You can monitor policy and promote community cohesion at your school using a number of effective initiatives. Mary Martin, deputy principal and director of training and research at Comberton Village College, Cambridge, explains her methods

School context

Comberton Village College (CVC) enjoys a position as a thriving, successful, over-subscribed fully comprehensive community school. The college is situated in a relatively prosperous catchment area, compared to national averages, centred around villages on the western fringe of the university town of Cambridge. The college is committed to fulfilling the positive potential of every pupil. It has Sports College status and additional specialisms in languages and vocational education and is a Training School and a Leading Edge School. Although the pupil profile has changed slightly in recent years, the vast majority of students are from white British backgrounds and very few speak English as an additional language. CVC has 1,343 pupils of whom 10.6% are from ethnic minorities, which is about the national average. The proportion of students with SEN is 12.9%, compared with a national average of 18.5%. The college has recently opened an onsite centre for students with Asperger’s Syndrome in collaboration with the local authority.

Almost 10 years ago now following the publication of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry report (The Stationery Office, 1999) and prompted by local authority (LA) mandates, I became Equal Opportunities (EO) Officer at my school. The last decade has included ‘September 11’ (with subsequent ideological polarisations), European Union expansion (with ensuing ‘mass’ migrations) and globalisation of markets (and the concomitant realisation that universal survival will depend on international bridge-building). Against this background, the EO role in schools has developed into one that now also encompasses a community cohesion dimension.

Whereas the original scope of the equal opportunities post emphasised the monitoring aspect of all equality policies relating to race, gender, special educational needs (SEN) and disability, the current local and wider world contexts demand that the scope of engagement is broadened to include both policy monitoring and cohesion promotion.

In endeavouring to fulfil the varied demands of the EO overseer role, I have striven to follow the guidance proposed by a succession of LA and Government directives. Essentially, this means that at CVC we have demonstrated compliance with statutory expectations in the usual ways: clear policies and sanctions procedures vis-à-vis monitoring and definite strategies for positive promotion of EO principles through citizenship programmes and the pastoral system.

Through our citizenship programme, we encourage explicit discussion of EO issues using examples such as the scenarios set out in the box below.

Discussion of equal opportunities issues: examples from citizenship programme

Verbal abuse
You hear your friend being verbally abused in the corridor at school by another one of your friends. This is not the first time you have heard this happen. What should you do?   

Recurring racist jokes
In your circle of friends you are told racist jokes regularly. It starts to get on your nerves. What could you do about it?

Sexism
You hear a student giving someone else some sexist abuse. What is wrong with this? Why might some people find it offensive?   

Making fun of a name
You hear someone making fun of another pupil’s name. What would be your response?

Homophobia
You hear a pupil you do not know being called ‘gay’ in an abusive way. How do you tell the person doing this that this is unacceptable?

Social background
You hear a pupil making a rude comment about somebody else on a non-uniform day, putting down:

  • their clothes
  • their family car
  • where they live
  • their parent’s job.

What do you do?

Physical ability
A friend of yours feels that she/he is not very good at PE and regularly avoids PE lessons for one reason or another. You know that she/he is actually picked on. What do you do?   

Cognitive ability (knowledge and understanding)
You are aware that another student in your class is being picked on because she/he is gifted in a particular subject. What steps could you take to help them?

Time is spent in tutor groups ensuring that the language connected with positive and negative versions of diversity is understood – the glossary of terms below 7 shows how we define the key concepts.

Key concepts: glossary of terms

  • Prejudice – ‘pre-judging’, opinions or bias based on ideas and beliefs made beforehand
  • Discrimination – unfair treatment based on ideas of difference
  • Stereotype – a mental picture that represents an oversimplified opinion, a prejudiced attitude, a thoughtless judgement
  • Abusive language – words and phrases that insult an individual or group, whether used intentionally or unintentionally
  • Sexism – prejudice or discrimination against people (especially women) because of their sex
  • Homophobic – prejudice or discrimination against people who are sexually attracted to those of the same sex
  • Diversity – variation, difference, range (for example, in terms of race, age, ethnic background)
  • Tolerance – willingness or ability to accept difference and variation.
  • Perception – awareness, understanding, belief
  • Equality – being equal, having the same rights, status and opportunities

These approaches will be familiar to most and over time we have learned a great deal about the pattern and nature of issues where the EO policy is breached and about the best ways of countering and preventing these breaches.

This far, our story perhaps reflects that of countless other UK schools. However, in addition to this, over the last two years, I have introduced a student voice structure at CVC that supports a policy of cohesion at a genuine grassroots level: from inside the pupil population.

However, this movement, so simple in its conception and one whose structure might seem at first glance to mimic that of school councils, is different and has allowed us to deeply embed community cohesion within our school in a profound and lasting way.

Focus on race
It takes time to establish a climate where clear understandings exist about notions of what constitutes racist abuse.

As in the modern and adolescent world of language banter, abuses may be being tolerated when in fact this behaviour is actually shoring up nascent attitudes of cultural disrespect.

Some years ago, the college formalised the general monitoring of racial incidents when schools became obliged to log all incidents on a national database. In keeping with this, I refined our school system of reaction to and recording of all racist incidents – the box below shows the form we used to record pupils’ versions of incidents.

CVC equal opportunities: incidents of racial harassment

Incident report Name of person affected: …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… Name(s) of person(s) involved in abusive behaviour:…………………………………………………………………………… ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… Name(s) of witness(es): ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… Date: ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Description of words/actions, etc., in as much useful detail as possible:

  • What was your relationship before the incident? What is the history of your relationship?
  • What led up to the incident?
  • Who was involved?
  • What did you do/say?
  • What has happened since?
  • What are your thoughts now about what you said/did?
  • What can you do/say to make the injured person feel better?
  • How do you intend to behave from now on?

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Signature: ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
Date: ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Until about two years ago, I felt confident that our procedures for monitoring racial abuse and attempting to encourage racial tolerance were working well. But when I studied the annual database log of incidents of abuse, I realised that over the previous two-year period, the incidents recorded had mostly occurred in Year 7. I decided then that induction into our school community needed to communicate clear messages about tolerance.

Introducing People policy

Despite what seemed quite a rigorous monitoring system and positive pastoral programme, the evidence of our incident logs showed that this was not enough.

So in September 2006 we introduced a new layer of activity to our EO policy and I began the creation of the People movement at CVC. This was effectively the pupil version of our overall school equal opportunities policy – see the box below for details of what the policy covers. The acronym People stands for: Pupils’ Equal Opportunities Policy means Learning for Everyone, which is appropriate as it combines a reminder about inclusion goals from every angle with the focus on learning that is at the heart of all our educational endeavour.

CVC People policy

At CVC, we aim to live in an educational environment that allows pupils to conduct their school lives in an atmosphere of freedom, tolerance and optimism about who they are and about who they might be. We hope to achieve this as follows:

Equality of opportunity is achieved through:

  • access to the curriculum for all both in and out of school
  • wide curriculum access without gender bias
  • promotion of knowledge and understanding of others through the personal development (PD) and citizenship programme.

Racial equality and good race relations are encouraged by:

  • the challenging and avoidance of stereotypes
  • positive views of difference
  • appreciation of diversity
  • an active PD programme
  • promotion through curriculum content and delivery, where appropriate
  • having in place clear racial harassment policy procedures.

Prejudice and discrimination are dealt with through:

  • allowing and accepting difference in people
  • valuing of varieties of abilities and talents
  • respect for diversity of belief
  • respect for cultural diversity.

Although it was the race log warning that served to instigate our setting up the People People movement at CVC, the movement has evolved as a way of addressing awareness-raising for all cultural cohesion issues.

Recruiting People advocates
I recruited two pupils (ideally one boy, one girl) from each of the 10 Year 7 tutor groups and trained them as People policy advocates in their form.

Each successful candidate had to write a letter of application to me expressing why they wanted to become a People person and describe how they possessed the necessary qualities: approachability, concern for wellbeing of fellow classmates and preparedness to act as spokesperson on behalf of others.

These letters needed endorsement signatures from a sample of form peers and their form tutor. I found that being explicit about the qualities required for People candidature and insisting on a written application meant that only quite committed and thoughtful pupils applied and, as it has happened, I’ve never had to reject anyone as I let numbers per form expand slightly rather than disappoint any enthusiasts.

The extracts from applications given in the box below demonstrate how pupils are interested in ensuring the healthy functioning of the groups in which they learn. The extracts also give a taste of how quite young pupils already have highly developed moral consciences, a fact which I have found rather inspiring.

From a series of seminars with this first cohort, we eventually drafted a job specification to guide pupils in tutor groups and beyond:

CVC People roles and tasks

Aims:

  • To promote positive relations in their form, year and in the school
  • To encourage fellow pupils to treat each other with respect
  • To work to stamp out all types of social (and personal) negative labelling
  • To help develop understanding about individuality
  • To help spread tolerance about different cultures and beliefs

Tutor group activities:

  • Know all the different members of their form
  • Raise awareness about People issues
  • Help with worries
  • Help to solve problems
  • Encourage social interaction
  • Discourage bullying
  • Support students new to school
  • Provide open door for discussion
  • Alert teachers to problems

Year group activities:

  • Attend People meetings
  • Be trained in pupil research observation of group dynamics in classes
  • Participate in peer mediation
  • Participate in assemblies promoting People values

An examination of these People roles reveal they require pupils to behave in an active and socially conscious way and to think about the social dynamics of their own class.

By September 2007, we had established four vertical groups of Year 8s, 9s and 10s to begin to work on the induction of the new Year 7. These were named Indigo action groups: INDIviduals who Go beyond their own forms and do a bit more. Their other roles included to:

  • carry out the OK survey
  • take part in lesson observations
  • participate in assemblies
  • work with EBD pupils on joint projects.

Core implementation issues we needed to address are listed here:

Implementation issues

  • Staff and pupil input into policy
  • Integration of sanctions with pastoral system
  • Consistency of response to incidents
  • Widening remit to include gender, homophobia and disability
  • Maintaining balance of perception about issues – keeping tone positive

The box below sets out how this fits with national initiatives:

Good practice on community cohesion

In January 2008, I presented the CVC People People movement as an example of East Anglian regional good practice at an Institute of Community Cohesion (icoco) conference. This conference was one of a national series set up to support schools in understanding how to promote the new duty to promote cohesion introduced by the Education and Inspections Act 2006. The duty on schools came into effect from 1 September 2007 and the duty on Ofsted to report on schools’ contributions in this area will commence in September 2008.

OK survey
The OK survey with the 2007/08 Year 7 pupil cohort was a key part of the induction strategy. Year 7 pupils were asked three questions to elicit whether they feel ‘OK’ at CVC after a term:

  • OK – not picked on for difference?
  • OK – not picked on for wanting to work?
  • OK – learning not disrupted in lessons by others?

These were framed to unearth any low-level bullying/harassment that may be hidden and unexpressed.

Another support strategy for achieving this was to create a lunchtime space called the Harmony Club where pupils would have a chance to discuss when they were being bothered by irksome behaviour (typically name-calling). The club itself did not prove a draw for pupils with problems, but the form devised to log complaints for subsequent follow-up has proved useful and can be used at a peer support level – see the box below. It is an example of how pupils are often helped to express problems when offered language prompts to tease them out.

Harmony ABC at CVC: Anti-Bullying Club

Peer action log
Name: ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
Date: ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

1. Nature of problem? (eg name-calling, teasing, harassment, etc.) ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 2. How long have you had this going on? ……………………………………………………………… ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 3. Who have you talked to about it? (eg parents, friends, family, teachers, etc.) ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 4. How do you feel about it? ………………………………………………………………………………… ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 5. What would you like us/someone to do? ………………………………………………………… ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 6. Comments: ………………………………………………………………………………………………………… ..………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Peer supporter signature(s):    …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Analysis of our 2006/07 racist log for Year 7 showed a 75% decrease in the number of recorded incidents. This in itself has seemed resounding evidence of the success of at least one aspect of the induction policy. Although we do not as yet log homophobic incidents on the national database, we do maintain our own internal log and likewise here have found a 50% reduction of recorded incidents for 2006/07 for Year 7.

Peer mediation
A major plank in our platform of strategies to shift thinking and encourage understanding and tolerance has been in the realm of peer mediation. In a process that resonates with what the police refer to as ‘restorative justice’, we have had some extremely positive results. Rather than emphasise only the punitive aspect of response to EO failures, we strive to establish some level of reconciliation between the accused and the injured so that the former may understand how they have offended and the injured may come to understand how the incident occurred and, hopefully, be able to forgive the culprit. It is in these discussions that tremendous mindshifts occur with, for the most part, ensuing mutual understanding respect.

Sometimes peers are present to voice views and offer insights and sometimes members of the Indigo teams add the benefit of older experience. Anyone who has witnessed this kind of peer mediation will be in no doubt as to its effectiveness.

Lesson observations

As a result of the early ‘OK surveys’, it was possible to identify where it might be useful to observe pupil behaviour in lessons with the purpose of giving feedback to particular disruptive pupils and engaging them in discussions about their own learning and that of their peers. So I devised a training programme for pupils to address how we might be able to combine teacher/pupil lesson observations that focused on identifying the specifics of behaviour that interrupted or disrupted learning. The initial training session included analysing lesson structure such as identifying: lesson objectives, lesson segments, plenaries and so on, discussing ways of logging observations, and of the need for discretion and keeping within boundaries, and how to share agreed outcomes with the teachers. We then followed this up with practice observations and then actual observations by pupils working in pairs within their own tutor groups.The observations involved assessing pupils’ attitudes and behaviour, group dynamics, and individual behaviour. We trod very carefully so as not to antagonise teacher sensibilities regarding professionalism and through negotiation, discretion and a clearly targeted approach have been successful in achieving instances of lesson climate change.

Positive images of cohesion

During the last five years, I have several times used film-making as a means of communicating messages of tolerance in year assemblies. A well-tried formula has been to generate a series of small group discussions on an aspect of EO, for example ‘stereotyping’, and then edit these discussions overlaid with a varying production cocktail of sound, image and text for added interest. This formula works because communities like their own home-grown stories and appreciate seeing and hearing their own peers dealing with issues relevant to them in an adult format.

Where next?

I am hoping to build on the success of the current People People movement by setting up successful induction of our 2008 Year 7 cohort using this year’s experience. I propose to continue to build up the peer mediation work as this appears to be a really helpful mechanism for breaking down energy blocks in year groups.

Having successfully established a model for encouraging cohesion among our own community, I would like us to reach out to our partner schools in other parts of the world, currently in Europe, Africa, China and South America, and see how far we can go in making cohesion links of a deep and lasting impact with them. I do not view it as too ambitious a goal to envisage our People People model transferring across lines of latitude and longitude and enabling our pupils to make sense of themselves in trying to appreciate diversity at home and beyond our shores.

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