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This article was first published on February 28, 2024.

There was singing, dancing, Caribbean food, inspiring conversation and thought-provoking workshops.  

These were just some of the highlights at the Haringey Racial Equity Conference hosted at the London Academy of Excellence Tottenham on December 8, 2023 

It was the first time the conference had been hosted in person since Covid-19 and the more than 160 attendees were not disappointed.  

The conference revolved around the theme of changing the narrative with a specific focus on challenging and dismantling racial stereotypes.   

Addressing educational disparities

Haringey has long had disparities in achievement between students from different communities, with White British students’ attainment significantly higher than for most other students. In particular, the gap at GCSE between White British and Black Caribbean students is still close to two grades. And, whilst in line with London and national figures, Progress 8 for Black Caribbean remains unacceptably low at –0.4.

Challenging racial stereotypes

Keynote speakers Dr Derron Wallace, a cultural sociologist specialising in race, ethnicity, and education, and author of ‘The Culture Trap: Ethnic Expectations and Unequal Schooling for Black Youth,’ and Heidi Mirza, Professor of Race, Faith, and Culture at Goldsmiths, University of London, shared their insights.

Drawing from the rich ethnographic observations in his book, Dr Wallace spoke of the starkly different experiences shaping Black Caribbean attainment in the UK compared with the United States.

Professor Mirza discussed the shifting race discourses in British education, the idea of creating safe spaces and decolonising pedagogy. This is an educational approach that challenges and seeks to dismantle the traditional, colonial, and Eurocentric perspectives embedded in teaching and learning.

Lively discussions were followed up in more detail with workshops including anti-racist approaches to leadership, governance, professional development and tackling decolonisation in an exam-focused environment.

Commitment to tangible change: Accountability and action

Stroud Green Primary School Headteacher Lucy Walker-Collins and Assistant Head for Assessment and Curriculum Cheryl Barker said the conference spurred a moment of reflection for them both.

“It was definitely an opportunity for us to reflect, obviously on the journey for improving the racial equity in our school, amongst our staff and our pupils,” Cheryl said.

Lucy said discussions about system change were “really personal for us”.

“The stuff about looking at policies with an anti-racist lens, I did the workshop with Penny and that’s something that again will be a really tangible kind of practical takeaway to action straight away and we also ordered several copies of The Culture Trap. We have an anti-racist library in the staff room for our team … so that can then start that discussion at staff level as well.”

She said the school had already done a lot of racial equity work which they were proud of, but now they were focusing on making it tangible and measurable so they can be accountable.

They both agreed on the importance of focusing on the journey over time.

“The work’s still important because we’re still operating within a racist society and I think anybody who says otherwise is not being honest with themselves so until we can all confidently say that we’re not then we need to carry on this work,” Lucy said.

Cheryl emphasised the importance of engaging in racial equity work to benefit all students.

“Some children may need a different approach, or some things may need to be looked at differently and it’s ensuring that when we are saying all, we really are saying all.”

Empowering change: Perseverance in the pursuit of racial equity

Patrick Cozier, headteacher at Highgate Wood School, member of the Haringey Racial Equity Steering Group and host for the conference, said he hoped attendees would leave feeling “action focused”.

“There will be a lot of opportunities to talk today, reflect and really think about some of the lessons that we can learn and to celebrate what we’re already doing in Haringey because we’re doing a lot but also to recognise that there’s still a lot to be done and to be really committed to being action focused.”

He said the main emphasis for the Haringey Racial Equity Group was to drive student’s attainment and progress.

“We’re really trying to bring the school of families together to have a shared idea and plan as to how we can address it so we’re looking at educational attainment, we’re looking at the ethos within schools, behaviour policies, governance all those things that are really important are covered by the group in terms of trying to make that progress.”

Haringey Education Partnership Chief Executive James Page spoke about the experiences of children in the borough.

“They are still experiencing racialised inequalities and they’ve told us there’s a lot more to do in terms of representation in the curriculum and there’s certainly more to do in terms of representation amongst teachers and school leaders.

“They still experience racialised incidents that can be handled inconsistently … and they worry about speaking out as well because of the fear of snitching or losing their friends.”

However, he said those students were feeling the “sense of goodwill”.

“I think they recognise generally that all of us here are here to support and help but what they want to see is more action and that’s our challenge for today, and our challenge ongoing which is to change the narrative.”

The call for action reverberated throughout the room. It was a reminder that while support and empathy are crucial, tangible and sustained actions are needed to effect lasting change.

About the Author:

Jonathan Guildford

Jonathan is the interim Lead for Digital and Communications at HEP. He has a passion for storytelling and has previously worked as a journalist and communications advisor in New Zealand.

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