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Racial Trauma Part 2: Developing an anti-racist approach in settings and schools

As discussed in the article, Racial Trauma Part 1, many children and young people have experienced racial trauma, due to the racism they or their families face, or have faced, in society.

Educators, settings, and schools are often committed to, and aware of, the need to be pro-active and anti-racist in addressing racism but may be unsure as to how to do so.

In this article we will share some strategies, resources and effective practice that will facilitate this and help to create an anti-racist approach.

One of the first things to do is to reflect ourselves, upon our own behaviour, practice, and our unconscious bias. We all have our prejudices and display bias in some way(s), and we need to ask ourselves difficult questions.

A suggested exercise from United Way, a non-profit organisation originating in the US[1], is to reflect upon your life experiences:

‘Your childhood and family upbringing; toys you played with; the places in which you’ve lived; elements of your career path; media messages; your family and peer networks. How might these experiences have shaped your biases, with or without your conscious awareness?’

Being more conscious of how racism does and doesn’t affect other people helps us to make things fairer for everyone in society. Understanding the intersectionality (how different factors overlap) of children’s lives such as ethnicity, poverty, class, disability will help us to reflect on our practice and to strive to meet the needs of our children and young people more effectively.

Please see the list of resources at the end of this article. There are also helpful book lists available that focus upon how white people can become allies in the battle against racism.

What can whole education settings and schools do?

The issue of racism is important for every setting and school, regardless of where you are located. Every child, young person, and member of staff needs to learn about and understand racism; what forms it takes; how it impacts on and how it can be challenged.

We live in a multi-ethnic society and a world where the global majority are from African, Asian Heritage and other racially minoritised groups so we need to ensure that children and young people have a well-rounded education about fairness and justice.

As with any aspect, it is crucial to reflect on where the setting or school is at this point as a whole staff team. What are our values? Are they reflected in our curriculum, policies, and practice? Are we looking at what happens with a trauma-informed and anti-racist lens?

One tool for doing this is the National Education Union’s Framework for developing an anti-racist approach[2]:

It breaks the work into different sections and helps settings, schools, and colleges to establish priorities for themselves.

Key points to reflect upon:

      • We share 99.9% of our DNA.
      • It’s just as important to educate about subtle as well as very clear and transparent racism.
      • Treating everyone the same does not promote equity.
      • We need to see the colour of people’s skin and acknowledge the perspectives that children, families, and staff of African, Asian Heritage and from other racially minoritised groups have.
      • We need to give children and young people the space to self-actualise. How do they want to define themselves? Global Majority, Black, People of Colour, BIPOC, melanated, melanin-rich etc.
      • Becoming an anti-racist setting, school or college is a journey.
      • The importance of Allyship.

Key areas to focus on (using the headings in the NEU framework):


      • Acknowledge that we live in a racist system.
      • Prioritise the most important aspects: ‘the worst excesses that will have the greatest effect on the greatest number of people.’ (Rosemary Campbell-Stephens)[3] and promote the message that the changes are beneficial for everyone in the school.
      • Ensure there is a clear and transparent policy and procedure for dealing with racist incidents which involves taking decisive action: providing support for both the victim and perpetrator and responding robustly. Actions need to be communicated to and shared with staff, children/young people and the community and monitored regularly.
      • Look at overt and unconscious bias in policies and practices such as the uniform policy, expectations, and assessments and take actions to address it.
      • Develop and implement a framework that includes social justice and intersectionality.
        Work with outside organisations to ensure that the school’s values and ethos are anti-racist.
      • Support staff by providing safe spaces and quality CPD opportunities. Model the learning you as leaders are engaged in.
      • Form peer networks to support each other as leaders.

Teaching and learning

      • Review the curriculum and whether it represents the children and families in your community and their histories and provides an accurate representation of the lives and histories of all the peoples in the UK. Understand the difference between diversifying and decolonising the curriculum.
      • In upper Primary, Secondary Schools and Colleges, work towards co-creating a curriculum that is anti-racist.
      • Be pro-active in addressing racism and bias. Bring up in discussions with children and young people in class. Share your own learning with them.
      • Adhere to the organisation’s policy and procedure for dealing with racist incidents.

Power and voice

      • Create safe spaces for pupils to talk with each other.
      • Listen to the voices of staff of African, Asian Heritage and from other racially minoritised groups, hear what they think are the priorities and what makes them feel included or excluded.
      • Listen to the views of parents and families of pupils of African, Asian Heritage and from other racially minoritised groups.
      • Involve outside organisations in working with you to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard.

Wellbeing and belonging

      • Reframe all children’s behaviour/presentation so that it is looked at in a trauma-informed way (‘What happened to you?’ Rather than ‘What did you do?’)
      • Create ‘inclusive environments, especially for children from ethnic groups with higher rates of exclusion.’[4]
      • Ensure that children/young people who have experienced racism and the perpetrator are supported. Be clear about the behaviours that cause harm. ‘Deal with incidents with compassion and tough love.’[5]

Many thanks to Leethen Bartholemew, Head of the FGM Centre and Lead for the Boloh Service, who co-wrote this article.

With thanks also to Aisha Thomas from Representation Matters, Joe Secrett from Learning Partnership West, and Barnardo’s colleagues Cenzina Barclay and Charmaine Lynch for their help, recommendations, and contributions.

[1] - 21 day Equity Challenge: DAY 2: Understanding and Reflecting on our Racial Bias 

[2] - 

[3] - Rosemary Campbell-Stephens in Becoming an anti-racist school 

[4] - Timpson Review of School Exclusion, May 2019 

[5] - Rosemary Campbell-Stephens in Becoming an anti-racist school 


Leadership/Teaching and learning/Wellbeing and belonging



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