2.3.2 Equality and Diversity / Prevent

Learning objectives for this chapter

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

-To understand the distinct role equality and diversity plays in a teacher's practice

-To understand the concept of unconscious bias and reflect on your own potential sources of bias

-To pre-empt and plan for equality and diversity issues

-To critically evaluate your role in situations where policy guidance is unclear or conflicting

What is equality and diversity?

Planning for equality and diversity is part of a school leader's role in ensuring that the school fulfils its duties under the Equality Act (HM Government, 2010). If you would like to see the kind of guidance school leaders follow, there is official guidance published for schools (DfE, 2014). However, this is non-statutory guidance, meaning that schools are free to set their own guidelines, provided that they comply with the Equality Act 2010. On a related note, you will probably notice that schools promote a broad equality and diversity agenda. In legislation and guidance, however, there are seven "protected characteristics" based on:

  • Sex;
  • Race;
  • Disability;
  • Religion or belief;
  • Sexual orientation;
  • Gender reassignment;
  • Pregnancy or maternity (DfE, 2014, p.8).

Why is promoting Equality and Diversity such an important part of modern teaching practice?

As part of inclusion and ensuring equal learning opportunities, teachers need to be aware of any systematic disadvantages pupils may have. Planning to mitigate these disadvantages is crucial to being an effective teacher for all your pupils. Knowles (2011) points out that disadvantages are not just about deprivation, but about how pupils from particular backgrounds are treated by the school system: for example, pupils may be more likely to be excluded from school or identified as having 'behaviour problems' if they are from certain types of economic or social backgrounds.

Your school will monitor the progress of pupils from particular backgrounds (at the very least, they will monitor progress based on the protected characteristics given above) as part of its inclusion strategy. Often, the means by which progress is monitored will be referred to, rather than any particular characteristic. Part of any school inspection will also check for any groups of under-performing pupils, particularly Looked After Children, travellers, and certain ethnic groups. Due to persistent patterns of underperformance on a national level, it is also increasingly common to monitor pupils from white working-class backgrounds, even though the disadvantages faced by this group are more closely related to social factors rather than how they are treated as an ethnic group.

You should pay attention to this kind of statistical monitoring at whole-school level, but also have an assessment strategy which will help you keep track of progress within your classes. It might also be helpful to reflect on equality and diversity in other areas of practice. The pupil backgrounds most associated with increased school exclusion rates are "Gypsy/Roma, Traveller of Irish Heritage, Black Caribbean, White and Black Caribbean, and Other Black pupils" (DfES, 2006 p.6). Are any of your behaviour management strategies challenging this trend?

Finally, your teaching practice should prepare pupils to participate in society. This means learning the expected behaviour in the world of work, where equality and diversity is arguably taken much more seriously than in schools. More importantly, schools are a place where we often get to meet people from very different backgrounds, but are united in pursuit of a common goal.

What is unconscious bias, and why does it affect my teaching?

One of the easiest ways to unknowingly disadvantage learners is to simply not know about their needs. Aside from a pupil's learning, the way a teacher communicates can also affect a pupil's sense of identity. Simple instructions such as recommending that pupils ask their dad for help with some homework could subtly reinforce a sense of non-belonging for pupils with single mothers, two female parents, carers, etc. Often such phrases are innocent and the alternatives can sound awkward, but giving thought to the background of all pupils will help to create a more inclusive classroom. Some subjects will also be aware of gender assumptions in broader society; just as it is important to avoid only expecting strong performance in physics from boys, it might seem patronising to overly-praise girls for the same performance. Ultimately, your unconscious biases will be difficult to challenge precisely because they are unconscious. By regularly reflecting on your own practice, or even asking pupils privately how they feel about your use of language, you will be able to catch those habits and assumptions that you wish to challenge in yourself.

Caught between respecting and promoting: section 28

While there are possibly contentious issues in several elements of equality and diversity, there is a particular risk in respecting diversity of sexuality preferences or gender identity, since this can be assumed to risk causing offence to other groups. In contrast with respecting disability or racial diversity, "sexualities equality is unique in being perceived as legitimately against someone's religion" (De Palma and Jennett, 2007, p.25). Respecting one group can therefore be seen to disrespect the other (e.g. some forms of Christianity or Islam).

A good example of teachers being caught in a hot political debate is commonly referred to as section 28: this was legislation which forbade schools from promoting homosexuality, and implied that heterosexual marriage should be promoted as normal. The New Labour government eventually removed section 28, but the topic is still controversial. There remains a delicate linguistic balance in guidance, so that teachers should promote respect for people of different sexual orientation, but should not promote the sexual orientation itself. This kind of logic is criticised by De Palma and Jennett (2007) for focusing too much on the sexual aspects of homosexuality in a way that would be clearly inappropriate when discussing heterosexual relationships.

Caught between celebrating and monitoring diversity: The 'Prevent' policy

Knowles and Lander (2011) point out that promoting equality and diversity of refugee and asylum seeking pupils is one of the most under-recognised agendas in UK schools. One practical reason for this is that these pupils are often settled in specific areas, meaning that the majority of schools will have very little experience with pupils from these backgrounds (or at least, not until they are more established and have relocated to other parts of the UK). As part of this relative rarity, teachers in schools might not have many opportunities to meet such children. This risks teachers failing to understand the educational needs of refugee and asylum seeking pupils, or worse being influenced by "negative headlines in newspapers which indicate that there are too many people in England seeking refuge", and confusing these groups with economic migrants (Knowles and Lander, 2011, p.111).

Terminology check

In practice, phrases are often used interchangeably - particularly by people who disapprove of these groups. However, being precise about your language will help you to challenge ignorant or inaccurate views and act as a useful filter when searching for teaching resources.

Asylum seeker: someone fleeing war, or fearful of persecution (e.g. for religious or racial reasons). Note that persecution does not necessarily mean violence.

Refugee: someone who has been granted asylum; typically granted a 5-year stay in the UK.

Economic migrant: this can mean anyone moving to a different country for work, but the term is typically used to refer to unskilled or low-wage workers (professionals tend to be referred to using the more positive term 'expat').

Pupils from each category will have very different learning needs. Asylum seekers and economic migrants in particular might be fearful of their temporary status; undeed, they may well be forced to leave at short notice, meaning that their learning opportunities should help to enable them to develop flexible skills suitable for a wide range of possible schools. Perhaps even more importantly, your classroom might be the one safe and vaguely recognisable place these children get to experience, and their interactions with you and the other pupils might be their first significant contact with people in the UK. Do not underestimate your potential to have a dramatically positive influence on these pupils, even in a short space of time.

The public and political anxieties around economic migration is important background to understanding the 'Prevent' strategy review. This government guidance (HM Government, 2011) is a direct response to increased threat levels of terrorism in the UK, but differs from earlier guidance by specifically addressing the need to be proactive about extremism. The guidance also changed the Prevent strategy to be distinct from other government policies of inclusion and integration - this was now to be a strategy entirely focused on preventing extremism and radicalisation.

Part of the Prevent Strategy is already supported by the work schools do to promote inclusion, working on the principle that encouraging people to feel a part of British society will help them to share British values. The Prevent Strategy goes beyond promotion of values, however, into actively challenging ideas which are linked to extremism. The most relevant risks a teacher might notice are:

  • radical changes in appearance or behaviour;
  • feelings of isolation or failure;
  • secretive internet behaviour;
  • a belief that violence can solve problems in society.

There are highly persuasive predators online, so be vigilant for any pupils who are vulnerable to this type of persuasion: a sense of injustice or hopelessness and openness to violence as a solution might be enough.

One of the key challenges to the Prevent strategy is taking it seriously enough whilst still respecting civil liberties. For the vast majority of teachers, encounters with radicalisation and extremism will be very rare. However, your duty is to pass on any relevant concerns - other staff are trained to decide an appropriate response. As an example, Wilberforce College (2015, p.1) in Hull insists that concerns are passed on "immediately and no later than the end of the working day" to relevant child protection/safeguarding staff. Coupled with the likelihood of police involvement, teachers might be discouraged from reporting their concerns until they are more certain. However, as with safeguarding, you need to remember that investigating is not part of your role - pass on any concerns immediately, and let the appropriate staff make such judgements.


As we have seen with the section 28 example, teachers and schools are increasingly in the public eye and therefore vulnerable to the kind of scrutiny normally reserved for politicians. As much as schools are increasingly asked to play a role in wider society, schools and individual teachers can also be criticised if they are seen to either fall short or over-step their roles (see Chapter 2 for more on the principle of in loco parentis).

We have seen that teachers can have a significant impact on the values promoted in schools, even through subtle language use or the educational resources we choose. More significantly, teachers have a duty to challenge ignorance and prejudice. At times this may become confrontational. As we have seen in the examples, responding to concerns and criticism from the principles of respect and tolerance will help to avoid some of the key challenges in promoting equality and diversity. As in the safeguarding chapter, we have also seen how teachers are increasingly working as part of a multi-agency team. The Prevent strategy shows how a rare but extremely serious situation should be managed, and where you as a teacher need to be clear on your specific role.

Selected bibliography

De Palma, R. and Jennett, M. (2007). Deconstructing heteronormativity in primary schools in England: cultural approaches to a cultural phenomenon. In: Barry Van Driel and Lutz van Dijk [eds.], Challenging Homophobia: Teaching About Sexual Diversity, Stoke-on-Trent: Institute of Education Press, pp.19-32.

DfE (2014). Equality Act 2010: Guidance for Schools. London: HMSO. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/315587/Equality_Act_Advice_Final.pdf [note that this guidance was due for updating by April 2016, but was still not updated as of November 2016]

DfES. (2006). Ethnicity and Education. London: HMSO. Available from: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20130401151715/http://www.education.gov.uk/publications/eOrderingDownload/DFES-0208-2006.pdf

Eaton-Lewis, A. (2015). Imaginate Festival: Ideas for young, open minds. The Scotsman. May 12th. Available from: http://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/culture/theatre/imaginate-festival-ideas-for-young-open-minds-1-3770540

HM Government. (2010). Equality Act. London: HMSO. Available from: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/pdfs/ukpga_20100015_en.pdf

HM Government. (2011). Prevent Strategy. London: HMSO. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/97976/prevent-strategy-review.pdf

Knowles, G. and Lander, V. (2011). Diversity, Equality and Achievement in Education. London: Sage.

McFadyen, S. (2016). Nicola Sturgeon's SNP government funds sex education for two-year-olds. Express. November 10th. Available from: http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/730924/Nicola-Sturgeon-SNP-government-funds-sex-education-for-two-year-olds

Wilberforce College. (2015). Policy to Support the Prevention of Extremism and radicalisation (PREVENT) [online]. Available from: http://www.wilberforce.ac.uk/uploads/generic/PREVENT_Policy_-_V1_-_Jan_15.pdf

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