Discrimination and prejudice are learned and therefore can be unlearned. Schools cannot leave this process to chance; we are very good at teaching maths and literacy and there also needs to be focus on life skills including Equalities education.
Equalities education is often taught through the “hidden curriculum” in the way the school creates the ethos around the children. This is effective to a point but we need to be teaching specific lessons on diversity and difference from Early Years onwards. Furthermore, in the UK today schools need to have a clear vision for how to reduce the potential for radicalisation.
“No outsiders in our school: Teaching the Equality Act in primary Schools” by Andrew Moffat, available now from http://www.speechmark.net/, is a book of two halves. One half provides schools with thirty five lesson plans; five for each year group from Reception to Year 6, each based on a children’s book. The other half provides a comprehensive guide to how to create the culture in school where the aim is to have these lesson plans and books accepted and endorsed by all communities. Guidance includes engaging parents, creating the school environment and dealing effectively with prejudice if it arises.
The lesson plans can be taught as part of PSHE or literacy; each Learning Intention builds upon the skills set taught in the previous year. The texts are regular children’s books with great stories and characters; the messages are often subtle and teased out by the teacher during the lesson as children are encouraged to develop inference skills and relate characters and situations to their own experience.
For example, “Red Rockets and Rainbow Jelly” by Sue Heap and Nick Sharratt was one of the first books I used to promote diversity, writing a lesson plan in 2006 for “Emotional Literacy: a scheme of work of work for the primary School” and later using the plan in the “Challenging homophobia In Primary Schools” (CHIPS) scheme of work. The message is very simple; Nick and Sue like different things all through the book but in the end they still like each other! We relate this to living in Britain today; whether you are Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Black , White, Gay, Straight, Male, Female, like sausages or like strawberries, we can find at least one thing we have in common and we can get along. When we talk about teaching British values in schools, perhaps this is where we start; we live in a society where diversity is a fact of life and we accept and celebrate that. You may be different to me in some ways but in many other ways we are the same.
At the other end of the school, “The island” by Armin Greder looks at the harsh consequences resulting from negative attitudes towards difference and diversity. In the story a community reacts with fear and mistrust to a newcomer and as the story develops we see how prejudice grows through a lack of education and empathy. The ending is shocking and demonstrates what happens when prejudice remains unchallenged and is allowed to breed. Children are asked to consider how we ensure this behaviour has no place in our school, and furthermore in our society.
On their journey from “Red Rockets” to “The Island”, children following this scheme of work will meet a huge range of characters, including:
Each lesson plan has a clear Learning Intention with suggested Success Criteria, a Starter, points for discussion following a read through of the text and then a Role Play/ Circle Time game to enable the children to experience the feelings and themes explored in the story. There is then a written activity and a plenary followed by suggested Assessment For Learning questions.
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