The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Sarah Soyei

Getting equality and diversity right in schools

A whole school approach to equality can increase attainment, improve behaviour and ensure that everyone feels safe and able to succeed. Sarah Soyei outlines four ways to make your school more inclusive.

Senior leaders and teachers are under increasing pressure, with numerous demands on people’s time and energy.

A common refrain is ‘I wish I had time to focus on issues of equality and diversity’. However, experiencing discrimination and exclusion can have a very negative impact on the lives of young people who are in the process of building their identities.

Promoting equality, diversity and inclusion requires commitment from everybody in the school body

When young people are exposed to discrimination and exclusion, it can lead to a lack of self-esteem, low confidence and impact upon their sense of belonging.

Getting equality right can help reduce other pressures and improve the school environment for everyone. Outlined below are four key areas which are key to creating equal and inclusive schools.

1. Policies and procedures

Implementing a whole school approach to promoting equality and diversity begins with having the correct policies and procedures in place. These set the tone for the way that the school as a community promotes equality, diversity and inclusion.

Schools which are effectively promoting equality and tackling prejudice and bullying have a clear set of inclusive values which run through their policies and practice and which staff and pupils are able to articulate.

Use policies and procedures to send a clear message: prejudice and discrimination in any form is not tolerated here and everyone is expected to play their part in stamping out inequality.

Optimus members can download and adapt our single equality plan template to demonstrate your school's dedication to equality and inclusion. 

A clear equality and diversity policy which covers the steps that are taken to promote equality amongst pupils, staff and visitors is key. However, equality, diversity and inclusion need to be considered in all school policies – without this consideration, policies may indirectly exclude people.

2. Create an inclusive school environment 

All schools need an accessibility plan, but an inclusive school environment goes much further than ensuring that the access needs of disabled staff and pupils are accommodated.

Conducting a learning walk can be a way to highlight areas for improvement. 

  • Do wall displays and classroom resources represent a diverse range of people, topics and ideas, challenge stereotypes and provide signposting information where young people can access support?
  • Does the lunch provision cater for different dietary and cultural needs and feature a wide array of food? Is the lunch area fully accessible?
  • Do staff avoid jokes based on people’s identity and use inclusive non-prejudicial language? Is there an awareness of possible unconscious bias and an ethos of reflection?

Asking parents and carers or pupils to undertake learning walks, perhaps taking photographs of areas they particularly like, or dislike, can bring alternative perspectives and highlight issues which may not be immediately apparent to staff.

3. Embed equality throughout the curriculum

Where schools are getting equality right, there is respect for individual differences and pupils develop empathy, understand the effects of prejudice and discrimination and take responsibility for trying to prevent bullying.

The way in which schools plan and deliver the curriculum can help to bring about positive attitudes by giving pupils a wide range of opportunities to develop their knowledge and understanding of equality, diversity and inclusion. 

There is a need for explicit lessons on equality issues where young people can learn about equality, diversity and inclusion in a safe space. However, equality, diversity and inclusion need to be threaded throughout all aspects of the curriculum. 

Right from reception, young people need to hear stories and learn about the contributions of:

  • people of different race and ethnicity 
  • people from different religions
  • women
  • disabled people
  • people from the LGBT community.

Schools need to be aware of the danger of a single story and ensure that they are showcasing and celebrating the diversity of the world throughout literacy, numeracy, science, humanities and arts.

4. Recognise and respond to prejudice-related incidents

Historically targets of prejudice have been dismissed or ignored, which can be devastating, prevent others from speaking up and allow incidents to escalate. It is important that schools have a robust, centralised system in place to report and record prejudice-related incidents, which is overseen by a designated member of the senior management team.

All staff should receive training which outlines why the school is recording this information, the procedures that they need to follow and why it is important to report every prejudice-related incident that they or their pupils experience or witness.

An inclusive school environment goes much further than ensuring that the access needs of disabled staff and pupils are accomodated 

Pupils may be reluctant to report incidents. Schools can take steps to overcome this by promoting pupil voice, creating a positive ethos where pupils are encouraged to speak up and know that the school will deal with issues effectively.

Schools can also put in place systems of peer support, so that others can report incidents to staff rather than the target always having to be the one that comes forward.

Closing words

Promoting equality, diversity and inclusion requires commitment from everybody in the school body. There are no quick fixes; we are all travellers on the road to equality.

It is a long journey, but ultimately, it is a hugely rewarding one, from which everybody will benefit.

Excellence in Pupil Development Award (EPDA)

Want to put pupils' personal development at the heart of your school?

The EPDA offers a framework to evaluate and enrich your pastoral curriculum, giving your school the opportunity to set high expectations for pupil behaviour, promote positive attitudes towards learning and the wider community and engage with external organisations to help raise pupils' aspirations for their behaviour.

Find out more at



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