GRT – FFT Action

Dear Pran,

Energy companies like Shell are making nearly £10 billion in profit, while Gypsies and Travellers living on roadside camps and itinerant Boaters are forced to sacrifice basic necessities.

This isn’t fair. The Government must make energy grants available to everyone. 

 Help us make sure everyone gets support with rising energy costs.

In just a few clicks, tell your MP to extend the energy grants to everyone.

We’ve provided a template, but need you to stand up to injustice.

At Friends, Families and Travellers, we’re continuing to lobby the Government to extend its energy support to include families living on roadside camps and itinerant Boaters. 

With your support, we can continue to tackle inequalities on the frontline, advocate for Romany Gypsy, Roma, Irish Traveller and nomadic communities across the country, and provide ongoing crisis support.

Click here now, Pran, to help us work towards a future where everyone feels secure.

In solidarity, 

Sarah Mann 

Hi folx, I have just got the above email from FFT. I have often spoken about solidarity. There is no freedom till we are all free. Please do consider signing and supporting our siblings in their struggle.

In solidarity.


The Antiracist Educator

This is an excerpt from the antiracist educator – The book covers everything from bias and curriculum to racialised trauma. Click here to buy the book.

Introduction to Antiracism for Teachers

“At a time like this, scorching Irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.” (Frederick Douglass, in Foner, 1999, p. x)


Welcome, folx. You’ve picked up a book designed to make you feel uncomfortable, to challenge your thinking and to make your practice and environment a fairer place. Common responses to this type of work include anger, tears, wanting to walk away and sometimes, threats of violence. It’s okay if you experience those feelings. I want you to remember that these feelings are defence mechanisms which stem from the systems and structures of our society. This book is not about you, but that society. The structures that our society are built upon means that there are people who are oppressed, and others who actively benefit from that as a direct result. For this to end, we must face up to the fact that we all have a role in racial equity and must take an active part in fighting injustice in our society.

Racism is often defined solely as acts of physical violence and the use of derogatory terms towards People of Colour. Although violence and words are used within racism, these actions should be seen as symptoms of a greater issue. Racism comes in four forms: Individual, Institutional, Systemic, Internalised.

In this book, we will mainly concentrate on systemic and institutionalised racism. Within school systems, these two forms of racism are the most active and pervasive. Together, we will look at how our actions, ideologies, and thoughts uphold a society in which the journeys of People of Colour are fundamentally different from those of white people.

Systematic and Institutional Racism

In describing society, let us use the analogy of a house. Individual racism is analogous to the violence (whether verbal or physical) that takes place in a room in the house. The impacts of individualised acts of hate are abhorrent. As a Man of Colour, I have experienced these frequently, and as a result, I am well-versed in the damage they can inflict. These acts stem from more ubiquitous structures that provide the impetus for that hate. The allegory stretches to having a hole in the ceiling, which damages the contents of the room. The leak is not produced or caused by the room’s contents but is a symptom of structural issues in the roof.

In our analogy, institutionalised or organisational racism are the rules of the house, which include who can enter which rooms, who can sit at the table, eat at the table, speak at the table, how decisions are made in the house, and so on. I am assuming many of you are asking, ‘How do our organisations propagate racism?’ This is because each school in the UK is part of a wider societal structure that upholds this propagation. By the end of this book you may be better versed to recognise this.

Systemic racism is pernicious in its very nature, but it is the proverbial foundations of society and the foundation of our house; taking it even further, it is the fact that our ‘house’ exists at all. It is essential for us to recognise that racism is not just who we are; instead, in understanding systemic racism, we must realise the structures and walls within which we reside dictate the outcomes for millions of people.

First, let us accept that systemic racism impacts People of Colour and simultaneously does not and cannot have the same effect on white people.

Yes, I am saying that white people cannot be victims of systemic racism.

On the face of it, this may sound unfair.

Come with me here.

Imagine that I, Pran Patel, hate white people (I do not), and in my relative position of power in schools, I refuse to employ white applicants. Think about the consequences. Would this be unfair? Yes, absolutely. Are the white applicants facing an instance of discrimination? Yes. But what happens tomorrow? Those very same individuals apply to any other organisation and are faced with a fair opportunity and an advantage. Nothing, in essence, changes for those racialised as white; the architecture of the system itself is designed by and for them. However, there are obvious stark barriers and differences when considering Teachers of Colour.

[BAME] teachers are, on average, paid less than their peers, commonly face

discrimination and prejudice when applying for jobs or promotion and

typically face both overt and covert racism in the workplace. (Keates, 2021)

Racial prejudice and discrimination are different entities although they are often conflated. An easy way of defining them is that racial prejudice is based around prejudged attitudes towards a group and discrimination is rooted in the actions that stem from those attitudes. Racism, whether individual, institutionalised or systemic, should be seen as a consequence

of the earth on which we built our house. The roots of oppression start with the fact we have inherited this land after a legacy of exploitation and theft. For centuries Brown and Black bodies, lands and resources have been fair game in the hunt for power.

The esteemed Jamaican philosopher Charles W Mills …

To read more click here.

Dog whistles and Gesture Politics

Funny isn’t it. Everyone’s an anti racist when it serves their agenda… Tyrone Mings accuses Priti Patel of stoking the fire – after her condemnation of racist abuse faced three black players.

‘Taking the knee’ is virtue signally, gesture politics … and then an open condemnation. The prime minister Boris Johnson as his official refuses to comment on the booing of the national team and guess what happened yesterday? condemnation was on the menu.

Sir Keir Starmer and the opposition also expressed their condemnation… while quietly reinstated an overtly Islamophobic man and the lack of action on anti blackness in his party is jarring.

Keep your words. This is straight from Machiavelli’s playbook. You summon the canines through your dog whistles calls and then when the inevitable violence occurs you blame the animals and their nature.

If you were silent and actually helped while the fire was being built. You’ll get no props when over condolences over the ashes or worse pretend you opposed the burning down all a long.

We see your hypocrisy. We keep receipts.

And Yes. We are coming for you.

You can’t judge people by today’s standard!

Apparently this morning English Heritage have added this to their website.

“Blyton’s work has been criticised during her lifetime and after for its racism, xenophobia and lack of literary merit…”

There is little arguing that Enid Blyton’s is problematic. The problem for me the rebuttals.

You can’t hold people to the standards of today. Everyone was racist and homophobic back then. It was acceptable.

Everyone thought that slavery was acceptable at that time.




You mean white people thought slavery was acceptable. Those who were enslaved don’t get to have a voice, do they not count as every one…

In the case of Enid Blyton. Her work was attacked at the time publishing.

Well it just sounds like more white supremacy to me.

A Teacher’s Perspective of Racism

This is a guest post from Gemma Clark who is a white Primary teacher and EIS Rep. Teaches in Inverclyde.

I like most people, have been watching with horror as events unfold in America. The frequent murder of black men and the realisation of the true extent of white supremacy leaves us shocked and wondering how this can still be happening in 2020. How can people be murdered for going for a run, for driving their cars, for existing? Thank goodness it doesn’t happen here in our very tolerant Scotland where refugees are welcome and affectionately termed ‘refuweegies’.

I like most people, have been watching with horror as events unfold in America. The frequent murder of black men and the realisation of the true extent of white supremacy leaves us shocked and wondering how this can still be happening… Click To Tweet

But racism is very much a fact of life here in Scotland, and we as white people are often (if unintentionally) complicit with it. It is our duty, as educators to learn about our white privilege, our biases and work towards being not just ‘not racist’ but actively antiracist.

Confronting our own compliance with and even participation in racism is uncomfortable and takes a real awakening. I was raised by liberal parents. My dad had a photo of Martin Luther King on the Wall and bought my niece black as well as white dolls to play with. I was educated on racism. I knew that racists are terrible people and that I am not like these people. About 15 years ago, I was utterly offended at being sent for the mandatory ‘antiracist training’ by a former employer. I am not a racist. That training is not for by people like me. I have now realised that I was completely wrong about this.

Several years after being offended that my employer had the audacity to send me, an educated and enlightened person, to antiracist training, I completed my teacher training. One evening while scrolling Twitter, I noticed one of our university lecturers was recommending a book, ‘Why I am no Longer Talking to White People About Race’ by Reni Eddo-Lodge. This lecturer had made a big impression on me during my training as she made me realise that teachers can play an essential role in supporting pupils from marginalised groups (and that great responsibility comes with this). Seeing this tweet coincided with a friend of mine telling me about his plans to emigrate to Dubai where he once lived for a couple of years. When I asked him why he wanted to move, he told me he was tired of racism and had enjoyed not having to deal with it in Dubai. I was ignorantly surprised. ‘But Scotland isn’t a racist country’? My friend was patient enough to explain to me that Scotland IS in fact, plagued by racism but that I don’t see it. I can do my shopping without getting dirty looks; I don’t need to hear the nasty comments about ‘these people’ or listen to insinuations that I am probably a terrorist. I can move through an airport without being treated at best with suspicion or at worst like a criminal. At this point, I was finally beginning to realise that there were a lot of things that I do not know or have the slightest understanding of. I downloaded Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book on Audible and vowed to listen with an open mind.

The author discusses the history of violence and racism towards Black people in the UK. She cites many statistics that clearly demonstrate the disadvantage that BME people suffer in the UK. She then goes on to discuss the harder to spot racism that she experiences every day. She ‘stopped talking to white people about race’ because it seems we are totally committed to not listening and discarding people’s lived experiences. She recalls times when she has had common ground and friendship with a white person, but if she ever ventured onto the topic of racism, she was always met with the same answers. ‘But that might not have been racism’. ‘But there might have been another reason why an equally qualified white person got the job’. ‘You can’t just accuse people of racism’.

On reflection, I hear these comments all the time and have probably said a few of them myself in the past. We think that racists are the gun-wielding skinheads with swastika tattoos that we see on the news; The deplorable people who we condemn and don’t want to be associated with. But Eddo-Lodge argues that ‘If all racism was as easy to spot, grasp and denounce as white extremism is, the task of the antiracist would be simple ‘. ‘We tell ourselves that good people can’t be racist’.

On reflection, I hear these comments all the time and have probably said a few of them myself in the past. We think that racists are the gun-wielding skinheads with swastika tattoos that we see on the news; The deplorable people who we… Click To Tweet

It is our understanding (or complete lack) of racism that is the problem. Racism is the societal structure that disadvantages anyone who is not white. This is what the term ‘white privilege’ (first coined by sociologist Robin Diangelo) is referring to. It does not mean that white people can’t have hard lives. It means that our lives have not been made harder because of our race. My being able to walk through an airport without being treated with suspicion or unnecessarily detained for extra ‘security checks’ is a privilege that I receive due to my whiteness

This brings me back to racism in Scotland and its relevance to teaching. Having taught children from a range of ethnicities and cultures, I like to think my teaching is inclusive and certainly ‘not racist’. However, watching a recent Ted Talk by Pran Patel on ‘Decolonising the Curriculum’ made me reflect heavily on this. I have championed the multilingual skills of my Arabic speaking students, but I have not taught them about the contributions that the Arabic world has made, including modern maths as we know it! I know about white scientists and inventors who have contributed to society, but that is all. I have realised there is more to inclusive teaching than merely a few, token, black history lessons. We do not teach the truth about history, especially because so many of us do not know it ourselves. So many of us had no idea that Glasgow was instrumental in the transatlantic slave trade and that streets like Buchanan and Glassford are named after slavers. We don’t correctly understand Malcolm X or see him in context. We gaslight people with Martin Luther King quotes without knowing or understanding that he was more disappointed by ‘white moderates’ than he was troubled by the KKK.
As teachers, it is our duty to go through this process of awakening to do better by our pupils. I became acutely aware that antiracist practice in teaching, has a long way to go when a colleague of mine made a post on a teacher’s page about subconscious racial bias which she had seen on TV. To summarise, the BBC had interviewed two men. One was Finnish; one was Indian. Both were speaking clear English, but only the Indian man was subtitled. I noticed that a white male immediately commented on the post, suggesting it was not the appropriate forum for this discussion. I replied to this comment stating that I disagreed, as teachers, we have to ‘Get It Right For Every Child’ and challenge all racism no matter how benign it might seem.

We don’t correctly understand Malcolm X or see him in context. We gaslight people with Martin Luther King quotes without knowing or understanding that … Click To Tweet

Encouragingly, there was a lot of agreement with the post; however, there were many attempts to silence my colleague with all the usual rhetoric that I am finally beginning to see. ‘You can’t prove that’s racism’. ‘You can’t just cry racism’. ‘You can’t accuse people of being racist’. Again, it all comes back to our lack of education and understanding of what racism is and our desperation to shut down any conversation about it. For sure ‘racism’ is a loaded and emotive word. I seemed to upset a lot of people by suggesting that there was a lot of mansplaining and whitesplaining going on in the discussion. This comment brought me a lot of angry criticism from several white men. I tried to engage them in reasonable debate, after all, we were on a professional forum and should be able to do these things. I was unable to keep up with the comments or fury and quickly became exhausted by it. I am aware of the irony, that I, a white person am complaining of exhaustion after talking about racism. There was no desire to understand the point the post was made, rather, people just wanted to ‘prove’ that it was utterly wrong. We must stop silencing people and start listening.

There were many attempts to silence my colleague with all the usual rhetoric that I am finally beginning to see. ‘You can’t prove that’s racism’. ‘You can’t just cry racism’. ‘You can’t accuse people of being racist’. Click To Tweet

I see an urgent need for antiracist teacher training. I realise now that our well-intentioned ‘colour blindness’ is not serving our BME pupils. Our BME pupils are going to go out into a world where they will have more barriers and obstacles in their way than their white peers. They will be more likely to be unemployed. They may be victims of rising hate crime (if they haven’t already been). They will suffer health and social inequalities. Our pupils deserve a better curriculum, our unwavering allyship and most of all; they deserve teachers committed to antiracist teaching.

PART 3 – Building Trust in a Culture of Skepticism – PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT

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.

If you have read PART 1 on Leading the Instructional Program
(Synopsis: If you want to get rid of the BS, the first step is collaboratively building your instructional program for coherence, clarity and confidence so that every member of staff can articulate how learners learn and how you teach – this is often the key to driving up results, too!) 

and you managed your way through PART 2 on MONITORING & SCRUTINY

(Synopsis: there are much better ways to build commitment and confidence once you have collaborated on instructional design – often those things we need to monitor and scrutinse become obsolete after collective agreement and collaborative development)

then you are ready for the third instalment of my series on Building Trust in a Culture of Skepticism.  This blog will focus on what is often referred to as Performance Management – what I refer to as Professional Growth & Development.

The first thing that’s important is we speak the same language.  What does performance management look like in practice in most schools?  It is often a combination (or triangulation) of a few aspects.
1 – data: usually from pupils’ attainment and progress, including end of key stage and national tests as well as internal school data.
2 – books: some level of information about the progress/quality/contents of your pupil’s books
3 – observation/learning walks: information from your most recent (or series of) observations, learning walks, etc.

There is also a target setting and evaluation component – often heavily revolving around pupil data (attainment and/or progress).

The next aspect to consider is WHY we have such a corporate approach to performance.  Really, it is the overly simplistic view that there are two types of teachers: good ones and bad ones.  Good ones have a deep impact on pupil achievement and bad ones have little, no, or a negative impact.  Therefore, if we can measure what they do, we can find, celebrate and curate the good ones and get rid of the bad ones.  The trouble is, teaching is a lot more complex than that.  As are our schools.  One only needs to look as far as the United States to see the damning reports of the invisible impact of trying to improve teaching through narrow performance measures.

There is a place in every school to discuss pupil data – where did they start, where have they been, where are they going and what can we do more or less of to help?  Are there patterns – generalisations – we can see? Any surprises with groups of pupils?  Data is a great servant, but a poor master.

There is also scope to discuss books and professional practice – but that was the topic of PARTS 1 & 2.  There is a place for everything – but these things should rarely be at the centre.

So let’s think more deeply – what is required to ensure every child succeeds?  Surely that is at the heart of performance management – student success as a result of teacher development.  The answer to that question is not simply a ‘good teacher’.  Pupils don’t succeed because of one strong teacher – they succeed because they have a series of teachers that are great.  And we cannot improve the group by focussing solely on individuals.  Performance Management is really about supporting the growth and development of both the individual teacher AND the collective group.  This requires teachers that are intelligent, committed, inspired – coupled with intentional social structures that facilitate professional learning – completed by the ability to use that professional learning to make decisions that impact directly on learners and learning.  Simply put, we need the best people working together to learn, with the agency to enact decisions for the school, their classrooms and individual children.

With this in mind – we need to focus less on managing our professionals and more on developing them.  Imagine trying to grow the very best plant – you can measure the individual seeds, monitor them, scrutinse them, collect data on them, observe them – but if you neglect the soil, they’ll never flourish.  They will forever be a fraction of what they could have been.  We have spent too much time enthralled with the seed at the expense of the soil.  We need to be Soil People.

With this in mind – in order to truly impact upon student achievement and success – we need to develop incredible teachers that have a deep interest in their own growth.  They must feel aligned to both the school’s priorities and their own professional interests.  There is a body of positive research developing around Teacher Led Learning Projects (Dr Carol Campbell) and teacher led research and its impact on teacher development and student achievement.  At Three Bridges, teachers are in control of their professional learning.

Every teacher has an Annual Learning Plan.  This is characterised by lines of enquiry that form micro-research for the year.  The teachers create 2-3 questions – one of which is directly related to a school development priority and the other (1-2) are more personalised professional development questions.  Teachers carve out their rationale for formulating each question, their growth strategy and timelines with a Professional Growth Partner.  This is a middle level leader that is not their phase/team leader. They meet half termly with their growth partner to have a coaching conversation – to support them on their journey and keep them on the right track.  There is no better way to get fit than to commit to going to the gym or for a run with someone else.  They meet termly with me (aaaahhhhhh!!! The terror!!) for another coaching conversation, exploring their views on the impact that answering their questions is having on both themselves as a professional and (depending on their position in the school) their children, their phase, the whole school and/or other professionals.  This helps keep a focus on professional growth and student success.

And guess what – they love it.  We have teachers examining the impact of Philosophy for Children, the fine arts, reading for pleasure, early reading strategies.   They’ve been looking at the impact of Forest School on writing.  It is remarkable.  We have also funded a third of the staff to pursue master’s degrees at their request.  We have created wider research groups exploring metacognition and reading for meaning.  The teachers see growth and impact beyond the immediate data – actually, they are highly skeptical of immediate impact.  They are in it for the long look – beyond today or this term.  They are interested in the indicators of long term, sustainable impact. Our results – never been stronger.  Our children get a series of incredible teachers – they move from strength to strength – rather than from the nervously compliant to constrained creative.

Our teachers have Annual Growth Plans, Professional Growth Partners, Coaching Conversations, Micro-Research – they’ve got Learning & Lesson Study, Open Lessons, Teacher Research Groups and a series of unconstrained opportunities to lead their own learning, disseminate that information to others and – most importantly – infinite room to grow. We’re not interested in one tall, strong, beautiful flower.  We’re Soil People – we want a Great Garden.

The ‘Fat Turkish’ Boy’s Journey To Headship

Written by @HalilMrT1–  Halil Tamgumus

A wise man recently told me to write this blog, so I have, my first attempt at doing so (so please be gentle).

I am currently listening to an audiobook (another first). It’s called “Natives – Race and class in the ruins of Empire by Akala. I haven’t finished listening to it all yet but by chapter 5 I was crying. This, the same wise man as before assures me, is grief.  I am grieving. He is right I am.

The ‘Fat Turkish’ Boy’s Journey To Headship Click To Tweet

When I first joined Twitter in June 2018, I came a little late to this particular social networking party, I felt then as I did when I first started secondary school. Lost, a little confused and not able to find my place. I was the only Turkish Cypriot child in a school that, still to this day, sits in a predominantly white working-class area of Leicester. I felt different. Not because I was because we are all unique right? But because I was made to feel different – by my peers and for the most part the teachers.

Ironically – one of my first “proper” tweets was me asking if there were any other Turkish headteachers out there. I mean seriously, I cringe as I type this. It seems a bit desperate doesn’t it?…but I was reaching out for a connection – someone like me. No joy as of yet.

Luckily, as fate would have it, I found Pran Patel,  my lahmacun loving brother from another mother.

As a 12-year-old boy growing up in Leicester, my family would tick every stereotype there was for Turkish/Greek/Cypriot people. My dad owned a kebab shop (tick), a massive extended family (tick) and an obsession with food which borders the ridiculous (tick).

As you can imagine a young lad … from a food-obsessed family, living above and working in a kebab shop (some of my fondest memories as a child were of my dad and I prepping salad together for the busy night ahead in the shop – the place where he talked to me about life and what it was like for him as a youngster) it was inevitable that I would end up a little bit larger than the average child of 12 years old. By the age of 18, I was tipping the scales at… Ahem, 21 stones… ahem.

And so I was known by the school bullies, “friends” and adults in the staff room I’m sure of it, as the fat Turkish boy.

It’s on this phrase that I need to dwell on. Just for a little while. Although it was part accurate, what purpose did the label serve? I mean yeah, ok, I was overweight, actually, I would have been classed as morbidly obese in today’s currency.

But what has my ethnicity got to do with anything. Why didn’t it end at just being called the fat boy?

Why the Turkish part? The fat Turk?

Actually, I’m Turkish Cypriot and Turkish Cypriots will adamantly tell you they are not Türkiyeli i.e from Turkey. The reasons for this are deep-rooted and needs a blog on its own to be explained.

My opinion (and that’s all it is), for those that called me that phrase must have felt a sense of power over me when they said it. By degrading my heritage, my background, my culture and by proxy my self worth they would imply that their self worth, being and belonging was more important than mine.

But listening to Akala say the following words it all becomes a little clearer “I am because you are not” I am better than you, more important than you because you are not important.

But listening to Akala say the following words it all becomes a little clearer “I am because you are not” I am better than you, more important than you because you are not important.

The ‘Fat Turkish’ Boy’s Journey To Headship Click To Tweet

He goes on to state that, in a strange way, people who are put down by racism should feel quite flattered. And by looking back I do. I mean if I was so insignificant and so unimportant why spend so much time on me and other children from different ethnic backgrounds and with a different colour of skin to their own?

Wow. If I had this in my locker as a kid…wow. I would have been stronger for it. But I was too busy feeling sorry for myself.

I knew from an early age I had a different wit to my peers. An acid tongue, a sharp brain (although age has worn that away a bit) and a decent sense of humour. It’s the humour that got me through relatively unscathed physically during my secondary school years.

I only got into one notable fight in which Richard, a local black boy (if I remember correctly both his parents were from Jamaica) 3 years my senior, “backed me up” because “we have to stick together” as he put it. I’ll never forget that moment. He knew. He got it. He saved me actually because I was in no way equipped to win the fight. But I would have held on to the chain my grandmother gave me with my life. I would have died for it. It had a small pendant with the Turkish Cypriot flag. Exactly like the flag on my father’s headstone. The tears roll down my face as I write this – the connection is real.

My father needs his own blog. A socialist, a protestor, he believed in power to the people and education for all. He was the kindest man I have ever known. If you needed to borrow money from him and he didn’t have it he’d take a loan out so that he could give it to you! An angel and that’s not me being biased. When word got out that my dad was seriously Ill customers that used to go to his shop would knock on his door to see him. They would come to the ward, where he would stay whilst the doctors did tests on him, and bring him cards, flowers and chocolates. My hero.

I used humour in a way that I have seen other Poc and people of other ethnicities use. I used it until recently, to defuse awkward situations. Or to laugh at me about myself before others had a chance to. Take the wind out of their sails. I mean I grew up hating my name. Halil Tamgumus. I mean what a mouthful (ironic it was too many mouthfuls that helped me to my not so fighting heavyweight!).

Translated from Turkish, Halil means good friend and Tamgumus means pure silver. Growing up I’d have to listen to some of the strangest pronunciations of my name. Register …oh my days just the thought of it make my toes curl. Habeel…no sir it’s Halil…Hamil …no sir it’s Halil (can’t he read? – phonetics not his strongest suit?) Hakeel. Seriously, I’d think to myself, we haven’t even got to my second name yet, please God, if there was ever a time for the ground to open up now was that time.

I remember going to the doctor’s to pick up my dad’s prescription when I was younger. He had high blood pressure which partly came from him being the proprietor of a business and mainly due to my mother*. At the age of 13, I stood at the reception and the receptionist tried to pronounce my name. She got it spectacularly wrong – Halul tomangmouse – I mean really – so instead of correcting her. I said ” I’m sorry about my name, I completely blame my parents (insert eye roll here) there not from here” she laughed. Where I got those words from and why I decided to put them in that order I cannot tell you. All I know it was a lot less awkward than having my name, which I detested anyway, pronounced incorrectly.

Now. I’m proud of my name. And so are my two beautiful children it’s a strong name. And it is powerful. It comes from a beautiful group of people from a beautiful country. It withstood the test of a war and the subsequent crown colonisation under Britain (where divide and rule was the order of the day). It was passed on to me and my sister and now it belongs to my children. My father’s unbreakable desire to do good will live on through our actions. I hope he’s proud. I hope he knows.

My name is Halil Tamgumus and that is what I shall be called.

*I could tell you things about my mother but you wouldn’t believe me. That’s one part of my life that could be turned into a film. One of those “you couldn’t make it up” things.

Somali Poetry: Resources for a SOW

This piece is also found here by Terra Glowach.


This year I want to develop a year 8 poetry SOW on Somali poetry. Why?

  1. Somalia is known as The Nation of Poets in Africa, and has a long tradition of oral poetry which is enjoyed and created by all. I want to challenge students who see poetry writing as an artistically elitist or narcissistic endeavour, from which the pragmatic shy away. So the Somali tradition is a gift.
  2. I have a large cohort of Somali students, and I want to recognise and share the cultural capital they offer.
  3. The bulk of racism I have witnessed here in Bristol has been aimed at Somalis – being both black and Muslim, they take the brunt of our media’s racism and Islamophobia. It’s my job as a white ally and a teacher to promote appreciation and respect over ignorance and hate.

The bulk of racism I have witnessed here in Bristol has been aimed at Somalis – being both black and Muslim, they take the brunt of our media’s racism and Islamophobia. It’s my job as a white ally and a teacher to promote appreciation… Click To Tweet


The context I would recommend for time-poor teachers is Al Jazeera World’s documentary on Somalia before the civil war, and since. The two-part documentary, Somalia: The Forgotten Story, can be watched online in classrooms. As English teachers, we must balance context with content, and so I would recommend the opening of the documentary which gives crucial cultural context, and only sections you deem appropriate and necessary on the war. I will focus on those which challenge dominant perceptions.

A fascinating account of early Somali-British relations is recounted first hand here in the diary of Somali seafarer Ibrahim Ismaa’il: from Cardiff to the Cotswolds.

Finally, an enlightening documentary on traditional and modern diaspora poetry is Somalia: Nation of Poets, which includes incendiary and beautiful poetry in Somali (subtitled) and English.


The Poetry Translation Centre is a trove of diaspora poetry written in the original language, with initial and final translations on offer so you can explore how meaning is distilled in the process, and also use the original in a class with Somali speakers to explore key terms via translanguaging. This could be a powerful way to introduce theme and context, as well as explore the use of sound, and how translators have worked to preserve sound features.

Some background on metre may be of use. Here’s an excerpt from Martin Orwin and Maxamed Cabdullaahi Riiraash’s ‘An Approach to Relationships between Somali Metre Types’, published in African Languages and Cultures, Vol. 10, No. 1 (1997), pp. 83-100

The study of Somali metrics was revolutionized in the mid-1970s with the publication, in the Somali national newspaper Xiddigta Oktoobar, October Star, of a number of seminal articles by the two Somali scholars and poets Maxamed Xaashi Dhamac ‘Gaarriye’ (referred to in this article as Gaarriye, except for bibliographical reference) and Cabdullaahi Diiriye Guuleed, who made the long-awaited breakthrough in Somali metrical studies, apparently independently. These two scholars noted that Somali poetry scanned by counting vowel units, or moras, which were arranged in specific patterns according to genre. In other words, they showed that Somali has a quantitative metrical system in which only the vowels count, and that the lines of different genres vary in the number and pattern of those moras. They also differed a little in their approaches to understanding the metre, but all subsequent work on Somali metrics…is founded on these original articles. Since the mid-1970s, further work on Somali metrics has been ongoing and now the patterns of individual metres are well understood, as are the rules by which various vowel sequences may count as long or short. The most recent studies on Somali metrics (Johnson 1996,Banti & Giannattasio 1996) have included work on the musical aspects of the performance of poetry, which has deepened our understanding of the link between the rhythmic aspects of performance and the realization of the abstract, metrical patterns in certain verse instances.

In short, it would be wise to examine stress, assonance and rhythm when looking at Somali poetry, as with any poetry which is meant to be encountered in voice rather than text. As students will be reading the poetry in English, I will only touch on the complexity of genres and moras to develop the sense of tradition.

Maxamed Ibraahin Warsame ‘Hadraawi’ is a good place to start, being regarded as ‘the greatest living Somali poet’. I would use ‘Settling the Somali Language‘ to establish the link between identity and language, and explore tensions around the dominance of English. Important ideas here linking to the documentary Somalia: Nation of Poets.

The work of Maxamed Xaashi Dhamac ‘Gaarriye’  is an excellent example of the power of poetry. Note this excerpt from a Guardian article:

The power of verse to cause social upheaval is not something we’re very familiar with in the UK, but in Somali culture it’s taken for granted. One poet starts a theme, others take it up, then a chain develops, drawing people into the arguments. “I wrote something against tribalism that became an attack on the president,” Gaarriye explains. “Within four months the chain was more than 70 poems long.” And that was when the secret police came to visit. Shortly afterwards he fled to Ethiopia and an exile that lasted until 1991.

His poem ‘Seer‘ explores the nature of poetry through repeated metaphors.

Asha Lul’s ‘Harmony‘, is a strong example of the speaker’s embodied knowledge of her land, and uses both imagery and sound symbolism to locate the reader in a vivid sensory experience of Somalia. I would abridge and use the first verse – it’s a long one.

On love and self-knowledge, many students will relate to ‘Taste‘, and both the sense imagery and topic will yield rich discussion.

Looking at poetry written in English by the diaspora, my first experience was Warsan Shire’s ‘Home‘. This video, with simple but emotive animation, featuring Shire’s breaking voice is likely to bring a class to tears. I totally lose it EVERY TIME. Warning: there are references to rape and use of the N-word, and I cut these bits when teaching the poem to years 7 and 8.

Finally, I will use a poem entitled ‘Sheffield Children’s Hospital’ from Warda Yassin‘s seering collection Tea with Cardamom. You can buy the collection at Waterstones or online. The poem itself is two seven-line stanzas about a boy pretending to be a man, who swears that “people only care when you are stabbed, in prison, or dead.” Like many of Yassin’s poems, this one forces you to imagine the details in order to put the story together, and uses some Somali words to hold hands with heritage as you traverse a terrifying new terrain.

Actual lessons and questions will be shared when I’ve learned more. At this point I need feedback and suggestions from those with a good knowledge of Somali poetry. At the moment I have six poems, but looking to expand with suggestions.