In the last four years, Drake School, in the small but ever-growing town of Thetford, Norfolk, has made the transition from an infant school to a two-form-entry primary, under a new Headteacher with a passionate vision for the school.
Two years ago, a group which included teachers, teaching assistants, and the school SENCO came together informally and organically, around the desire to make Drake Primary School vocally and consciously, anti-racist. From there the Head, Louise Rosen, asked this group to formally become the Diversity Council.
As a team we were adamant that we were focused on deep level, long term change. It would have been so easy to rush in before we had worked on our foundations. As such, at every strategic meeting, we were asking ourselves and each other Is this tokenistic? Are we challenging the status quo here?
Our first step was to spend a long time creating a new Diversity Policy to put before the school Governors, with the full knowledge that, in time, this journey would shape future revisions of the policy. A year later, we are now finding our original policy to be overly long and in need of being separated into a handful of more specific policies. Such is the learning!
While much was going on behind the scenes as the Diversity Council liaised with subject leads and gave input into the newly designed curriculum and teacher CPD, there came a point when it was crucial to start getting the pupils involved in the leadership of the team.
Each class in the school, from Year Two to Year Six, held elections for a student representative from each class, to sit on the Diversity Council. Potential candidates spoke about why they wanted to join the team. Their pitches were inspiring to hear:
“I know what it’s like to have an illness that makes you feel left out.” Year five child.
“I want to be involved so we can make real changes. I’ve been on other councils in school before so I know that we can make things happen.” Year six child.
“Some people with different skin colours, I know people say not-nice things to them, and I don’t want that to happen. So, I want everyone to feel happy at Drake and for us all to look after each other.” Reception child.
Michele, a year 6 member of the Diversity Council explained:“It’s exciting to be part of the Diversity Council. Our aim is to make sure that everyone is welcome here. We want everyone to feel like they belong, no matter what their skin looks like, or what their religion or culture is. Our aim on the Diversity Team is to make sure that everyone gets treated fairly.”
Annabelle, another Diversity Council representative from year six, explains one of the big projects Drake has been working on to achieve these aims: “For two years, we’ve been doing the Humanae project, inspired by the artist Angelica Dass (Angelica even sent us a video message because she was so happy about what we are doing!). We want kids to recognize that their skin is different to the person next to them and that we’re all different and it’s a good thing. Every year we do self-portraits and we have to mix our skin tone from blue, red, yellow and white paint (sometimes it takes ages and we end up with green skin before we can find the right skin tone!). Our portraits all go into our own ‘Identity book’ (which we keep through our whole time until we go to High School) and at the end we have a lovely book showing fabulous improvement as we learn more about ourselves. We have a lovely collection of the portraits hung up around school that everyone enjoys looking at too.”
Recently the Diversity Council was asked by one of the Reception teachers to audit the Diversity evidence in our Early Years environments. The pupil members, along with support the Diversity Council Lead, Lorraine Prince, audited the environment, made critical analysis and from their observations and researched ways to make the environment more equitable. Once our conclusions were made, we met with Mrs Rosen, Headteacher, to present our findings and suggestions.
Sathursana, a year five pupil representative, who took on a key role in the presentation, describes this process: “We went to the early years to audit how diverse the classrooms are with an audit framework that the adults had made, and we all had a different area to look at. We looked at the dolls and toys, books and displays. We found that the classrooms were a bit stereotypical because there were just boys shown in trousers and girls shown in skirts and the small world toys showed people in stereotyped gender roles. Something really important that we found is that there were no resources to do with disabilities, and in the displays there was nobody with disabilities either. We also think there aren’t enough resources that show people of different religious faiths.
“In our presentation to Mrs. Rosen we showed her the new resources that we wanted the school to buy for the early years’ classrooms. Some of the things we’re going to get are Asian small world people and Black small world people, and small world people with different disabilities, like with a hearing aid, and dolls in wheelchairs and dolls with Down Syndrome, so that everyone can see lots of different people represented because that’s important. The next thing we want to do is to look at all the books we have across the school and audit how diverse they are.”
Since we began this process, we have seen exciting changes in the school. At the beginning of our Humanae project, led by Emma Booth, the schools Art Lead, the children would illustrate themselves predominantly using yellow and pink to colour in human figures, including pupils with darker skin tones. Sometimes this was because they believed this was the way things were done and they had never thought about their skin tone, and sometimes it was because they were uncomfortable acknowledging their own skins did not match the majority of the world around them and didn’t want to colour themselves with brown skin.
The transformation has been incredible. From witnessing children who did not want to be seen now becoming aware of their identity and observing children across the whole school representing all the different skin tones in their illustrations. The children have broadened their ideas of identity; with those children from the ‘Global Majority’ starting to feel more comfortable sharing a part of their identity and how they see the world. We can now see these same children taking out the different brown pencils and using them to colour the people in their drawings.
Perhaps the most important transformation though, has been seen amongst some of the non-white children who had previously been reluctant to broaden their skin tone palette away from pink. We can now see these same children taking out the different brown pencils and using them to colour the people in their drawings.
After the first year of the Humanae project, a young boy, then in year two, who was known to depict himself as bright yellow, remarked while inspecting the colour of the skin on his arm, “I identify as brown because we’re all just kind of different shades of brown anyway, aren’t we.”
To find out more about the amazing work being done, visit https://www.drake.norfolk.sch.uk/
To find out more about Pearson’s ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusion in education and stay up to date with future discussions. Visit our Diversity and Inclusion webpage.
For even more support, please read the LGBT+ Inclusive Curriculum Guides for Primary and Secondary. Created by Stonewall, sponsored by Pearson.