Review by Penny Rabiger

Associate, Centre for race, education and decoloniality, Leeds Beckett University

7 Jan 2023, 5:00

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The Conversation – with Penny Rabiger

(W)ringing in the New Year

The annual conversation about the New Year’s honours list comes with a lot of rightful hand-wringing and brow-beating around who’s on them and whether or not to accept a gong. However, it’s a good opportunity this week to remember Martin Matthews, who campaigned for governors to be recognised (while simultaneously advocating for removing the stomach-turning references to empire, and changing the system altogether). In short, it is good to see often barely-acknowledged volunteers from the world of governance recognised again this year.

Anti-racist perspectives

Thankfully, commitment to anti-racist thought and action across the education sector remains healthy. One of the UK’s apparently most successful schemes supporting Black students to get into Oxford and Cambridge universities has expanded its work to target children as young as three years old, helping teachers to see how bias and teacher attitudes can damage students’ prospects

Hot off the press in January will be the latest Curriculum Journal from the British Education Research Association. Some of the articles have already been available open-access online as the editors compiled the final edition, which focuses on decolonial and anti-racist perspectives in teacher training and education curricula in England and Wales. With a wide range of views and experiences from the front lines of schools, colleges and universities, it’s well worth delving into any of these thought-provoking articles, which could be inspirational for your own work.

Another recent publication that might be handy for you is one that I have personally been involved in, with fellow researcher and Anti-Racist School Award coach, Sharon Porter. You can download this Introduction to Anti-Racism for School Governors and Academy Trustees free. It should provide good grounding in the basics around race, racism and anti-racism in education and how governors and trustees can start to enact their important role through an anti-racist lens.

Who is fuelling children’s anxiety?

Recent studies show yet again that some of the mental health challenges we see in schools are fuelled by social media use among our young. Schools already have so much to contend with, and  teachers and parents alike are in a quandary about how best to tackle the problem. Whatever the approach, it’s important to acknowledge parents’ influence over the success and failure of any school-led initiative, and not always for the better. Parental pressure and interventionism, in fact, can themselves be instrumental in children’s anxiety.

So to the USA, where new research explores the psychological implications of authoritarian parenting. The results should be a warning against creating cultures of control that reduce individuals’ worth to their perceived potential to perform and reduce their agency and choice from decisions about their lives.

And yet, YouGov polling suggests that the public thinks schools aren’t strict enough (although see what happens when you filter the graph by age, politics, region and gender). Which make the solutions to the mental health crisis seem nothing if not remote, leaving young people stranded between inaction and over-reaction.

New year, old pain

Scottish schools have already seen strike action, with more to come in the new year. Meanwhile, much of the late-December conversation among teachers in England has been taken up with whether to follow suit as it looks like there’s a strike ballot looming.

Despite government efforts to create a backlash, claiming public sympathy has been strained by protracted disputes in sectors like rail and nursing, any strike action will be with a heavy heart and because it is absolutely necessary, as evidenced by a recent article revealing the toll the erosion of services for children and families has had on school leaders.

It would be more effective if the government was to keep its eye on what matters, not least the 234,500 children who have been revealed to have been missing out on free school meals. It’s shocking to think that a family has to earn less than£7,400 as an annual household income to be eligible, which coincidentally is more or less the same as an MP’s monthly income.

It certainly puts into perspective the huge gaps in wealth and wellbeing in this country.

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