where every individual has the opportunity to achieve their potential, and where people treat each other with dignity and respect’
is a far cry from the experience of some pupils.
Minority groups such as those with disabilities, special educational needs and those from black communities are still not making the same sort of progress as their white peers. Sadly, these are familiar groups for inequality it seems but growing homophobia has meant that gay, lesbians & bisexual pupils are now the focus of increased bullying and lack of progress.
Schools have, for a long time, taught subjects within the curriculum to help pupils understand the complexities of our diverse society but these are clearly not working effectively. I firmly believe that the younger children can be taught social differences and relationships, the better they learn. They arrive in this world with no preconceived ideas and certainly no sense of difference so where does it go wrong? What can schools do to help?
The ethos and atmosphere of a school that engenders respect for each pupil are vital in this work. Training for staff in the way to approach all forms of discrimination is essential. It can be quite uncomfortable to face your own prejudices but it is necessary if you are going to conquer them. After all how do you explain to a young child that it is wrong to use someone’s colour as a taunt and a tease? Homophobic chants in the playground are often shouted by children who have no understanding of the meaning of the words being used. However, this is an area that has caused schools much consternation because not all parents are happy for their children to be introduced to this issue. For some, it is a difference too far.
Then we have to look at the pupils in these vulnerable groups and support them to reach their potential. We have to make sure that discrimination does not lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy of under achievement. We have to make sure that we do not unintentionally discriminate. This article by Sian To highlights this exactly – Shocked to the Core!
What action should schools take when inequality is clearly an issue and children are not making progress? Should it be punishment or action taken when bullying occurs? How can we really move forward as a society to really crack this situation?