As a white teacher, it can be difficult to understand our Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) students’ experiences in education and society. Across education, statistics consistently show that BAME individuals are underrepresented (UCL, 2020) and do not experience the same sense of belonging as their white counterparts. Whilst this issue of Eurocentricity is not merely an educational issue, as a trainee teacher working in a diverse, multicultural part of London, I feel it is important to touch on the importance of supporting young, BAME individuals today, starting in schools.
I have grown up in the London Borough of Hackney my entire life, where 40% of the population come from Black and Minority Ethnic groups (Hackney Council, 2019). Previously described as one of the most diverse places in the United Kingdom (Wessendorf, 2014), Hackney had always seemed to be a widely accepting and representative place for everyone. As a child, I was surrounded by individuals from a wide array of backgrounds and ethnicities, where growing up I was one of the only white students in my classes. I often find myself feeling extremely fortunate to have grown up in Hackney. Since leaving school and going to university in Liverpool, I have realised that not everyone has had the same upbringing as me and not everywhere is as representative of the cultures that the population of their city have. However, as I develop further, both as a person and as a teacher, being both reflective and critical of everything around me has shown how naïve I was, and how adamant I am to make a change.
As mentioned previously, I am a white female; meaning that I will never truly understand what people of colour experience, however, I can always try to do my best to educate myself further on the influence of white privilege in education in particular. Since beginning my PGCE in secondary physical education at The University of East London, I have become increasingly aware of my identity through the teaching of social justice within my practice. As an individual, I have become aware of my white privilege and how it can affect both the teaching and learning experience exhibited in schools by undermining social justice practices. Why am I interested in this, you may ask? As teachers, we are constantly learning and reflecting on our practice. Since beginning my training last September, I have found myself spending time reflecting on what I can do to make a difference in the lessons I teach and how I can better educate myself on topics that genuinely affect the students that I work with – without being a ‘white saviour’. Creating a sense of belonging in our classrooms, playing fields or even through our very presence can make a massive difference to every student we work with.
Reflecting on my teacher training experience thus far has highlighted a major issue in the PE curriculum centred around Eurocentricity. I have been exposed to both a depth and breadth of pedagogical knowledge, alongside educational issue-based sessions focused on the subject of Physical Education (PE). Of these sessions, one in particular has captured my interest: Decolonising the Curriculum & Eurocentricity. Through gaining an insight into Eurocentricity both in education as a whole, and in PE in particular, I have noticed how Eurocentric our curriculums are. Whilst I am completely aware of how much change is needed to be made within our educational system regarding better representing our BAME students and teachers, educating myself on this topic has made me more aware of what is going on around me and how I can make small changes to my practice for the benefit of the students I work with.
Why does it matter? The Department for Education (DfE) state that the National Curriculum is “knowledge-rich” and “broad and balanced” (DfE, 2014; The Guardian, 2020), however this is certainly not reflected in the sports, activities, staff, and pedagogies within schools. The National Curriculum reflects Eurocentricity at its finest, evident in all subjects across the board. Rather than solely offering sports such as Netball, Football, Rugby and Tennis, the curriculum should be both inclusive and reflective of the rich cultures and people living in our communities and who attend our schools. By failing to diversify what is taught in schools, we are all omitting BAME individuals and adhering to white privilege in our schools and communities.
So… How can we support our BAME students within PE?
- Use culturally relevant role models that are representative of our students. How can we expect students to be interested in PE if they are not shown pedagogical models and approaches that they can relate to? This is certainly an area that needs to improve in education as we are often too comfortable using the same models, approaches, resources and examples in our teaching, thus, failing to change along with sporting society and culture. It may be appropriate here to invite local sporting heroes from the community or alumni from the school to discuss with students where they have come from and how they have achieved excellence – If students can relate to these individuals, they will feel capable of success in all walks of life too!
- Use diverse and culturally appropriate sports. Why is it assumed that the teaching of Eurocentric sports (for example: rugby, netball and football – all of which are traditional British sports) is the only form of education about vital skills of problem solving, leadership, teamwork and overcoming opponents? Sports including Kabaddi teach vital skills and values, whilst embracing diversity. Something that needs to change, is the tokenistic nature of more diverse sports in the curriculum. These sports should not be a one-off in our lessons, rather, incorporated to reflect the diverse nature of the society in which we live.
- Student voice & choice. Research into the negotiated curriculum shows that students are more engaged and motivated to take part in lessons, through being recognised as co-constructors of their own PE experiences (Enright & O’Sullivan, 2010). Asking our students what they are interested in and how they think their identity can play a bigger role into lessons should be commonplace. Whilst this of course will take some more time to learn, plan and deliver, does this mean it is any less important to implement?
- Continuing Professional Development opportunities are essential. Teachers need education about how to support BAME students in their lessons and around school. Creating safe spaces underpinned by the sense of belonging is no easy feat and we should be spending time learning about how to be the best people, and educators that we possibly can be.
Whilst it is never easy to talk about social justice and the wrong doings of our profession, it is vital to make changes in our practice to help our students flourish, as no student should feel any less worthy of success. As stated by Fimusanmi (2019: 197);
‘It is also important to enhance and celebrate diversity in order to provide an all embracing positive environment and curriculum for all’
As a teacher, I am constantly learning and on a journey towards understanding who I am and who I want to be. It is already clear that I want to be a teacher who listens, learns and changes their practice based upon what my students need from me. Without listening to our students, we can never truly make change to their school experience – a factor I do not want to be part of my practice.
Written by Maisie Cook, PE PGCE Student at UEL and BAMEPE network member, 22nd July 2021
Department for Education (2014) National curriculum in England: framework for key stages 1 to 4
(Accessed: 8 April 2021)
Enright, E., O’Sullivan, M.M. (2010) ‘Can I do it in my pyjamas? Negotiating a physical education curriculum with teenage girls’, European Physical Education Review, 16(3), pp.203-222.
Hackney Council (2019) Knowing our Communities
Available at: https://hackney.gov.uk/knowing-our-communities
(Accessed: 7 April 2021)
Fimusanmi, J. (2019) Strategies and Lessons in Physical Education related to Race, in Walton-Fisette, J.L., Sutherland, S., Hill, J. (ed.) Teaching About Social Justice Issues in Physical Education. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, pp. 199-209.
The Guardian (2020) National Curriculum ‘systematically omits’ black British history’
(Accessed: 7 April 2021)
University College London (2020) 46% of all schools in England have no BAME teachers
(Accessed: 31 May 2021)
Wessendorf, S. (2014) ‘Being open, but sometimes closed. Conviviality in a super-diverse London neighbourhood’, European Journal of Cultural Studies, 17(4), pp. 392-405. DOI: 10.1177/1367549413510415