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How to use a working group to improve your approach to anti-racism
Create a safe space for staff and parents to share their perspectives on your school's approach to inclusivity, so you can better tackle racism in your community.
- Listen to BAME staff and parents' perspectives before you try to solve any problems
- Encourage people from across your school to join
- Establish terms of reference with all of your attendees before your first meeting
- First meeting – set ground rules before you start
- Take note of problems, and use those to create an action plan
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 BAME staff and parents' perspectives 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 BAME staff and parents 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 your BAME staff and parents 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).
Alternatively (or in addition) make an anonymous survey or suggestions box
If you don't think your community would engage with a working group, consider doing the following to inform your anti-racism action plan:
- 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)
If you're making a working group you could still do the above too, to give people more options to share their opinions.
If you don't have any BAME people 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 has few or no BAME members, or is resistant to anti-racism initiatives, take a look at this article for further advice.
It's up to you to make change happen – you shouldn't expect your BAME staff and parents to come up with solutions
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 SLT 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 as well. Take a look at Hanover Primary School's message to its community for an idea of how to write your own (click the link below the video for a transcript).
Once you've sent out this invitation, speak directly to any BAME staff and parents 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 BAME staff, parents and pupils
The exact 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 to these parents directly, explain that:
- This is the first step to making the school more inclusive, which will benefit pupils as well as BAME parents and staff
- 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)
Even if your turnout from hard-to-reach parents is low for your first session, it's better to 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 BAME staff or parents' responsibility 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.
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 in your discussion.
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).
Inclusion Labs, a non-profit organisation that helps schools to be active and accountable in creating a more diverse and inclusive community, who spoke to us about making an action plan and tailoring your approach to suit your community.
Jack Sloan, headteacher at Hanover Primary School, who spoke to us about starting a working group.
Show Racism the Red Card, who spoke to us about running a learning group if you don't have any BAME representation in your school.
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