A little over a year on from the tragic death of George Floyd and the shockwaves that permeated US and UK society following this event, it is worth reflecting on the positive changes afoot in Wales and the early years’ role within this.
There can be no doubt that it should not take a tragedy like the one identified above for all of us to consider our individual and collective duty to stand-up for any group or individuals who are marginalised and targeted based on prejudices. Over the last year we have all seen protests and social media banners, but when the dust settles on the immediate ‘noise’ what fundamental and systematic changes are enabled to make life better for all races and ethnicities within our society?
The report into BAME contributions to education, commissioned by the Education Minister at the time, Kirsty Williams MS, and led by Professor Charlotte Williams was a welcomed step in providing all educators in Wales with a chance to reflect on what we teach, why we teach it and what the learners take away from our discourse about race and ethnicity in our education settings. Having read the interim report, it came as no surprise to read that Kirsty Williams MS and the Cabinet in Wales accepted all the recommendations made by Professor Williams et al. These included, ensuring that the significant contributions to life in Wales from the BAME community is represented and taught in a balanced and non-tokenistic way. To do this, we need to upskill ourselves and our practitioners in Wales; we need to listen to the lived experiences of people from the communities that we are teaching; and we need to ensure that all young people see their cultures and values represented in the spaces that we educate from. We need, over time, to develop the workforce to increase representation at all levels of people from a BAME background. And, whilst the latter (strategic planning and workforce development) will take time, there are many steps we can all take to make a difference in the short term.
The report above does not exist in isolation. There is a commitment from Welsh Government to create an Anti-racist Wales by 2030. We have some way to go. The recent research paper, Show Us You Care, contributed to and written by young people, demonstrates that the challenges that BAME learners face in schools are numerous, nuanced and, sadly, have lasting impacts on the targeted young people. It demonstrated that educators need to understand the impact and power of language and not to be easily ready to dismiss racial taunts as banter or jokes especially within the secondary phase of education. This report does note that some racialisation occurs in primary, mainly through the means of name-calling or children being left out by peers. Perhaps through promoting the cultural diversity of our communities in early years we can lessen the prevalence of any discriminatory behaviours in primary schools. The contributing young people did explicitly state that their experiences in education did not demonstrate ‘representation’; they did not see their race, ethnicity, or religion in the educational materials around them, describing the curriculum they have worked within as Eurocentric. Again, in early years we can embrace and create spaces that represent all cultures. To do so requires us to reflect on how we resource our spaces and what the play-items we place in the spaces represent. Do they truly reflect the home lives and cultures of a multi-cultural Wales? If not, how can we add more diversity and representation and allowing the young child to recognise their culture within their setting.
Finally, the report authors articulate the respondent’s requests for educators to ‘become anti-racist’. I am encouraged by the anti-racist Wales plan and the consultation is live until 15th July for all of us to respond to should we wish to. This consultation and plan demonstrates that within Wales the agenda is being set to transform the way our policies and institutions work to provide equality for all. As we develop our practices and policies, reflecting upon what we do and what we do not do, and, listening to the lived experiences of people from all races, ethnicities and religions is a good starting point. To support early years practitioners in some of these considerations, Early Years Wales has developed a series of webinars with respected early years practitioners. These exciting opportunities to reflect on pedagogy and practice in safe, supportive learning environments can help us all learn and develop together. Find out more about the series of events and sign-up here as places are limited and the opportunity is free for member settings here.
As Wales consults and works towards an anti-racist plan for Wales, I am committing Early Years Wales to support this in policy, practice, and action as, in my opinion, if we are not saying we are committed to becoming an anti-racist country, what are we saying?
Early Years Wales is delighted to bring you an all-new seminar series working directly with some of the contributing authors to the Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic Communities Contribution and Cyefin in the New Curriculum report.
For more information please visit: https://www.earlyyears.wales/en/events