Anti-Racism In An Educational Setting: Our Audit Pilot Scheme

GRAYRIGG C of E School, Case Study

Thirty primary and secondary schools across the county are working with us on our anti-racism pilot scheme, which is backed by Cumbria County Council. 

An anti-racist school doesn’t mean a school where racism doesn’t happen (though one day, that would be incredible), it means a school that recognises racism in all its forms, it means a school that teaches more than just a White perspective throughout its curriculum, a school that celebrates our history but doesn’t glorify or hide its past, a school that is no longer awkward when it comes to talking about race.

Our pilot process has not only created the opportunity for schools to learn about anti-racism, it’s also offered us the chance to see some fantastic examples of good practice and growth. One such example is Grayrigg C of E Primary, and here their headteacher talks more about the school’s anti-racist journey:

GRAYRIGG CofE School Case Study

Headteacher, Kirsty Cooper

“We heard about Anti Racist Cumbria through a flyer sent to schools and through social media. In terms of knowledge around racism and anti-racism, the starting point was low for both myself and other staff in the school prior to hearing about them. 

We knew there were misconceptions and gaps in our knowledge and understanding and were in a place where most of us were struggling with the idea that we weren’t actually anti-racist. We now know there’s a big difference between being ‘not racist’ and being actively ‘anti-racist’. 

We decided to take part in the audit pilot scheme because we wanted to understand where we could make a difference, how to make our school a place of true acceptance, where everyone is represented and valued. I’d describe the audit process as challenging but brilliant.

It’s a bit weird in education as when you fill in school self evaluations you want to be good, and filling in the audit involved lots of red. It also showed me that there was more to anti-racism than representation in the curriculum. It was also a really positive process, as when you see the weaknesses, you know where you need to improve – and there were a lot of areas we needed to (and still need to) improve. 

The personal journey with this work is so entwined within the professional journey for our organisation. For me the learning has been about noticing: One thing I had never considered (because I never had to) is the impact of racial trauma- not that I can understand how that feels but I always assumed racial trauma was caused by far right stuff and vile racists. I never considered that it was something I was capable of inflicting or upholding. I never realised that my school curriculum was littered with successful white people and could harm a child’s view of themselves and/or others,  I thought it was great that lots of amazing Black and Brown people would share their experiences so I could learn and be better but I realised that I expected this for free, that there are many times I have modelled and even encouraged cultural appropriation and that I may have actually used micro-aggressions that might have hurt others. I can now recognise these things a bit better in my own life and work, and once you notice them you can begin to make changes. 

Our audit Action Plan feeds into our main goal – to make our school a place of true acceptance and belonging for everyone. Some things were small at first- simple things like the plasters in our first aid kit, representation in our curriculum and resources (this is something that will need developing and reviewing over time but we’ve made a good start). We’re also producing a belonging policy so it is clear and expected that all who work at Grayrigg engage in anti-racist learning but also that it is  safe place to ask questions and show our ignorance as long as we are doing this to improve our understanding. We are also adding this to job descriptions as we appoint new staff. We have a staff library of books focusing on belonging including a shelf full of anti-racist books. 

I think it is good to review the action plan and share good practice across schools, it would be lovely to see schools starting to lead this between them a bit more, sharing good practice. We are early on our journey but would be happy to host visits and share our story but would equally love to hear what other schools are doing. 

For staff the journey has been powerful and it’s lovely to see the motivation there, the key is to keep working on it. The children, particularly the ethos leaders, are amazing and ready to go off and change the world. Our KS1 teacher was looking at historical events and is looking at introducing Windrush into the curriculum, celebrating the positive impact the Windrush generation had on the lives we live today- where would the NHS be without them! 

Another massive impact for us has been the increased engagement with poetry, we introduced rapper and poet Karl Nova into our English curriculum and the change was amazing! We would never have done this without discussions around representation and what we value. 

We were invited to present at the headteacher and school leader conference for the diocese. Imagine a group of kids from a small rural school standing up in front of a room full of grown-up leaders…they were fearless because they had something worth saying and weren’t afraid to say it. Their presentation was about anti-racism and that to be effectively anti-racist we need to be open to changing our minds. They are ready to be courageous advocates, they are passionate, thoughtful and ready to stand up against racism and all forms of discrimination- this would not have happened without ARC! 

Thank you for everything you do at Anti Racist Cumbria – we have learnt so much from you.”