By Kemi Oloyede

Diversity and Inclusion are two words with a lot of weight attached to them. But do we understand what they truly mean and how can we as educators genuinely embrace them in our practice?

What do we mean by Diversity and Inclusion?

We’ve heard the words ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ for so many years. In light of everything going on in the world today, it seems like these words are used more and more on a daily basis, but what do they really mean? And how do they present in the world of education?

I’ve come to realise that diversity and inclusion are two words that are often used together but are very much separate. Most schools either have one or the other but not both, married together and in the most effective way.

Diversity is understanding the uniqueness and differences between people and having them co-exist in the same place. Whereas inclusion is the practice of providing equal access and opportunities for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalised.

Diversity is more of a legal requirement whereas inclusion enhances the performance of staff as well as students. Diversity is often imposed whereas inclusion is internally driven and takes time to embed properly. Diversity focuses on differences we can see whereas inclusion focuses on differences that are both visible and invisible. Inclusion requires a culture change that involves everyone in a school, but diversity focuses on minorities that aren’t usually represented.

Why Many Schools Fail on Diversity and Inclusion?

Schools may be good at promoting diversity, but often fail in the inclusion department, because they are trying to build on a system that is inherently oppressive and wasn’t originally designed to celebrate our differences, nor include it in the fabric of the schools we work in and our children attend.

I remember the first interview I went on, once I graduated from university. The graduate unemployment rate was very high and I didn’t want to fall into that category, so I was desperate for a job. During the last stage of my interview, the headteacher at the time said “You’d be good for our black students.” At the time I was the only black person in the inclusion department. I was hired to fill a quota, to tick their diversity box.

I’m a big advocate for equality, but I’m a bigger advocate for equity. However, using the same methods and strategies that have produced inequity will not work. A question that school leaders should ask is ‘Why do staff and students still feel excluded when there are diversity and inclusion policies in place under the Equality Act 2010?’

Well, one issue is funding. Schools may say that they don’t have the financial capacity to fund initiatives that promote diversity and inclusion as it adds to their operational costs or isn’t part of their school budget. To make matters worse, the DfE have cut their Equality and Diversity Fund.

More Harm Than Good

Not recognising or valuing diversity can do your school more harm than good; there will be a breakdown in communication, increased conflict and a rise in employee turnover. The amazing teachers that were once part of your staff team, will go elsewhere where they feel valued and accepted for who they are and what they bring to the table.

I’ve had schools contact me directly via the Young Black Teachers Network as they genuinely want a more diverse cohort of teachers and representation. It is important, therefore, to remember that diversity in staffing isn’t just a tick box activity. Diversity is showing up, whereas inclusion is being respected, appreciated and accepted. It’s not only what is put on your school website, it is what you actually do in practice on a daily basis.

The Classroom and Beyond

We must also look beyond the school gates and look at how diversity and inclusion is embedded in the education sector as a whole. It also involves decolonising a curriculum that was never originally designed to be inclusive or to celebrate our unique differences.

Staff, as well as students need to ask honest questions that challenge the way and how we think. Having a one-off black history lesson, in October is once again ticking a check box. It is not inclusive. It’s not about removing Shakespeare from English Literature, Mendeleev from Chemistry textbooks or Darwin from Biology. We must look at the gaps in the curriculum and make sure those gaps are filled with people and history that celebrates our unique differences.

What students are exposed to in the curriculum is what they will class as ‘normal’, so it is important to show them authors, artists, scientists, historians, mathematicians etc. who look like each of them and have made life changing contributions to the world we live in. There is a sense of pride that I personally feel when I see someone who looks like me, someone who I can relate to in a subject I’m learning or teaching.

When I was in school, I was only taught about slavery and the terrible things Black people have to endure. It was never a positive experience for me as a child. So as a science teacher, I make a conscious effort to teach my students about Black and Asian scientists and inventors, so they know we have been and we will always be present.

There’s a lot of work that still needs to be done at a systemic level, but as educators, we can’t wait for the government or the systems in place to change. We must be the change we want to see, not only for us, but for our children.

If a school values diversity, then there’s more likely to be equality. If a school values inclusion, then there’s more likely to be equity. These are intertwined and one can’t work without the other if the school and its students are to succeed. But beyond that, it’s also important to note that the success of diversity and inclusion in schools is dependent on it being built on a whole new system or structure that isn’t built on inherent racism.

Diversity should never be a tick box activity just to fill a quota and inclusion shouldn’t be something that is only spoken about, but isn’t put into practice.

The questions for you are, what does diversity and inclusion mean to you? What do they look like in your educational establishment? How can we improve?


Kemi Oloyede is a SENCO, Science Teacher, Careers Co-ordinator & Guest Lecturer at UEL. She is also the Founder of the Young Black Teachers Network. She currently works in a Pupil Referral Unit. The first four years of her career were in a mainstream school setting before she moved to an Alternative Provision.

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