Aug 5 2020
TIDE Beacon Teacher Fellowship: One Year On
Beacon Fellow, Wendy Lennon, speaks to teachers and museum educators about how ‘decolonising’ the curriculum works in practice

In 2019, ERC TIDE and the Runnymede Trust created a twelve-week professional development programme to provide teachers with subject expertise, practical experience, and pedagogical methods to reinvigorate their curriculums. The Beacon Teacher Fellowship enabled and empowered teachers to develop creative and innovative approaches to the teaching of empire and migration. Findings from the Fellowship and the research of TIDE and the Runnymede Trust resulted in the Teaching Migration, Belonging, and Empire report that was presented to government in parliament in July 2019 by Jason Todd, Kimberly McIntosh and Nandini Das, supported by the Beacon Fellows and TIDE researchers.

A year on from the fellowship, I’ve asked some of the Beacon Alumni to reflect on their work; the opportunities they have created to include a rich, nuanced, decolonised curriculum; the challenges they have faced; the whole school curriculum audits that have taken place; and the impact of being involved in the TIDE Beacon Fellowship. For many years, teachers and students have campaigned for changes to be made to the teaching of history, with the Runnymede Trust calling for the teaching of migration to be mandatory in secondary schools. Here, I investigate how some have taken on the challenge and sought change in their own learning environments.

Clare Broomfield, head of history at Villiers High School, Southall, explains how she has adapted the history curriculum: Working in a school where almost the entire student body is of a BAME background, it was becoming clear to me that our current history curriculum was not doing enough to show them where they fitted into, as Michael Gove termed it, our island’s history.

The course began in a way James Baldwin advocated. We were asked to consider our own unconscious bias, to be made aware of what we were bringing to any lesson on migration, empire and race that we may be teaching. The course allowed me to develop a series of lessons, based around a key enquiry question on the migration of groups to my school’s local community. Without the course I would not have had the knowledge, and the confidence, to completely rewrite our KS3 curriculum. I am now armed with the language and tools to guide the students I teach through this complex nuanced history.

Roz Morton, an English teacher at Chesterfield High School in Liverpool, shares her experience: The absolute professional joy of being involved in the TIDE Beacon Fellowship halted my descent into cynicism and provided me with both a challenge to improve my knowledge and a structure to implement something meaningful. I set about it with enthusiasm, much supported by my fellow Beacons, as we opened lines of enquiry with one another and critiqued ideas and texts together. The end result for me was a fantastic final term with my Year 10 English class as we used the texts studied on the Fellowship, paired with contemporary non-fiction, poetry and prose extracts, to explore questions of migration, empire and identity.

The ongoing impact of the Fellowship in my own school is linked to the work I did with my Year 10 class during the TIDE programme, which has now transposed into a ‘Spine Unit’ for Year 9. This approach has engaged pupils across the ability range in a much more diverse body of literature and led them into the study of Stephen Kelman’s ‘Pigeon English’ with a more readily empathetic attitude to Hari and his tribulations. The knock-on effect of sharing this work, and the lines of enquiry behind it, has been a developing awareness that the rest of our curriculum must be challenged and examined in a similar way.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the greatest barrier to the ongoing success of this work because teaching is so often about managing a myriad of external pressures, but certainly one in my own setting is the shifting personnel and therefore dynamics, confidence, expertise and enthusiasm of the department: the crisis of retention in teaching has serious ramifications for our ability to embed systemic rather than superficial change. It’s a challenge, but it won’t stop me trying.

Another important aspect of the Fellowship was the inclusion of a range of educators, including Laura Turnage, Programme Manager for secondary schools at The Museum of London. Laura reflects on the impact of the Fellowship in her educational setting: I was delighted to be accepted onto the scheme. My work revolves around finding new ways to engage KS3 students with London’s fascinating stories and facilitating discussions. I had recently been given the responsibility of becoming the Learning Specialist for Schools for the new Museum of London project.

Participating in the scheme was inspiring, I often felt in awe of the confident and brave teachers I joined. Their reflections on the weekly readings gave me an opportunity to learn. I increased my knowledge of the time period we were focusing on. I gained a more creative outlook from listening and participating in discussions and they provided insights into classroom teaching that I was unaware of and, I hope, I gained a little bit of their determination too.

I have two key learnings that I try to input into any discussions we have at the museum around these topics. Firstly, a handy reminder, that students always visit the museum with preconceptions about how the world works and we must understand what their view is first. Secondly, the feedback I received when preparing for my presentation in the final session, to try making the familiar unfamiliar, and the unfamiliar familiar. These learnings help me to question decisions we’re making around the needs of schools now, and at the new museum.

Since the Beacon Teacher Fellowship, I’ve introduced the project to the Secondary Learning Network - a group of professionals in the museum and heritage industry that work directly with secondary schools. I continue to actively use my participation in the project and have compiled a list of primary sources available on the museum website for teachers to use in the classroom.

Lauren Cowan, an English teacher and KS3 coordinator at a KS3-5 comprehensive secondary school in North London, shares her personal motivation and professional teaching experience: As someone who has stories of migration in my immediate family, I came to the Beacon Fellowship with an interest in what it could teach me about my own history and identity, but more importantly I hoped that the Fellowship could enrich the teaching and learning of these subjects within my school, as it had become clear to me that the story of our nation’s diversity wasn’t being adequately or accurately reflected in the curriculum.

A year on from completing the Fellowship, my department now teaches two KS3 schemes of work that directly engage with the subjects of migration and includes some opportunities to engage with these subjects within pre-existing schemes of work. Feedback from students and staff has been overwhelmingly positive and the department is committed to doing more moving forward.

Beyond my department, I established a working party comprised of my school’s humanities leads to consider how we can develop the teaching and learning of these topics across our subjects. Our project has been revived by the renewed national interest in decolonising the curriculum. English, geography, history, RS and citizenship will all be ending this academic year by beginning the process of formally auditing their curriculum, to assess the quality of engagement.

The senior leadership team is in support of our project and has indicated that our work will be used to inform wider curriculum development. Fortuitously, this coincides with my school’s development plan to redevelop our KS3 curriculum from the next academic year onwards; I am optimistic about a motion for all departments to assess the quality of their engagement. I am also excited to work with my school’s newly appointed BAME coordinator who has some related school-wide plans that have potential to effect real and lasting change.

Finally, Dr Gillian Groszewski considers the impact of changing institutions and her continued commitment to developing the KS3 and KS4 schemes of work: My experience of the Beacon Fellowship was both personally moving and professionally stimulating. The presentations by teachers who had integrated modules on race successfully into their schemes of work gave me ideas about how to blend specific lessons into the existing curriculum.

As the year progressed, however, I made the decision to leave my school. During interviews, I was asked what kind of module I would like to create for the English department; I always answered: one on race and empire. I secured a new teaching position and am now happily part of a department committed to reviewing its curriculum in light of the need for more diverse representation of gender and ethnicities.

Following the Beacon Alumni reflections and the application of our practical experience in a range of settings, the group of dedicated Beacon teachers are currently developing a Beacon Alumni Training Pack for other schools and educational settings to train teachers in how to diversify their curriculums.

Wendy Lennon