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Manchester: betrayal and belonging in a welcoming city

Blog Editor, IOE Digital27 May 2017

Kathryn Riley
One of my favourite photographs shows two handsome women, elegantly dressed in black, with mantillas draped over their heads. They’re talking animatedly to a smiling male figure dressed in white. He’s wearing a skull cap. A sense of warmth and ease radiates from the photograph. The three figures are clearly enjoying their conversation.
Visitors are drawn to this picture. ‘It’s the Pope,’ they say, ‘Pope John Paul’. ‘It’s the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Manchester’, I retort. ‘My Aunty Winnie and my Mum, Agnes´. And the Pope, of course. ‘It’s because of them’ I explain, ‘that the Pope came to Manchester in 1982.’ If you look at the picture carefully (yes, Aunty Winnie was the Lord Mayor), you can see that it would have been hard for the Pope to resist the petition of these two outgoing Mancunians – Agnes and Winnie, Winnie and Agnes – Manchester’s formidable delegation to Rome.
Like so many others, my family had left their distant homes and travelled to Manchester to find a new place for themselves. As a child of the Irish and Jewish (more…)

Migration: it will be up to the next generation to change the picture

Blog Editor, IOE Digital8 May 2017

Kathryn Riley. 
There is a photograph called ‘Migrant Mother’. It is an arresting black and white shot. The woman is centre stage and gazes sideways on. She is beyond exhaustion: every line etched in her face tells its own story.
701px-Migrant_Mother_(LOC_fsa.8b29516).jpg
At first glance, she appears to have two children. Look more closely and you will see she has three: a child asleep on her lap and two other children, faces averted from (more…)

Reclaiming the future: schools where children belong even in a volatile world

Blog Editor, IOE Digital14 December 2016

Kathryn Riley.

I’ve had to grit my teeth many times of late, before engaging with the ‘News’: the fragile and alien social and political landscape; the unfolding stories of the sexual abuse of our children and young people; the discourse of rage. My own email account has not been immune to messages which echo the shrill voice of bigotry.
When I visit schools, I ask children the question, ‘What does belonging mean to you?’ Answers over recent weeks – from youngsters in London, Luton and the Netherlands – have included: ‘It’s where you are safe and comfortable’; ‘It’s when you’re on the inside and working together’; ‘It’s when people tell you the truth and you can trust them’ – a prescient comment in the light of national distrust of politicians.
In this ‘post-truth’ world, the times may be gloomy and we may have to revisit battles we thought were long since won – about respect, equality, dignity. Yet a different world is (more…)

How can school leaders who exclude foster a climate of belonging?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital28 October 2016

Kathryn Riley. 
There are some depressing statistics in the air at the moment: it must be the change in the seasons. They include an increase in hate crimes post Brexit – which led the Big Issue (September 26-October 2nd) to ask: Is Britain Becoming a Nastier Place? There is also a rise in the number of children self-harming; and an increase in the number of teachers who are quitting the classroom: 1 in 3 within five years of qualifying.
Health experts attribute the rise in the child self-harming figures to a range of factors, including pressures to succeed in school, body image and fears of abuse. Kevin Courtney from the National Union of Teachers puts the teacher attrition rates down to the pressures generated by relentless workload demands, high-stakes testing and an ever changing policy agenda.
If you haven’t read my blog before, it’s about place, belonging and identity: the need (more…)

Isn’t time we focused on what matters – schools in which staff, students and families feel they belong?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital23 September 2016

Kathryn Riley.  
I amble across the tranquil shores of Studland Bay, Dorset on an unexpectedly hot day. My Labrador Finnegan is in fine fettle. Not being a sun worshiper, I’m dressed in a baggy pair of cotton trousers, long sleeve tee-shirt and – as I’ve forgotten my hat – a scarf, a headscarf. My mind switches to an image of another woman on another beach. She’s also dressed from top to toe but she’s surrounded by armed police who are ordering her to take off a layer of clothing. ‘Her’ beach is in Nice. So much time, so much control, so much aggression focused on appearance: ways of labelling, judging, excluding.
Linked to my first blog in this year-long series about place, identity and belonging ‘There’s more that holds us together than divides us’ is a video about what belonging   means for young people, Place, Belonging and Schools in our Global World. ‘Belonging means to feel comfortable where you are and just to feel you can be yourself and not have (more…)

There's more that holds us together than divides us

Blog Editor, IOE Digital20 July 2016

Kathryn Riley.

As a stoic Mancunian, I stagger through the sodden winter streets of Nedlands, Western Australia. My flimsy umbrella no match for the deluge, I take shelter in Morgan Marks clothing store. There is a sale on. Conversations unfold.
What brings you here? Where are you from? And the clincher…..What is happening in the UK?  I have been asked this question many times since leaving Heathrow Airport on July 4 for Hong Kong, en route to Australia: by residents at the peaceful Jen Hotel; by a Law applicant to UCL, at the Transit Interchange at Admiralty; and now by this group of interested  Australian women,  keen to share stories about aberrant  politicians.
Since the early hours of June 24, a post Referendum gloom has shrouded me. I have been in mourning for the idiosyncratic Britain I thought I knew: the ‘cultural cacophony’ of my second city, London; the roars that filled the Olympic Stadium in 2012, for British–Somalian Mo Farah. Disaffection, disenfranchisement and disengagement seemed to have prevailed.
Yet on this damp Australian morning I reply, ‘There’s more that holds us together than (more…)

Schools play a critical role in helping young people find their sense of place

Blog Editor, IOE Digital17 May 2013

Kathryn Riley
Our young people inhabit a planet of increasing diversity and complexity. In a world of ongoing transformation, they need to find their place. Place is a powerful notion: the place where I am from, the place where I live, the place where I would like to be. Place is about being an insider or an outsider. Schools have a critical role to play in helping – or hindering – young people to find their sense of place.
Last week, I met with young people from four London schools: Mulberry School for Girls, St. Paul’s Way Trust School, Central Foundation Girls’ School in Tower Hamlets and the Ursuline School, Wimbledon. I wanted to know what they thought about my new book Leadership of Place: Stories from the US, UK & South Africa (K. Riley, 2013: Bloomsbury).
My book looks at how a school’s location, and the stories of the individual students in the school community, affects the way heads and teachers think about their work. At the heart of the book are three locality studies: Brooklyn, New York, London’s East End and Nkonkobe in the Eastern Cape of South Africa.
Wherever I went I asked young people the same two questions: “What’s it like living around here?” and “What’s it like being in this school?”
• For children at “Downtown School” in Brooklyn, New York, the neighbourhood is “a world of highways, underpasses and overpasses”. The school building is industrial and unwelcoming; yet, for many, “school becomes the only stable place they know”, the principal told me.
• Staff at “Annie Besant” school in Tower Hamlets said they were shocked at the depth of poverty and overcrowding their students lived in, but the girls, mainly of Bengali origin, did not think they were deprived.
• In South Africa’s Eastern Cape, where schools may lack running water and electricity, one boy told me: “The good thing about this place is being loyal and the most important thing is love. It’s a good family, good friends, education, sport… And there are bad things that don’t make me feel good… drugs alcohol, HIV, unemployment.”
The young people I met with in London told me more about the complexities of life in the city. One young woman summed up the importance of school as a place for her in the following terms: “You have to be who you are in school, otherwise how are you going to be able to deal with the difficult things that come your way?”
They spoke about their leadership. They discussed the legacy they hoped to leave for other young people when they left school.
They certainly challenged the view of old Etonian MP, Jesse Norman, a newly appointed political adviser to David Cameron, that Eton is one of the few schools where students “think that there’s the possibility of making change through their own actions” (Observer, 28th April, 2013).
Perhaps Mr Norman might like to visit one of these London schools?
Professor Kathryn Riley, London Centre for Leadership in Learning, Institute of Education London.