Review by Penny Rabiger

Associate, Centre for Race, Education and Decoloniality, Leeds Beckett University

25 Feb 2023, 5:00

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The Conversation – with Penny Rabiger

Who let the misogynists out?

As microcosms reflective of wider society, teachers’ conversation is dominated by how best to battle the surge of misogyny reaching their classrooms, thanks in part to media attention to men’s rights social media influencer, Andrew Tate. The uncovering of deeply-rooted misogyny in our police service has also brought this home as something that should have us all on high alert.

In this context, I was interested to hear this new podcast episode from Middle East Eye, with Zahara Chowdhury, who writes, teaches and supports schools and young people with topics around diversity, equity and inclusion. Aside from the podcast itself, which is as informative as it is challenging, the comments below it are reflective of the very views the podcast seeks to address.

We should probably also listen to English teacher and Guardian columnist, Lola Okolosie, who reminds us that parents have a real responsibility to talk to their children about this. It can’t fall on teachers alone.

Ordinary lives, extraordinary impacts

But while teachers can’t do it all, we can’t underestimate the importance of challenging systems of oppression which are reproduced in our schools, not least racism. On her blog site, writer, walker, reader and thinker Hannah Tyreman, has begun sharing knowledge-filled insights, producing summaries, visualisations and syntheses gained from her so-called ordinary life.

Her latest piece on BAME leaders exiting the profession was inspired by a conversation with a group of school leaders at the BAMEed Network conference last month and by research findings by the Institute for Educational and Social Equity around the factors causing BAME school leaders to leave or accept more junior roles. This important paper looks at their dwindling ‘quality of life’, and examines evidence detailing the cumulative effects of this for Black and mixed-heritage leaders when added to school climates where values clash, leaders bully, and curricula eradicate.

Tyreman provides a list of reflection questions for colleagues which, as members of school communities, we should seriously consider if we are to break cycles of injustice and toxicity in our schools.

Wedded to the job

Misogyny, racism, impossible demands on teachers’ time and goodwill, lack of agency, discrimination and bloated workloads. You couldn’t imagine anyone would thinking this is alright, right?

And yet… This half term’s online staffroom conversation has been dominated with talk about a job ad for a deputy headteacher. I don’t think there is anything I can add to the commentary that hasn’t already been said, so I leave it here for you to draw your own conclusions. It is certainly jaw-dropping in its brutal honesty.

Love and powerful change

In a more hopeful vein, headteacher and community organiser, Seb Chapleau’s new blog post asks: What if we linked our love for our school communities to the notion of power?

The piece is partly in response to the Confederation of School Trusts’ December publication, School Trusts as Anchor Institutions. Whatever you think about whether multi-academy trusts can embody a genuine commitment to community despite their muscly marketised model of power, Chapleau moves our attention away from structures and towards a different view of building power.

The myth of meritocracy and its associated promise of social mobility as the route to equitable outcomes still dominates. The resulting pressure on teachers to produce results through their students doesn’t leave room to do much else than get your head down and ‘just teach them’. By contrast, Chapleau presents the idea of working across communities locally to find long-lasting, systemic solutions which address the root causes of the injustices young people and their families face, and it feels like a much more powerful alternative.

It isn’t just wishful thinking, either; it’s backed up by rich evidence of schools taking action to develop civic life across their communities. As Chapleau so rightly says, where systems have changed, it’s not by luck but “because enough power was built for decision-makers to listen to our communities more seriously”.

Here’s to more listening that results in powerful change.

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