How schools can embrace diversity and inclusion

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Clare Campbell explores ways to make schools welcome places to children of all faiths and none.

I have been a headteacher of three very different schools in my career so far, all in Greater Manchester in the north of England, all very different in context, but all very similar as Christian schools.  

All these wonderful schools have had very different make-ups in terms of pupil population.  I have also taught in schools in Africa and visited schools in America, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand. In these schools I have been fortunate to teach children from each continent, from over 100 different countries and who speak in over 70 different languages (the children in Manila in the Philippines could speak at least six languages each!)  

In my current school we are privileged to have travellers, asylum seekers and refugees on our roll and we also have pupils from other great world faiths, including Islam, Sikhism and Hinduism.  

My first school was located near to a large Orthodox Jewish community and we had great relations with the schools there and the Jewish museum. I have always strived to be respectful and inclusive to all the children and families that have entered my schools. 

I often think of the Bible verse which spurs me on … “all humanity is fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Genesis 9:6).  Because all humanity is ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’, all humanity should always be treated with dignity and respect.  These are the truths which should guide all educators as we encounter multi-cultural, multi-faith communities.  

Whether or not our faith, nationality, language or background are different to the children and families we serve, each and every one of them deserves to be treated as ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’.

When you think of it, diversity is the one thing we all have in common.

School teacher reading to kids

In schools where we are educating children from other world faiths, we must be respectful of their views and in some cases parents may decide for their children to opt out of Religious Education lessons or collective worship on faith grounds.  But I am always a little sad when this happens and I do try to speak personally to the parents to explain how these are the very core of our school and we wouldn’t want their children to miss out on really important school community time.

Collective worship together is my favourite part of the school day. Sharing scripture, prayer and song in community is so powerful, as is celebrating successes of our school family together and giving praise and thanksgiving for the children’s many gifts and talents.  

I can still remember collective worship from my own primary school days over 30 years ago.  One memory that is really vivid for me is when my headteacher Mr Seddon brought some twigs in from outside and he asked one of the boys in our class to snap one, which he did easily. He then tied a bunch of twigs together with string and asked the same boy to snap them, which he couldn’t no matter how hard he tried.  “This is us,” the headteacher said, “We are stronger together than we ever are apart.”        

These lasting memories of togetherness are what I as a school leader want to help to make for children at my school.

For everyone to be included, accepted and celebrated as children of God, who are fearfully and wonderfully made.  

A world that includes us all needs us to listen to the people who live in it and a school that is fully inclusive needs to listen to its learners.  We have so much to learn from them.  To listen to them is to value their opinion.

There are so many ways that schools make their cultures inclusive, and actions always speak louder than words. One such way is to create time in the school day, every day, to really listen to your learners and find out what they want and what they need. So learners of all types, whatever their religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation, or whether they are Travellers, asylum seekers, refugees or have additional needs, all feel included and valued and respected members of the school family.

School teacher teaching kids about the world

Open and honest discussions about difficult topics – racism, privilege, homophobia, prejudice and the other hot potatoes – should not be shied away from.

But neither should we, as a Christian school, shy away from proclaiming respectfully what we believe, even in those areas which might be contested by modern society. Respect for diversity cannot be reducing everything to an amorphous fudge. Some of the most memorable conversations I have ever had with children have been about really tricky topics.  

Diversity and inclusion increase the richness of ideas, creative power, problem-solving ability and respect for others. At our school we have same-sex parents, single parents, children who are raised by grandparents, young carers, private fostering arrangements, looked-after children and all other permutations of blended families. This is 2021. But we also lovingly express our Christian belief in the true nature of the family as a union for life between a man and a woman, while still welcoming those who do not live up to this. All members of each and every family are fearfully and wonderfully made and should be treated as such.

And so for me, inclusion is:

  • Treating everyone fairly
  • Acknowledging individual uniqueness
  • Celebrating differences
  • Celebrating similarities
  • Eliminating discrimination
  • Reflecting on individual practices
  • Standing up for human rights
  • Standing up for children’s rights

That’s quite a challenge for educators today but one from which we must not shrink.

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