Do you Possess a Protected Characteristic?

In the last academic year I have supported people into,

1 CEO role

2 Executive Headteachers

4 Headteachers


12 AHT

Too many middle leaders

I love you all.

If you have a protected characteristic I will coach you for free. If you don’t I’ll send you my rate card.


A Different Way

July 11th 2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the mass murder of 8000 Bosniak men and boys in Srebrenica and January 27th 2020 is the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. 2020 is a critical year for remembrance, but equally, it has to be a year of action.

We must resist hate from the global to the local level. Together with the amazing @behaviourleader, I am collecting words, your words, stories, academic literature and views. These contributions will culminate in a book, which will include proposal from all over the world. If you feel you have something to share please do fill in the form below:

Privilege Does NOT Give You An Advantage

There is a tendency to jump to images of Ku Klux Klan and burning crosses when people hear the terms white supremacy and racism.

The following may come as a surprise even individual acts of violence, discrimination or abuse are not the aim of fighting racism or white supremacy. Those acts are an aberration, but they are the symptoms of a systemic construct which underpins the foundation of our society.

White supremacy is any systemic action which upholds and promotes the structures which disproportionately impact on people of colour. 

Let us start with the most damaging act,

The Meritocracy.

The idea of a meritocracy is also a construct rooted in these structures. The data and life experience of those of us of colour are crystal clear. Those of you who believe that the inequity is because the PoC do not work hard enough or are less intelligent; Are either fooling themselves or deliberate swallowing a lie to make our lives more comfortable to live within. 

What is Privilege – I am not privileged?

Lots of people question the source of the social concept of ‘privilege’. Yes, I’ve also heard lots of conspiracy theories about lizards and serpents whose sole aim is the subjection of the mass. Sigh. What is privilege?

How do you define yourself? 

Here are some of the ascription that I have chosen, 



Global majority



Native English speaking 

All of these different labels come with *systemic* experiences. 

1. Women systemically earn less than men. 

2. People of colour systemically are more likely to receive worse health care.

3. Cis people are less likely to be attacked for their gender.

 4. Etc.

The above traits come with their disadvantages. The lack of ‘disadvantage’ is what is known as having privilege. If you don’t need to worry about any other the above, you’ve never considered the impact; you’re probably are privileged.

In this piece, I want privilege to be seen as a lack of ‘disadvantage’. 

What are these traits? 

What does your own journey through life, where are you systemically disadvantaged and where are you systemically not?

Activity: Us the the diagram below to detail your own profile.



Where does Privilege come from?

Rationally privilege is a zero-sum game. For me to possess male privilege, women have to be oppressed as a consequence. 

Zeus Leonardo expertly describes privilege as walking down the street and finding that someone has stuffed money into your pockets. Leonardo then goes on to explain that money came straight from the pockets of the oppressed. 

Privilege comes from oppression. Someone always suffers as a result of our advantage.

Complex Not Complicated? 

We all have different systemic experiences; as a PoC and a male, my gender gives me the distinct lack of disadvantage of those who are female (etc.). Simultaneously, as a PoC I live with the systemic and institutionally disadvantages daily. 

As no one is merely black, or only male, or well anything, it starts to become more complex. 

Complex not complicated. Yes, I have a systemic disadvantage, and I have a systemic lack of disadvantage. That’s all okay. Intersectionality describes people experience through society.

Here people get caught up in describing the severity of people’s disadvantages and who’s privileges are higher. I have always questioned why this is important? All systemic oppressions are equally unfair. None of these disadvantages are deserved, and alike none of our privileges are earned.

I would suggest if you afforded a life without a disadvantage then, you owe society that ‘lack of disadvantage’ back. You should attempt to use your privilege to redress the balance.

Decolonise The Curriculum: Australian Schools

This guest piece is from David Mountford,

Valuing Aboriginal Perspectives in an Australian Primary School

The State of Victoria, Australia, is forward thinking in terms of its efforts to decolonise the education system. Below is the ‘Our Vision’ statement outlined in Marrung, the Victorian Aboriginal Education Plan 2016-2026.

Victoria will be a state where the rich and thriving culture, knowledge and experience of our First Nations peoples are celebrated by all Victorians; where our universal service systems are inclusive, responsive and respectful of Koorie people at every stage of their learning and development journey; and where every Koorie person achieves their potential, succeeds in life, and feels strong in their cultural identity.

Note: Koorie is the name given to Aboriginal people of South-East Australia.  Marrungwas a collaborative undertaking between Aboriginal education groups including the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association Incorporated and the Victorian State Government.

At my primary school in Melbourne, prior to taking up the opportunity of meaningful change offered through Marrungfour years ago, the 900 overwhelmingly white middle-class and a cohort of Koorie students (currently nine) were taught in generic stereotypes that dismissed the varying Cultural practices and knowledge across First Nations peoples. There was next to no mention in the classroom of the damage colonisation had done and continues to do.  When Australia Day would roll around, for example, it was more Captain Cook ‘discovered’ … the First Fleet arrived in 1788 – the birth of a nation … pioneers ‘settled’ (peacefully was the implication) … and so on.

By whitewashing the history taught in the curriculum, schools transmitted the message to students and their families that Aboriginal Cultures and peoples were not valued. This also left a void in impressionable young children to absorb unchallenged mainstream media’s negative stereotypes of Aboriginal people. On that, many teachers have come through their schooling and Higher Education with little knowledge of the First Nations and the baggage of preconceived ideas that come with that lack of knowledge.

I shall share an example of a misconception that teachers and parents have voiced, which needs addressing with them, in an absolutely non-judgemental way I might add, to ensure the school is adhering as best it can to Murrung’s vision.  It is around the outdated notion of ‘blood quantum’ and is often manifested in questions such as, “What part Aboriginal is he/she?”   Or, “Those children can’t be Aboriginal. They have blond hair.”, for example. It was important for the working group, consisting of fellow teachers and some parents dedicated to decolonising the curriculum, to audit the library and rid it of books filled with this and other misconceptions. For information on common misconceptions, see below

For far too long, my school’s recognition of First Nations’ peoples was a tokenistic effort during NAIDOC week, an important week on the Aboriginal calendar. Teachers, including myself, would most likely read an Aboriginal story to the students, ask children to write a Dreamtime story and maybe do a dot painting. Besides the box-ticking, the lack of knowledge teachers had was a barrier to any form of meaningful local recognition.  Dot painting, we learnt, primarily belongs to the Aboriginal Nations in the heart of Australia.  Koories, and more specifically the Wurundjeri and BoonWurrung peoples, whose Country my school is located on, use more geometric lines in their artwork, for example.

So in order to make meaningful change, it was evident that we needed to build teacher knowledge and confidence.  Many conversations have been had where well-intentioned teachers voiced their legitimate concerns around not wishing to be disrespectful or culturally insensitive to Aboriginal people.  This has been a significant barrier for some to even attempting lessons in the classroom along with the ever-present barrier, of course, of a crowded curriculum. Building teacher capacity then was an obvious way to support teachers to include Koorie perspectives in their programs.


With the expertise of Koorie Engagement Support Officers, KESOs, cultural understanding training was provided for staff, at the expense I dare say of the cultural safety of the Aboriginal people providing the training!  One man became very emotional when sharing his personal experience of the Government men coming to take his cousins away during the period known as the Stolen Generation.  I sincerely hope he was not required to repeat the story at each school he visited. It could easily have been avoided by simply encouraging staff to read such accounts for themselves without retraumatising Aboriginal facilitators.

Some Aboriginal people, of course, share their experience in the hope for change. Amidst the calls for a formal process of ‘truth telling’ in Australia, the school invited in and was privileged to host a Stolen Generation survivor as a guest speaker last year.  Over 500 grade 3 – 6 students listened extremely attentively and asked thoughtful questions of our speaker.  His talk greatly impacted the students, with many writing insightful and empathic poems in response and discussing the talk with family members at home.  Teachers also gained much from hearing this first-hand account of the impact of being removed from family. This first-hand knowledge for the teachers touched a nerve within many and sparked an interest and desire to learn more.  Follow-up discussions also revealed the power of the experience that saw some teachers shift their pre-conceived ideas.

Before going on, I must stress the importance of consulting and building relationships with Aboriginal families at school.  This was the starting point for meaningful change through Marrungand these relationships continue to be vital.  Many of the families expressed a wish for their children to connect with Aboriginal art. The school has funded, for a couple of years now, days where Koorie kids can connect and learn from a local Aboriginal artist.  The amazing artworks produced are then celebrated at the school’s annual community art show and are the source of much pride in the children.

On these days, teachers are invited to pop in and take a look, which again facilitates the development of staff knowledge and understandings in a non-threatening space. I smile as I recall how we ‘colonised’ a sports lesson last year during a break with a game of poison possum ball. Kids learnt Aboriginal dance moves as they dodged the ‘marngrook’, the forerunner to the Australian Rules football, which is made of emu feathers encased in possum fur. Awesome fun!

As Australia burns this summer, calls are again ringing out from Aboriginal people and their allies for Government agencies to consider Cultural fire practices of the First Nations.

The dominant culture has much to learn.  It is with this in mind that my thoughts turn to an exciting project for the upcoming school year involving the establishment of an indigenous garden. This will be a hands-on opportunity for students to gain insight into the extensive knowledge of and varied uses of plants in Aboriginal culture.  Moreover, it will be a timely opportunity to explore in the curriculum a value central to Aboriginal Cultural life, to Care for Country.  Hopefully this, and the other ways Koorie perspectives are beginning to be valued at the school, will contribute to Koorie students feeling strong in their identities.

Meaningful change, which I believe is what we have at school, is made easier when the core group of change agents on staff have the persistence, energy and desire to become more knowledgeable and to enthuse others to its importance. When they are able to build and maintain relationships to ensure the centrality of Aboriginal peoples’ involvement.  And when they possess the communication skills to prepare staff to assume their role in working together towards decolonising the curriculum.

The future of our ‘work in progress at school’ is exciting!  To play a part in Aboriginal kids receiving a quality education, which enables them to feel strong in their Cultural identity is personally important to me on many levels, not least being that for too long I actively participated in the whitewashing of the curriculum. To celebrate, and, in so doing, educate the school community about, the incredibly rich Cultures of Aboriginal peoples has greatly enriched my life living on this land that has never been ceded, for which I am grateful.  There is much ground to make up. Now is definitely the time to add the colours of the Aboriginal flag to the ‘white’ curriculum – the colours of red, yellow and black.

Thank you for reading my post and I wish you well with your endeavours in decolonising the curriculum in your setting.



















How to Stop Marking from Taking Over Your Life

This piece is part of a leadership archive from one of the most authentic school leaders I have met, Jeremy Hannay. Jeremy is currently headteacher of Three Bridges Primary School and his work can also be found here.

The idea that written feedback is the best and only kind needs to be put to rest. Not only will this help children learn, it’ll reduce teacher workload, says Jeremy Hannay…

It’s the end of the match. The underdogs are in a tough battle to the finish. The players are tired. Can they hold on?

All of a sudden, the coach calls for a time-out. He’s spotted a potential weakness in the other team. There is a tactical advantage they could exploit, a move that could change the game. Can they cause a late upset…?

The team hustles round, kneeling in anticipation. A confused look comes over their faces. The coach is writing down what he’d like to say. “I’m almost done!” he shouts, “This is going to be great!”.

The whistle blows and the time-out is over. The team, bewildered by their coach’s odd behaviour, makes its way back onto the pitch. They haven’t been given the information in time. The other team rallies and scores again. The game ends with a devastating loss.

Back in the changing room, the weary, dejected players find a note with ‘Feedback’ written on it. The team captain opens it up. It was the strategy to win the game. Frustrated, they question the coach about his behaviour.

“Keep calm,” he says. “We can work on it tomorrow.”

The team, understandably annoyed, tell the coach that they needed to know right away, not the next day.

Feedback myths

The school bell may not have the same immediacy as a final whistle, but this sort of thing happens every day, to the detriment of children’s learning. Somehow, stemming from a bad combination of old Ofsted policy and poorly interpreted research, schools have been driven to adopt widely unsubstantiated (and sometimes outright wrong) ideas:

1. That written feedback is the most valuable type
2. That the best written feedback is a conversation between pupil and teacher
3. That feedback must be evidenced in a book to ‘count’

Let’s be clear – written is not always the best, or most appropriate way of critically commenting on children’s work.

Coming from Ontario, Canada, I was immediately shocked by the inordinate amount of marking that was taking place here. When I asked why everyone was spending so much time putting comments in books, I was received a range of answers –‘That’s the policy here’; ‘How else will they know what to fix or how to improve?’; ‘We need evidence in the books’, ‘It’s what we do’; and sometimes, ‘I have no idea’. Once in a while I would also hear something like, “It’s what research says is best practice”.

When people mention this ‘research’, they are often referring to one of two documents – The Teaching and Learning Toolkit, originally commissioned by the Sutton Trust, and John Hattie’s Visible Learning, which places feedback in the top five teaching influences on student achievement.

Neither publication, however, suggests that written feedback is crucial. In fact, in both reports specifically mention other modalities (pupil-to-teacher feedback or metacognitive strategies, such as Assessment for Learning).

Cut it out

At my school we have drastically reduced the amount of written feedback we expect of our teachers. All told, however, feedback is sharply on the rise (over 20%). More importantly, the decrease in the marking and extensive pro forma-based planning we do has been mirrored by an increase in attainment.

So what does our approach include?

• We’ve developed an ethos in which teachers can focus on both their own professional learning and that of the pupils
• We’ve created an environment where teachers can spend their working time dedicated to developing technological feedback strategies and pedagogical practices that promote pupil-to-pupil feedback
• We’ve introduced approaches that foster targeted talk about process and that promote self-regulation
• We encourage pupils to think about where they’re going, how well they are getting on and what’s next

Having read Alex Quigley’s work on Hunting English and a review of international research and practice, we decided that oral formative feedback and questioning would form the basis for our pedagogical advancements and teaching and learning strategy.

We started by implementing the new system into our English programme in 2013, and then our maths programme in 2014. They are built upon high levels of focused discussion and explicit modelling of thinking and learning, by both the adults and children. We have since introduced the use of technology as a valued approach to enhancing more traditional methods.

In our English programme we’ve combined Talk for Writing – which involves pupils learning extensively about a genre of writing in order to increase their capacity to self-reflect, co-construct and feedback on their own and each other’s work – with Transactional Strategies Instruction. Our reading programme involves teachers modelling their use of comprehension strategies to demonstrate when and how to apply those strategies in different problem-solving situations. Teachers share the responsibility of conducting a thoughtful discussion about a common text with pupils, who are also expected to explain their use of strategies and to communicate reflective responses to what they have read.

In maths, our adopted approach is similar to the Singaporean style, and includes thoughtful questioning of the pupils by the teacher, of the teacher by the pupils and the pupils of each other. The feedback and questioning are based on quality-first methods, framed using formative assessment and lots of talk about process, encouraging high levels of self-regulation.

Last year we introduced iPads, and focused on the use of ‘animated thinking’. The pupils are able to explain themselves using video, voice-over animations and photography. It allows them to access the feedback of the teacher and other experts, including classmates, at their own pace.

This means every child can confidently integrate technology into his or her learning in a meaningful and engaging way. When the feedback is visible, it is exceptional.

Speak openly

In addition to programme and pedagogical changes, we also support the use of oral formative feedback strategies and targeted questioning embedded across the curriculum, such as these:

Our Accountability-Heavy Education System is NOT Leading to School Improvement

This piece is part of a leadership archive from one of the most authentic school leaders I have met, Jeremy Hannay. Jeremy is currently headteacher of Three Bridges Primary School and his work can also be found here.

When I was younger I used to work in a video store. I loved how busy the store would get on Friday and Saturday nights, the relationships we developed with people in the local community, the free bags of out-of-date crisps we’d get when the stock was changed – but, most of all, I enjoyed recommending movies to customers who weren’t sure what they wanted to watch.

Back then, one of my go-to recommendations was The Matrix. I was very taken with the film’s premise, and still think of it often when leading my little school in London and working with other teachers and leaders across the country. The premise in question is that the everyday world we perceive as real is, in fact, an all-encompassing simulation created by a race of sentient machines that have subdued the human race.

In one of the film’s best scenes, our protagonist Neo is offered a stark choice by Morpeheus, leader of a small group of human resistance fighters who know what’s actually going on:

“You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember; all I’m offering is the truth.”

Why do I bring this up? It’s because we school leaders in England have been living in our own simulated reality for years. One we’ve always known was somehow ‘off’, and one we shouldn’t have to live with any more.

The Blue Pill

This is the world we’ve always known. It’s a world where recruitment and retention crises are commonplace, where strategies aimed at addressing them merely fumble with the symptoms rather than fix any underlying problem.

In this world we’ve been led to believe that an ‘inspection culture’ is synonymous with a ‘development culture’; that in order for schools, leaders, teachers and pupils to improve, they must be constantly measured and monitored. This surveillance takes many forms – frequent high stakes observation, regular and robust scrutiny, coupled with top-down accountability regimes.

We see this culture at every level. It’s there between the system and schools in the form of Ofsted ratings and league tables. It’s manifested between one school and the next via audits, reviews and mocksteds. You can even see it in leaders’ interactions with their teachers and between fellow colleagues during lesson observations and ‘routine’ book planning, subject scrutiny and miscellaneous monitoring.

This is the world we’ve been told is real. Most schools you’ll visit and talk to will likely be operating in this way, and chances are your local authority or MAT will be actively promoting all of the above as the sure-fire route to gaining an ‘Outstanding’ rating. Except there’s just one problem.

It’s not real.

Oh, it all seems real enough – but just like the simulated reality of The Matrix, it’s a system built on a fallacious understanding of what education actually is, and what we can do to get better at it. It’s a system that benefits impersonal ‘machines’ – data-crunching software, private companies, financial markets, accountancy firms – while subduing our growth, development, creativity and innovation.

There is another way.

The Red Pill

In terms of what will actively help us as leaders and educators, here’s what’s real. Schools where there are no shortfalls in recruitment or retention, Teachers who are able to grow professionally over time, and help others to do the same. Everyone in a given setting aligned to a deep moral purpose.

In these schools, development isn’t centred on professional inspections, but rather professional collaboration. These schools won’t perform regular observations and monitoring, or fire out overly prescriptive performance policies. Instead, they’ll discuss and design pedagogy, engage in action research and regularly perform learning and lesson study.

Under this system, teacher development is seen as an important leadership responsibility. To that end, school leaders care deeply about their staff, and understand that growing great educators involves both moments of brilliance and moments of mayhem.

These are schools that build in time for reflection, research and collaboration – both within the school itself and with partnering settings elsewhere. Moreover, these are schools that consistently achieve top results. How? Through collective efficacy and well-developed core programmes. The teachers have autonomy and are trusted to make decisions concerning their classroom instruction. There’s little need for marking policies or planning scrutinies, because their learning programmes are collaboratively designed and collectively refined.

Nor is workload an issue. Why would it be? Under this system, the work teachers carry out at their schools is meaningful for them, and impacts directly and clearly upon their pupils.

And yet, in England right now, this type of thinking is distinctly unconventional. Taking the red pill isn’t easy – it takes courage and conviction. It requires us to rethink what we’ve always been told is true, and ask deeper questions about our own roles in the system’s broader failures.

Defy the machines

When looking at some of the most acclaimed education systems across the world, it’s easy to pick up on surface-level reasons as to why they’re more effective than ours. In Singapore, we point to the parental culture there around education. In Canada, we flag up the relative lack of income inequality. In Finland, some point to the lower levels of immigration.

The truth, however, is that it’s the culture around professionals, learning and development that allow those nations to succeed. Schools in Ontario only perform teacher observations once every five years, but make a point of organising and maintaining mutually supportive communities focussed on learners and learning. Singapore schools regularly perform lesson study to develop professional skills in lesson design and learning. In Finland, research and reflection is prioritised over basic practice.

What these nations don’t do is overburden their teachers with prescription and policy. They instead create conditions under which every teacher is able to flourish.

As school leaders, we face a choice – take the blue pill or the red pill. We can take the blue pill and continue to live in the world created by machines. That’s the easy way, the way we’ve always known. Some of us might even feel that we’re prospering under the system we have.

Alternatively, we can take the red pill and start designing our own future. It will be difficult. We’ll need to think unconventionally and be ready to embrace a series of tough challenges.

But if we succeed, that world will be real. And it’ll be ours.

Nourish to Flourish

This piece is part of a leadership archive from one of the most authentic school leaders I have met, Jeremy Hannay. Jeremy is currently headteacher of Three Bridges Primary School and his work can also be found here.

In October last year I spent some time in Niagara-on-the-Lake, one of Canada’s leading wine regions. One of the processes I was interested in finding out about was that of making ice wine. The grapes, having already reached full ripeness in October, are left untouched on the vines under a cloak of protective netting until the first deep freeze of the Canadian winter. The harvest then takes place between December and January, when temperatures are between -9 to -13°C. This is where my inspiration for school improvement comes from.

After harvesting, the grapes are pressed while still frozen. The water in the juice remains as ice crystals during the pressing, and only a few drops of sweet concentrated juice are obtained from each grape. What’s important to note here is that specific conditions are required for ice wine to flourish – and incredible schools are no different. The conditions we create as school leaders in a climate of change is critical to how the school moves forward and sustains that forward momentum.

Case studies of exceptional schools indicate that school leaders primarily influence learning by galvanising effort around ambitious goals, and by establishing conditions that support teachers and help pupils succeed. At our school, Three Bridges Primary, we’ve focussed our energies on developing a culture built upon collaborative processes, intellectual stimulation, individualised support and leading by example.


Successful school leaders will actively facilitate the participation of staff in school development. We make use of targeted professional learning communities, research-driven lesson study, teacher-led open lessons and other processes to interrogate learning, support teaching practices, achieve shared goals and develop key priorities. These are characterised by hightrust and honest, open feedback from all participants in a relatively flat leadership structure.


Stimulate the conversation with readings or visuals that promote reflection and support teachers in examining their assumptions about pedagogy and practice. Allow teachers to identify current areas of excellent practice, and shape the path towards new ones through facilitated group discourse. Allocate time for trying out new ideas without management interference.


It’s critical that we show our teachers respect by providing appropriate incentives, and structure opportunities for individual and small group development outside of larger staff development meetings. Learning opportunities for staff must support the development of teacher skill; our own optimism, evidence base and enthusiasm should be aimed at encouraging their will.


As school leaders, we must be living examples of our values and ethos. Our own personal leadership resources permeate every area of the school, from the classroom to the playground. When we smile and acknowledge how lucky we are to have the best job in the world, our teachers, pupils, parents and school community do the same.

Free FT for Students and Teachers.

This is a great opportunity for teachers and educators to get their students reading.

The FT is now offering free online subscriptions to students aged 16-19, their teachers and schools around the world.

We believe reading the FT will help in study, essay writing, exams and broadening knowledge to improve performance in interviews for university and employment. It can also support those studying English including through audio articles.

Teachers and staff can click here to register for the service, allowing them to read the FT on school premises.

They and their students can use the same link to see if their institution is already signed up and request an individual account, allowing access online and to download the app for use from home and on mobile devices. They will also receive weekly email newsletter updates.

We encourage teachers and students to follow us on Twitter @FT4S, share articles and explain the reasons you like them. You can also comment beneath articles.

We have specific articles with suggested questions and classroom discussion points picked by teachers in subjects including economicsbusiness, geography and politics. We have mapped FT articles and sample questions to the A level economics curriculum with Core. We regularly host competitions for students, including a schools economics challenge with Core to make a video. We run Young Economist of the Year with the Royal Economic Society, and other writing competitions with the Bank of England, the Political Studies Association, the Royal Geographical SocietyChatham House and the World Bank.

We welcome teacher and student advisers. You can email us at for more information and with queries and suggestions.

The articles on this page provide a selection that is useful for schools, but any student or teacher who is registered can read the full range of FT content.

Our resources include economic dashboards with graphics showing recent data from the UK economy, the USChinaJapan and Russia, and a searchable graphics hub.

As well as news, analysis and comment, you can read our explainerswatch video and listen to podcasts. You can see a collection of FT videos useful for schools on Youtube.

Once signed up, you can register here for email newsletters or tailor your own selection of articles using myFT. Download our free guide or take the tour. Browse our Lexicon of financial terms.

Empowering the Young People.

What is the purpose of education? Many people would cite examples which include banking (the transference of knowledge from teacher to student) to achieve employment status. This is echoed by the world bank, “creating workers for today’s workforce’, Educators today are tasked with developing lifelong learners who can survive and thrive in a global knowledge economy – learners who have the capability to effectively and creatively apply skills and competencies to new situations in an ever-changing, complex world” (The World Bank, 2003; Kuit & Fell, 2010 in Blaschke 2012).

Employment may be a part of some teacher’s visions. However, this is not the only view for purpose. Education should empower pupils and teachers to promote or resist the political systems around them. Remember, the act of teaching is an act of politics in itself.

“Education is politicity, it is never neutral, when we try to remain neutral, like Pilate, we support the dominant ideology.”

“For me education is simultaneously and act of knowing, a political act, and an artistic act.”

If we are to fulfil all three parts of Freire’s description of teaching, democratic resistance is so important. This will no doubt turn into a longer piece in due course.

Here I would like to amplify the voices of these young people from south London. @ICFreeUK is where you can contact the group, last month they staged the following protest outside Brixton tube station.




With that final video, as some of you know those isolation booths are an issue close to my heart. The #losethebooth event on January 25th please do apply for a ticket here.

I know the team are negotiating extra spaces and that tickets are in high demand.



Breathing Life into the Curriculum

Guest post from Kay Sidebottom.

When you crush hierarchy, and replace it with network, then the cultures held in the different languages generate oxygen. They cross-fertilize. Cultures are able to breathe life into each other. Every culture should be taught with a nod to other cultures. 

(Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, 2017).

Two years ago I undertook a  small-scale research project looking at the impact of a ‘Why is My Curriculum White?’ campaign within a university school.  During this time I also kept a reflective diary which focused on my problematic position as a white researcher of privilege. The paradoxical nature of attempting to do ‘white work’ that enables the voices of those marginalised in academic space, whilst managing my own conflicts and ethical considerations, has been an ongoing concern (and continues to be). Barbara Applebaum’s book ‘Being White, Being Good’ has been instrumental in helping me to get over myself and focus on the dismantling of whiteness. I would highly recommend it to other white researchers in a similar position.

In my study I invited staff to participate in an anonymous on-line survey and carried out interviews with key participants (academics, support staff and students) within the School.

As a posthumanist my focus was particularly on the material nature of the campaign and the embodied nature of reactions to change and barriers to decolonisation. This ontology also encouraged me to act in a spirit of affirmation, and a belief in the power of small changes to enact bigger transformations. In the words of Maldonado-Torres, ‘…the decolonization project needs to be a collective one where subjects give themselves to each other and are receptive to each other in love, understanding, and their shared rage against modernity/coloniality.’ (Maldonado-Torres, 2016, p.279). 

This blog provides a summary of the key issues arising and my findings.

Curriculum Decolonisation – Setting the context


‘Decolonisation, which sets out to change the order of the world, is, obviously, a programme of complete disorder…It never takes place unnoticed, for it influences individuals and modifies them fundamentally. If we wish to describe it precisely, we might find it in the well-known words: ‘The last shall be first and the first last.’ (Fanon, 1961, pp.27-28). 

It is firstly important to examine ‘colonialism’ within the academy before considering what it might mean to ‘decolonise’; as Patel states (2016, p.7) ‘…to decolonize requires the apprehension and unsettling of coloniality.’ A colonised curriculum can be seen to be one that upholds traditions of white imperialism and makes assumptions of value based on white priority and domination. Colonialism can play out through not only the materials selected that form part of a syllabus, but the wider influence of a university’s pedagogical methods, admissions criteria, commemorative statues and building names, policies and procedures, stipulations for academic writing, and so on. Whilst not colonising in the settler sense, Bhopal (2018) suggests that English universities in their nature continue to play out the values of imperialism through Eurocentric degree content, the privileging of formal English as a communication mechanism, and entrenched racism and discriminatory practices (for students and staff). In this sense, colonialism is ‘on-going colonisation by capital’ (Hall and Smyth, 2016, p.2), and very much situated within the wider political and social context; a ‘pedagogical project at the level of society’ (ibid, p.22). 

For the purposes of this evaluation, curriculum was therefore defined in its widest sense; as Kelly (1999, p.3) states: 

‘Any definition of curriculum…must offer much more than a statement about the knowledge-content or merely the subjects which schooling is to ‘teach’ or transmit. It must go far beyond this, to an explanation and indeed a justification, of the purposes of such transmission and an exploration of the effects that exposure to such knowledge and such subjects is likely to have on its recipients’. 

Further to this, it is recognised that curriculum is, in itself, always political and entangled with wider social and cultural factors. As Apple states ….’The curriculum is never simply a neutral assemblage of knowledge, somehow appearing in the texts and classrooms of a nation. It is always part of a selective tradition, someone’s selection, some group’s vision of legitimate knowledge. It is produced out of the cultural, political, and economic conflicts, tensions, and compromises that organize and disorganize a people.’ (Apple, 1993, p.222). 

Given the systemic and material nature of decolonising work I came from the standpoint that interventions such as academic support, Information and Guidance, Induction activities and ‘student experience’ comprise elements of teaching and thus form part of the centre’s wider curriculum (albeit informal, or even part of a ‘hidden’ curriculum (Kelly, 1999, p.4)). 

To decolonise the curriculum would mean firstly to problematize all aspects of a student’s university experience, inferring that issues are systemic and go wider than an individual tutor’s influence over their programme of teaching and learning. Given that the academy can be seen in itself as a perpetual colonising force (Patel, 2016) the question is raised as to whether decolonising is actually possible, or whether in fact an entirely new system needs to be created. Certainly, as Tuck and Yang (2012, p. 36) stipulate, it needs a different perspective to traditional social justice approaches: ‘Decolonisation is not an ‘and’ – it is an elsewhere.’ 

Maldonado-Torres (2016, p.243) also draws an important distinction between ‘coloniality’ and ‘colonialism’: 

‘Coloniality is different from colonialism. Colonialism denotes a political and economic relation in which the sovereignty of a nation or a people rests on the power of another nation, which makes such nation an empire. Coloniality, instead, refers to long-standing patterns of power that emerged as a result of colonialism, but that define culture, labor, intersubjective relations, and knowledge production well beyond the strict limits of colonial administrations. Thus, coloniality survives colonialism. It is maintained alive in books, in the criteria for academic performance, in cultural patterns, in common sense, in the self-image of peoples, in aspirations of self, and so many other aspects of our modern experience. In a way, as modern subjects we breath coloniality all the time and everyday. ‘

In doing this Maldonado-Torres encourages a shift to a ‘decolonial turn’ which is ‘pragmatic’ in nature – focused on action as well as the recognition and problematisation of colonialism. These important linguistic differences will be returned to in relation to understandings and actions concerned with this evaluation.

Why is My Curriculum White? 

This project began in the UK in 2015, with the NUS Black Students work at University College London (UCL). Drawing on international campaigns, such as ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ in South Africa, students challenged the lack of diverse voices within university curricula and argued that ‘…education at universities is shaped by acts of colonialism and imperialism in which the experiences and contributions of non-white groups are ignored.’ (Bhopal, 2018, p.98). 

Locally, the NUS of the university in question took up the campaign, identifying it as a movement that ‘…aims to decolonise and critically challenge course content and perspectives offered through the accepted Western white canon of knowledge.’ The transcript from the launch event highlights a fear the ‘dismantling the structures’ is not being done (University Union, 2016) suggesting that the institution is paying lip service through piecemeal interventions such as mentoring schemes. Student campaigners called for a focus on dismantling barriers; on confronting the systemic challenges rather than diversifying individual programmes per se. The campaign ran from October 2015 to January 2017, and was led by the then NUS Education Officer. It comprised panel debates, library book campaigns, surveys and the dissemination of publicity materials such as mugs, posters and badges.  A number of recommendations arising from the project were later presented to a university committee.

However, since the conclusion of the campaign in January 2017, and as key campaign leaders have moved on, it is unclear what the longer-term impact has been.

Analysis of Findings


Twenty-five percent of staff within the Centre completed a questionnaire; of the respondents, two-thirds were teaching staff and one-third non-teaching. Although participants were asked to identify their ethnicity, no pre-selection criteria were established. As stated previously, this meant that analysis of responses could be problematic – however, 23 respondents chose to self-identify as white, and either English or British; of the remaining three, one identified as Asian, another as Pakistani, and the final respondent responded ‘N/A’. 

Four interviews were undertaken; two of the participants were members of staff and two were Student Representatives. 

Data was analysed manually through subsequent examination of both interview transcriptions and questionnaires. It was then tagged for keywords with the aim of constructing a thematic framework. The ensuing themes were: 

– Understandings of curriculum decolonisation 


– Impact of the Why is My Curriculum White? campaign 


– Material nature of the campaign 


– Barriers to decolonisation. 


Understandings of Curriculum Decolonisation 


The question ‘What do you understand by the term ‘decolonising the curriculum’?’ elicited a variety of responses and definitions. Diversity was a key theme, recurring in phrases such as ‘diversifying content and pedagogy’, ‘bringing in diverse perspectives’, ‘including diverse voices’ and so on. ‘Decolonising’ was also identified most commonly as a positive action; participants used words such as, ‘changing’, ‘acting’ ‘reflecting’, ‘enriching’ ‘appreciating’ and ‘rebalancing’. 

Two of the respondents stated that they didn’t understand the term; one stating that they wished ‘these terms were rendered in plain English’. 

In interviews, participants stated that:

‘There needs firstly to be an understanding of how the curriculum is colonised – and what is meant by that term’. 

‘Not everyone understands what it means to be colonised…how can you begin to decolonise without this basic understanding?’

Impact of the Campaign 


Despite evidence of a good understanding of decolonisation, awareness of the local WIMCW campaign was not as high as anticipated. Seven respondents were not aware of it all – of those who were familiar with it, most (24%) had learnt about it through the debate held on campus for Black History Month. A larger number (38%) were aware of the national campaign by NUS Black Students and accompanying film. 

In terms of change to the curriculum, 26% of respondents said that their curriculum had changed as a result of the local WIMCW action. The most significant changes made were amendments to reading lists and other resources (23% of participants reporting change had altered these). Other key changes involved instigating discussions with students (18%) and adding new topics to the syllabus (18%). Interestingly, no participant reported making any changes to teaching methods. 

The two students who were interviewed were not present at the instigation of the campaign. However one noted that:

‘ My tutor mentioned Why is My Curriculum White? when we talked in class about the current curriculum in schools. Some of us watched the film… but it was a bit awkward to discuss in depth in class, as some of us were a bit defensive. I’m not sure we all understood what it was saying, if I’m honest.’ 

The desktop analysis of the ‘Learning and Teaching’ degree programme curriculum revealed that books and other recommended materials were drawn almost entirely from white, European, North American and Australian theorists. Figures for the three modules analysed for this evaluation showed an alarmingly low percentage of writers of colour across over fifty sources (even allowing for the eventuality that authors were writers of colour (where their ethnicity could not be identified), the figure for white theorists held at a minimum of 97%). Although some new texts had been added between 2015 and 2018, and others removed, there was also no indication that WIMCW had influenced change in terms of the diversification of reading lists on the programme. 


Material Nature of the Campaign 


Interestingly a key factor in awareness-raising came through the material objects used to promote the local campaign – ironically, tea as one decolonising force – as one tutor stated in the survey comments: 


‘…it was the Why is My Curriculum White mug which I discovered 6 months ago in the staff room which captured my imagination. My induction certainly did not flag up the campaign and there is nothing on the notice board in the staff room to flag it. Thank goodness for cups of tea!’ 


In an interview two participants mentioned the posters that were displayed around campus as being key to their awareness of the campaign. The centre’s Equality Lead stated that: 


I remember seeing the [WIMCW] posters…that’s the first thing I saw about it, and I thought ‘this is brilliant’ and it connects to the other campaigns, I think at Oxford…and then the other way I connected with it was when they [NUS] came into the office with the mugs and the badges…’ 


Barriers to decolonisation 


Where changes hadn’t been made, in a number of cases respondents felt that this was because change was either out of their control or not relevant due to their role. A number of support staff stated that they do not have influence over course content. Certain curriculum areas also were identified as problematic; one respondent stated that: 

‘ Science definitely has issues with barriers to who can contribute to the body of knowledge and as such a fraction of the material I teach had definitely been discovered and refined by over-represented people… I can’t present science that has not been peer reviewed. The peer-review process is supposedly blind, and so has made steps to ensure meritocracy, however if you do not write in English then the scientific community in Britain/US and parts of Europe will probably not hear what you have to say… I can see that there is a real issue here. I would really welcome further discussion about this because I have no idea what it means for us and I haven’t immediately put my hands on resources which are trying to apply this to scientific disciplines… ‘

The interviews provided further context to the notion of barriers to organisational and curriculum change. One interviewee felt strongly that it was connected to individual responsibility: 

‘If you’re teaching at university level you have a responsibility to understand it [decolonisation] and also to understand the ways in which you have internalised bias – it’s not just about what your teaching them [students].’

For one student, the variation between approaches in different academic schools and inconsistencies across the organisation were significant barriers: 

‘I’d got used to bringing in different voices and perspectives on the [Interdisciplinary degree] here. But when I studied a module in another School I felt like… I had to go back to the old theorists. Kant and people like that…I wasn’t confident enough to bring the writers who had spoken to me back into what I was writing.’ 

The findings here suggest uneven practice across disciplines and School, alongside practical gaps in both time and knowledge required to elicit meaningful change.



The evidence provided in this evaluation suggests that, whilst the initial impact of the local Why is My Curriculum White? project was limited, there is a good understanding of decolonisation issues within the centre. However, despite respondents generally feeling they have a good understanding, this has not been translated into significant action. As four of the original NUS recommendations (NUS, 2016) relate to curriculum design and content, and only one quarter of respondents reported curriculum change, it could be argued the campaign’s success was limited in terms of effect on the curriculum within the Centre. It is therefore worth examining more closely the way in which decolonisation is generally framed in the language used by respondents. The term ‘diversity’ recurs frequently and this term is, in itself problematic. Ahmed (2017) suggests that it reflects a process of ‘institutionalised polishing’; whereby it ‘replaces other more unacceptable terms that make people feel threatened.’ (2017, p.101). The positivity of the term is ‘shiny’ and prevents the necessity for actual work to be done. Further to this, Patel (2016) suggests that diversity as a ‘binaristic statement or goal’ is ‘woefully inadequate for a project of decolonization (p.93). Decolonisation must instead attend to the dismantling of material structures and practices; and action must be meaningful. The centre’s Equality Lead drew a distinction between ‘decolonialising’ and ‘decolonising’ which is helpful here:

‘…to be decolonial or post-colonial, is to problematize… but decolonialise is the new term. Being able to actively [my emphasis] find new forms of knowledge.’

It could be suggested that future activity is centred around action as well as reflection and examination of the colonised nature of our work. Taking this further, I want to introduce Applebaum’s (2016) concept of ‘response-ability.’ This idea takes us forward as agents for change who are able to enact transformation within their own embodied and embedded entities. A significant proportion of respondents in support (rather than direct teaching) roles felt that they unable to instigate change due to their lack of influence over the curriculum. A wider understanding of curriculum being more than just the syllabus may help staff to recognise the impact of their practice in terms of other activities such as induction, advice and guidance, admissions and academic support.

Participants also mentioned the significance of material influences, such as posters, mugs and badges in terms of awareness raising and sustainability. Where campaigns are student-led, it is difficult to have one figurehead as campaign leaders will necessarily move on (through graduation); the nature of the NUS as a campaigning organisation also suggests that different issues will be prioritised according to the nature of its leadership and student voice at a particular point in time. 

What is heartening is the desire for more knowledge and understanding of the decolonisation agenda; there is a sense of a conversation beginning and an appetite to continue the work through further discussion and action. However, in discussing the findings of this evaluation it is important to note the absence of a number of voices; what were the thoughts and experiences of those who did not respond?



Despite the limitations in scope of this evaluation, the ‘reterratorialising’ nature of colonialism within the academy, and my own complex position as a researcher, this study has revealed a number of interesting findings in relation to the success and sustainability of Why is my Curriculum White? as a campaign. It is clear that, despite good understandings of decolonialisation issues, curriculum change in relation to WIMCW has been inconsistent within the university school at the centre of this study. Where change did occur, it was largely framed around the diversification of reading lists and materials. However, there is will and enthusiasm to learn and reflect across the Centre. I have been asked to make recommendations to the Centre in the spirit of affirmatory praxis, and these will focus on the following issues: 

– How to make a shift from ‘decolonising’ to ‘decolonialising’; and thus build emphasis on action in addition to doing the important work of problematizing curriculum issues 


– The importance of investing in sustainable, material reminders of the campaign messages 


– Allocation of meaningful time for reflection and discussion, particularly of areas in which colonisation is present but less debated, such as the science disciplines 


– A wider understanding of ‘curriculum’ and who is able to influence its development. 

In doing this work we need to also be wary of conflating this project with other social justice interventions. As Tuck and Yang (2012) suggest, we should not ‘domesticate’ decolonisation, nor use it as a metaphor. The term itself and the associating work can be subsumed into the system (‘reterratorialised’ in Deleuzian terms) so problematization of the concept should be an ongoing project. 

This study has also called into question the sustainability of campaigns led by students who are not permanently represented in the workings of an organisation. It is therefore heartening to see the university in question establishing a working group comprised of academic leads, tutors and student representatives. As the group held its first meeting mid-way through this evaluation project it is too early to tell whether its work will relate in any way to the recommendations in this study but its progress will be followed closely. 

Patel (2016, p.95) states that ‘While we cannot map the future, we can map possible futurities and do so with a reckoning of the past trajectories that give shape to the present realities.’ We must continue to ‘breath life’ into the curriculum for fairness, parity and the joy of re-imagining what it means to be human in the world today; and this is our responsibility of academics in positions of privilege. To close with the words of the centre’s Equality Lead: 


‘We need to keep talking about it, so it doesn’t go away. From the students’ point of view, we need to consider…what’s the impact on them, of not continuing to ask these questions?’




Ahmed, S. (2017). Living a Feminist Life. London: Duke University Press.


Apple, M. (1993). The Politics of Knowledge: Does a National Curriculum Make Sense? Teachers College Record. 95(2), pp.222-241.


Applebaum, B. (2010). Being White, Being Good. New York: Lexington Books.


Braidotti, R. (2013). The Posthuman. Cambridge: Polity Press.


Fanon, F. (1986) Black Skin, White Masks. London: Pluto.


Fanon, F. (2001 [1961]) The Wretched of the Earth. London: Penguin, with an introduction by Sartre, J.P. and translated by Farrington, C.


Freire, P. (1972). Pedagogy of the oppressed. London: Penguin.


Gordon, L.R., Sharpley-Whiting, T.D. & White, R.T. (eds). (1996). Fanon: A Critical Reader. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd


Hall, R. and Smyth, K. 2016 Dismantling the Curriculum in Higher Education. Open Library of Humanities, 2(1), pp. 1–28.


Kelly, A. (1999). The Curriculum: Theory and Practice. 4th Edition. London: Sage Publications.


Maldonado-Torres, N. (2007). On Coloniality of Being. Cultural Studies. 21 (2) 240-279.


Maldonado-Torres, N. (2016). Ten Theses on Coloniality and Decoloniality. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed 2 June 2018].


Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. (2017). Interview with Professor Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. [Online]. Available at [Accessed 20 February 2018].


Owusu, M. (2017). Decolonising the Curriculum. TED Talk . [Online]. Available at: [Accessed 3 June 2018].


Patel, L. (2016). Decolonising Educational Research: From Ownership to Answerability. New York: Taylor and Francis.


Tuck, E. and Yang, K. (2012). Decolonization is not a Metaphor. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education and Society. 1(1), pp.1-40.