A note on terminology: we use BAME (Black, Asian or minority ethnic) throughout this article as a succinct way to refer to the many ethnic minority groups in England. However, we recognise that some people are not comfortable with the term.
When talking about this topic in your school, we'd encourage you to think about what terms will work best in your own context (other widely used terms include "ethnic minorities" and "people of colour") – and note that individuals should always be referred to according to their own ethnicity, rather than grouped in this way.
Listen to the perspectives of staff and parents who are BAME before you try to solve any problems
If you aren't from a BAME background yourself, you might not be aware of the problems BAME members of your community face.
By involving staff and parents who are affected by racism in your plans to tackle racism and make your school more inclusive, you can tailor your approach to suit your community. You'll also reduce the risk of being tokenistic in your response.
This needs to be a collaborative process, but remember that it’s up to you to do the heavy lifting to make change happen in your school – you shouldn't expect staff and parents who are BAME to come up with solutions. This working group should allow you to get their insights, host an ongoing discussion, and create an action plan based on what you hear (more on the action plan later).
Be prepared to show leadership
Make sure you're ready to lead discussions around race. These conversations may feel uncomfortable, so you’ll need to be prepared to show your vulnerability, and be willing to admit mistakes and lack of understanding.
For example, if you're white, then you can't fully understand what it's like for a Black person when they experience racism. Be open about this during discussions with staff, parents, and pupils.
It's up to you to make change happen – you shouldn't expect staff and parents who are BAME to come up with solutions
Before you start having these conversations, brush up on your understanding of race and racism by reading as widely as you can on the topic. Get started with our anti-racist reading lists for staff.
Learn more about leading whole-school discussions about racism and whiteness in another article from The Key Leaders.
Do the groundwork
Before you ask your community about how they have been impacted by racism in your school community, do some of the heavy lifting yourself.
Use our whole-school and curriculum anti-racism audits to reflect on how inclusive your school currently is for staff, pupils and parents who are BAME. These audits will give you a solid foundation from which to hear from your community and take action.
Form a working group and encourage people from across your school to join
Give priority to BAME staff and parents who want to attend, but keep it open for anyone to join.
Representatives from the senior leadership team and governing board should also attend, regardless of their ethnicity.
Use your newsletter to invite all parents to join, and consider putting a message on your website or on social media.
Once you've sent out this invitation, speak directly to any staff and parents who are BAME in your school community, and encourage them to attend. Be clear that:
- You're not expecting them to lead this or find solutions themselves
- You want their perspective on the gaps or weaknesses they see in your school's approach to anti-racism and inclusivity, so you can work towards making your school more inclusive for staff, parents and pupils who are BAME
The size of your group will depend on how large your school is.
Try to get hard-to-reach parents involved
Start by getting parents on board who you know will be eager to join. If you've spoken individually to any parents in your community about racism, start by inviting them. Then, ask these parents to speak to any harder-to-reach parents that they're friendly with.
If you do manage to speak with these parents directly, explain that:
- This is the first step to making the school more inclusive, which will benefit pupils as well as parents and staff who are BAME
- This is an opportunity for them to have their say, and to represent other parents who might not come forward to share their thoughts
- The group will remain confidential (see below)
Consider the barriers faced by these hard-to-reach parents that might be preventing them from joining your group and find bespoke solutions. For example:
- If parents have caring responsibilities that mean they don't have time come into school, could you hold the meetings virtually?
- If there’s a language barrier at play, could you ask a member of staff who speaks the language to join the group, or hire a translator?
Learn more about parental engagement and engaging with parents with English as an additional language in these articles from The Key Leaders.
Even if your turnout from hard-to-reach parents is low for your first session, go ahead with it anyway. Continue to try to engage with these parents, and invite them to subsequent meetings.
Establish terms of reference with all of your attendees before your first meeting
Download and adapt our terms of reference template:
To help build confidence and encourage open discussion, your terms of reference should include:
- A reminder that the working group is designed to be a safe space for discussion
- How discussion will take place (for example, will you take turns speaking? Will the floor be open to further discussion?)
- A note on confidentiality – the discussion doesn't leave the room, and any opinions or experiences shared by members will be kept anonymous in any plans that come from the discussion
Send this to your attendees well in advance of your first session.
First meeting – set ground rules before you start
You can't entirely plan your first session, but here are a few pointers:
- Remind attendees of the aims of the group and how you'll organise discussion
- Remind them that the sessions are confidential
- Start the discussion by asking attendees why they wanted to be involved – this is a good opportunity to get people sharing their insights right away
Focus on understanding problems, rather than trying to find solutions
It's not the responsibility of staff or parents who are BAME to find solutions, so ask attendees to share their perspectives instead – you want to hear about the gaps in your approach, but take solutions on board too if anyone suggests them.
Show your vulnerability, and be willing to admit mistakes and lack of understanding
As the chair of this group, you might need to model behaviour for the other attendees to follow.
Avoid getting defensive if a member of the group brings up something that you or the school have done wrong in the past. You are there to listen and learn about other people's perspectives.
Take note of problems, and use those to create an action plan
Take a look at our guidance and action plan template, to help you create objectives and action steps based on what you've heard from staff and parents.
Once you've made the action plan, present it to your working group before showing it to the rest of your school community.
Your action plan should have milestones for each of your objectives. Meet with your working group when you hit these milestones to discuss your progress (in addition to any regularly scheduled meetings you might wish to continue with).
Other options for hearing from your community
If a working group doesn’t feel like the right thing for your community, don’t worry, you have plenty of other options.
- Set up an anonymous suggestions box for staff, parents and pupils to highlight gaps or weaknesses in your approach to anti-racism and inclusivity
- Send an anonymous online survey to parents and staff (and pupils, depending on their age)
- Hold a parent forum to open up the discussion to all interested parents. Fairlawn Primary School in Lewisham has run several parent forum events discussing racism and inclusion. See the PowerPoints and minutes of their meetings by following the link
- Gather pupil voice through student council or a pupil working group
If you're making a working group, you could still do the above too, to give people more options to share their opinions.
If there aren't any people who are BAME in your school community, make a learning group for staff and parents instead
You can use this as an opportunity to share reading and expand your understanding – use our anti-racist reading lists for staff to get started.
If your school community is resistant to anti-racism initiatives, learn how to get them on board with your approach with another article from The Key Leaders.