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How to embed EDI into the GCSE English curriculum

19th February 2024

Both professionally and personally, I have always been deeply interested in ideas; in perspectives and opinions and lives and experience.

Naturally, these things play a significant role in the teaching of English. However, when delivering the GCSE English to resit students in further education (FE) at my college, we particularly look at developing a clear and detailed focus on these aspects.

Teaching English in FE requires, I would say, some significantly differing approaches to methodology and curriculum content. As part of our ways of working, the embedding of topics in which equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) are integral has always seemed to come naturally through ways of differentiation as well as topic choices.

For example, concepts around race, gender and human rights have always been right there in the texts and topics we focus on. However, more EDI-adjacent themes such as environmental or social awareness, economic issues and their effects or worldviews and historical contexts all play a part in how we engage and develop the written and critical abilities of our students.

One example of this can be seen in our GCSE English Language ‘Trigger’s Broom’ lesson, which in terms of skills focuses on the ability to recognise and analyse how writers convey meanings. Thematically, though, this lesson is centred around identity, persistence and change – having students question how we change over time and looking at how concepts of identity may be formed and seen by others.

These ideas are initially presented through the paradox of the Ship of Theseus, though given as an example from the famous Trigger’s Broom scene in Only Fools and Horses where a group of friends discuss the ’sameness’ of a 20-year-old broom which has had 17 new heads and 14 new handles.

Contextualising a challenging topic like change and identity in this way moves on to the reading of an extract from a blog about identity and how strongly it is tied to memory. Through this, teachers delivering this lesson were able to make use of a strongly discursive approach to guide the lesson in directions they felt best suited their students, taking things in directions such as collective memory and cultural identity, or individual change and personhood.

In addition to students being able to investigate and unpack a number of aspects around the ostensible core topic, this lesson provides the opportunity to move beyond the confines of strictly measured text and questions and to begin actively shaping complex ideas around themes which have direct correlation to a just and equitable society.

By presenting a topic which is at once challenging and ambiguous, and leading to a conceptual space in which the student is encouraged to explicitly develop their own ideas, EDI-adjacent topics can be used in support of any variety of assessment objective. This differs from a text and respond approach in that topic itself is chosen not so much to embed EDI within the curriculum, but to have analysis bring EDI out of whatever they may be questioning.

This is of course but one example of a GCSE lesson – but the principle remains the same in all that we teach. When we plan, we look for ways of differentiating not only in terms of delivery, but also in the way in which topics may be dismantled and deconstructed to understand some of the underlying themes within.

In doing this, we challenge both staff and students to look for further possibilities in their ideas and how these ideas relate to the changing world we inhabit.

Piers Alexander is the Head of English at West Suffolk College.