Review by Frances Akinde

SEND advisor and neurodiversity champion

14 Oct 2023, 5:00

Blog

The Conversation – with Frances Akinde

A month of seen days

The run-up to the first half-term break is always a tiring one, and this year’s seems to be more exhausting than ever.

But if the first month merely felt like a year, the second arguably is. October is evidently the month of choice for a variety of awareness-raising days, weeks, and months. Indeed, there are more awareness days than actual days. I initially counted 42 separate celebrations, and missed out T levels week (during which they were cancelled), and Colleges Week (which started this week and – strangely – runs for a fortnight).

Of course, it’s Black History Month, which started as a response to the need for greater recognition of the Black community’s history and contributions. The first official UK #BlackHistoryMonth was celebrated in 1987, following the initiative of Ghanaian analyst Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, who worked to establish #BHM UK as an annual event. It has grown in significance since then.

But many other causes use October to increase awareness such as #BreastCancerAwarenessMonth, #WorldMentalHealthDay and #LGBT+HistoryMonth, all of which are relevant to our pupils and to education. And that’s not to mention #ADHDAwarenessMonth, #InternationalDayofNonViolence, #WorldTeachersDay, #NationalPoetryDay, #DayOfTheGirl, Developmental Language Disorder Day (#DLDDAY) and #KinshipCareWeek.

Cause and effect

Schools do their best to promote and raise awareness of a range of different causes, but if you wanted to give them all equal coverage, (maybe not #WorldTripeDay) you’d be looking at 2 or 3 days – per day! That would make for a lot of assemblies and not much of anything else.

So, it’s impossible to give every cause equal support, but it does mean equality, diversity and inclusion leads and others have plenty to choose from. 

Often, their efforts are guided by a personal attachment to the cause. For example, Abed Ahmed, who stammers himself and now teaches at the school he once attended and helps young stammerers, has created resources for both #InternationalStammeringAwarenessDay and #DyspraxiaAwarenessWeek.

‘Steel bands, saris and samosas’

But there are genuine concerns too. I shared my findings on the number of awareness days on LinkedIn, and amid many insightful points about EDI work around awareness raising, a blog by Penny Rabiger struck me as particularly poignant. In it, she questions what our expectations are when we hold multicultural events, and how we position British culture within that.

Others were more light-hearted. Michele Gregson, the general secretary of the National Society for Education in Art & Design (NSEAD) quipped that she hoped #NationalBlackCatDay wouldn’t overlap with #FeedTheBirdsDay. Bethlyn Killey proposed an ‘Awareness Day Awareness Day’ and Jane Green called for a ‘No awareness Day’.

But all make a serious point, perhaps best captured by Audrey Pantelis

Harroop Sandhu added: “EDI work is so much more effective if we do it through existing systems such as curriculum, policies, HR and people work”.

And podcaster and former teacher and EDI lead, Zahara Chowdhury warned against EDI becoming about awareness days and nothing more. They may satisfy what she calls the “event-based culture” of schools, but they are unlikely to make a genuine difference – especially not when the pressure is always on to move to the next one.

Getting it right

Inspired by the discussion, Chowdhury went on to write a blog on the matter with some useful tips for school leaders everywhere on getting the most out of awareness days and ensuring they have an impact.

Not that anyone is seriously suggesting turning your next INSET into an ‘Awareness Day Awareness Day”, but we do have to be careful with them. The causes we choose to focus on and see as relevant to our school communities can’t just be based on the lens we see through, and they must be more that a tokenistic gesture towards complex issues affecting often vulnerable and marginalised groups.

So, flag the plants for #WorldVegetarianDay. Be game for #NationalRoastPheasantDay and explore #WorldFoodDay without limits. Go back to brassica on #NationalKaleDay. But after all that, make good use of #CoffeeWeek to help #Unblocktober your thinking. With any luck, you’ll have a clear vision for your school’s EDI by #WorldSightDay.

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