Head of Diversity and Inclusion and Economics Teacher, Haberdashers' Boys' School
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It is sometimes suggested that faith is the forgotten Diversity & Inclusion characteristic. By its very nature it can be a personal and private individual experience, but the very spiritual and sometimes all-encompassing dedication to a faith means that for many in the school community, it is very much a part of one’s identity. As such, a Diversity and Inclusion school policy that recognises faith needs can provide a much-needed signal that those belonging to a faith group do not need to leave their beliefs at home.
Part of the challenge for schools is that whilst families identify as part of a faith group, what that can look like when a school wants to address these needs can be very different. The very intersectional makeup of belonging to a faith group means there is a great deal intertwined with such an identity and this has to always be at the forefront of any efforts made by a school. Consultation is key and any action to be taken should be done through open and honest dialogue, otherwise mistakes will be made. Religious literacy is a vital starting point and plays a big role in allowing schools to understand how faith fits in to everyday life. At Haberdashers’ Boys’ School we have found our students to be the biggest drivers of our faith inclusion efforts because it is them who want to see it in practice the most.
Simple gestures such as acknowledging faith-based celebrations and events using the correct terminology go a long way in allowing students and colleagues to feel a part of the school community. This can be as easy as communicating good wishes for the day on social media to hosting and marking key events in schools. This allows the school community to participate, learn and observe some of the more cultural elements of a particular faith. It also means that your Diversity & Inclusion policy comes from a position of celebration and pride. This shift in tone is a significant one and allows for an element of joy when meeting the faith needs of your school community.
Prayer spaces are now commonplace and whilst it can be hard work to create at first, once a school does so, they can be a powerful focal point for what a school stands for. Conversations around how these spaces can be used need to be had early on and a school should employ some flexibility around allocated timings throughout the year in discussion with possible users of the space. Again, in allowing students to vocalise how they envisage using prayer spaces, we found we had empowered them to take responsibility for the fair and correct use of the space.
Dress code is never far from whole school planning and any policy should reflect the needs of those who choose to dress in accordance with their faith expectations. This is also important when creating rules around hair and jewellery. Like many of the protected characteristics, this is not a one size fits all strategy so time and effort have to be taken to consider the wide-ranging opinions that a school community will have and respectfully come to a policy that is reflective of the student body.
Allowing for religious dietary needs to be met, and offering halal, kosher, vegetarian or vegan in school canteens, at meetings and during events is an important inclusive practice that can be put in place with ease.
Inviting students and adults to share what faith means to them is a powerful tool in also meeting the needs of the whole school body, be it through designated weekly faith assemblies or presentations where they explore their personal rites of passage, the added benefit being that all at school are given the opportunity to practise emotional intelligence and an exposure to some very particular experiences.
All the above suggestions only work if there is buy-in from the staff body as creating a wholesome and inclusive school setting requires all those involved to feel its need and value. That is why ongoing training, support and literature is so important. This is not restricted to faith training alone but allows staff to better understand the makeup of the school. Information that is distributed is empowering and allows staff to address needs with confidence. For instance, our Ramadan policy was shared widely explaining the impact of the month on students and colleagues and how staff may witness changes to work patterns, allows teachers to adapt their expectations during that period and explains changes in students that may otherwise be worrying.
It can be difficult for schools to encompass the requests of all faith groups but in recognising a community’s spiritual needs the school sends out a message that they are a supportive environment when catering to the religious expectations of its stakeholders. Haberdashers’ Boys’ School, like most other schools, is fortunate enough to have a community with varied faith backgrounds, setting the tone when it comes to faith is a wonderful opportunity to break down barriers, dispel myths that exist and celebrate the fabric of the school.