How is technology crucial to making classrooms inclusive? Creator of the world’s first diversity and inclusion platform for education, Nic Ponsford, tells us how.

Currently, schools are simply not attractive to staff, students and many of their families. In fact, we’re amid the biggest staff retention and recruitment crisis1 since the 1980s,2 alongside seeing an ’85.9% increase in student absences compared to last year’.3

Why? Funding is obviously one main issue. But the other is that people just do not feel they belong in schools across the country. Mental health, safeguarding, phobic beliefs, workload and a sense of isolation have all exploded post-COVID-19. It is time to disrupt the education system to make cultures that communities respect and belong to. It is time to build belonging into the education system by looking towards technology and new practices to equip, educate and empower.

So how do you make inclusive classrooms, playgrounds and board rooms? I have spent the last three years researching this at a doctorate level with academics, bringing in our Collective of over 300 educational experts and co-designing with school staff, students and homes. The answer is Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB). And as a result of our conversations and research, we know exactly how to do this.

 

Building DEIB

First, you need to get the Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) ecosystem right for everyone.

We believe, as entrepreneur, Steven Bartlett said recently that ‘Our individuality is our most powerful asset’. We want schools to be able to embrace the individuality of all of their people.

We identify people by their demographic and cognitive or neurodiversity. You might know that there are nine identity demographics characteristics protected by the 2010 Equality Act:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation.

However, I feel these just aren’t enough to understand identity. Therefore, as Founder of the Global Equality Collective, a state-school teacher and leader of over a decade, and a person who has been (and still is!) underestimated due to my own lived experience, I wanted to go further. I had to take this further.

The ‘global equality’ characteristics also include socio-economic status, single parents’ rights, neurodiversity inclusion, menopause awareness, flexible working and global citizenship. But there is more – we ‘intersect’ these characteristics in order to create inclusive organisations.

This is where it gets tricky and where the technology needs to come into play. The DEIB practice and policies need to be embedded with the educators and facilitators – from Headteacher to the grounds team. How do you do this? Our research tells us that focus groups and one-off training days do not deliver a return on your time and financial investment, and they are simply outdated.

Embracing technology

We are the first generation to be part of the digital revolution, and it is crucial to ensure our time and productivity as educators is maximised. We are now using assistive technology to support access to learning and AI to make report writing easier, like TeachMateAI.

Innovative technology needs to be used and embraced to solve the problems that we have today, to make tomorrow better.

Digitalising DEIB aspects makes a low-effort but incredibly innovative solution to understand the needs of your staff, create an action plan and deliver CPD at scale. Once this is achieved, you will create an environment that is authentic and inclusive for all. But what about the students I hear you cry?! That’s Level 2.

GEC Students is currently in testing with 30 schools and will be launched in September 2023. So far, over 1,000 students have been surveyed as part of this trial. It is the first of its kind, a comprehensive roadmap to inclusion for students based on their unique perspectives and needs. It provides a straightforward and effective approach to assessing and enhancing Diversity, Equality and Inclusion (DEI) for students in any educational environment.

The academically tested survey, designed by students, for students, is for ages 3 to post-16, allowing schools and colleges to understand how to create extraordinarily inclusive classrooms. You can see our work behind it here.

I know that “The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.” (Sydney J. Harris). By  understanding that the purpose of education is to offer opportunities and aspirational content and, most importantly, a new sense of belonging to its students, the time to foster inclusivity and innovation is right now.

Author

  • Nicole Ponsford

    Nic is passionate about creating a level playing field for everyone in education, but especially those from underserved groups. After 20 years working in education, Nic set up the Global Equality Collective (GEC) to address one of the biggest issues in education; - culture, diversity and inclusion.
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