Our stars are aligning

Sharifah Jelany-Lee

It is said that when something is written in the stars, that when values align, powerful change can happen and so it was written that #DiverseEd on Saturday 13th, organised by Hannah Wilson would coincide with the launch of Ed Lead Collective #CollectiveListening Month – both speaking out for the same values of Equity, Equality, Inclusion and proper representation. These two Collective groups are not the only ones calling out against discrimination , intolerance, injustice in all its shapes and forms – whether the injustice is based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, disability or any other prejudice that we recognise. The pandemic gave us real insight into social disparity; the great divide that we see in our communities and especially in our schools. The untimely and horrific death of George Floyd showed a modern world still stuck in primitive and backward ways. Social and racial discrimination is rife, and we are living in a time where this is made even more visible through the power of social media. At the time of writing, far right extremists were chanting offensive slogans and protesting with violence. Let that sink in! Modern Britain shows its colours to the world; what messages are we giving?

Thus, we hear the voices of Ed Lead Collective, DiverseEd, BAMEed, WomenEd, LGBTEd, DisabilityEd calling out the injustice faced by many; some of them our friends, our colleagues, our neighbours, our pupils, our families, ourselves. In an equitable world, would these groups still be needed? I cannot answer that as I do not live in an equitable world. I live in a world where I am judged by colour of my skin, the language I speak, the woman I am.

I grew up in multi-racial and multi-cultural Singapore and this nation has many flaws, made even more obvious by a migrant labour force that suffered more from Covid 19 than the affluent citizens of Singapore. Its government has been known to be called a ‘benevolent dictatorship’ as it has, for more than half a century, been ruled by one-party politics. When I was growing up, I did not realise that the state adhered to positive discrimination to ensure a more equal racial representation in all hierarchies of society from the top all the way to the grassroots level. I identify myself now with the indigenous race, the Malays. As a racial group, school and university fees were waived for this group as it was important that all groups were given the same life chances as the there was a disparity between the Malays and the other races in term of socio-economic starting points. More Malay families lived in poverty and life chances were limited. Even then, government policies ensured equity not just equality – a level playing field for all its citizens no matter what their race, language or religion was.

It was far from perfect and it still is not now, but surely there are lessons to be learned from the ‘Tiger of the East’ where its Education system is lauded for its progressive system and academic excellence. You can say what you like about Singapore, but the work to improve its society never stops. I will have many Singaporean friends and colleagues who will disagree with me and rightly so as Singapore is no longer my home. I cannot judge a society I no longer live in. After 25 plus years of living in England, this is now my home; this is where my roots are and those of my children. Even with rose tinted glasses, I can tell that we, in the UK, have a long way to go to achieve even what the Singapore of my past has achieved. 26 years of falling in love with a nation who does not yet know how to love itself. The lack of respect, acceptance, and the huge gap between the privileged and the disadvantaged astound me. We are called a developed nation but by whose criteria. Developed in what? What I see happening in society in general and in education, saddens me.

My main take away from the #DiverseEd event is ‘Be an upstander not a bystander’. Simple yet powerful and echoes the commitments of the Ed Lead Collective. As educators, we can no longer afford to be just inwardly frustrated. We now need to act, through a collective voice to ensure that we influence national policies, encourage a system of true representation, and ensure that education is not politicised or used as a political weapon. We need to support all leaders and every school to make decisions based on their own community and context. We hear of fantastic Headteacher role models in Chris Dyson, Debra Rutley and many, many others who place themselves above the parapet and are fearless in doing the right thing for their community usually without the support of, and funding from the DfE.

However, what about other school leaders, especially those not working in large MATs, chipped away in a system that renders them almost powerless. The leaders who fear the judgement of Ofsted instead of the judgment of children and families failed by the system that continually separates the rich from the poor and deny the disadvantage from the privilege of the few. This was the message at #DiverseEd today. Stand up, be counted, be the change we want to see and need to be. Not just for our children and the next generation; but for ourselves! Both Collectives seek to challenge the status quo, one to ensure diversity and the other to ensure unity. I could explain each term, but the information is out there for you to seek and find out what they mean to you. It is time to do your own homework and then feel that you can join these voices in ensuring equity and eradicating inequality.

#DiverseEd became a powerful voice on the day; uniting leaders, educators, citizens; and signposting them on what individuals and organisation can and should do to ensure equitable representation. Keep finding your purpose by asking questions. Ambitions and actions start with the self. To be silent is to be compliant. Our voices are our greatest tool and asset.

This is partly what Ed Lead Collective aims to achieve. Dan Morrow in his blog ‘The Broom’ writes, “Why have we kept going, enduring in a Society that we knew- deep down- was neither fair nor equal?… in fact becoming more polarised rather than more united.” He carries on by saying, “Each answer makes us a willing accomplice to the degradation and dehumanisation of people around us, and the collective sacrifice of a fair society.” (1) We all have been asking the questions and recently “The Covid 19 Pandemic has shone a spotlight on the inequalities that exist within British Society and are most evident in areas of socio-economic disadvantage” (2). Now is the time to use our voice, now is the time to be heard. In adversity there is also opportunity. If we do not grab it now, what message do we give our children and our communities? If we cannot speak and act for them, what hope is there for our children to speak for themselves. This must not be a token gesture, a lip service. The Collective must be the voice of all and for all and start with the representation we want to see. Be the transparent role models that our national leaders have failed to be. Social, racial, sexual and all other prejudices must end and together, when our stars align, and we all use a united voice, it will!

  • Many of the points of views above were taken from a range of diverse speakers at #DiverseEd and combined with my own. I am grateful to all of them.
  • (1) Dan Morrow ‘The Broom
  • (2) ‘ELC Collective Listening Month’

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