4.5.2 Multiculturalism, Anti-Discriminatory Practice and Diversity

Learning objectives for this chapter

By the end of this chapter, we would like you:

  • To understand and be able to explain clearly the meaning of the terms multiculturalism, anti-discriminatory practice and diversity
  • To understand the importance of anti-discriminatory practice
  • To understand how diversity can be celebrated in the classroom
  • To appreciate how a working understanding of these terms contributes towards inclusion in a wider context

Definition of Terms


Multiculturalism is a complex concept which Crowder (2013) believes it requires a three-part definition. Multiculturalism begins with the observation that the majority of modern societies are multicultural - they contain multiple different cultures; multiculturalists act on this in a positive, approving manner as opposed to something which they either tolerate or oppose; and multiculturalists put forward the argument that this range of cultures within society should be provided with positive recognition in terms of policy and institutions within society.

Anti-Discriminatory Practice

Anti-discriminatory practice can be defined as working with families promoting diversity, self-esteem and the realisation of an individual's potential whilst encouraging the recognition of the value of difference and engendering a positive identity within groups which exist in different communities.


This term means 'difference'. When used in the context of equality, it is about identifying and respecting both individual and group differences whilst treating individuals as distinct people in their own right, highlighting this as a positive point which can enhance the community at large (National Health Service, 2012). It is a concept which encompasses both acceptance of differences and respect for those differences.

Anti-Discriminatory Practice

Anti-discriminatory practice is an important issue for everyone who is involved in working with children and young people. It recognises, values and focuses on the needs of different groups and individuals who exist within global society. Millam (2011) contends that educators are morally (and legally) obliged to ensure that every individual in their classroom, and indeed the school community, feels valued and respected to the extent that they are able to develop a positive self-identity. Every Child Matters: The Next Steps (Department for Education and Skills [DfES], 2004) and the Children Act were published which ensured that the five aims of ECM were to be delivered as a statutory part of educational provision. These aims are to provide young people with the opportunity to learn skills which enable them to be healthy, to remain safe, to enjoy and achieve, to make a positive contribution and to have the skills to enable them to be economic least stable in their future (DfES, 2004). Further documentation was also published in 2004 (Every Child Matters: A Change for Children, DfES, 2004a) which provided statutory requirements and guidance for providers and local authorities, with the specific aim of enhancing the safety of young people whilst not curtailing their opportunity within their communities.

Working within an anti-discriminatory framework is of vital importance to modern education, as it is one of the threads which links the different settings and services which are provided, in order to give the highest quality childcare for children in the United Kingdom. Services include nursery schools, day nurseries, nurseries, playgroups, childminders, children's centres, foster care, residential schools, and clubs for activities both before and after school hours. These various services can vary as a result of their location (urban or rural) and whether they are run by the Local Education Authority (LEA), voluntary and/or private organisations, charities, primary care trusts or an amalgam of various providers. No matter what the circumstances and/or the background and necessity for the childcare, parents/carers need to be assured that practitioners will provide the best possible care for their children through ensuring equality of opportunity and treatment. Clearly, there are a number of potential issues with regard to inequality which must be addressed and resolved in order for settings to fall within an anti-discriminatory framework.

It is clear from recent figures that this type of approach is still a work in progress. A document entitled An Anatomy of Economic Equality (National Equality Panel, 2010, cited in Millam, 2011, p. 3) illustrates how deep-rooted inequality is in British society. It records that the educational outcomes of boys at 16 are below that of girls and that men's qualifications in every group up to the age of 44 are less than that of women. However, it also comments that women are paid 21% less than men (median hourly rate). It also reports that the median test scores for Asian, black African and black Caribbean boys in England are significantly lower than the national figure for all pupils. Social background is also found to have an impact upon children's early lives in that children entering primary school (2005/6) whose mothers had no qualifications above grade D at GCSE, were assessed as being six months behind those whose mothers had a degree. This evidence makes it is vitally important that those providing education for young people address the issues which exacerbate this situation, in order to make a better, brighter future for those currently in education.

To that end, it is important that practitioners are aware of their own standpoint and views, inclusive of their prejudices and attitudes, in order to avoid the potential for discrimination in their classroom. Everybody has some form of stereotypical views and prejudices with these being displayed in the way in which individuals express themselves both in language and action. Inevitably, this will lead to individuals asking demanding questions about themselves and challenging themselves in areas that may need to change to avoid the potential for bias and/or discrimination (Millan, 2011). Having an understanding of why they hold their views and how they express them will allow them to mediate against the effects that this might have on those around them. It will also allow them to investigate the attitudes of society along with their pupils and have a positive influence in changing areas which negatively impact upon student outcomes.

Anti-Discriminatory Practice, Multiculturalism and Diversity in the Classroom

The process of engaging in anti-discriminatory practice involves encouraging equality of opportunity and the avoidance of discrimination, through practitioners not behaving in a way which could be seen as being discriminatory but also actively seeking to support children and their families in overcoming the barriers that are created, as a result of the discrimination that they experience in their lives. It is important that there is a balance between tackling the various different issues which are covered by anti-discriminatory   practice (see above) in order to meet the needs of all children in a specific environment, and make them aware of their responsibilities towards the equal treatment of others (Kay, 2005).

Anti-discriminatory practice involves being aware of current legislation and guidance, particularly understanding the important issues with regard to class, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, disability, and the impact that discrimination can have on pupil outcomes. Practitioners must be aware and conscious of how discrimination impacts upon society and must recognise that diversity is inclusive - we, as individuals, have multiple identities which have been developed as a result of the various influences in our lives such as our cultural background, our family, our peer group and the experiences that we have in life. In order to do this, practitioners must often undertake an honest appraisal of our personal positions, beliefs and prejudices in order to address them; in doing this, it can be helpful to engage with the promotion of a positive ethos and values with both colleagues and pupils, endeavouring to ensure that the environment within the setting is welcoming to the extent that pupils and their parents/guardians, as well is the staff, feel valued members of the community because of the differences, not in spite of them. Actively making an effort to address this, as well as engaging with colleagues and students on a personal and professional level, can help foster understanding and help to challenge one's own internal prejudices. It's also valuable to actively question your own preconceived ideas, fixed expectations and/or pre-judgements; arguably, this is the most effective path towards utilising creative and individual solutions which are effective in delivering anti-discriminatory practice. Over time and with effort, practitioners develop the ability, skills and confidence to effectively challenge and change stereotypical attitudes with regard to any discriminatory characteristics. These skills continue to grow if a practitioner is being constantly reflective with regard to personal practice in order to make adjustments as and where necessary (TDA, 2007).

In order to be inclusive, it is important that educators have the same high expectations for all pupils and that they understand the cultural differences between different pupils in the classroom. In addition, pupils must be afforded access to the curriculum through differentiated work which is accompanied by appropriate instruction and equal access to resources. It is critical that those for whom English is an Additional Language (EAL) have access to bilingual support in order to encourage learners' dual language ability (Cole, 2008) which in turn will boost their self-esteem as a result of adding value to their ability to speak more than one language. Inclusive practice also includes providing children with opportunities to work with a diverse range of their peers in the classroom situation, creating and using authentic learning approaches, adopting cross curricular approaches, actively engaging pupils in their learning, utilising knowledge about students learning styles, encouraging cognitive skills through problem solving, adopting approaches which celebrate diversity, using a diverse range of assessment methods, and adopting constructivist teaching methods which allow pupils to build upon their existing knowledge. It also requires practitioners to organise the environment in order to create and manage a stimulating learning culture, not only in the classroom but also throughout the whole school community (Cole, 2008).

Diversity in practice

A good example of this type of approach is provided in an Ofsted (2014) report on the Jenny Hammond Primary School and their approach towards multiculturalism and diversity through literacy. The approach taken by the school has been highlighted as an example of good practice, particularly in view of the fact that in their catchment in East London, 28 different languages are spoken by the children and its staff. It is picked out as having a strong philosophy of acceptance and respect for everyone and their differences. As a part of their approach towards anti-discriminatory practice, it has embraced the challenge of tackling the issue of homophobia, helping the children to engage with age-appropriate literature and related activities which does much to aid their social and emotional development as well as the literacy skills. It also celebrates national events such as International Women's Month, Black History Month and Gypsy, Roma, Traveller History Month. For a number of years, the school has celebrated its own Diversity Week, timing it to coincide with the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgendered (LGBT) History Month. In this week, the children engage in a variety of different activities which are related to a core book which tackle a range of themes including that of families, gender stereotypes and LGBT historical figures.

Ofsted also comments upon the way in which parents are involved in this process, in that they are party to the planning of this week. They are also encouraged to spend time with their children in Key Stage 1 and 2 classes to further their understanding of curriculum content. Good relationships are also forged as a result of home visits which take place before children into the Reception class, which allows for background information to be gathered about each individual child as well as helping to put parents' minds at rest with regard to the attitudes and approach of the school. Ofsted comment that the ethos that is created around the school is one which respects and welcomes every member of every family in the community, irrespective of their background, their gender or their sexuality. They also comment that pupils have a clear understanding of the difference between what is right and what is wrong, and are respectful of each other as a result of the 'Rights and Respect' agenda which exists throughout the school.


Why, in your opinion, is it important that children are aware of their roots and the cultural make-up of the community in which they live? Do you think that engaging with activities within an anti-discriminatory framework will help learners in their future lives? Give reasons for your answer.


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