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Thought For The Week - 26-02-24

Dear Colleagues and Friends,

Last Thursday, I listened to Dr Sanjee Perera’s lecture for the Institute of Educational and Social Equity on the ways in which the Church’s legacy of slavery and empire shapes education in the UK. It was a fascinating and sobering talk.

During this period of Lent, I have been reflecting a lot on Jesus’ approach to challenging injustices. He doesn’t tell people they are bad or they are good; he recognises that most people are a mixture of both most of time. Perhaps he even recognises this tendency in his own life on earth. As he moves towards the end of his life, he increasingly focuses on the systems and institutions that were enabling injustice, rather than on the individuals participating in it.

Any major social endeavour – religion, government, healthcare, education – is liable at some point to develop to the point where it needs systems and institutions. Many of these will be positive and supportive, ensuring that people are valued and protected. Others, however, might be perpetuating injustices – either consciously or unconsciously.

It made me think about how our own field of endeavour – education – might perpetuate injustices, not in the ways individuals treat individuals necessarily, but embedded in its very systems. Take, for example, our focus on knowledge progression in the curriculum. In order to even talk about this, we have to know what we mean by ‘knowledge’, ‘knowing’ and ‘making progress’. So, who decides what counts as ‘knowledge’? What traditions of knowledge are we drawing from? Who constructed these in the first place? What categories did they use to identify what counts as ‘important’ knowledge? What – potentially unjust – assumptions underpinned this? How has this shaped our educational systems today?

And how do we know what it means to know? Is it, for example, the same for neurotypical and neurodiverse pupils? If not, then which approach drives our teaching – the former or the latter? And either way, who loses out?

And then how do we help pupils to understand what it looks like to ‘get better’ in each subject? Does ‘getting better’ look the same for every subject, every pupil? If not, then how flexibly do our systems and institutions respond to this in their ways of holding us to account as educationalists?

How might the ways in which we teach our pupils to know induct them into unjust systems?

What is worse – noticing this and not doing anything about it or not noticing it at all?

It is fair to say that there are plenty of people, Dr Perera among them, who are working hard to direct our attention to these systemic injustices, just as Jesus did in his own lifetime. Professor Michael Young’s work on powerful knowledge is another example of this, as is the work of the Education Racial Justice team in the Church of England, including Alysia-Lara Ayonrinde, Elizabeth Olulari and Lorraine Prince. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Difference programme is another example of providing children and young people with the skills they need to notice and address matters of justice and injustice, including in their own learning.

As we move through Lent, I invite you to notice: to look at the things we take for granted and ask the question, ‘why?’ Why do we do it like this? Why do we prioritise that? How might it look different if we were to reimagine things?  And remember, you are in good company as you do so!

from Gillian Georgiou, RE & SIAMS Adviser

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