Fighting discrimination as educators

8 June 2020

Our efforts to support our pupils’ visibility and role as equal citizens sits at the heart of our mission as a special school. For staff too this fight against racial injustice requires space for discussion and support, writes Vijita Patel

Reflecting on the events of the last two weeks and the words that are being repeated over and over again: injustice, inequality, racism … suffering. What should be history is still a reality and one that has deep roots. 

Each of us will have a different experience with racism. The demands of our roles mean we are not having discussions about an issue that is affecting many of us. We work with a marginalised population of pupils who experience inequalities due to their complex special educational needs. Our efforts to support their visibility and role as equal citizens sits at the heart of our mission as a school. We actively combat issues to ensure we are not passively allowing discrimination for our pupils.

We are always fighting the discrimination as educators, and with a heightened focus in our own school because of the complexity of special needs and disabilities across our pupil population. We work so carefully to help others see their unique qualities. We do not want our pupils to be ‘tolerated’. We advocate for their ‘acceptance’. We recognise the individuality that each of them reflects and through that focus we find ourselves united in promoting their role as equal citizens. 

Our staff community is equally diverse. We reflect the multiculturalism of London and have harmony as a group of staff through our core values. That does not mean we have not felt the inequalities of racism. It does not mean we are not affected by the death of George Floyd and the realities of racism. It does not mean a topic like this should not surface for us as a community of colleagues. We need to ensure we have the space to discuss the complexities of inequality and explore what defaults as socially acceptable forms of racism to change these behaviours. 

I followed the first of three memorial services on 4 June for George Floyd in Minneapolis. His horrific killing on 25 May has put a lens on the fact that racial injustice has deep roots in our global society. The emotions from yet another death of an innocent black man in America ripple across the world. 

Peaceful protests are taking place across many countries and in the heart of London to push for change because this racial inequality needs to stop. We want to support staff who are feeling a mixture of valid emotions during this fight against racial injustice. As much as it is a time for education and engagement it is also a time for acknowledging the impact on wellbeing and mental health. We have selected a set of think pieces and hope they will be useful and support our reflections as a community:

Vijita Patel is Principal of Swiss Cottage School, Development and Research Centre