Equal but different
There is no more difficult or controversial area in the curriculum than equal opportunities. The old certainties about disadvantaged girls and pupils from minority ethnic groups have given way to the shifting sands of diversity in the inter-relations of social class, gender, race, disability and sexuality in the construction of individual identities.
The biggest challenge for equal opportunities co-ordinators is to transfer policies into practice. Raising issues and producing policy documents is the easy part. Changing hitherto unquestioned actions, and the long-cherished assumptions which underpin them, needs practice and persistence.
Equal Opportunities: A Resource Pack for Schools is an in-service training pack. The video of four case studies from two primary and two secondary schools in Dudley shows teachers, parents and children in real life situations.
The first is, in many ways, the most striking, and raises issues for every teacher. Huntingtree primary school, with ages three to 11, has moved beyond mixed registers and a unisex uniform. Here we see pupils developing concepts of fairness and taking turns, nurtured by sensitive discussion and organisation by the teachers.
The children are encouraged to be considerate of others' needs in observing rules about equal numbers of boys and girls in activity areas like construction, which may sometimes be dominated by one gender group.
The reception class teacher's imaginative use of the home corner was an inspiration to trainee teachers who examined these materials with me. It assumed different themes such as a bus station, allowing role-play which challenged conventional gender stereotypes.
The case study moves on to implementation of the policy that "All pupils are considered of equal worth". The management of group work at Huntingtree emphasises the importance of praise and of developing positive ways of dealing with problems. The video and accompanying notes provide a wealth of material for detailed analysis during in-service work.
The second case study focuses on relations between parents and schools and the third on a range of projects tackling equal opportunities issues in schools and the community undertaken by Years 6 and 7 students at Kingswinford School. The last is a fascinating insight into the way Pool Hayes school dealt with a case of sexual harassment and subsequently introduced assertiveness training for all pupils.
In this pack, as in much equal opportunities work, gender is uppermost, disability is discussed and race is implicit, raised by the older students but not by the staff.
Equal Opportunities: Activities for PSE and General Studies in Secondary Schools is a loose-leaf folder of copiable materials for four units of work. It opens with sport (one of the most difficult race issues), and continues with cultural diversity in communities, careers and identity.
Each unit has a variety of activities including a board game, broken information exercise and drama. The units focus on interesting, realistic activities such as a racist attack on a football linesman and a programme for community radio.
The pack balances gender, race and disability effectively. It is well produced; the materials are attractive and informative; and it is admirable value for money. In a society where a Minister of the Crown vows to root out racism in the army and, in the next sound bite, pledges to suppress homosexuality with equal vigour, young people need every encouragement to develop their understanding of equal opportunities issues. We need many more packs like these.