Book Review: Diversity, Equality and Achievement in Education (Knowles & Lander, 2011)

reviewed by Sadia Habib

Diversity, Equality and Achievement in Education 

by Gianna Knowles and Vini Lander (Sage, 2011)


lander knowles

Intentional and unintentional racism is very much still a part of today’s society experienced by people of colour in everyday situations and through structural/institutional inequalities, even if some politicians and media commentators attempt to project an image of a post-racial world. Educational guides are needed now more than ever to help new teachers to reflect and act upon stereotypes, inequalities and discriminations encountered by their students. This book, Diversity, Equality and Achievement in Education, focuses on the significance of schools and teachers learning about student diversities, identities and differences in order to ensure students are reaching their potential and progressing in education.

As well as discussing the various old and new racisms relevant to schooling and education – including stereotypes and assumptions about Gypsy, Roma, Traveller students, and refugee and asylum seeker students – the book also usefully provides educationalists with insight into the identities and diversities that matter when teaching looked-after children, also known as Children in Care (CiC), as well as issues of gender, social class and disabilities. The increasing policy emphasis on inclusion in the last two decades, Knowles argues, has brought great benefits to students and schools. Lander highlights that intersectionality means that social categories, for example gender, need to be considered in conjunction with other social differences and social identities, such as class or race/ethnicity.

The chapter on ‘Enabling Equality and Achievement for Children with Disability’ informs the reader about the marginalisation and bullying encountered by disabled young people, and encourages the reader to critically examine school policies regarding students with disabilities and develop ways to ensure learning is personalised to help the students to participate confidently in education: “… it can be very tempting to plan and organize something for children that we believe they will find motivating and interesting”, thus it is better and “can be a very illuminating experience to talk to children about what they do actually find interesting about their learning and in what ways they think it could be even more stimulating” (p146).

Particularly poignant is Lander’s chapter on Gypsy, Roma and Traveller students – ‘Living on the Margins’ – which outlines a socio-historical perspective on these distinct social groups who come to be homogenised through policy and political discourses. Lander reveals powerful details about the origins of these groups, and explains more about the stereotypes, assumptions and prejudices that lead to their mistreatment and suffering in contemporary society, thus showing the reader the necessity of representing their voices. Lander has also written a chapter on the significance of hearing the narratives of refugee and asylum seeker children – “to develop a nuanced concept of the children that are part of this group and to begin to understand that their individual stories will illuminate their fears, hopes and needs” (p123).  In the further reading list, Lander includes Benjamin Zephaniah’s Refugee Boy, a novel which I found resonated with the multicultural school students I taught in London. I have written at length about the emotional and social benefits of exploring Refugee Boy with school students.

Knowles’ chapter on looked-after children, also known as Children in Care (CiC), explores themes of attachment, loss and resilience. Intersectionality matters again, as these young people will have individual and unique experiences according to their gender, and even whether they also have a refugee or asylum seeker status. Thus we can read the chapters in this book in conjunction with one another, for the advice is not discrete, but interweaves through all the chapters to stress the need for educationalists to understand more about students’ intersecting identities. For example, we might also consider the shifting social class experiences of refugee and asylum seeker students who might once have experienced a middle class lifestyle before they embarked upon their extremely difficult and disturbing journeys, eventually arriving in the UK to seek sanctuary. Thus, how would their previous and new encounters impact upon their identities, belongings and achievements in education?

The authors have helpfully provided engaging, detailed and powerful case studies, interesting discussion points and extra activities to allow readers to ponder over key themes. These additional study sections also enable readers to personalise the insights about diversity and inclusion, and make them relevant to their own experiences and observations of education. Some of the activities, in my view, could be modified by trainee teachers to use with their own classes of students when exploring identity and diversity in lessons. The reading lists and website lists in different chapters also provide helpful avenues to explore for those wanting to do further reading.

The reading lists and additional activities are particularly important for student teachers, as my reading and research has shown that they lack sometimes confidence when dealing with diversity and discrimination. Thus, this book is very useful for new/experienced teachers and teacher trainers, as well as sociologists and psychologists of education, who are keen to know more about key connections between identity, diversity, equality and achievement, increase their knowledge and understanding of child development, and interrogate their own personal positionality regarding ethnicities, cultures and religions.

Categories: Diaspora, Diversity & Difference, Rethinking The World, Reviews, Uncategorized

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