Though the ideas of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging are far from new, the events of the past few years, arguably beginning with the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, sparked a heightened interest in the way schools engage with and embed these concepts. But with various acronyms and terms being used, it’s important to have a clear understanding of what they mean and how they can be applied in the contexts within which we work.
Let’s start off with DEIB. This stands for diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. When talking about diversity, it’s useful to consider the nine protected characteristics, as outlined by UK law. These protected characteristics provide us with an insight into the kind of diversity we may find in the communities and schools within which we work.
However, it’s also important to think about the way in which diversity cannot be simply boxed up so neatly into these nine categories and that human beings are complex: their identities are both constantly evolving and made up of a variety of different elements. It’s also important to note that the protected characteristics do not take into account socio-economic status.
Despite this, we can see the way in which socio-economic status can place pupils at a severe disadvantage both in terms of achievement and access to higher education. Therefore, schools may also want to take into account the levels of deprivation within their school community and consider how they can account for this in their DEI approach.
From here, we can see the way in which equity and inclusion logically follow on. For example, equity asks us to consider the individual and how they might be placed at a disadvantage because of discrimination they might experience. Therefore, rather than simply providing everyone with exactly the same starting point, schools must consider how provision can be adapted. These adaptations will ensure that everyone can access learning but also ensure that any discrimination individuals may suffer is not compounded further.
Lastly, whilst many schools will have considered an inclusive curriculum for those who have special educational needs, inclusion within this context asks us to consider how we can create a sense of belonging for all young people, no matter their background, ability or circumstances.
It’s also important to note that many schools are now using the acronym DEIJ (diversity, equity, inclusion and justice). In using this term, schools have recognised that in their pursuit of diversity, equity and inclusion, they are also engaged with the notion of social justice: challenging inequality, discrimination and injustice both in their own institutions and in the world beyond.
Why does it matter to schools?
Beyond both the statutory requirements of schools to adhere to the Equality Act of 2010 and the Public Sector Equality Duty, many school leaders will have seen an increased desire amongst both their staff and students to challenge discrimination and inequity in both the curriculum and systems at their organisations. For example, we’ve seen students both in the UK and elsewhere in the world organising walkouts when they have felt their schools have either not engaged with their concerns or have actively discriminated against them. And teachers feel this acutely too, as evidenced by Pearson’s Diversity and Inclusion in Schools report.
Another report commissioned by Pearson and conducted by Teacher Tapp found that 89% of secondary teachers and 60% of primary teachers felt there was more diversity required in the set texts they teach.