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School of Education
Research and Enterprise Conference


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Session 2: 1.45pm – 2.45pm

Decolonising the Curriculum: Research for the Transformations in Policy, Practice and Pedagogy


Room 1

Chair: Dr Marlon Moncrieffe, University of Brighton, UK. 


1. Steps towards decolonising the school geography curriculum

Melanie Norman, with Charlotte Milner & Sharon Reilly
University of Brighton, UK. Westminster City School, London, UK

Geography as a discipline has an issue of persistent and overwhelming Whiteness in which White identifications and interests are normalised and constantly reinforced. (Noxolo, 2017, p.317).

These words open the article ‘Classroom strategies for tackling the whiteness of geography’ written by Charlotte Milner (2020). As editor of the journal which published Charlotte’s article, I was pleased to be able to include such a timely piece. I mentioned some of Charlotte’s suggestions for classroom strategies in the article upon which this presentation is based (Norman, 2021). I am very pleased that Charlotte Milner will be joining me in the presentation to highlight some of the work being undertaken by geography teachers and to build on another article called ‘How to start a conversation about diversity in education’ (Milner, 2021).

I will also be joined by Sharon Reilly, the current PGCE Geography tutor at the University of Brighton, School of Education, who has very kindly agreed to discuss the work that trainee geography teachers have been doing based on the article by Puttick & Murrey ‘Confronting the deafening silence on race in geography education in England’ (2020).


2. We can’t change the past, but hopefully we can change the future’: translation as a form of resistance in the movement to decolonise and diversify UK history teaching.

Emily Hancock, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

In June 2020, over 268,000 people petitioned the UK government to make teaching and learning about Britain’s role in colonisation and slavery compulsory in school curriculum. Westminster’s response stated that schools already have ‘opportunities’ to do so. The petition was part of a wider debate about how history should be taught in schools, and the role of ‘decolonised’ curricula following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 and the resulting Black Lives Matters anti-racism protests.

Governments in England and Scotland have indeed devolved much power to schools to set their own curricula. However, research shows that teachers operate under multiple constraints, such as the limitations of their own education, the resources available, and the pressure for students to perform in exams. This paper analyses how teachers in England and Scotland navigate both opportunities and constraints to decolonise and diversify Key Stage 3 (children aged 11 to 14 years old) history.

Drawing on interviews with ‘activist’ teachers and digital conference ethnography, it adopts a sociology of translation approach, using actor-network theory and Foucault’s concept of power-knowledge to trace how teachers form alliances, share knowledge, and interpret and implement ideas in classroom practice. The paper argues that this grassroots movement has, in many ways, been facilitated by the pandemic and protests of 2020 and highlights the main obstacles to decolonisation which remain.


3. How the Pitt Rivers Museum public engagement and programming team are building partnerships locally and internationally to elevate narratives previously absent in the curriculum

Melanie Rowntree & Thandiwe Wilson
Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, UK

The Pitt Rivers collection can be seen as a footprint of colonialism. Through foregrounding the voices of people from some of the countries affected by colonialism, the museum aims to support history teachers in secondary schools who seek to challenge coloniality and notions of ‘The Great British Empire’. By working in partnership with teachers, exam boards, academics, and publishers the museum begins a pilot project to support the movement to change the teaching of British Empire in schools forever. Outputs include a scheme of work for Key Stage 3 which is being taught jointly in a local school. Furthermore, the museum aims to challenge past presentation of ethnographic collections, while taking into consideration the national curriculum to develop a new Key Stage 2 (children aged 5 to 11 years old) taught session on Maasai culture. In order to alleviate voice appropriation and misrepresentation this session is being co-curated through a process of consultancy with Maasai delegates as part of the Living Cultures Project.
Through curriculum links in physical geography, human geography and science, pupils will hear narratives of a contemporary nature through commissioned films, object handling and a museum trail. They will develop a deeper understanding of the world, Maasai culture and how pastoralist communities address the challenges of climate change.


Room 2

Chair: Professor David Stephens, University of Brighton, UK. 


1. Decolonising early childhood curricula: a Canadian perspective

Zuhra Abawi, Niagara University, Canada.

Within the Early Childhood Education landscape, children are oftentimes portrayed as racially innocent and oblivious of racial differences among people. However, numerous studies suggest that young children are aware of cultural and visible differences between themselves and others, at as young as two years of age. Additionally, young children demonstrate positive and negative attitudes and dispositions toward their own racial communities as well as others.

While Canada is often touted as a multicultural haven due to its diverse population and refugee settlement programs, a 2019 United Way Report entitled: Rebalancing the Opportunity demonstrates that immigrants, racialised and Indigenous communities are being left behind their white counterparts in terms of income, employment, and housing. The Canadian context cannot be divorced from the settler-colonial landscape, which continues to drive policy and curricula from the early years to higher education.

The paper will apply a Critical Race theoretical (CRT) perspective to critique discourses of diversity in Canadian early childhood curricula through a reconceptualist, critical race analysis, by drawing on the ‘discursive shift’ from multiculturalism to equity and inclusion permeated by neoliberalism. Early learning policy and curricula is encountering a competing agenda between narratives of equity and inclusion as commodified diversity, and discourses of choice and accountability. The privileging of Whiteness and othering of non-White children in early learning spaces stems from structural, institutional, and systemic disregard for Black, Indigenous, and racialized children which embed themselves in pedagogies, curricular approaches, and interactions. Through a reconceptualist CRT framework, this paper will reconceptualise early learning spaces as politicised places to dismantle dominant colour-blind narratives of children, childhoods, and early childhood education.


2. Institutional racism, policy enactment and whiteness in schools

Claire Stewart-Hall, Leeds Beckett University, UK

Macpherson’s definition of institutional racism (1999) leads us to question how school cultures (re)create racism in classrooms and through enactment of leadership. There is a need to problematise how racism is created by questioning pedagogies; exploring teachers’ professional identity; asking why curricula privileges some stories whilst marginalising others and how enactment of school policy can discriminate. Racism’s ability to re-invent and re-position demands strategic, agile leadership approaches to safeguard our children, families, and staff from experiencing racism.

Interrupting institutional racism requires school leaders to look forensically at policy as an enacted process (Ball, Maguire, and Braun, 2012). There is a need to question how all race identities are being socialised, constructed, and stereotyped thereby contributing to constructions of racism through a majority workforce (DfE, 2020) racialised and socialised into Whiteness. Processes, attitudes and behaviours, Macpherson (1999) notes, are not race neutral thus the way we do things, the method, must be problematised and interrogated so that we can ‘guard’ and ‘examine’ (paragraph 46.27) and prevent impact on people’s lives. Because of the convergent revolt about the horrific murder of George Floyd in May 2020 by a representative of a public sector body, a context is again presented to re-evaluate, re-make and reform attitudes to legal duties to prevent institutionalised racism in schools.


3. Decolonising the curriculum through a global citizenship lens: the Humari Pehchan (Who am I?) project

Nighet Riaz, University of West of Scotland, UK

Scotland’s curricular intention has been to imbricate global citizenship throughout the curriculum (Biesta, 2008), so that it presents as a cross-curricular and whole school approach. However, there is debate if the Curriculum for Excellence opens up critical spaces for ‘a complex, ethical understanding and calls to action related to global injustices and political responsibilities’ (Swanson and Pashby, 2016, p.4) or where the discourse could stand for progressivism yet does not disturb the national narrative, where activism is written out of the story, focusing on ‘responsible citizenship’. This focus reinforces ‘the ontological and epistemic supremacy and privilege of the West (Swanson, 2015 in Swanson and Pashby, 2016, p.5) through the erasure of global events such as climate change, #BlackLivesMatter, to engage children and young people. In reflection upon all of these considerations with fellow Scottish Association of Minority Ethnic Educators (SAMEE) I wanted to explore how educational policies could be made more progressive through an activist lens. This paper will outline a project that aims to actualise

aspects of global citizenship through the use of linguistic capital and climate justice. The ‘Humari Pehchaan’ (Who am I?) project emerged as part of a journey of how I situate myself in the colonial story describing the journey from compulsory to higher education (Riaz in Moncrieffe et al., 2020) and conversations with SAMEE members. This was coupled with a previous public call to address the lack of implementation of Urdu as a heritage language in the Languages 2+1 Language Policy in the school curriculum in Glasgow (Stewart, 8th February 2018).


Room 3

Chair: Dr Cathy Gower, University of Brighton, UK. 


1. Innovative and democratic lesson observation practice in the pedagogy of initial teacher education

Cathy Gower, University of Brighton, UK

This presentation explores the use of bio-pedagogical narratives combined with Video Stimulated Reflection (VSR) as an alternative, innovative and democratic lesson observation practice in the pedagogy of Initial Teacher Education (ITE). The approaches used sought to challenge and disrupt discourses of technical rationalism currently permeating the pedagogy of ITE in England as a result of successive government policy interventions, which have disempowered and constrained the practice of teacher educators in the professional education of pre-service teachers. In this research, bio-pedagogical narrative interviews and VSR dialogues served a dual purpose as both pedagogical approaches and also as research methods.

The findings of the research highlighted how pre-service teachers were supported to develop the discipline (or art?) of noticing and associated discernment (Mason, 2011) and presence (Rodgers, 2002) in their teaching through immersive dialogic interactions during lesson observation with their university tutor as part of the process of mentoring in ITE.

This led to subsequent pedagogical interventions by the pre-service teachers, which sought to challenge some of the observed inequitable and discriminatory practice in their teaching of physical education. It also highlighted the potential for the future development of such pedagogical approaches in the wider field of professional education.


2. Who am I? Empowering racial identity and cultural pride in English special schools

Donna-Marie Holder, Brunel University, UK

The relationship between race, identity and special education is a significantly under researched area, especially in English special schools. Recent national and global events i.e., the 2020 Black Lives Matter anti-racism protests have reignited the longstanding concerns of racial inequality and institutionalised racism, with the structure of British education, arguably still needing considerable work. The paper shares how race intersects with special education in English special schools. More specifically, how minority ethnic children and young people in special schools are empowered to develop their racial identity and cultural pride. The paper proposes a study informed by an auto/biographical approach that utilises my experiences as the parent of a young Black son with autism and a special needs education professional.

Through the years and even until the present day, I am reminded that race is the dominant characteristic by which my son’s identity is often judged by first. And this prominent strand of his identity is constructed in systemic inequity, bias, and disadvantage. By engaging with this intimate method of auto/biography,

I position this study through my personal lens, which then develops into a wider picture of identity formation for minority-ethnic learners with special needs. This paper will share intentions of how the study will examine how various pedagogical practices including curricula provision, staff representation, strategies, and policies in English special schools acknowledge and support inclusion through racial, ethnic, and cultural identities. Equally, this paper will discuss how the study aims to challenge social injustice and highlight the barriers associated with race, identity, and disability in special schools, as well as the structure of education at large.


3. Decolonising Education: A Black Female Teacher’s Perspective

Lisa Opoku, University of East London, UK

After the horrific murder of George Floyd in May 2020 and the deaths of many black people due to coronavirus, it appears that black people are facing two pandemics – racism and COVID-19. Consequently, discussions surrounding racism and race inequality have been brought to a global forefront.

In this paper, I reflect on my professional role and racial identity as a Black female primary school teacher; how these shape and impact on my actions in the classroom today. It has been argued that primary school children are too young to learn about race or racism. However, I believe that the earlier children are introduced and supported in addressing racism, the better members of society they will become in the future.

Often, theories of multiculturalism and diversification are equated to decolonising the curriculum; however, I argue that multiculturalism and diversification are ineffective tools in addressing racism as they do nothing to address the attitudes, minds and beliefs. To decolonise the curriculum, I argue that the structures of power must be dismantled and severely engage with the knowledge that is generated. It is critical for senior leaders to address the existence of racism, and the challenges that arise when doing do.

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