Priorities for a new Government: advice from our academics part 5 – Muslims, education and citizenship; teacher retention
By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 6 June 2017
The IOE blog has asked colleagues from across the Institute what’s at the top of their wish list. Their replies have appeared over the past few weeks.
Muslims, education and citizenship
Given the present turbulent and divisive environment, how should a new Government approach British Muslims? I believe the new government should approach British Muslims first as citizens of this country and then engage with their concerns in terms of religion, class, gender and other identities.
It is true that being a Muslim means at least some attachment, theological or cultural, to Islam. However, the degree of attachment varies enormously from person to person – ranging from those for whom it determines every aspect of life to those for whom it is one among many loyalties and identity-markers.
There is no all-encompassing ‘Muslim community’, with a shared way of looking at the world, shared educational ambition or shared mores of gender relations. Given this diversity, an emphasis on citizenship as a framework for engagement will strengthen the Government’s relationship with the vast number of Muslims who do not wish to be seen primarily in religious terms.
Educationally, for instance, there are Muslims who want Islamic seminary education for their children; others who opt for Muslim faith schools, which seek to combine Islamic and secular education; and still others are perfectly happy with local community schools. Among Muslims, there are those who advocate faith schools and those who oppose them. Yet, public discourse about Muslims and education often fails to recognise this diversity.
Those who engage in or abet terrorist activities must be dealt with in the strongest terms. But, the community oriented approach to Muslims has led to a troubling consequence for the government’s anti-extremism policies, giving rise to a situation where the so called ‘Muslim community’ is seen by many to be responsible for the violent acts of individuals. This stigma in turn encourages those who wish to foster a victim mindset among Muslims. As citizens of this country, Muslims should do, and should be expected to do, as much as any other citizens to make this country prosperous and peaceful. They should neither be privileged nor be stigmatised.
There is also a need to nurture understanding between people from different cultures. A good educational way to do so is by encouraging, through schools and media, exposure to arts and literature from around the world. Rooted in and transcending social realities, literature can develop children’s imagination so that they humanise people from different cultures and see commonalities across humanity.
After a well–deserved half–term break, teachers across the country returned to school this week knowing they would be trying to help their students make sense of another senseless and frightening act of violence. Teachers and school leaders love and nurture our children. My question to the incoming government is: What will you do to care for our teachers and school leaders?
The current retention crisis is often described in terms of workload and accountability-driven pressure. Our work with school leaders shows that the retention crisis is also driven by a perceived incompatibility between being a teacher or school leader and having a life beyond the school gates. Teachers are not leaving the profession because they have stopped caring about their children, schools and communities. They are leaving because they are exhausted. As the pace of reforms continues to escalate and as financial resources for schools dwindle, leaders and teachers will be under even more pressure. Sadly, the next government can anticipate even more teacher and leader attrition unless something is done, and quickly.
My advice would be to stop and think about the characteristics of the generations of leaders and teachers in our schools. We have, as educators, encouraged them to be creative, collaborative and craving diversity and challenge. We have also nurtured their desire to find a balance between their work and lives. School leaders can and do nurture supportive and caring conditions for teachers in school. However, if they themselves are not shown a consistent level of support and encouragement, they will not be able to sustain their own herculean efforts to push back against the harmful influence of our current accountability system. The solution is to pause and truly think about caring for our educators, working with the new College of Teachers and listening to the leaders and teachers we have in our system already. Our new government needs to recognise teachers and school leaders as our most valuable national resource. Only then will we be able to begin to address our retention crisis.