Initial Teacher Education – how can ITT providers ensure that belonging and decolonisation are included in their programmes? Catherine Bickersteth, 2022

Reflecting on my personal and professional experiences of the education sector, including my lived experiences as a pupil, a parent and a teacher, my thoughts have turned to how initial teacher education prepares future primary teachers in respect of the concept of ‘belonging’.  When I use that term, I see it as encompassing equity and identity, which requires anti-racism and an understanding of what diversity in education looks like.

The face of ITT, like that of school leadership, is far from being representative of the diversity that exists in reality. A systematic look at whole school cultures and curricula needs to take place. This needs to be approached from the point of view of:

  • the trainee teacher
  • pupils
  • understanding the impact of inclusive practice in creating a genuine culture of belonging
  • professional development

Future teachers need to know that how they communicate with all the stakeholders in the school community needs to be inclusive and respectful. When behaviour is considered, it is vital that future teachers are aware of the negative impact of poor behaviour policies and attitudes – this must explicitly include looking at issues such as policies on hair styles.

In 2019 the Centre for Literature in Primary Education (CLPE) carried out its most recent research into representation of ethnicity in children’s literature. Their first report in 2018 provided evidence of the gap between reality and representation in books for children. The report (CLPE, 2019) reflects on changes made, and contains a thorough analysis of the questions that there are around the quality of representation in children’s literature, ranging from the quality of illustrations, characterisation, use of historical narrative, subject matter and genre.

The CLPE report is useful research to include in reading lists for teacher trainees, as it raises many thought-provoking questions and provides a source of examples of what children’s literature looks like when done well, to ‘reflect realities’. Without children – and staff – being able to use quality texts that include the diversity of ethnicity that we have, it is hard to grow a culture of belonging.

The subject specialist training and research that forms part of an ITE course needs to integrate questions about the curriculum. Teachers need to know where they can find resources to help them enrich subjects and to avoid the pitfalls of a narrow, Euro-centric, mono-cultural approach. Debates about decolonisation and the vocabulary within these debates need to be part of ITE courses.

Teacher trainees need to learn that there is an impact on the future outcomes for pupils if the curriculum is not sufficiently inclusive; teacher trainees need to know how to put into practice planning and teaching that avoids stereotyping or limits access on the basis of any protected characteristic; schools need to include the histories, contributions and voices of all, to equip pupils with an understanding of a complete British history. This decolonial lens needs to extend across the curriculum.

Thinking about these over-arching aims, I suggest here some ways that in-school and research-based teaching could be devised to address these areas.

Behaviour Policies

How far are the school’s policies anti-racist? For example, what are the school uniform policies?  Does the school ensure that no one will be at risk of sanctions based upon their protected characteristics?

Do trainees understand the micro-aggressions based on ethnicity that adversely affect people?

Research uniform policies and how they impact on pupils with particular protected characteristics. An example of this is that for some trainees, their own lived experience will mean that they are unaware of how far people of Afro-Caribbean descent suffer due to some preconceptions based upon natural hair care. There are still cases of children facing sanctions which are based upon ill-conceived uniform policies. (Maxwell,2020) How many trainee teachers are also being negatively impacted by a dress code for staff which may be making them feel that they have to confirm to expectations which are go against their protected characteristics? The Halo code is aimed at avoiding discrimination based upon hair type and can be researched here  A report into tackling Islamophobia in schools considers ways in which inclusive practices can be used. (NASUWT,2018)

 An anti-racist educator will learn how their own behaviour can influence the children they teach and it is vital that teachers are provided with the tools to avoid making any child feel that they do not belong, and that teachers recognise how to educate children to respect others. 

Are trainees aware of how adultification of black children can happen in educational settings, and the risk this poses for black and mixed-ethnicity children?

School and classroom environments

Are school positions of responsibility and representation for pupils accessible for all  – for example,  School Council representatives, representing the school in wider extra-curricular activities?

Who is represented in images in school displays and resources?

What evidence is there of a range of diversity in the authors of the reading material made available in school?

How do pupils learn about the concept of Empire, colonisation and migration in the school curriculum?

How do extra- curricular and enrichment opportunities actively represent role models  from the global majority ?

How does each subject area embed diversity throughout the curriculum, not just as an add-on, or a themed day?


Each school will be giving a different experience for the trainee and practices in schools will be at vastly differing levels of curriculum development. For primary school trainees, the ITT provider must provide a consistent approach across the whole cohort.  Primary school teachers need to develop subject knowledge in such a range of subjects that their subject knowledge is not necessarily developed to the extent that a secondary trainee teacher will have in their subject area. Nevertheless, it is important that primary school teachers understand how to teach in ways which actively provide rich and relevant subject knowledge, including all voices.

Furthermore, there needs to be a clear research-based curriculum which educates trainees on decolonisation. With this sound basis, trainees will be equipped to use this knowledge in school and can reflect upon the practice that they experience in school.

How can the curriculum content include untold stories, avoid being Eurocentric and teach pupils about the history of empire and colonisation?

What is included in the subject specialist teaching that primary trainees have, which explicitly consider decolonisation as applicable in that subject?

When are trainees given time to research the issues in education that relate to decolonisation?

Are teacher trainees aware of how to source a diverse range of texts, in terms of the authors and not only the content?


Does the school have an inclusive prayer area?

How does the school accommodate and support pupils who observe fasting for religious reasons?

How do school schools ensure that FSM provision is made available for children who are fasting?

How do pupils learn about world religions?


CLPE ‘Reflecting Realities report 2019

Maxwell, E  What next for schools after hair discrimination case  February 2020

Preventing and Tackling Islamophobia  NASUWT 2018

Further reading and videos

Arshad, R   Decolonising and initial teacher education  Race.Ed   Sep 2020

Chamberlain, N Diary of a Black Mathematical Modeller: My Black Lives Matter’. October 2020

Keval, H ‘Navigating the ‘decolonising’ process: avoiding pitfalls and some do’s and don’t’s’ .

Moncrieffe, M, Y. Asare, R. Dunford, & H. Youssef (Eds.), Decolonising the Curriculum: Teaching and Learning about Race Equality Vol. 1 (2019). Brighton, UK: University of Brighton Press.

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