Why Katherine Warington School decided to take a data-driven approach to measuring anti-racism
Katherine Warington School is a new secondary school, opened in 2019. We sat down to have a chat with Mr Jacob-John Church, Associate Assistant Head for EDI & Character Development at Katherine Warington School, to hear about their experience in working with FLAIR.
What does creating an anti-racist culture mean to you?
"A lot of my colleagues went into teaching, not only to teach a subject, but to make a difference. After the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, and as you hear more and learn more, you realise that it’s just building awareness. As teachers, we have a duty of care and I think that's what it is. The duty of care that we have to our students and our families."
What made you decide to invest more into racial equity within your school?
"As a school, we are in our fourth year, and we have students from Year 7 to Year 10, and there wasn’t anyone doing anything for EDI. So when it came to Black History Month, it became a starting place. Then, we realised we weren't doing anything for Diwali, or for LGBTQIA+ history month, and so on.
Because it's something I care about, we decided to lean into it. Thus far, we've done quite a lot of work on LGBTQIA+ awareness at our school, and we've raised awareness around some religions. Then we did a big celebration of Diwali, and now that's becoming an integral part of who we are as a school.
While we addressed the topics of religion and LGBTQIA+, race was one of the topics we had not dealt with. I think it's because, as a predominantly white school in a predominantly white area, there wasn’t the same awareness around this. As that awareness grew, we realised that we needed to do something about it. And so it started to become a part of our whole school improvement plan.
18 months ago, we began this journey of needing to diversify our curriculum and then we started to question, what does it mean to do that? It’s not a box-ticking exercise where we just put up some pictures, or just highlight important dates like Stephen Lawrence Day or Windrush day. It's actually a lot of deep-rooted work. It's ripping up and starting again."
What challenges were you facing when it came to understanding your school’s culture?
"To give you some context, we are the first school to be built in over 50 years in the area, and all the schools here are outstanding schools. So there has been a lot of pressure. Thankfully, we've been doing exceptionally well, and we have been on track to be a very successful school.
Then something as big as EDI comes in and crashes the system - and makes you realise that you’re failing. By that, I don’t mean school closure, but rather that we're failing our students, for example if our curriculum isn't diverse.
One of the challenges we've had has been addressing colleagues who have been in the profession for anything from five to twenty years, and letting them know that they need to unlearn a lot of stuff - essentially, getting our staff up to date on racial literacy, explaining the power of language, and why it’s so important. It's unlearning how we've been socialised.
Furthermore, being in an affluent area, working with well-educated people and being willing to say, ‘We don't know what we're talking about', and what's more, tell other teachers, who are experts on their subjects, that they don’t know what they’re talking about either when it comes to race - that can sound quite brutal, and for many people, their initial reaction to all of this can be quite defensive.
I think that's the difficulty we've had in trying to bring about change in the culture. Accepting that, institutionally, we are racist, although we may not be racists individually."
Why was taking a data-driven approach to measuring anti-racism important to you?
"We are an evidence informed school. So everything we do from pedagogy, to curriculum, to every decision we make and any idea we want to put into action, we have to gather the research to make that idea solid. We really wanted to see behaviour statistics because although we can have theories or even qualitative evidence on this, you can’t argue with hard data."
What changes would you like to see when it comes to racial equity in education more broadly?
"Ownership of where it’s gone wrong. I’m not suggesting we live in the past, but we need to recognise where we have gone wrong and address it. I’m not even saying as individuals, but we as a government and as a society have got it wrong. And we need to open up the conversation and challenge that.
I think there needs to be a framework in place where we evaluate different things. When we review a subject as a department, we don’t need to just look into the quality of teaching, but also ask questions like, 'is the teacher inclusive in their language, whether that be about gender, religion, race etc?'.
I would love to see a new teaching standard introduced, on top of the eight standards that we already have; an EDI standard. We have a duty of care to prepare our students for the world, and whether they agree with something or not, they need to learn to be tolerant."
How were you measuring racial equity before? How effective was this?
"Simply put, we weren’t. We had an annual document of EDI shared across the school but no one was held accountable to it - although it was a little bit effective in providing a starting point and an action plan in terms of getting more events on our calendar."
Who led the decision to invest more in racial equity at school?
"Our Headteacher. I was working on EDI and knew that it was getting bigger in the Education sector, and I knew of FLAIR - so I approached our Head to explain what FLAIR is, but ultimately, he made the decision."
Why did you choose FLAIR over other options on the market?
"Due to the good things I had heard through word of mouth."
When did you start working with FLAIR?
"We signed the contract at the end of the last academic year, and had a September 2022 roll out."
Can you tell me more about the rollout process? How did this work in a practical sense?
"As long as you’ve got your wits about you and you’re organised, it’s really easy. FLAIR provides a template for week one, week two, and so on - it is all there for you to use. It was just a very easy process."
How were the survey response rates?
"They were very good - 89% student response rates, and the staff was in the high 70s. Our Head worked with Kiki and Fran from FLAIR on this, and they made it very clear how important survey response rates were. And since our Head really committed to it and was pushing this forward, it wasn’t that hard to get the rest of the staff on board."
What actions have you taken as a result of the survey?
"In starting to work with FLAIR, it gave us the data we needed to understand what our students are telling us, which in turn gave us the platform to listen to our parents, listen to our staff, and hear their experiences, and facilitate a space and open up the conversation. It was through that research that we became active listeners.
In listening to FLAIR’s recommendations of the Active Bystander Campaign, the use of language, what is going on in the curriculum - we have been demonstrating how to be active participants by being evidence informed, by using quantitative and qualitative data.
It can’t be a tick box exercise, you have to apply the same pedagogical approach you do as teachers - we take it, we try it, we implement it - and then we go again, and keep the cycle going, just like we would any scheme of work."
Have you noticed any changes to your culture as a result of working with FLAIR?
"Our Headteacher is on this beautiful journey of ensuring that he is learning every step of the way, and understands his place in the system and the duty that he has - so he is a big part of the change in our culture. He is providing financial resources within the EDI space, giving fortnightly briefings - you can really feel that start of a change and that a conversation is happening at our school, very slowly. And you can feel an awareness of the staff as well - and FLAIR has started that conversation for us, in just 3 months."
What response have you received from your students and staff after taking FLAIR’s survey? Have you seen an improvement in their satisfaction and engagement?
"It's a tough one. Because we did the survey in September and, for the students, the conversation has stopped again - as things move on so quickly in schools. They do know that they have safe staff members at school that are willing to talk about these things, and they are aware that it is on our action plan, and I think they know that something might be changing soon."
Why do you think you needed to sign up for more than one year?
"We signed up for three years. As teachers, we like progress - it’s as simple as that. If you want to see meaningful, long-lasting progress - I mean, three years isn’t even enough time. I don’t see why you would only do it for a year as then you can’t repeat the survey - there's no validity in the data if you don't repeat the service, and I think that's true in all data collections.
In an environment where we are built on success in data and grades, you need to know your starting point. Then you can only make progress. At KWS, I know we’ve got a big journey ahead of us, but that means that we can only get better."
What would you suggest to schools that only did the survey once?
"I would ask them, why? What was the point? Was it actually meaningful to you, or did you do this as a tick box exercise? I know it costs money and - I can only speak for state schools - there isn't much of it to go around. But, if you're in a school where you can financially do it, then, why haven't you done it already?"
Would you recommend working with FLAIR?
"One hundred percent."
Do you feel working with FLAIR has provided value for money in exchange for meaningful change, and if so, how?
"Yes, it has - FLAIR is wonderful as a starting place."