Lived experience is an enormous asset in education – and that’s why the sector needs to diversify
I’ve worked in the education sector for over 30 years. The sector has always been one where women have been welcomed, respected and listened to. In many ways education is ahead of the curve in comparison to other industries. And yet still to this day assumptions are made of me because I am a woman – the most recent of which was a meeting where the participants assumed that a male colleague was the Chief Executive and not me…
The thought that a woman surely couldn’t be the Chief Executive isn’t the most misogynistic experience I’ve ever lived through, but it’s a reminder to me that the sector needs to diversify.
The education sector has always been very female-led
Education has always been very female-led, and yet senior roles have very much been male-led up until recently. That isn’t surprising – this has been seen across various sectors and women are still trying to break the glass ceiling in so many jobs.
But these days this is really changing – with government data showing that two thirds of headteacher roles are now occupied by women. That’s fantastic to see – although there are very troubling stats around the diversity of those working in education (85.7% white British) that need to be addressed, and need to be addressed as soon as possible. The lived experiences of individuals from black, Asian and mixed ethnicity backgrounds are incredibly important and should be used to help shape the future of education – and we also need to factor in disabled people and LGBT+ people to have a truly diverse sector, representative of the diversity of this country.
Lived experience is so important – and has been something we place a huge onus on at School-Home Support. The charity exists to help children get into school, ready to learn – and do whatever it takes to do that. Lived experience helps us to understand where families come from and what barriers they face. It fuels our passion to make a difference with a tenacity to keep going until we do.
As a woman, I grew up knowing that I was viewed as lesser than my male counterparts at school. I still remember the boys’ names being called out on the register first. I realise now that this was my earliest memory of injustice.
It’s no surprise that women are drawn to the education sector. We are constantly experiencing injustice – so it makes sense that we want to ensure others don’t have to go through that.
Education was one way in which people could escape the injustices of society – although this has been severely challenged during the COVID-19 crisis. Through education, young people can build better futures for themselves; they can gain qualifications and skills; and gain experience to help them towards future employment. It’s a way of empowering people, building aspiration and equipping them with the tools they need to live the lives they dream of.
At School-Home Support, experience of injustice is something that we see as an asset. The majority of our senior managers are women. But not only that, the majority of these extremely talented women also have lived experience of what the children and families we are working with are experiencing right now. That’s what makes this charity so uniquely special – and, I believe, what enables us to provide an holistic approach to removing the barriers that children face in getting the education they need and deserve.
As an example, one of our Practitioners has lived experience as the mother of a trans child – and has been using her own lived experience to work with parents in the north west. Knowing that someone knows how you feel and understands you enables these parents to open up more.
Diversifying the sector to build back better – and fairer
As a woman heading an education charity I still experience misogyny. But, while unpleasant, this is precisely what makes me work hard for the families School-Home Support exists for every day, because I know how it feels to be overlooked. Lived experience is an asset after all – and women, BAME individuals, people from the LGBT+ community, and those living with disabilities grow up and live day-to-day experiencing injustice. They have a ton of experience to bring to the table, and a passion to ensure children and young people don’t have to experience what they have. As we look to the future into a world after this pandemic, diversifying the education sector is so needed in order to build Britain back better – and fairer.
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Over the latest lockdown our key workers have, day in, day out worked tirelessly with children struggling to learn because of: hunger, lack of space to learn, or being cold because the family cannot afford to put the heating on. The COVID-19 pandemic and the numerous lockdowns has widened the disadvantage gap for children and young people. Department for Education data suggests the attainment gap could be as much as 75% between disadvantaged pupils and their better off peers once the COVID-19 crisis recedes.