2 Helping others to understand diversity, equity and inclusion

You may find that some of your staff already have a good grasp of the terminology of inclusion – although some may not. Many will need further professional development to understand the relationship between diversity, your particular school context and the specific impact it has on student outcomes.

You may therefore need to spend time helping staff, and the wider community to understand the implications of this agenda for them as an individual. You could to do this by organising a small working group to make some initial changes before engaging the wider school, or addressing it as a whole school issue from the beginning. Whichever approach you take, you will need some tools to help you introduce the topic and to help staff to develop an understanding of what equality, diversity and inclusion mean for them. Resource 1, ‘Including all’, may be helpful to share with your colleagues.

Artiles et al. (2006) identify four dimensions of inclusion in the education setting that can be useful as an initial starting point:

  1. Access: Where the barriers to attendance include a disability or medical condition, poverty (not being able to afford uniform or fees for school, having to earn money for the family, no home study space), location (the journey to school is too arduous or dangerous for their age), caring responsibilities, or a lack of priority given to education due to cultural factors.
  2. Acceptance: The ‘status’ that learners are given once they are in school, which can be affected by teacher attitudes. Teachers should have the expectation that all learners are individuals and will be able to succeed regardless of background factors.
  3. Participation: Learning is a social activity; knowledge is constructed as we participate in activities with others and come to joint meanings with others. Learners must be given the opportunity to participate with each other and in interactions with teachers.
  4. Achievement: ‘Inclusion’ does not mean that all learners will achieve to a similar level. In an inclusive context, ‘achievement’ means that all learners have the opportunity to demonstrate their educational achievements in many different contexts and not just at fixed and formal national tests. Teachers must allow students to show their varied skills, abilities and knowledge so that their achievement can be recognised and valued within the community.

Figure 2 offers an amusing example of how easy it is to exclude individuals or groups by the tasks that are set.

Figure 2 The tasks you set must promote inclusion.

The animals in Figure 2 are as diverse as the students in your classrooms. It is important to recognise their differences in a positive light and not to give them tasks in a way that disadvantages some and favours others. In the figure it is obvious which animal is going to succeed at the task that has been set; a class of students is very similar. Teachers often know when setting a task which of the students in a class is going to succeed.

However, It is not only in tasks that some students may be disadvantaged. The school environment may mean that some students do not have equal access or that they struggle unnecessarily (for example, in using bathrooms or washroom facilities). These additional hurdles can cause a student stress and may even mean that they do not attend school due to anxiety about being different. It therefore becomes important to ‘normalise’ difference so that there is no shame or embarrassment associated with have additional needs or adaptations.

Activity 1: Starting a conversation about the implications of inclusion on practice

Reflect on Artiles et al.’s dimensions of inclusion and the cartoon in Figure 2. How might you use these resources to start a conversation with your staff about promoting inclusion in your school? Consider what opportunities they provide for discussing:

  • your particular school context
  • the implications for particular subject areas
  • the implications for the type of teaching and learning that occurs (including assessments).


You may have realised that creating an inclusive learning environment is interwoven with teaching that promotes active, individually tailored and appropriate learning for the particular needs of the class. It is highly unlikely, for example, that a course designed around all students working through a textbook with a final written exam will create an inclusive environment where all students achieve their potential.

You may have reflected in Activity 1 on how particular subjects have specific inclusion issues relating to certain groups of students, or that in your context there is one overriding factor that impacts on students’ access to the curriculum.

Whatever your thoughts, these resources can provide a starting point for the conversation about what it means to be inclusive both in attitude but also in actions within the classroom and school environment. In doing so it is well worth recognising and drawing on the fact that many of your staff may have personal experiences of disadvantage or exclusion. If individuals don’t have personal experience, they may know someone who has, or may be able to imagine their feelings in a scenario. Using these experiences can be a powerful learning tool to facilitate changes in attitudes and beliefs. Now try Activity 2, while considering how such an activity might support you and your staff in developing a more inclusive culture in your school.

Activity 2: Using personal experience

Reflect on a time when your own difference (caste, education, language, colour, gender, etc.), or perhaps the difference of someone you are close to or know well, had a negative or not so desirable effect on school experience. Answer the following questions:

  • How did it make you feel to be excluded or discriminated against by others?
  • How did you deal with such a situation?
  • What support would you have liked ?
  • Did you get the support you wanted?
  • What do your answers highlight about how students who feel excluded or discriminated against might feel in your school?


You may feel that you have experienced only a little discrimination earlier on in your life, or maybe you had not thought about it until now as being ‘discrimination’ and had just accepted some unfair treatment as ‘that’s the way it is’. However, you would have surely witnessed significant acts of injustice towards other students, and maybe you were complicit in it. Looking back, we have the benefit of hindsight to see these things. You probably had feelings of frustration, injustice or powerlessness.

As a student it can feel very difficult to challenge authority, even when you feel it is unjust. Maybe the experience had the effect of demotivating you as you were disregarded or overlooked? There may have been a particular teacher who was more equal and fair in their practice and you felt supported in their lessons, or that you got support from your family, who encouraged you to keep trying. It is hard to keep trying to learn if the school appears uninterested in what you do, and this will in some way affect your success.

There can be different levels of discrimination operating in a school and the school leader and teachers needs to be alert to both. Personal discrimination may come about through an individual’s conscious or unconscious prejudice. For example, there might be a scenario where a student is not picked for the school cricket team, despite his obvious abilities. This could be because the teacher does not want a boy from his village in the team and believes that the other boys will feel the same.

But there can be a more pervasive and hidden level of discrimination in institutions that can impact significantly on a school culture. Institutional discrimination is often unquestioned, especially if becomes the normal way of working. For example, there may be a widely held belief that girls are no good at mathematics or science. This is obviously a falsehood, and yet girls are not encouraged to pursue these subjects beyond the level of the mandatory curriculum. Another example might be the shared belief that students from a particular ethnic group will only ever have manual jobs, so there is little point in extending their appreciation of literature and the arts: the poets and artists in this group are therefore never identified or nurtured. Institutional discrimination operates on the assumption that everything is all right as it stands and that nothing needs to change.

As a leader, you should learn to spot and challenge institutional discrimination wherever you find it by focusing on equality in learning outcomes for all your students. Challenging ‘norms’ can be very hard. Try to imagine things differently and ask yourself if you have good evidence for your assumptions. For example, take the (wrong) assumption about girls not being good at mathematics. You might ask yourself: What have I read that tells me this? Do I know any good female mathematicians? If girls are never given the opportunity to learn advanced mathematics, how can they show their abilities?

Activity 3: Education as a gateway to a different life

Below is an extract from Wikipedia about the 11th President of India, Dr A.P.J. Kalam. As you read it, think about how he was able to succeed academically, despite coming from a socio-economically challenged family. As he continued his education it was not always easy and he did not always succeed, but he showed incredible resilience and self-belief.

Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam (born 15 October 1931), usually referred to as Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, is an Indian scientist and administrator who served as the 11th President of India from 2002 to 2007.

Abdul Kalam was born on 15 October 1931 in a Tamil Muslim family to Jainulabdeen, a boat owner and Ashiamma, a housewife, at Rameswaram, located in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. He came from a poor background and started working at an early age to supplement his family’s income. After completing school, Kalam distributed newspapers in order to contribute financially to his father’s income. In his school years, he had average grades, but was described as a bright and hardworking student who had a strong desire to learn and spend hours on his studies, especially mathematics.

After completing his school education at the Rameshwaram Elementary School, Kalam went on to attend Saint Joseph’s College, Tiruchirappalli, then affiliated with the University of Madras, from where he graduated in physics in 1954. Towards the end of the course, he was not enthusiastic about the subject and would later regret the four years he studied it. He then moved to Madras in 1955 to study aerospace engineering.

He is quoted to have said in his autobiography Wings of Fire (2002): ‘I inherited honesty and self-discipline from my father; from my mother, I inherited faith in goodness and deep kindness, as did my three brothers and sisters.’

Having read the extract, reflect on the following questions:

  • Where do you think these qualities came from and how were they nurtured? Where might he have got his inspiration and support from to study so hard? Think about his immediate family, his community and his schooling.
  • Are there other case studies that could promote inclusion and aspiration among your staff and students? These could perhaps include students from a range of backgrounds who have left your school and gone on to be very successful in a range of fields, or well-known personalities who overcame barriers. How might you use these case studies to challenge attitudes and behaviour?

The extract above describes Dr Kalam’s inheritance from his parents; he also mentions that his siblings inherited the same. Yet most of his extended family did not desire to enter higher education or achieve academic success. Alongside the influence of his parents, there were perhaps members of his community who encouraged him, liking the prospect of him rising from his humble roots to represent them in a wider context – little did they know that he would become President of India. It is also likely that schooling played a major in Dr Kalam’s achievements. Perhaps he had teachers who respected and encouraged him, regardless of his lowly status. Perhaps the schools worked hard at helping students progress to the next level of education, building aspiration in all.

Using case studies, particularly ones local to the community, is a powerful tool for changing attitudes. Displaying case studies, using them in class as part of curriculum activities, inviting in guest speakers to discuss their successes and how they overcame barriers, and discussing the lessons that can be learned from individual stories, can all be useful ways of engaging staff and students in discussions about inclusivity.

1 Promoting equity and inclusion through leadership

3 Prioritising actions to improve learning outcomes