Micro Laxatives

The curse of modern-day micromanagement in education 

Disclaimer: This is a difficult time for us all and this piece is not about attacking individuals at all. It focuses on a collective culture that, once we reflect on, it will make education a better place for all.

Micromanagement in education is like a laxative. Without meaning to sound too crass, it is going through our education system at the rate of knots and producing, pretty shit results. Of course, like any other profession, a form of monitoring and scrutiny is required but not at the expense of retaining and recruiting the best resource in education – its teachers.

  • “Your PowerPoint doesn’t have the academy trust logo on every slide.”
  • “We use pink to mark but not that shade of pink.”
  • “This lesson can’t be anything better than an ‘Good’ as you didn’t take the register promptly.”
  • “In our school, we do it like this and so should you if you want to be successful.”
  • “You cannot say ‘you can’, you have to say, ‘you should’. Teachers have been downgraded for saying ‘can’ instead of ‘should’.”
  • “I was sat in a meeting and I kid you not, even the coughs were documented in the minutes.”
  • “My school monitors the CCTV in the car park. They time the hours we are at work.”
  • “A register is taken at staff briefings and then used in capability meetings. This is even for teachers who complete duties on briefing days.”

These are all comments I’ve heard personally from colleagues over the past few years. As teachers and our Trainees and NQTs or ‘daisies’ as I refer to them, return to school, micromanagement through various means is incredibly harmful and damaging. Whether these are non-negotiables or rigid ‘expectations’, teacher autonomy is extensively reduced. During my novice five years in the classroom, I have seen many colleagues come and go. Very few will tell you they left because they could not handle the students. They were either managed out or placed in the straitjacket of micromanagement, making their positions untenable.

Finding the balance between accountability and autonomy is good management. Whereas, micromanagement has been empirically contested in education for decades. Image: workpull

What is micromanagement?

The Oxford dictionary define ‘micromanagement’ as, the practice of controlling every detail of an activity or project, especially your employees’ work”. At all levels of the profession, teaching requires some form of standardisation, a success criteria and barometer/yardstick of success. If anything, one would assume, as educators, we have one common goal – the progress of our students. Micromanagement, for me and many others is loaded, nuanced and insidious. Teachers are aware of their responsibilities and the natural extension to their roles. We embrace the fact there are elements of our role we may not necessarily agree with but as a community, in theory, we have a common goal.

Who benefits from micromanagement? If anything, micromanagement is an evidence-collation method. A mechanism to oversee this standardisation process and ‘measure’ the ‘effectiveness’ of teachers. However, with this comes the surrender of teacher autonomy and even, as I have discovered in my own research, toxic practices and bullying. So, who benefits? With ring-binders full of paper, meaningless hours spent justifying arbitrary practice, coupled with worn down and burnt out teachers, exactly who benefits?

From my own observations and conversations, my three concerns with micromanagement are the following. Although this is not an exclusive list, it provides scope for discussion and extension.

  • We need monitoring – Our league table inspired, neo-liberal performative education system means we do requite monitoring and accountability. Nobody is in disagreement here as, for example, meeting targets enables appraisals to be approved and teachers must earn their keep. Monitoring at all levels is required but does it need to be perverse? Is there monitoring for the sake of monitoring? Why not allow teachers some level of autonomy? The magnitude of policies and initiatives that are arbitrarily endorsed and after a short trend on twitter, they are made redundant. When I started my PGCE, we were at constant loggerheads about learning objectives, which were replaced by learning outcomes. Then came along learning questions which were also swiftly replaced by learning questions. My issue here is, how much learning actually went on? When teachers are working round the clock to cope with the demands of their role, where is there any evidence that sustained monitoring actually promotes student progress. The correlation between micromanagement and a lack of teacher autonomy cannot be down played. Consistent studies have shown a lack of autonomy leads to a poor morale, exhaustion, burn out and lower job satisfaction (Wilkins, 2011 and Allen and Sims, 2018). Indeed, we do need monitoring but I hope we all have better things to do than tooth and nail assess the school-wide standardisation of display boards or fonts on a PowerPoint!
  • The bastardisation of autonomy – For me, there remains a very odd misconception of what ‘teacher autonomy’ actually means. When we think of autonomy, there view is ‘free rein’ isn’t it? That if teachers are allowed to be autonomous, they will have free reign, fail to comply with the multi-coloured pen marking policy, our learners will lose ‘effective’ practice. Anyone who calls for greater autonomy is not asking for schools to remove tried and tested and successful policies. They are not asking for a pedagogical revolution or proverbial light bulb moment! Autonomy must be driven by context and extended through the promotion of professional trust. Educationalists must get this idea of ‘free reign autonomy’ out of their psyche. Autonomy is about allowing teachers to grow, develop their knowledge and skills, to make mistakes, to reflect and to innovate. Rather than be a mirror image of every other teacher or leader they have come in contact with, autonomy empowers teachers as professionals to lead lessons and develop a greater sense of self. In reality, autonomy promotes growth and should be part of the dialogue in every school.
  • Cookie-cutter approach – I am not SLT bashing, this is merely calling out cultures and practices that are doing little to alleviate the problems around retention and recruitment. There is, albeit in a very covert way, in many schools a very arbitrary cookie-cutter view of what makes a teacher ‘effective’. Micromanagement is part of this approach. Teachers are meeting internal targets, some which have little impact on student progress, simply to appease the target setters. These target setters have their own perception of what makes a ‘good’ teacher, which of course, varies from school to school and teacher to teacher. Anyone who does not fit neatly into this view or embody its principles is made to do so through the various means of micromanagement, whether this is capability, support plans or non-negotiables. Again, the issue we have here is that there is no universal world view on what makes a teacher ‘effective’ as there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to teach. I’ll take you back to the days where Mr F, our Science teacher used an over-head projector and he was incredible. His results were great, the students loved him but once PowerPoints became the norm, we lost our favourite teacher. He was no longer smiling and the atmospheric effects of the micromanagement he faced was well documented by his widow. Mr F was a bloody incredible teacher but because he was so beautifully stubborn, he was placed in a box by the culture of management. Some people don’t like cookies, they like cake! Mr F made the most incredible Victoria sponge too! For mavericks like him micromanagement offered little to retain his incredible depth of knowledge and skills and ultimately it was us, the students who suffered.

Empty shelves have been synonymous with this Covid pandemic but this cannot be symbolic of our teacher talent pool for years to come. Any change in education must come from within. Image: Chase. com

Is it all doom and gloom?

Absolutely not! There are schools that love providing teacher with the resources, time and space to be autonomous and teach for their students and not to tick boxes. Professional trust in education is pretty fragile. As the A-level and GCSEs exam shambles illustrates so vehemently, policymakers find it difficult to trust teacher discretion, so how we do we expect school leaders to? In the right school, and yes, the right school exists for every teacher, the laxatives of micromanagement will be replaced with a proper diagnosis for the shit situation we find ourselves in. If you are a school leader and reading this, ask yourself what is the purpose of the policies you adopt? We are still amidst a global pandemic, our teachers are risking their lives returning to work. Before you plan your learning walks, book looks and make duties compulsory for all staff, glance at your wellbeing policy or charter. We have to look after one another and micromanaging every breath your teachers take increase stress and workload. We need all hands on deck, everyone needs a buoyancy aid as we paddle through rough shores in such unprecedented times.

Again, this isn’t about individuals or school leaders. They have enough to deal with during these unprecedented times and it would be wrong to to claim every school is like this, it truly isn’t. The issue isn’t individual personnel at all, it’s a culture.

What’s your solution, Khan? I’m a dreamer. Nothing beats seeing a teacher in full-flow, delivering a lesson and imparting knowledge using their pedagogical skills. It give me goose bumps just witnessing this virtuoso of skill and talent. I love it. My solution is holistic – how about we stop micromanaging and start using this valuable time to promote research-informed policies and help our teachers grow rather than be trampled on. Micromanagement must be brought to a halt with a focus shifting on helping up rather than tripping up our teachers. It is the only way.

In Summary

Micromanagement in education is unnecessary. However, in its current format and trend, it is going through out education system like laxatives. We are amidst a pandemic but also a teacher retention and recruitment crisis. People leave the profession for a plethora of reasons but I can place good money on the lack of autonomy and micromanagement being a major concern. Managing other is challenging, it requires great skill but the rewards of watching others grow, at their own pace should supersede any arbitrary institutional policy.

We are knee-deep up shit creek and micro laxatives will only leave a greater mess and more rancid legacy. It is time we stopped micromanaging and started reconnecting with our purpose as educators. And, if you have lost that purpose, I hope you find it soon.

Thank you for reading,

Shuaib Khan

Allen, R. and Sims, S. (2018) The Teacher Gap, London, Routledge

Wilkins, C. (2011) ‘Professionalism and the post-performative teacher: new teachers reflect on autonomy and accountability in the English school system’, Professional Development in Education, Vol: 37, No: 3, 389–409

Our National Treasure

“To do the right thing you don’t need a high horse, you need a heart”.


On February 25th, 2016, a skinny doe-eyed 18-year-old made his debut for Manchester United. Marcus Rashford. Remember the name. Four years ago, he was stealing our hearts with his pace and trickery, today he is providing light of hope for those in poverty. It almost seems like he is single-handedly took on the political elite. We must rally round him as the time for silence is over.

We need to protect Marcus Rashford. Although he has a PR team and incredible support around him, the public need to get behind his activism. If we can cheer for this performances on the pitch surely we can applause his social activism too. The lad is the epitome of meritocracy, now intent on helping others. His rise from being a child dependent on free school meals to playing for one of the biggest football clubs in the world is no coincidence. Years of personal sacrifice, hard work and commitment, coupled with difficult upbringing, this lad should be celebrated. For many disadvantaged children, education or sport are the best routes to social mobility in a society that is polarised by inequalities. Marcus Rashford is living out his childhood dream and this pledge to help end child food poverty has empowered but also sadly divided so many.

Screenshots or subtweets provide racists, bigots and poverty porn consumers so much satisfaction. Their ‘intellectual’ veneer is exacerbated because they are allegedly the ‘voice’ of the ‘silent majority’. I was even reading the most appalling commentary questioning the whereabout of Rashford’s father. Coming from a single parent household does not mean you are deprived of love and nor is the heteronormative nuclear family the aspiration despite the rose-tinted glasses worn by those on the right. Yet, as a former free school meals, disadvantaged, English as an additional language and special educational needs registered child, I know poverty and I will continue to help raise awareness. Marcus Rashford is a national treasure.

“We are in this together”. One the left we have a selection from the menu provided for MPs. Compare that to the food parcel I handed out to a family of four back in 2018. Thank you, Kayleigh for the inspiration.

Hunger Pains

I have been reading Kayleigh Garthwaite’s eloquent Hunger Pains – Life Inside foodbank Britain. This book has not only transformed my own understanding of inequality but also helped place my own experience in context. Hunger pains are awful. They are crippling and having to share one bowl of cereal between three brothers was a sacrifice that was often made in our home. Growing up, I was fortunate enough to have the safety net of relatives and local networks and the notion of a ‘foodbank’ did not really register in my mind. We knew we had little and that our daily free schools meal was the best we would get. It was a monumental battle yet nine years on, a professional status gained, I still remember the pains my family would have to go through to say ‘no’.

  • “No, we can only buy the essentials”
  • “No, we can’t afford that”.
  • “No, there isn’t enough money”
  • “No, but maybe next time”.

Hearing ‘no’ as a child is devastating but for disadvantaged children, it is the norm. It becomes a normalised part of our upbringing. Although poverty in Britain does not replicate that of third world countries, how is it that we are the six richest country in the world and that as of 2018/19, 4.2 million children live in poverty? It isn’t just the poverty that made the hunger pains worse, it was the inequality that forces not only the starvation of the body but also of aspirations.

When a man in a suit, who has enjoyed the fruits of privilege his entire life casts judgement on those in poverty, as a society, we don’t need to be radical socialists, we need to draw upon lived experiences and not stereotypes or misinformation. Politicians, many of whom work from home whilst our teachers are in classrooms packed to the raptures with limited social distancing opportunities. These same policymakers who tell us “we are in this together”. I still remember a day volunteering at a local foodbank and putting together this food parcel for a young family (picture above). This was one of the luckier days where we had branded food donations too. It meant the world seeing their faces light up but when we compare to, for example, the menu for our MPs in Westminster, “in this together” really does feel like white noise.

No Such Thing as Poverty

I have seen three major criticisms of Marcus Rashford’s efforts to collaborate with the FareShare charity in trying to eliminate child food poverty. This is not an exclusive list of criticisms but the two that deserve to be urgently unpacked with a sociological gaze.

  • The culture of poverty/Lifestyle-ism – When Margaret Thatcher so crudely said, “there’s no such thing as society”, something had been awoken on the British psyche. The distinction between the ‘deserving’ and ‘underserving’ poor has been around since the days of Charles Dickens. Thatcher, just like Ronald Reagan provided a neo-liberal veneer for meritocracy to been brandished around like new trendy pair of Dr Martens! The welfare state was no longer considered as a safety net, but rather a noose holding back social progress. Welfare cuts became the norm and poverty became a personal dysfunction rather than a societal problem. We still live with the seeds of this lifestyle-ism as New Labour were, at times, merely paying homage to Thatcher by embracing neo-liberal ideals. Despite Tony Blair consistently telling the electorate that child poverty would cease to exist by 2020, with economic growth hasn’t come social progress. Marcus Rashford’s quest to end child food poverty means he is going up against several generations of this lifestyle-ism view that people who are poor are actively making choices (by smoking, taking drugs, consuming alcohol and have unattainable pastimes) which pull them back into the proverbial sinkhole of poverty. Despite what the tabloids tell us, correlation is not causation. Poverty is indeed a culture and a key ‘criticism’ used to counter supporting foreign aid is the patriotic notion of ‘helping those at home’. As of 2019, we have over 320,000 homeless and over 4.2 million children living in poverty. Calling a spade, a spade, we don’t really even help ‘our own’ do we? Without addressing structural inequalities and the ‘choices’ of individuals in poverty, and what restricts their ‘choices’, the nebulous correlations of lifestyle-ism offer little insight. No one ‘chooses’ to be poor or to starve. Marcus Rashford is allowing the most vulnerable in society to ask for help. He’s offering a helping hand when for so long we were taught to be suspicious about even our most kind hearted donations.
  • Disadvantaged children – Marcus Rashford used his platform at the height of the pandemic. The government were keen to cut the free meals voucher scheme for our most deprived children. A scheme that Rashford himself was part of and campaigned for leading to yet another U-turn from the government. The disgraced Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson continued to use this ‘disadvantaged children’ narrative to get schools reopened. ‘Attainment poverty’ was also thrown around the political arena with teachers being scapegoated. Disadvantaged children are not trophies or prizes anyone can just pick off the shelf. This label has been tarnished, worn out and badly represented in a society that remains segregated by social class and classism. If education is seen as the vehicle to alleviate disadvantage and poverty, then why have school budgets been cut? Why are we still living in austerity where frontline children’s services are disappearing? Why is it, that in the six richest country in the world, we are so appallingly dismissive of poverty? Wilkinson and Pickett in the Spirit Level completed a cross-sectional study of many countries. They found that in countries where wealth is more equally distributed, a plethora of socio-economic problems like food poverty have less of an impact or simply don’t exist. The Social Mobility Commission have been calling for the end of austerity for over a decade now to help, as politicians call ‘level up’ society. Why are they being ignored? The cause of this disadvantage, yet again cannot be understated. It is inherently political and what Rashford is doing is political but if empathy and reaching out to help others is political, then let us all be political. Marcus Rashford has done more to unite this country than any government. Those in power are openly turning their backs on expert advice, research informed initiatives are rendered invisible by ideological obsessions and the emotional distancing from those worse off than us is embedded in British folklore.
  • It is not your battle, Marcus – I saw several vile tweets directed at Rashford. Many people were even saying, and I will paraphrase “you kick a ball around for a living, what do you know?” It takes tremendous strength and fortitude to fight social injustice and use your platform to elevate the voices of others. The question should not have to be “Why are you doing this, Marcus?” The real question is “Why should anyone have to be fighting for basic human rights at all?” Having a meal is a basic human right and the fact that it has taken a Footballer to come forwards and make a lifelong pledge to end child poverty, this is a reflection of the utterly outdated and inhumane political process we have here in Britain. The disadvantage our most deprived children experience every day is the political love child of a democracy that fails to represent their concerns. Should this be Rashford’s battle? Again, in the sixth richest country in the world, should any child be going to sleep hungry? The fact that we have someone with a high profile, with decency, lived experience and integrity fighting for disadvantaged children whilst our MPs sleep comfortably knowing they could do more is a damning indictment of politics in this country. It is your battle, Marcus. It is everyone’s battles to ensure we have a socially just society that enables everyone, regardless of wealth, income, status, power, gender, religion, ethnicity, race, sexuality or ability to thrive. It has become Rashford’s battle and one he cannot win alone. We all need to stand by him as social progress is always a collective effort. This is collective healing after generations of vicious hatred for those less fortunate than us.

Marcus Rashford referring to child hunger in Britain today. Anyone with a passion to make society more socially just will echo these words. Image: YouTube

In Summary

In Summary

Long live Marcus Rashford. The lad is a national treasure and someone we need to protect at a time where divisions are both the norm and expectation. The personal attacks, racism and criticism will continue when a 22-year-old simply wants to do the right thing by ending child food poverty. I tell you, the hunger pains are real and when you have nothing, you appreciate everything. Thank you, Marcus. You are getting us to reflect, think and care about how we treat another, especially the most vulnerable in society. A true national treasure.

Poverty in Britain is real. Hunger pains do hurt. Some people do have to make the heartbreaking choice between Christmas presents and keeping their homes warm. This is 21st Century Britain but it doesn’t have to be like this. Contrary to popular belief, there is another way. We need change but that starts with how we treat one another. Equality enriches us all. From the cradle, to the classroom, to the workplace, to the grave.

Please donate to FareShare – let’s rally around Marcus. This is Britain. Our Britain.

Long live Marcus Rashford.

Thank you for reading.

Shuaib Khan

Twitter: @shuaibkhan26

FareShare – https://fareshare.org.uk/

The FoodAid Network – https://www.foodaidnetwork.org.uk



Ten Questions for 10 Downing Street

The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command. His heart sank as he thought of the enormous power arrayed against him, the ease with which any Party intellectual would overthrow him in debate, the subtle arguments which he would not be able to understand, much less answer. And yet he was in the right! They were wrong and he was right.

George Orwell

Late last night I read a quote, “if you are not angry, you aren’t paying attention”. With a global pandemic that has claimed over 46,000 lives in the UK, an unelected government advisor being given immunity and even Doctors being told to watch their ‘tone’. These truly are unprecedented times. As the press continues to peddle epiphany of the metaphorical Corbyn vision that never came to fruition, we have a real life proverbial shit storm brewing. Teachers up and down the country are knee deep up shit creek. A facetious situation for some, faeces for others.

This is a blog I didn’t want to write but I don’t apologise for writing it. These are inner thoughts on the current state of affairs in education and the GCSE & A-level debacle.

The fire stoked. Burning the foundations of our education system since 2010. Image: The Guardian

Ten Questions.

As a teacher, I am so disappointed but not shocked with the government. The disconnect between policy-makers and teachers may never be bridged but this is not my grievance. Our students have been let down by ideologically-imposed, short sighted, poorly planned and woefully arrogant educational policies that have zero intention to create equality of opportunity for our young people.

I have ten questions for 10 Downing Street following the A-level and pending GCSE grading scandal. I won’t be knocking on Boris Johnson’s door but I suspect these are the concerns of many teachers.

1. Gavin Williamson was sacked by Theresa May as Defence Secretary for leaking sensitive information and swore his innocence “on his children’s lives”. Why was he given the responsibility to be Education Secretary? To be trusted with the futures of our young people? He wasn’t even able to keep sensitive information safe? What chance does he have to safeguard the futures of young people?

2. Why are teachers frozen out of the policy-making process? Those who are on the front line and with such an enormous depth of pedagogical knowledge, why are teachers mere spectators? Surely our expertise could be used to consolidate policies and share good practice? Not allowing teachers a seat at the table empowers those who do not have our learners and their needs at the heart of their decision making.

3. Does everyone associated with education have the interests of students at heart? Perhaps the education system is run by self-congratulatory careerists with a fetish for ideological gains.

4. Were these policies mandated? Who mandated these policies? Again, back in 2010 when whole-sale academisation was announced or Free Schools given the thumbs up? Where is there evidence of performance related pay or appraisals being an effective way to measure progress? Who mandated these policies? Where did they come from and why do they still exist?

5. Who benefits? Who are the beneficiaries of the algorithm inspired GCSE & A-level results? Why has the independent sector been given a veneer of invincibility?

6. Was ‘disadvantaged children’ just another sound bite? I know the answer to this already. Why have disadvantaged children suffered the most from the grading scandal?

7. Are exams the most effective way to measure student progress? Why is high stakes testing still endorsed? Which genius decided scrap coursework and modular exams in favour of ‘rigorous’ linear examinations? Where else in the world does the education system rely on ‘do or die’ exams as a final judgement of our students knowledge and skills?

8. Where is the opposition? Sir Keir Starmer, where are you? Where is the scrutiny? The Deputy leader of the opposition Angela Raynor has been vocal but where is Starmer? Why aren’t all these questions above being put to Williamson? Why don’t we have opposition to this incompetence? A tweet here and there is no opposition, it’s implicitly agreeing with the ideology that has damaged our education system.

9. Why is there such mistrust in teachers? How can we get policy-makers to trust us? We jump through every hoop, swim through every river and dedicate our lives to the profession. So, why is this not good enough? What more can we do to bridge this mistrust? The mistrust of teachers by policy-makers has never been difficult to believe. It has always been difficult to accept.

10. What is next? Public safety framework to reopen schools remain ambiguous and it is clear teacher discretion doesn’t matter to policy-makers. Where do we stand? Do we keep standing or start walking? Will this heighten concerns around teacher retention and recruitment? What’s next?

In summary

I am abhorred, disturbed and astounded with the lack of leadership from this government. After being chastised and hated by the press and edu-influencers since schools closed on March 20th, it has been a really exhausting experience for our nations educators. As we struggle to keep our necks above the water in a system that demands more everyday, the boat of social mobility for our students has been capsized.

My deepest apologies to our students. This isn’t your fault. When ideology and algorithms replace your progress and growth, it’s for us all to look in the mirror and reflect on our purpose.

Thank you for reading.

Shuaib Khan

Behind Enemy Lines

“If people cannot write well, they cannot think well, and if they cannot think well, others will do their thinking for them.’

George Orwell

Teachers and students up and down the country are reflecting on the most chaotic and bewildering A-level results day in recent times. With algorithms replacing teacher discretion, pedagogical expertise being rendered invisible and students dreams left shattered, who know what September has in store for us all.

A-level or GCSE results days are monumental occasions. I still remember collecting my results and the euphoria of realising my dreams to study at university had come true. On Thursday, many thousands of students’ collected their results and during such unprecedented times, the stakes for some of them could not have been any higher. During the global pandemic teachers have faced enormous backlash and scrutiny by all quarters of society but the outcry last night really conceptualised the last decade. A decade of sustained mistrust towards teachers by policymakers. A disconnect that is at the heart of many of the issues surrounding teaching.

The independent sector prospered during a truly unprecedented time. Image: BBC

The 40%

40% was the number brandished around. Nearly 40% of A-level grades awarded were lower than teacher predictions. Prime Minister Boris Johnson referred to these as a “robust set of grades”. News coverage, as always, showed images of both agony and ecstasy. Teachers up and down the country were left bemused, demoralised and outraged as their predictions were vastly ignored. Many students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds suffering, the A-level results speak volumes about the sustained disconnect between those in charge of the country and its educators. Even the appeals process is farcical as parents and schools forking out hundreds of pounds to have judgements overturned in favour of the grades teachers predicted in the first place. Unnecessary, futile and just hugely bureaucratic.

Policies, mistrust and depoliticisation

My three main concerns about the A-level debacle are not exclusive. I do believe for our education system to prosper, our policymakers needs to cherish the treasure they have tried to bury for long; their incredibly dedicated, committed and hardworking teachers.

Policies that have never been mandated – When Michael Gove became Education Secretary, he began to cherry-pick policies from other countries. Free Schools from Finland, performance-related pay from Sweden and our nations young people became Guinea pigs to world comparative assessments such as PISA. Academisation was broadened, local authorities lost control of educational establishments. With Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) abolished, Sure Start centres closed, 9-1 GCSE grading system introduced and A-levels becoming linear. Gove continued to dismantle, reform and hastily push through policies under the ‘rigorous’ or ‘improving standards’ banner. My question here is, particularly relating to the A-levels debacle, which pedagogical expert or ‘consultant’ in their right mind decided to make A-levels linear? Modular exams would have provided empirical validation and yes, a ‘rigorous’ view of the progress of our students. High-stakes testing which has become a hallmark of the Gove-inspired education system has really fallen flat on its face. Yet, who mandated any of these policies? Why are those on the very front line not consulted? Was there scope for education research in forming these policies? Why are teachers frozen out of the policy-making process? I want to know if it was Chuckle Vision or tunnel vision that helped form these policies? Who has benefitted? Does everyone associated with educational policy have the interests of students at heart? In 2014, the last sentence I penned in my final undergraduate exam was “Michael Gove is an ideologically obsessed zealot”. Six years on, I stand by those words.

Professional mistrust – These are truly unprecedented times! Even Doctors are being told to ‘watch their tone’ as they wade in on conversations about public health! It is clear that by ignoring teacher CAGs and failing to accept our professional judgment on our students, their progress and potentially their future destinations. Professional mistrust has permeated into our education system and it starts with our policy makers. How we judge our teachers as ‘effective’ or ‘good’ is an arbitrary cookie-cutter approach, a mere Ofsted-esque mirror image and box-ticking tunnel vision. Teachers are rarely given the autonomy in their classroom due to internal and external pressures. As frameworks continue to move goalposts, many school leaders feel this strain and micromanage their staff. I am by no means saying educational policies have created this veneer of mistrust, but it is truly implausible to suggest the unmandated policies we have referred to above, in our performance-drive educational world have not played their role. Policymakers do not live in our intellectual world, their brashness or arrogance in condemning our best efforts offer little to recruit, retain and improve the morale of teachers. Ultimately, professional mistrust and suspicion that teachers may be ‘massaging’ data in their favour, which many may do, plays a role in this shambolic grading scandal our schools were forced to face yesterday.

Depoliticisation of disadvantaged children – The intellectual arrogance to continue to depoliticise the term ‘disadvantaged children’ leaves many of shaking with anger. To think that Gavin Williamson pushed this ‘attainment poverty’ narrative on us, teaching unions were scapegoated and even Kirstie Allsopp got hot under the collar. Teachers were a detriment and deemed an enemy to social mobility. This narrative comes from the same government that has ignored the Social Mobility Commission’s recommendations for an entire decade. The same government that has plunged five million children into poverty, cut mainline services for our young people. The same government that had to make a U-turn to provide free meals for the most disadvantaged children after pressure and campaigning from Footballer, Marcus Rashford. This of course is nothing new! Richard Tawney in 1931 believed social class was the “hereditary curse” of the English education system. Jackson and Marsden in 1962 claimed that education was a method to liberate the upper-classes and police and pacify the most deprived. Historically, disadvantaged children have been swimming against the tide and I suppose over the last decade, there have been fewer life jackets available for them. There is also a clear case for classism in the A-level results debacle. Disadvantaged children did face the brunt of the downgrades whereas the independent sector saw the biggest rise in their top A-level grades. Oh, the irony of Williamson referring to equality of opportunity! In a political system marred by hereditary peerages, nepotism and opportunity hoarding and in a Cabinet made up on people who have lived in a realm of social prestige – astonishing. Disadvantaged children want to believe in their teachers’ visions of meritocracy and hard-work. They want their efforts rewarded in a system that is structurally polarised based on either class, race, ethnicity or even post code. Disadvantaged children want their voices heard in a democratic system that caters for their needs. These children want their teachers to be able to support them to the best of their ability. I know full well, I was in the ‘disadvantaged’ category for my entire school life. Finally, they need a level play field, pun intended.

A global pandemic required courage and strong leadership and not empty rhetoric and ideological swindle. It is time Gavin Williamson resigns. Image: ITV News

In Summary

I still find it unbelievable seeing a student crying after she was awarded a D grade when her predictions were straight As. When it was announced that examinations across the country were cancelled, a unified approach was required. Teachers and policymakers needed to find a resolution, a middle ground and to prevent the catastrophe we witnessed yesterday. Taking away ideological gains here, teachers remain aggrieved and deeply hurt. The rigorous training, the hoops we jump through and endless overtime we put in for our students, we simply want our professional judgement to be valued. I believe this A-level debacle is over decade in the making.

Finally, to Gavin Williamson. We are amidst a global pandemic, a teacher retention and recruitment crisis. Your spouse works in education too. This was your opportunity to reconnect with those you ‘represent’ and legislate for. You have failed us teachers, you have failed disadvantaged children and ultimately, Michael Gove may have planted the seeds but under your supervision his visions have come to fruition. If only you consulted schools, unions, vested stakeholders and wanted to make education a hub for social mobility, teachers would not feel like they are behind enemy lines trying to provide every child with the best opportunities to achieve.

Thank you for reading,

Shuaib Khan.


Unprecedented Courtesy

A ‘professional’ oxymoron.

If you are brave enough to say goodbye life will reward you with a new hello.     

Paulo Coelho

A year ago, I was driving home after being denied an exit interview and not allowed being allowed to say a goodbye to staff. ‘Is this it?’ ‘Where is my closure?’ and ‘Did that just happen?’ were the questioned that played in my head. For escapism, I switched on the radio and Will Young’s – Leave Right Now was playing. This was symbolic as it truly was my time to leave and with the former Pop Idol winners lyrics belting out, I am still reflecting. In fact, that song was on my mind during the leavers speeches. Symbolic, hey?

Leave Right Now is a classic. The lyrics are symbolic of situations that cause us distress as our departure often says more about our experience than our arrival. Image: SteveyBmusic

Firstly, my deepest apologies for going ghost on educational issues. I have been focusing on my book as well as wider social issues, but I now feel the time is right to delve back into the classroom. Teachers up and down the country are either leaving their schools, have new jobs, beginning career breaks, starting maternity leave, retiring or leaving the profession. The wave of social media posts are both inspiring but also heart-breaking. Many have left schools after several decades of incredible service, others pursuing new roles post-NQT but whatever your story, everyone deserves respect. This article aims to provide practical support for teachers and school leaders with their departing colleagues. Again, this is not ‘SLT-bashing’ as there is a fine line between calling our poor professional practice and scapegoating our school leaders. This is a line I believe most educational writers tow very carefully but one that must be contextually considered. ‘Professional conduct, ‘integrity’ and ‘responsibility’. Three phrases that are the backbone to the DofE Teaching Standards for England. Three buzzwords, three components that are often paid lip-service to and three concepts that have wrongly become obscure in our great profession.

Yesterday on Twitter I posted the following message:

‘It’s a monumental day when we leave a school and a real sense of closure but when I read:

  • Staff deliberately left off leavers lists,
  • SLT unwilling to conduct leavers interviews,
  • Fellow teachers refusing to sign thank you cards.

It’s symbolic violence. It’s poor professionalism.’

This was posted following a set of conversations with teachers who had left their schools in appalling circumstances, all of which were not of their making. All three of the, well, frankly, unkind behaviours I have encountered personally. One leavers day, I was actually excluded from sitting with staff, my name was not announced and the suspicion around my departure was so vast. I have always believed we learn more about others when they realise we are leaving. This is also the case with schools. It really is not even the case of upholding professional values, why is being kind, courteous and civil such a difficult ask from our fellow professionals? Often it is not even teachers or school leads, it is HR and admin staff. Why must we make this divorce, and I will call it a divorce, from your employer more challenging?

What is symbolic violence?

In our analysis of such behaviours, I want to assess famous French Sociologists notion of ‘symbolic violence’. Symbolic violence according to Oxford Reference is, the imposition on subordinated groups by the dominant class of an ideology which legitimates and naturalizes the status quo.

Bourdieu who many of us know from his work on cultural capital, he believed that symbolic violence was a non-physical way to perpetuate and manifest power. Subordinate groups through norms, values and customs were forced to acquiesce to the differential power between them and superior groups. Although for Bourdieu this symbolic violence was imparted through the power dynamics of class, gender, ethnicity and sexuality, I believe we can incorporate social standing through occupational positions.

Within the context of education, teachers who leave schools become the subordinate group as they are relinquishing their position in employment in their own respected ways. Symbolic violence can be manifested through microaggressions, the use and tone of language and even the day to day nuanced interactions. I truly believe that schools are not immune from this symbolic violence, with my book on toxic schools being a key example. However, leaving staff are the most susceptible to this form of violence. Many are seen as ‘lacking resilience’, even considered as ‘traitors’ or ‘letting the school down’ for seeking new career pathways. This behaviour is not universal, but I do believe it is common and more widespread than we are led to believe.

How schools can support leaving staff?

Our key word is ‘support’. Leaving staff need supporting before they make an often life-changing transition to change school or careers. The three elements I have chosen are by no means exhaustive and despite being somewhat banal, I hope they realign the lost souls and their values with the principles of kindness and courtesy. Please pardon my naivety, I am trying to retain some element of holistic practice in relation to some perverse behaviours.

  • Professional standards – If you are a school leader or seeing staff leave, when did you separate from your professional standards? Amidst even the biggest fall outs and disagreements, our role to educate children is of paramount importance. The battles are in the classroom and not with one another. Our Teaching Standards ooze with buzzwords which can only take rhetoric into action if we impart these principles into our professional life. When I hear that teachers are being hauled into meetings, warned for applying at certain schools, excluded from leavers notes and barred from leaving meetings, you really do wonder how detached some schools are from not only teaching standards but standards of humanity. Leaving staff want to depart on good terms, with a real sense of achievement and even with the potential for a return to remain the cards. Disingenuous, impolite, unkind and discourteous behaviours amongst staff and leaders slam this door shut. As we are amidst a teacher recruitment and retention crisis and therefore schools should be looking to keep every door open.
  • Exit interviews – I actually discuss this in my book also. Exit interviews, in theory, should be an off-the-cuff opportunity to relay concerns to school leaders, explain the real reasons for your departure and help the school mobilise steps of reflection. I am astounded with the number of teachers who have told me their exit interviews were either blocked, cancelled or a mere tick-box activity. Exit interviews are moments of reflection and closure and when teachers leave, their previous employers should have no qualms if they speak uncourteously about them if they left in disarray. Denying an exit interview represents such perverse and insidious level of arrogance, dismay and unwillingness to for the employer to uphold their statutory to uphold the wellbeing of their employees. Personally, I have never sat a
  • Realign yourself with courtesy and civility – This should never even be a point of consideration. It is sad and just general knobbishness (yes, I have coined that phrase) to show complete disregard towards others. You may never see, let alone share the same organisational settings as a departing teacher, so why not make your last interactions meaningful? I believe we all have the capacity to be kind, courteous and civil but many lose sight of these principles as they fight for arbitrary battles with one another and the colour of pens used for marking. Many leaving staff are done, they are emotionally at ease with their decision and literally just want to leave in the most graceful way possible. The symbolic violence, which I have eye-witnessed, including, unwillingness to sign leavers cards or not clapping at leavers meetings. This is puerile, it is playground manners, it lacks class and being honest, it creates a skid mark on your own personal and professional reputation. Being civil could be greeting someone or asking how they day went. The fact that many teachers are having to learn the ‘social side’ of teaching leaves me shaking with dread. Swallow your pride and sign that card! You will be a memory for the departing member of staff, at least allow that last memory to paint you as some sort of ‘professional’. Showing courtesy will gain you more respect than any ‘status’ ever will. As a good friend of mine always says, ‘keep it kind’.

In summary

Courtesy should be at the very heart of our profession and not a peripheral unprecedented feature. With all the beautiful cards, flowers, balloons and stationery being presented to teachers, many have not had the perfect goodbye. Many have been left silenced, unable to say goodbye to their students and colleagues, denied an exit interview, escorted off site and not given an acknowledgement or leavers speech. It is those teacher we need to comfort and reassure. We need to inspire these teachers, help them leave with a sense of closure and through our interactions help remove the grey crowds around our great profession. I truly hope we can realign our principles with kindness and civility, follow the Teaching Standards or Nolan’s Principles for public life and yes, cut support our leaving colleagues. Courtesy should be universally applied; professional standards are for everyone and exit interviews are more necessary now more than ever.

Leaving a school is similar to leaving a relationship but we should be allowed to celebrate our achievements. Tis’ the season for difficult conversations and thus we need to change how we treat one another. The entire notion of unprecedented courtesy is a complete oxymoron, one that should be reserved for the morons and not part of the professional practice of exceptional educators.

The book

Finally, a quick update. The book is almost there. We have a title ‘Toxic Schools: Our Antidote’ and I promise you, this will be a real collaborative journey of growth, hope and reflection. Please watch this space.

Thank you for reading,

Shuaib Khan

White Noise

The ‘justification’ of silence

“One day, we will meet together in the light of understanding”

Malcolm X

Can an anti-racism stance be complicit to white silence?

Is a stance of silence complicit with racism? My previous work on silence stated how dangerous silence is and that it is in fact complicit with racism. Now that we have more voices at the table, we need more seats. This article refers to the misleading ‘non-racist, anti-racist oxymoron’ which appears to be allowing the justification of silence in anti-racism discussions. Through repeated nebulous interactions, those struggling to understand how to support the Black Lives Matter movement and their BAME friends, colleagues and students, are constantly hitting up against white noise. Can an anti-racism stance be supported through white silence?

After my conversation with Emma Kell during the NTLD event, a real reflection moment was sparked. ‘How can we incorporate white people into the anti-racism discussions?’ Many feel unease, scared, apprehensive and fearful of not knowing what to say, thus seeing this anti-racism sentiment as extreme, so how can we move forwards? Why does unease equate with silence?  How can we address this silence? The silence is not healthy even though I can now place it in the realms of fear of causing more offence. I have to admit that I find it difficult to relate As I’ve always been one to create a racket.  Perhaps we need to give this silence permission to speak with the tacit agreement that no offence is intended and any challenge in response is with the intention of clarifying a perspective. Perhaps this silence needs collaboration rather than the unintended be validation of racism.  I am learning about my own anti-racism stance and how my allyship aligns with my principles, which I am also still reflecting on. But whilst I will not peddle hatred, I will also not excuse silence! Instead I need to educate myself and continue to reflect. There is another way in this journey, not silence, not aggression but collaborative healing.

Black lives matter and it is sad that it has taken a slogan to drag the majority population out of its apathetic state about the lives of black people, because their lives do matter and always will. This movement towards generationally supressed conversations about race has empowered BAME people in an incredibly inspiring way. I see good practice being shared, new networks being created, and some absolutely vital discussions being held. The power to transform society is all of our hands and I call for us to talk about race, to not make excuses and be open to dialogue in an inclusive forum. It has been interesting observing the response to this call. There has been denial, derailing, deviation and discomfiture and after much discussion, I do understand the unpleasantness of this experience especially for people who have been silent due to ‘colour blindness’. Facing the raw hurt and pain of people who are affected by systemic racism can render potentially speechless!

How did I miss this? How did I not know this? At this point the silence may be a place of processing. However, silence cannot pardon the killers of Breonna Taylor who are still at large, silence cannot pardon the venom of random, rampant and targeted stop and search of young black men. Silence should not excuse the review into Grenfell still not taking priority. Silence undermines the systemic racism that has caused the disproportionate numbers of BAME deaths to COVID19. Silence allows for the continuation of human rights abuses in Palestine, Yemen, China amongst others. Silence ominously blames the victims for their lived daily experience of racism. So how can we be silent! I understand that silence is not acceptable but without dialogue and an agreed way forward what starts happening is that our platform only serves to point out the flaws of others thereby pushing potential allies into a ‘choked’ emotive silence which renders them impotent. The victims of systemic racism also have a role to play in allowing hurtful and sometimes fractious discussions to happen without ‘stomping’ potential allies back into a voiceless silence.

White silence during the Black Lives Matter Movement should never be justified but anti-racism requires an inclusivity to help bind and unify rather than blame and mislead. Image: LA Progressive

I do not write as a divine man or someone who is sanitised of all biases. I am writing as an educator who believes in the equality of all and the supremacy of none. I am not a racialised gatekeeper or an apologist for white privilege. White privilege does exist. I am intensely moved by the standpoint of Malcolm X, I have always recognised my position and as a Muslim and sadly I have always been aware of the limitations of my potential due to discrimination. Amidst my continuous struggle with identity politics, and having an ‘anti-racism’ stance, I struggle with uncertainties around how to actively exclude power structures that profit from disadvantage when they also have the influence to create advantage. Must I be dismissive and worry only about my success (after all I worked hard to get where I am) and not use my position as an educator to promote unity and offer a helping hand? Allyship cannot be selective; those who jump bandwagons and paddle whichever boat they wish out of arbitrary preference need to be challenged about their true motives. We want equality, a voice, our seat at the table, a shared vision to move forwards and a chance to challenge the biases that are at the very core of social systems.

Late last night while listening to OutKast and eating cereal, a good friend of mine called and she sounded incredibly upset. She broke down in tears when explaining that after creating an anti-racism scheme of work, her Headteacher claimed this ‘was not his responsibility to approve’. After spending weeks of reading, educating herself and trying to understand the plight of minority groups, this at least deserved some acknowledgement. ‘Why was the Head so dismissive?’ ‘How should he have reacted?’ ‘How would I have reacted?’ ‘Is it my role to educate others on racism?’ My mind was in overdrive and there really was no easy answer to these questions. The really hard question was one for me and my friend; are we seeking praise and validation for something that should always have been happening? I considered the Head’s perspective as a member of the BAME community. Had he become disillusioned and tired of being considered the ‘token BAME person who has all the answers for all things BAME? I didn’t know how to reassure my friend, and I didn’t even know if it was even my role to reassure her!

However, at the very core of this issue is a teacher who is actively learning, who is taking the time to educate herself thereby shifting her practice and having a positive impact on the next generation. It is a difficult one which needs that collaborative approach we spoke of earlier, one that recognises the steep learning curve but one we cannot dismiss or fail to recognise and include into our own practice.

The generational pain felt by BAME people cannot be conceptualised, equalised, homogenised and visualised through a tunnel vision. The white power structure and status quo are in crisis, with many of our white counterparts having their own personal identity crisis. Many are clenched up, afraid of getting it wrong, or simply don’t know where to start. White fragility is surfacing with the cracks in its foundation becoming chasms and canyons. We have to steel ourselves for it to become worse before it becomes better. As incredulous as it sounds, this fight for equality has reignited the lynching of black men in the USA! Amidst the denials of racism! With every moment of crisis, there is an opportunity for human connection, education, solidarity and mobilising a stance of challenge to all forms of prejudice. Developing an anti-racist stance takes time, and an authentic stance means averting token gestures. However, fighting racism with racism, with blasé and nebulous rhetoric and dismissive soundbites, only feeds into the silence. We need steps to move forward. We need inclusion and not hashtags. As Alison Kriel reminds us, “racism is everyone’s business”. A unified approach through education will mean it remains everyone’s business. Let us be judged on our unified future and not our divided past.

What is white privilege?

The Cambridge Dictionary provides us with the following definition of ‘white privilege’ as the fact of people with white skin having advantages in society that other people do not have.

This is a banal and simplistic definition as white privilege does exist in a tacit and insidious way across all quarters of society. Many white people are uneasy with the term ‘white privilege’ as a normative part of their history as they have never been defined by their race. For others ‘privilege’ does not match their socio-economic position, especially those in poor rural areas who think such a phrase takes away our gaze from their struggles. Being white does not mean your life is or has been easy, it just means that your skin colour is not a factor or a cause of this struggle. It should be noted that amongst the socio-economic strata in this country, there are different shades of whiteness just the same as the different shades of BAME I previously wrote about.  I remember walking through the streets of Kashmir as an 8-year-old, my light-skin complexion meant I experienced a form of privilege; local Kashmiris gave up seats, wanted photographs and even paid for our lunches, such is the impact and shame of institutionalised racism. An able-bodied, heterosexual, white, middle-class male is at the very top of the hierarchical structure in our society. These dynamics work together, all intersecting and forming a cage of inequality. However, at some stage, we are all likely to have experienced some form of intersectionality.  Whether this is due to gender, ethnicity, race, religion, culture, age, ability, class or sexuality. Sociologists clarify these power dynamics as salient in our life experiences and potentially detrimental to life chances. Some more than others, but altogether they sustain inequalities. 

The far-right anti-racism oxymoron

My three concerns with anti-racism sentiments are not exhaustive but rather personal reflection points. I do believe there is a far-right anti-racism, which in itself is an oxymoron. An anti-racist narrative that elevates the plight of some groups and relegates that of others. This position is nebulous, dismissive, built upon intellectual arrogance and implicitly or explicitly excludes people from the conversation. Thus, by default, this is a form of racism and inequality within itself. I am not naming any educators, but we need steps forwards. Again, I am not pardoning privilege, but these generations of subconscious biases cannot be erased through aggression and soundbites. We need to collaborate, heal and work together.

  • How can anyone identify and accept white privilege? – As a male, I actually had no idea about my privileges until I read about the gender pay gap in a Year 11 Citizenship lesson at 15 years of age. I was stunned! That very moment I realised that I was not just Asian and that even with my own identity as BAME there additional stratification! Much later as an undergraduate I was challenged to ‘address my gender privileges’. What did that even mean? How do I ‘recognise’ something that has just existed without questioning? My biggest concern is with the statement ‘you need to recognise your white privilege’ as a valid part of the next steps. This statement is loaded, it is assuming an awareness of privileges. Just as was the case with me and gender, this awareness is not an over-night realisation, this is a sustained point of reflection. I agree, people need to be aware of the privileges they have, whether these are race, gender, age, sexuality, class, etc. Yet, to recognise must come first a willingness to face and live with an uncomfortable realisation then the need to embrace, challenge and use these privileges for the betterment of all. Asking someone to ‘recognise their white privilege’ has, for many, become a bit of a ‘telling off’ catchphrase for some or for others a mere tokenistic utterance to parade on their bio. This should not be brandished around like an insult nor should it be a designer label for the current trend. Anti-racism is a life-long venture for those who truly choose to be allies. So if you care to paddle any anti-discrimination canoe, you need the skills of sustained rowing; knowing how to reframe the discussion and incorporate all Injustices into that discourse, knowing when to move forward, when and how to turn, when to slow down and how to navigate the rapids! Hopefully, our next voyage will be more peaceful than our last. Don’t block people out of discussions. Give them a paddle so they can row with us.
  • It is not my job to educate you about racism – To an extent, I agree. We all must take responsibility for our own anti-racist campaigns and reflections. It is burdening, consuming and very challenging to be the ‘spokesperson’ for the rights of minority groups en masse. From personal experience, being a token BAME teacher in an all-white school meant I was the go-to person for all issues and concerns around cultural sensitivity. It is not my job to educate others about racism as I also have personal learning to do but my lived experience may not be the same as someone else’s. Lived experience, especially of those we know is a very powerful entity and can really bridge the gap between the proverbial ‘them and us’ but their needs to be a willingness to listen. This statement of ‘it is not my job to educate you about racism’, can appear to be dismissive and may result in further unease again forcing others into a resentful version of silence. Remember ‘Silence is complicit with racism’.  When fellow educators make this statement, I feel a bit conflicted even though I understand the sentiment. Engage the person asking in a discussion at least. If you can signpost them to a provide reading list, a podcast, a song or even a TV show, something that will ease them into a receptive frame of mind, please do! This will then mean they have the freewill and autonomy to engage with anti-racism content as it suits them and to educate themselves. This flippant ‘it’s not my job’ can be dangerous and misinformed and can also allow covert racism peddlers’ to gain ground and perpetuate divisive tactics. BAME people need to use their intelligence, be kind and loving in spite of the pain and hurt. We want equality and to make a difference for the next generation. Please be kind, signpost, leave all doors open and never forget your position as an educator.  It is not our ‘job’ to educate about racism but with lived experience comes a unique story, one that needs sharing and one that can…well yes, one that can educate others. This is not to say you should put your name forward as ‘Diversity Lead’ at your school but we all need to be reading more, caring more and sharing more. This ripple effect is more powerful than a token gesture.
  • You are a triggered white person/saviour – A dear friend was accused of being a ‘white saviour’. In some sort of Madonna-esque missionary way, she was told it was ‘not her place’ to challenge racism. She was ‘triggered’ and had ‘no idea’ how BAME feel. I want to refer to intersectionality here again. Does she not suffer from discrimination as a woman? Race is indeed the hottest potato right now, but can we deprive the dynamics of race of gender, class, age and other agents of intersectionality? Out of naivety, my friend was paralysed with fear, totally lost her confidence with her own deeply engrained sentiments of equality. She wanted to know what her next steps were and how she could avoid the ‘saviour’ tag. Whereas we do have those who want to jump on the bandwagon, BAME people do find themselves in a unique and perhaps once in a generation position to select allies for their battle against racism. The tag of ‘white saviour’ is built upon the implicit idea of an all-powerful Caucasian soul protecting the ‘other’. BAME people don’t need saving, they want a sense of equality and belonging to a world they have sacrificed so much for. My ‘triggered’ friend was sympathetic to this plight, keen to promote equality but shot down by an exclusive band of anti-racist personnel. If they are triggered by our plight, let’s incorporate them into our vision for a shared future. At a time where people are triggered by others wearing face masks and the tearing down of the statues of slave owners, the anti-racism movement needs the right type of ‘triggered’ souls. Calling someone a ‘white saviour’ is another version of ‘them vs. us’ and by default racist within itself. I am just glad my friend was triggered by the social structures that infringe on the life chances of BAME people and not Subway bringing in a halal branch of iced slushies! If they are triggered by inequality, make them an ally. No anti-racism movement can be validated by our own racist overtones.

Everyday should be Malcolm day.

In summary

I will never deny white privilege, but should it be met with white noise? Ultimately, I believe the current climate means BAME people are empowered to lead, teach and foster conversations about race. This is challenging, we need to protect our BAME friends and allies but many of them want everyone to be part of the movement for greater equality. What good do the three arguments we have considered actually do? Are we moving forwards? Are we actually helping others and ourselves challenge our internal biases? Or are we peddling a narrative that opens up wounds rather than cures them? We need pragmatic solutions and not to continuously assessing flaws. Not everyone is racist, not everyone is aware of their privileges and not everyone is an expert on anti-discrimination. This is fine but we can learn together through a phase a close friend of mine refers to as ‘collaborative healing’. My own point of reflection has helped me reframe my own stance and boy, I have some more learning to do. I just hope that despite our differences, we can someday meet in the light of understanding.

All power structures and monopoly’s are fragile. They won’t be dismantled immediately nor will they be overthrown by one group. Collectively, anything is possible.

Many of us are struggling to understand the buzzwords and narratives being farmed by anti-racism campaigners and not because we are not anti-racist. Many of us are keen to challenge our biases, be part of the discussion and learn more. Feeling clenched up, unwilling to ask questions and not making racism our business internally perpetuates silence. We cannot fight racism through dismissiveness and nor should our dismissive commentary be used as a veneer to justify silence. I hope this is a reflection point for us all. So, can an anti-racism stance be complicit to white silence? It can be if we are not careful but as diligent reflective practitioners, steps forward are important as we learn from our divided past and strive for a unified future. Please also consider intersectionality in your analysis and we can make this epoch in time a revolutionary one.

Anti-racism is a discussion we all need to be part of and one that can ill-afford to become white noise.

Finally, as my hero Malcolm X once said

“We need more light about each other. Light creates understanding, understanding creates love, love creates patience, and patience creates unity.”

Thank you for reading and a special thank you to Emma Kell, Dr. Valerie Daniels, Alison Kriel (the three Aunties) and El.

Shuaib Khan

A Worthy Battle

The heart of a snowflake.

I am apathetic, disillusioned and refusing to be part of the democratic process. My grievances lay at the door of policymakers and as a teacher, this disconnect or ‘them vs. us’ sentiment permeates into my every interaction. Yet, as a child of the austerity, tripling tuition fees and ‘woke’ generation, the term ‘snowflake’ has been thrown my way many times. This phrase is dangerous, misleading, de-politicising the narrative of resilience, selective silencing and inconsistent energy that has left so many so angry or ‘triggered’.

This article is long overdue. Yet, as a ‘snowflake’, I began working on it, then suffered from anxiety after failing to find mint hummus at M&S and then spent an evening questioning the lack of agency for BAME characters in leading British soap operas. Now I have drafted several strongly worded emails to my MP and discussed Kylie Minogue hits and quiche recipes with my almost-Vegan neighbour! The joy! I am an emotional person, trust me, but a snowflake? Please don’t say that. It will truly hurt my feelings.

Every generation has its own battles but doesn’t mean we should dismiss them. We are all merely a reflection of our context Such imagery is misleading as we need compassion to understand real grievances.. Image – Search Army jobs

Being labelled as ‘woke’ evokes connotations of being radical, overly emotional, being a ‘rebel without a cause’ or a fragile ‘millennial’. Leading politicians, public figures and tabloids continue to run this narrative of a generation of people who lack the necessary ‘resilience’ and fortitude to be part of a progressive neo-liberal society. My Sociology background gave me an incredible insight into the dynamics of social inequalities. This was not to politically indoctrinate into the philosophy of Marxism but rather make me aware of the plight of others and how the organisation of society helps or hinders them. Being ‘woke’ now comes with the added baggage of wanting to radically change the foundations of society, to tear down statues of slave owners (why do we have statues of them in the first place) and make everyone ‘challenge their racial privileges’. This is a cultural weapon used to widely depoliticise a movement for greater equality and whereas we do have ‘woke warriors’, there are very legitimate grievances that society needs to confront. This is a worthy battle.

What is a ‘snowflake’?

Let’s start with the word ‘woke’. In June 2017, this adjective was incorporated into the Oxford English Dictionary. Woke means, “originally: well-informed, up-to-date. Now chiefly: alert to racial or social discrimination and injustice”. With the word ‘snowflake’ is defined as, “a person who believes they have special qualities and should receive special treatment; a person who is too sensitive to criticism and easily upset”. The whole notion that a snowflake will melt into thin air once being put under any sort of pressure. These two words are used inextricably and are both slanderous and absolutely detached from the context of their birth. In 2016, Claire Fox’s – I Find That Offensive!, gave momentum for the term ‘snowflake’ to become a political insult. Young people being labelled as ‘hyper-sensitive’ and lacking the resolve to matters, thus ‘whinging’ and behaving in puerile ways to gain ‘attention’ or validation for their ‘nebulous’ points of view. Various comedy sketches have painted an image of this ‘snowflake’ generation as being overly emotional, lacking rationality and wanting to challenge generations of accepted and comfortable, yet offensive and degrading, societal norms and values. The definitions of these two phrases mean anyone who challenges historical and contemporary injustices is a ‘snowflake’ or ‘woke’? Both ideas go hand-in-hand with this notion of ‘cancel culture’ whereby historical oppression and discrimination are miraculously supposed to be pardoned!

People that have never been discriminated against because of their: gender, religion, race, sexuality, age or disability, they will always accuse others of being “too sensitive”. Damn right we’re too sensitive! We are taught to respect everyone & when that is not reciprocated, when there an inconsistent energy and unwillingness to challenge discrimination, it is time to start rattling cages. These cages of inequality and prejudice that encompass race, gender, class, age, sexuality, religion and all other stratifying societal power dynamics, this cage needs to be rattled. This article is by no means justifying acts of vandalism, rioting, creating divisions or making excuses for those who lack resilience. I am calling for caution, a discerning eye and an open heart as we engage with a generation of disillusioned people. Using this word ‘snowflake’ truly is a war on equality.

I just want to create a small list of reasons not justifications for reasons ‘snowflakes’ aren’t as fragile as we’re led to believe. This list is not all inclusive and my deepest apologies if I have missed out any key events over the past 12 years or so. I have of empathy for the so-called ’snowflake’ generation. Constantly accused of lacking resilience, yet they grew up amidst:

  • 2008 global financial crisis
  • The rise of social media
  • Tripling of University tuition fees
  • Cuts to key children’s services
  • A decade of austerity
  • The LGBTQ movement
  • Rising climate disaster
  • Brexit
  • COVID19
  • The Black Lives Matter Movement

Three criticisms of the term ‘snowflake’

Again, I am not making excuses but calling for reflection and sincerity before we brandish words around, without context.

  • Your battle isn’t worthy – This very ability to label the plight of others as worthy or not worthy is a platform of privilege in itself. Much of this disillusionment towards the existing status quo comes from generations of nit-picking, selectivity and unwillingness to condemn and praise in equal reward. From my own experience, I once spoke about Palestine in an assembly to later be hauled into a meeting about my ‘political agenda’. You can clearly see; I am not a Conservative. With a Trade Unionist Grandfather, of course the red blood runs through the course of my veins. This assembly was on Human Rights and I chose Palestine as a site of my attention not as a political issue but as a humanitarian issue. Just as the Black Lives Matter movement, before it received any political endorsement, it was a humanitarian organisation. This ability to selectively heat and freeze the plight and battles of others is a pillar of privilege and therefore, to say ‘your battle isn’t worthy’ is also part of this bastion. People don’t become hyper-sensitive because they couldn’t get their preferred brand of sourdough bread or because they are ‘aggrieved’ by the flag. These grievances are often born out of the inconsistent energy and dictating of narrative creates further disillusionment and thus distance from the legitimate structures of social change, which are in large part, in agreement with those who condemn us. Every battle is worthy and only a narcissist will tell you different.
  • It was nothing like this my day – Social Historian Geoffrey Pearson in his Hooligan – A History of Respectable Fears, wrote about the nostalgia older generations felt when in need to draw a distinction between then as the perceived ‘lost generation’. A generation that will someday too, also look to draw this distinction. Pearson was commenting on historical moral panics involving ‘dangerous’ young people, but we can apply sentiments of his work to our own analysis. The ‘respectable fears’ from those who are our seniors, in relation to this snowflake agenda, is very much centred around a belief a liberal lefty socialist intelligentsia has gripped the nation. Styles, trends, fashions, lingo and hetro-normative norms and values have been engulfed in flames! Gone are the days of national service and keeping up with the Joneses. Context is key here before anyone begins to judge a young buck purchasing free range avocados and reading a leading Feminist magazine! Let us look at the context of 2020. Young people are being branded as ‘weak’ against the backdrop of rising political tensions, growing class, gender, racial inequality, declining social mobility and the rise of far-right nationalism and Brexit. We are amidst a global pandemic, one that we have been ‘steered’ by a government that everyone below voting age had no influence over. This generational gap has certainly created a chasm between the thoughts and sentiments. If anything, the juggernaut of changes and societal expectations placed on younger generations to ‘accept their place’ is a battle that also needs to take place. The post-Trump, post-COVID, post-Brexit world is one in which this ‘snowflake’ generation will inhabit. The fact that we do have alternative voices in the public domain, seeking change and searching for greater equality, this is what makes a healthy democratic society. Context is absolutely key.
  • Left, right, left? If we assess the terms ‘woke’ or ‘snowflake’, there is a real barrage or avalanche of left-wing sentiments. So, if I find a comment by, I don’t know, say, Boris Johnson offensive (you can pick from watermelon smiling and flag waving piccaninnies, to tank-top bumboys, or letter boxes and bank robbers). If I express moral repugnance, am I lacking ‘resilience’? If I am offended at someone older than me and their racism or sexism, am I being ‘easily offended?’ Who is actually being offended or offensive here? I am confused. By shouting down or berating an opinion, does that make you right and the opinion of others any less worthy? Those on the right are able to pretty much as they please so when the left react they are being too sensitive. Equally when the left attack, the right are responding thus emulating this thin exterior they claim is resolute. As Oliver Markus says, “Nobody gives a shit that you’re offended. I’m not. And my opinion is more important to me than yours”. This is like proverbial ping pong by there are no winners, the game isn’t even a draw. Legitimate grievances on both sides are completely misunderstood creating a deeper layer of suspicions and animosity between the two camps. We may be marching left, right, left but we have no end goal in sight.

In summary

After an altercation, a fortnight ago in my local Morrisons where I was branded a ‘corn flakes’ (I think he meant snowflake) by a man who saw me pick up some lactose-free milk, I was bewildered. How does a gallon milk equate to me lacking resilience or resolve? Yes, lactose-free means I am sensitive to lactose products. But do I lack resilience? I am a teacher; resilience is practically my middle name!

The words ‘snowflake’ and ‘woke’ are becoming part of the furniture in political circles but they are dangerously misleading and de-politicising very real grievances of many. Black Lives Matter or changes to the curriculum, even the LGBTQ movement are not ‘much ado about nothing’. These are generational discrepancies, disadvantages and discrimination that need urgently addressing. It truly is stumbling into the territory of gaslighting if you make others feel bad and then want to tell them how to feel about YOUR actions. The war on equality starts with depoliticising real life grievances thus silencing real life grievers. Silence is complicit in the cover up of inequality. The world is in a mess right now, we are all feeling a real sense of uncertainty and anxiety. Resilience does not come from brandishing buzzwords or throwing shade at others. We must place everything within its context to discover why people are aggrieved and how we can them feel less disillusioned and apathetic about the society WE all share. On that note, I have some banana bread to make which I burnt last time, and yes, I am still grieving over it! ❄️

Every battle is worthy, everyone is trying to cope and although the times have changed, this generation have not grown up in the utopia our elders once promised us.

Thank you for reading

Shuaib Khan

Come Fly Away Somewhere

At heart of narcissistic abuse – My five internalised thoughts as a victim

“I’ve learnt that silence to a narcissist is the most powerful equaliser”


A lot of us are entertaining narcissists, giving them the pedestal and ploughing our energy into these people who want to control the agenda, and want to live rent-free in our heads, hearts and timelines. Having lived with, worked with, grew up with, been friends with and interacted with narcissists. These people implicitly or explicitly are wolves and victims can be considered as their sheep. This is not to remove autonomy from victims but rather shed light on these wolves. This is all due respect to our furry canine friends. Perhaps even writing this blog implies these people are able to dictate the commentary and discourse. With my self-worth constantly being questioned, this could not carry on. This dialogue is more necessary now than ever. Narcissistic abuse needs to be recognised, its scars need to be healed and its victims and perpetrators deserve some form of closure. Clarity or closure, one enables the other.

In December 2019 I was forced to accept a stark reality, one that I faced for over decade. That I was a victim of narcissistic abuse. Some moments in life we will always remember. The smell of the air, the direction of the wind, the taste of the rain, almost like a photograph. I was listening to Maverick Sabre’s – Come Fly Away these lyrics really spoke to my very tired heart.

“Come fly away somewhere,
Been here for days wanting,
And nothing has changed for you,
You’re tired and you don’t want to live like this”

I didn’t want to live like this anymore. All art forms are so beautiful and once their creator releases them, the audience are empowered to place their own subjective interpretations upon them. This song, alongside a Banksy piece which I most definitely over-analysed, began the momentum to detach myself physically and emotionally from a person and situation that was the source of such awful distress. This Banksy piece was of a heart-shaped balloon covered in plasters. For me this symbolised the bandage I was placing over my own heart whilst it was continuing to be punctured by my narcissistic abuser. I placed the lyrics ‘come fly away’ with this Banksy piece and yes, to be free, my heart needed to heal and find its own destination.

This Banksy piece was so overwhelming. At a time of desperation, small artistic expressions really can make such a huge difference. Image: Street Art News

I am not a Psychologist or someone who works in the field of emotional management. As Malcolm X once said, “I do not pretend to be a divine man, but I do believe in divine guidance, divine power, and in the fulfilment of divine prophecy. I am not educated, nor am I an expert in any particular field but I am sincere, and my sincerity is my credentials”. Let sincerity be our credentials and our platform to hold a hold conversation that matters. What am I looking to achieve from this piece of writing? Self-pity and sympathy are values aligned with my narcissist abuser. Their fear was always that I would gather the strength and confidence to challenge their control, break free of their noose and speak up about my experiences. That is all I am seeking. I am not bitter, I am recovering. I am not angry, I am reflecting. I am not a snowflake; I am a survivor. I am not willing to be complicit to the behaviours that ruin lives, leave bruises that no one can see. Just because these bruises are hidden doesn’t mean they don’t exist and behind each of them is a story.

This is my story and I want to provide an account for our thoughts and raise awareness of such behaviours. Also, I hope this can give readers clarity or closure, one will enable the other. I promise. I can smile without feeling guilty, talk to people without fear and be myself without validation. I hope everyone reading this will feel the same empowerment.

What is narcissistic abuse?

Narcissistic people do not come with a lapel pin nor can we neatly place them into tightly sealed boxes. Everyones own experience with a narcissist varies greatly but for the purpose of this piece, some form of definition is required. Narcissistic abuse is also very diverse, insidious and one blog cannot do it justice. Again, we still require a working definition to categorise these situations. Kirsten Milstead provides such incredible depth.

Narcissistic abuse is the intentional construction of a false perception of someone else’s reality by an abuser for the purposes of controlling them. It has the following features:

  • The false reality is constructed through elaborate, covert deception and psychological manipulation over a long period of time.
  • The false perceptions created are of the abuser as someone who has the survivor’s best interests at heart and of the relationship as a beneficial one for the survivor.
  • The goal of the abuse is to allow the narcissist to extract whatever he or she perceives is of value from the partner, including attention, admiration, status, love, sex, money, a place to stay or other resources.
  • The abuser takes advantage of societal norms that assume everyone participates in social relationships with a basic level of empathy, which makes it easy for the abuser to convince the survivor (and everyone else) that no abuse is taking place.  
  • Because the abuse is “hidden” using deception, it is difficult for survivors to recognize, understand, and escape it.

Notions of ‘false reality’, ‘attention’ and even sentiments of gaslighting really do underpin the experiences of narcissistic people I have come across. A narcissist will seek attention, sympathy and claim injustices and then hound at those who see through their façade. As one Tweeter eloquently put it, “narcissists are broken people that want everyone to feel their pain”. The number of close friends who would say “Shuaib, why are you allowing this to continue?” during my own experiences was astounded. I was conditioned to accept that this manipulation was the only reality. That the irrational behaviour of others, I would have to ‘rationalise’. This irrational behaviour included all forms of abuse, distress, anxiety and completed under the false guise of ‘friendship’ and ‘love’. In hindsight, this was not friendship and it certainly was not love, it was a sham. Yet, what we allow will continue.

The trivialisation of my emotions, as I was a puppet and my ‘master’ could do as they would please. I was losing my capacity to think for myself, my civil liberties and I was seeking validation. At one stage I became desensitised from the verbal and physical violence, it became a part of my identity. It was only when I relayed these concerns to a friend, I began to understand how detached my perceptions of life, love and reality which were engrained into me by someone who I placed on the highest pedestal. A pedestal I build for them, one I maintained but one that now needs shattering. This has taken years to accept but I know so many others feel this way to. It is that time. Let’s have an uncomfortable conversation somewhat comfortably together.

I would just like to hold a conversation about narcissistic abuse and the five internalised thoughts it creates for victims. This form of abuse I have personally suffered from and due to a campaign of gaslighting which enforced a toxic form of selective amnesia, my silence is complicit in allowing others to suffer. This is narrative that was stolen from victims, and now one we must reclaim, reframe and reflect on to gain some form of clarity or closure. Albeit not an all-exhaustive list, this is a working article which may open up further dialogue on the topic.

My five internalised thoughts after suffering from narcissistic abuse

  • I am not good enough – A consistent theme in my experience was the feeling of inferiority. I had such little self-worth during and after this time of my life. My personal achievements and accolades were never good enough. Even collecting my First-Class Honours degree was labelled as ‘luck’ and ‘may be the grade boundaries were low this year’. Everything I did was in no comparison to them and I was paralysed by fear around them. I did not want ‘show them up’ or ‘upset’ them with my achievements but we had to celebrate theirs. The manipulative behaviour became so perverse that I would lose my train of thought around them, my confidence was shattered, and I was a shell of myself. I would do everything in my capacity to support them, validate their feelings and please them but it was never deemed good enough. This level of abuse and gaslighting would leave me perpetually anxious talking about myself as all conversations had to be centred around them and their feelings. Nothing I could do was good enough and when you love someone, that sentiment of being unable to make them happy will always sit on your heart.
  • This is how relationships are meant to be – During the shouting matches, many of which I remained silent in, I was being told by them, albeit subtly, that their behaviour was acceptable or even normal. It was normal for them to cheat, to lie, to question my intelligence, to go through my phone and to continuously tell me I was ‘being too emotional’. All I wanted was this relationship to work which meant I was willing to compromise everything, including my integrity, morals and principles. This ‘normality’ created by narcissists is validated when we are either passively or actively accepting their projections of ‘normal’ onto us. This consistent reaffirming of boundaries does internalise their behaviours. It isn’t ‘normal’ to berate, abuse, swear, shout, gaslight and manipulate but with the insecurities of a narcissist, they will stabilise control by any means necessary. A healthy relationship has its arguments and tears, but they are handled through conversation and compromise rather than abuse and manipulation. I was petrified to leave as it was internalised in my psyche that “it could be worse elsewhere”. It was only when I began to reframe the narrative and considered the idea “it could be better elsewhere” did I make a move. Narcissists have their own projections and ideologies on how they see the world and their rose-tinted glasses aim to govern the behaviours of those they wish to control. All relationships are not like this but realising this can take years to understand and conceptualise. Again, I can assure you, this is NOT how relationships are meant to be.
  • How did I allow myself to be a victim? I built walls around my resilience and standards. These walls were sky-high, impregnable and I would not allow anyone to lurk, sit on the fence and abuse them. The idea of ‘victimhood’ was massively damaging to my persona as I am a male and really grew up in this phase of toxic masculinity. I felt uncomfortable telling others and being vulnerable in front of them with my story. In fact, I didn’t want to be the sob story, I wasn’t seeking sympathy and honestly, my manhood felt attacked. It was only when I held a conversation with another survivor of narcissistic abuse did I realise how closely it resonated with my own experience. I was a victim but how? I pride myself on being strong and my emotional intelligence. How did I allow anyone to make me lose sight of myself and my values? This happened without me even realising. The manipulation started with subtle comments which in hindsight, I realised were actually very perverse. I cannot exactly recall the exact comments as it was very banal and trivial, but I was unable to take control of the narrative. In its infancy, it was taken from me and thus, over time, it perpetually became toxic. I never ‘allowed’ myself to become a victim, that would suggest I had the autonomy and in honesty, it implies that this was my fault. I have had time to reflect and till this day the term ‘victim’ is not a flaw, it is empowering. Yes, I was a victim, but I want to reframe this experience and learn from it. I will not be defeated.
  • You are always making it about you? – This question was repeatedly put my way. I was ‘selfish’ and ‘inconsiderate’ of their feelings. I was damned if I did and damned if I didn’t. There were times where I would have to suppress my own emotions for them and before every interaction, as insignificant as they may be, like replying to a Tweet, I would consider their feelings. This constant struggle for validation marred my every step. I did not realise this was a form of gaslighting because for me saying ‘sorry’ even if I did nothing wrong was ‘expected’. I remember times where they were aggressive and abusive, they would say ‘sorry you feel that way’ rather than apologising for making me feel that way. The more I was absorbed with their life, the more self-absorbed and controlling they had become. I was feeding into their narcissism by apologising for their own mistakes. The silliest things like leaving shoes on inside the house would result in such perverse punishments, sustained periods of silencing and emotional abuse. How was I making it about me when all I was doing was trying to make you happy? The manipulation and ability these people have to set the agenda, place their own emotions and needs ahead of others and then beat down any ‘disloyalty’ is frightening. These people are living in a fantasy world and a fantasy that we fuel and an ego we elevate. ‘You always made it about YOU” should be the question to such folks.
  • Am I crazy? I want to touch up on gaslighting here. The conditioned behaviour as a result of narcissistic abuse is like no other. There is an acceptance of fate, that this person is ‘normally’ this way and that of you question it, you are the one that is crazy. Gaslighting is the questioning of emotional intelligence and the manipulation of how other feel. During my own experience I was called ‘too sensitive’ or ‘a cry baby’. I was unable to embrace my emotions which is not a sign of a healthy loving relationship. If this is love, then love is a sham! However, this is what I accepted because it was all I knew. My narcissistic abuser was able to, and within a number of weeks, change my emotional outlook on life. I went from being an eccentric and outspoken person to a reserved and quiet soul. I lost my ability to empathise, I surrendered by compassion and I was no longer Shuaib. I was the Shuaib they wanted me to be. When I was told ‘get over it’ at a family funeral, I did just that. I blocked out my natural inclination to grieve. I lost my sense of humour and I was a shamed to feel anything but what they made me feel. This out of body experience was continuously ramped up with comments about my emotional wellbeing. When someone is vulnerable and you have control over them and these vulnerabilities, this is a responsibility and a position of trust. Out of goodwill we hope those who care will place our feelings at the heart of interactions. A narcissistic will question your feelings, alter those feelings and then project their feelings of emptiness, insecurity, anger and anything in between onto you. Gaslighting is key and controlling emotions opens up the door to further abuse. The strength to walk away and say ‘this is how I feel, you cannot change that’ is a moment where I got my clarity and closure.

Maverick Sabre really is a generational talent.

In Summary

It is the season for difficult conversations and I really do hope those of you reading can gain closure if you have experienced such behaviour. Please remember, you are good enough; all relationships need a healthy dose of compromise and clarity. You may have been a victim but now you must reclaim the narrative, it is also now to make it about you, and you are not crazy. I truly hope these narcissistic abusers who I have referred to as ‘wolves’ do read this and realise the impacts they are having on others. The pedestal that was built for you was founded on the broken backs, sacrifices and love of those who idolised you. You have a position of empowerment which comes with such great responsibility. Your ability to selectively detach yourself from the emotions of others is truly frightening. It is time you stop reflecting your own emptiness on others and start to realign yourself with the principles of compassion and empathy.

With time I have learnt to spot narcissistic behaviours and that silence or refusing to feed the ‘wolf’ causes them more pain. We live and learn and I hope my experience can shed light on similar experiences you have have had. Do not suffer alone. Narcissistic abuse thrives off silence, breeds off contempt and this is a conversation we must have to support one another. It is that time.

Finally, I hope we can wrestle back the narrative, we can regrow our wings, reclaim our self-worth and yes, fly away somewhere. Somewhere beautiful.

‘Come fly away somewhere,
Been here for days wanting,
But nothing has changed for you,
You’re tired and you don’t want to live like this’

Thank you for reading,

Shuaib Khan


No Child Left Behind

Dealing with student racism: Five ways teachers can deal with student on student racism.

Disclaimer: This article was written for the Edge Thinking Network.

A year ago, I was so crippled by anxiety that I refused to leave the house. This past Friday, I joined a real hero of mine, Dr. Emma Kell for a live webinar on the issue of race and privilege. For anyone out there reading this who struggles with anxiety, I can assure you, what is ahead is better than what has gone. Thank you Emma and a special thank you to the NTLD Bucks team. Big love.

‘Oi, you! Yes, you! I don’t like P*kis’. As a four-year-old in the playground of my infants schools, some twenty-four years on, I still remember those words. This was my first ever experience of racism and I still recall spending hours trying to scrub my skin until it turned white. I was afraid to return to school the next day, but I reluctantly told my teacher why I was so upset. The rest was a blur but yes, as a four-year-old I began my journey of identity. An identity that I now revel in, a heritage I am now proud of and an education system that I am still privileged to be a part of.

Racism is the hottest potato in the world right now isn’t it? It has the uncanny ability to abracadabra it’s way in and out of social and political agendas with such ease. However, at the grassroots level, to target the core of the problem we must attack its rotten core. In schools and more widely in pedagogical practice, the role of educators is now to reflect, change, rectify and challenge their own biases as well as those in the wider curriculum. Against the backdrop of the prevent strategy, the Windrush scandal, Grenfell Tower, Brexit, comments by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, Islamophobia in the Conservative party, the rise of far-right nationalism and extremism, racism has not vanished. Many have given it a ‘intellectual’ veneer through the rise of xenophobic politics and selective silencing on issues of inequality and injustice including Black Lives Matter. Schools and teachers are placed in a peculiar predicament, one that requires more training, more dialogue and more reflection. As educators, we cannot wait for the doors of social justice to be opened up for us, and as Malcolm X once said, “Early in life I had learned that if you want something, you had better make some noise”. It is time for us to create a racket!

Malcolm was rarely wrong. We do need more light about one another and no child or teacher can be left behind in this anti-racism conversation.

Schools do not exist in some sort of socio-political vacuum. The social and political spheres outside of schools overtly permeate into our classrooms and shape our own attitudes, values, norms and those of our students. A school should be a sanctuary for all, but racism is an unfortunate and regular occurrence in many educational establishments. It would be immoral and arrogant of us to deny the existence of racism in education. According to the Guardian, in 2018, 4,590 cases of racial abuse among school students lead to a fixed or permanent exclusion, up from 4,085 in 2017. The Guardian also found in an analysis of 39 local authorities, a similar rise in racist incidents was documented, surging from 2,694 to 3,651 in three years. Historical records have shown that children from Black Caribbean backgrounds are more likely to be excluded from schools thus leaving education with fewer qualifications than their peers. This is also the case for Pakistani and Bangladeshi pupils. Research from the Runnymede Trust also found how ‘draconian’ zero tolerance policies which implicitly targeted Black pupils. Schools are not immune from racism and despite our best efforts as educators, so much more needs to be done.

I will be drawing on several personal experiences both as a student and teacher in helping create five tangible steps to help us challenge student racism within schools.

  1. Being sincere to the victim – they are a victim and racism is a terribly traumatic experience. I can recall one experience where a teacher claimed a child was ‘making up stories’, that he was ‘too emotional anyway’ and that ‘this is how it is in the real world’. The incident was actually terrifying. This student, who happened to be a Muslim had bacon and sausage rolls thrown at him as well as a load of racist abuse hurled his way. As a TA at the time, I was visibly moved because I thought such appalling behaviours could be relegated to the archives of history. Here we had a young lad, soaked in tears and trying to make sense of why no one would believe him. The teacher dealing with the incident was adamant this was not a racist incident; his own anti-paperwork stance took precedence. Considering there was a backlog of over a dozen pseudo-racist remarks and attacks being documented by this lad, he was repeatedly questioned, asked to reconsider his version of events and branded ‘sensitive’.  He was the victim; he never initiated this behaviour and he should have been given the time and consideration. Racism is a such a traumatic experience but having the bravery to put your faith in the hands of the system requires such strength of character. This strength of character and sign of civic responsibility deserves acknowledging, applauding and tackling with care and consideration. If you are dealing with a racist incident, just as you would deal with sexist or homophobic incident, the principles are the same. There is a victim and an aggressor, sanction and re-educate the aggressor and provide support and compassion for the victim.
  2. Following up on facts – in any incident, the facts are absolutely paramount. In some schools, racism may be the rarest of occurrences and hearsay can exacerbate and amplify a shocking event. There will be conflicting reports and the rumour mill will be spiralling out of control, however as teachers we need factual accounts of the incident before we can make any judgements or take any action. The emotive and traumatic nature of these racist incidents means facts aren’t necessarily so easy to come by. I can remember a time where a teacher, and to his defence, mispronounced my name. He then muttered, “I struggle with Asian names”. This was not racist, we laughed it off and eventually be got my name right but several students in the class took exception and made a formal complaint. I was hauled into a meeting and state my version of events and this teacher was taken out of every lesson where he had Asian students (consider the context, 40% Asian). I was caught in the eye of the storm and defied by peers in being honest and explaining nothing this teacher said was racist in any way, shape or form. These racist incidents require a cool head, a real objective position and someone who will analyse facts and come to the right conclusion. Having a factual basis can help clear misunderstanding, begin a period of intervention or take firm sanctions. When emotions are running high, as teacher we must use our diligence and integrity to help find the right outcome, based on factual evidence for all parties.
  3. Dialogue with parents – Parents need to know about racist incidents in schools. Establishing contact with parents of both the victim and perpetrator will alleviate the ‘us vs. them’ binary that such incidents can create. Parental support will prove to be invaluable as you begin to not only deal with the racist incident but also the aftermath. The next steps are, say, an exclusion is handed out, will be to create some form of closure to the situation. This may be a sincere apology or a reintegration meeting, but parents are key. Contrary to popular belief, schools, albeit an important agent of socialisation, they are not the most influential. Parents, peers and even the media have a more sustained imprint on the norms and values of young people. The school day is only a finite number of hours and much of our students experiences and formation of their opinions exist outside of the immediate vicinity of the classroom. This parental contact can really prove vital in establishing an understanding of the perpetrators ideas and also the victims reactions. I found calling home after a racist incident was always well received by parents, who wanted to hear it first-hand from a teacher, who is armed with facts rather than their child who may not even tell them what has happened. Establishing this rapport with parents is almost like staring into the souls of our students. We can then integrate parents into the dialogue, rebuild broken relationships and really have a transparent conversation about moving forwards.
  4. Re-education – assemblies, token history weeks and guest speakers alone are not enough. A sustained, holistic social movement to target racism and implicit biases is what is required. During Holocaust week, my school invited a guest speaker to give us an insight into the life and times of the atrocities of millions that were persecuted during World War Two. We were in Year 8, mere 12/13-year olds, with no real understanding or comprehension of the Holocaust. The stories that this guest speaker told us were moving but we never followed this up! This was the first and last time WW2 was mentioned until late Year 11. A great opportunity was missed and confronting our own racial biases could have been so profoundly different if this assembly was followed up. Schools must begin to register an interest in the principles of anti-racism top down, as well as bottom up. The staff recruitment policies, prayer facilities, support for our EAL staff and learners, how we cater for the needs of our SEN students and staff. This is not asking anyone to learn Martin Luther King Jr’s famous ‘I have a dream’ speech off by heart and beat every equality drum under the hot son! Need tangible and visible changes that manifest themselves into how we deal with incidents of discrimination. Re-educating ourselves as well as our students into the principles of acceptance, understanding and realigning our principles with compassion and empathy comes from education and re-education. We can fight discrimination with education.
  5. Reintegration – For me, this is the most important phase in any incident of racism. How can we move forwards? If we have handed out sanctions, given both parties time to reflect and consulted all relevant stakeholders, what are the next steps? During my NQT year I was racially abused by a student who was subsequently suspended. I was furious but my anger gradually became empathy after I had time to reflect. After such incidents, as educators we need to be considering how we reframe them and attain some sort of positive outcome. Intolerance breeds further intolerance and we cannot fight any form of discrimination with anger. The reintegration phase for both the perpetrator and victim is a real honest cathartic way to talk out differences but also embrace differences. To assess commonalities and find similarities and settle the issue once and for all. These racist incidents are unsavoury, unwelcome but they should never be unaccounted for. With sanctions must come a phase of reflection and then reintegration.

In Summary

Suffering racial abuse is an indescribable feeling. The pain, trauma and deep shock it creates can form chasms between people, communities and societies. We all need to do more to prevent these incidents becoming commonplace in our schools and wider public discourse. As teachers our role extends beyond the classroom to model positive behaviours that foster the principles of acceptance, compassion and empathy for all. Although there is no universal model or pedagogical measuring stick to assess them success of the techniques we apply, we need to be mindful of the victims. In supporting these victims of racist abuse, we need to promote a culture of acceptance within our wider school community. Simply holding the odd Rosa Parks assembly is not enough, anti-racism comes through everyday thoughts, world views and interactions with one another.

In our battle against racism and reflections on our own practices, no one, especially no child should be left behind. Our policymakers may not open doors for a more accepting future, but teachers can leave it ajar for our young people to grow up in a society that seeks the equality of all and the supremacy of none.

A final massive thank you to Jess Aitken and the Edge Thinking Network. Please check out their incredible work and platform they give to authentic voices.

Thank you for reading.

Shuaib Khan

Twitter: @shuaibkhan26


Twitter: @RegionalEdge

A different shade of BAME

The dangers of racialised gatekeepers

“I’m going to tell it like it is. I hope you can take it like it is.”

Malcolm X

The term ‘BAME’ (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) has attracted a lot of attention following both global pandemic and global events regarding the Black Lives Matter protests. However, this term must be used appropriately, driven by context and lived experience. As not all BAME people are the same, nor should their experiences be neatly collated together. This is a blog which addresses many personal and intimate conversations BAME people have at home and in their private sphere. We must be brave.

The slur ‘house slave’, ‘coconut’, ‘choc ice’ and ‘honorary white man’ are regularly directed at BAME folk. Let’s get this right, these are derogatory slurs that we should not use but they are born out of very legitimate anger, alienation and disillusionment at BAME folks with a platform. I am not justifying their use but without considering the context of their existence, we fail to understand the issues many BAME folks with fellow BAME folks who have attained a platform or position or privilege, Many who fail to acknowledge their history, plight and conditions of their communities. The notion that BAME people are seeking validation from White people is incredibly well documented by Frantz Fanon amongst many others. Fanon, in his eloquent Black Face, White Masks, referred to the post-colonial psyche of BAME folk as a legacy of their historical oppression. Fanon takes the angle that the psychological feeling of inadequacy, dependence and a constant search for endorsement by White people had made BAME people self-loathe, emotionally detach and truly suppress their inner ‘otherness’. His ideas on this notion of ‘colonial trauma’ later fed into critical race theory, but Fanon is an absolute must read.

Later, Malcolm X acquired sentiments of Fanon in many of his famous speeches. A small excerpt from one of Malcolm’s’ speeches in May 1962 at a funeral service, where Malcolm asked his African American audience ‘who taught you to hate yourself?’ Malcolm followed this up with his powerful Message to the Grass Roots speech in 1963 where he differentiated between the ‘house slave’ and the ‘field slave’. Malcolm and Fanon were experiencing these issues at that time but their argument is equally as relevant today as it was back then. Their post-colonial idea remains important in our analysis of the ‘influential people’ or ‘racialised gate-keepers’ BAME folks today.

The real legacy of my hero Malcolm X is how timeless his words are. Image: Azquotes

In Year 9, I became class Prefect, but my peers saw this as at ultimate betrayal. Followed by defacing my exercise books with the slurs, ‘coco nut’ and being labelled a ‘choc ice’, they genuinely believed that I was siding with the ‘enemy’. The moral repugnance was real. Yet, when I was able to work with the School Council to get additional seating areas around the school, work on a more diverse halal school menu and prayer facilities, the tag ‘choc ice’ was merely relegated to a generic frozen dessert! This was a moment of reflection. In retrospect there needs to be some exploration of a situation where BAME people are rarely promoted into roles of influence which then puts them into an ‘individualised’ potential ‘gate keeping’ situation which then becomes totally dependent on the motivations of single individuals who may be under pressure to maintain the status quo. There is a need for multiple BAME voices on different levels and different platforms to be a vehicle to tackle BAME concerns. This is why there is such a stark disconnect between influential BAME representatives and everyday ethnic minority folk. This distance is not just founded on financial or political status but rather on an emotional detachment from BAME issues. At a time where COVID19 disproportionally impacts BAME people, Grenfell remains unaccounted for and structural racism still permeates into every aspect of our society. We may share the same heritage, skin pigmentation, religion and even surnames, but the societal grievances around these issues aren’t the same political priorities.

Before we get to the very core of my concerns, there is no ‘lefty liberal intelligentsia’ here nor is there some sort of abracadabra or primordial attachment required for BAME people to vote Labour, who themselves are tainted with issues concerning anti-Semitism. Conservative thinking may be a prominent feature of many of the homelands of BAME folk and in my opinion this is not the real issue. These influential BAME representatives should be bastions of hope, pillars of integration in British society and the epitome of meritocracy but they are still few and far between and definitely not representative of our multi-cultural society. In a more equal society in theory, BAME representatives should be our role models; they should be spearheading policy initiatives with a full working understanding of the communities they represent, where their political motivations is for everyone to thrive and to have the capacity to be to be socially mobile.

I find it necessary to question if the current BAME influential people even remember the community they once stood side by side with people still living there? Patel, Khan, Javid, Sunak, and I could go on, are BAME people who have climbed to incredible heights, yet despite coming from the BAME community, there is a sense that they are far more politically motivated to keep their positions of influence than they are to serve the people they represent. Sadly, even for them, despite who we associate ourselves with, there will always remain an ‘ethnicity’ box on a form, or an extra airport security check or the disapproving look that differentiates us from others.

Dangers of racialised gatekeepers

The danger of racialised gatekeepers is that the circle of ‘inclusion’ remains small, elite and detached from authentic BAME voices and indeed this perspective may be the very reason they have been promoted. I want to break this down into four points to really tackle the concerns many have when these ‘gatekeepers’ are actively a part of promoting the continuation of systemic racism. This is not an exclusive list but one to begin a critical dialogue.

  • BAME groups are NOT homogenous – There appears to be an assumption that if, for example, Priti Patel holds a conference about the ‘diversity’ within the Cabinet, that she is speaking on behalf of ALL BAME people. There are over 18 different ethnic groups in the UK, all unique and worthy of a voice. It is inconceivable that someone whose heroine was Margaret Thatcher can be the voice for all of us. BAME groups are internally stratified along the lines of class, age, gender, religion, sexuality and disability. The homogenisation of BAME groups is dangerous and also misleading. For example, myself as an Asian male from a Muslim background, my life experiences will not be the same as a Black Caribbean female, or British Chinese person with a disability. Clumping BAME groups together as one homogenous group which we can place under a one-size-fits-all category fails to address the individual concerns of individual BAME groups. Collectively, yes, there is a battle against historical structural racism, but individual groups face different strands of its impact. Some groups feel the full force of racism in all aspects of public life, others, less so. Stratifying BAME groups is important in enabling us to cater for their individual needs. The ‘influential’ BAME folks, many who are labelled as ‘champions of diversity’, they know full well the dangers of all-encompassing categories but do little to address them.
  • A daily lived experience –I consider myself to be incredibly privileged but there are others who look like me, speak like me, dress like me, and have similar names to me that didn’t have the opportunities or upbringing I had. I remember a family holiday to Kashmir in 2004, I walked around the cities and towns, witnessing the awful poverty, deprivation and plight of people who also looked just like me. Yet, the experience of BAME people in the communities we leave behind is so particular. The air tastes different, the water has a distinct flavour and there is a particular mindset when you inhabit the social and intellectual spaces of BAME communities. It is a lived experience and one that is engrained into our socialisation thus it evokes emotional feelings and triggers a palpable response to anyone who represents ‘the system’ even if visually they look like us. Racialised gatekeepers, often live in a realm of social prestige which may make it difficult for them to connect with people who are less fortunate. Interestingly enough due to the same systemic racism that they are keeping alive, their wealth and social prestige does not cushion them from racism. In fact, it makes them more vulnerable to being displaced into a ‘nowhere land’ where they are merely tolerated by their white counterparts and disowned by their own communities. The lived experience of discrimination stops, and search and racism are so particular that speaking from a detached position fails to capture the true pain, struggle and plight within the community. These influential BAME representatives may have experienced discrimination in many forms and using their experiences to address the root causes of this discrimination is a moral imperative.
  • Tokenism – There remains a fine line between genuine inclusion and inclusion for tokenistic reasons. The BAME community does not need another poster boy or girl to tell us the Government are inclusive’ or ‘tolerant’of us immigrants. Diversity and anti-racism are not about showboating a brown face politician to justify and validate an inclusionary ethos. Inclusion is at the grass roots, within the communities and indeed the very fabric of society. Influential BAME politicians who have climbed to the pinnacle and worked, often twice as hard, to win a seat at the table, should be willing to make a difference for all, not just seek secure their positions to the exclusion of the role they are in power to perform. In an inclusive and meritocratic society, everyone should be able to find a seat at this table, regardless of their background. Yet, the exceptional few who do make it very rarely appear to represent inclusion. The problem with the notion of ‘if I can do it, anyone can’ is divisive in a society that is so polarised by social inequalities and sadly that seems to be the intention! When Sadiq Khan became Major of London, a work colleague said, rather naively, ‘Look, another Khan doing well’. This then became his ‘go to’ phrase when we spoke about inclusivity. Token gestures to prove we are anti-racist and inclusive fail to tackle the structural inequalities that truly impact on BAME communities. These gatekeepers should keep the gate ajar for others rather than doing all they can close it behind them to safeguard their own privileges.
  • Alienation – There is further alienation and disillusionment for BAME people when their own representatives begin to flex their muscles. Sajid Javid once said something along the lines of ‘his family are safe in Israel’. The implication of this statement is a damning indictment for the ethnic minority communities that live right here in England and on his watch! How can BAME communities trust his leadership after a statement such as this? This disconnect is staggering and really divides BAME people into two camps. One that continues to believe the ‘government is diverse’ stance and the other, ‘they don’t speak for me’. It is particularly disturbing to hear BAME politicians espouse beliefs that systemic racism is a myth! This totally disregards the vulnerabilities of these communities and their need for protection, assurance and support. I was incredibly alienated when Priti Patel condemned Black Lives Matters protestors and then displayed an inconsistent approach to reframe the narrative last weekend with the far-right groups. These two MPs actively endorse a Prime Minister who has constantly used racist rhetoric on many occasions, so how do they represent us? This selective silence and unwillingness to delve into the real BAME concerns, is dangerous for communities that already feel alienated and disillusioned. BAME people’s legitimate grievances cannot be articulated by racialised gatekeepers who seek to be a collective voice for the section of the population they are so keen to detach themselves from. I feel the need to add that the absence of black BAME representation is also stark and must be concerning to black people. The irony is that Marcus Rashford has done more for disadvantaged children in a week, than ANY BAME politician has in a decade. We need to target the alienation and frustration to eradicate the racism.

In Summary

The BAME folks who acclaim positions of social, economic and political authority are BAME. Yet, a different shade of BAME. The true heroes of the BAME community are not the Javid’s, Patel’s and Khan’s. True heroes are the Marcus Rashford’s, Raheem Sterling’s, Patrick Hutchinson’s and Zara Sultana’ of this world. These everyday BAME people, who remain true to their roots and seek to challenge prejudices and inequalities within society. BAME communities are internally stratified and do not need more division, especially division created by those who no longer inhabit the same intellectual worlds. I write to you not as a Conservative or a Liberal but as a BAME man who wants a united from. The division within needs to be challenged.

To equality ‘champions’, allow your skills, experience, talents, empathy, compassion and hard work to validate this journey to equality. To our BAME politicians you may have earned your seat at the table but contrary to popular belief, there are plenty of seats for people like ‘us’. Before you begin to speak for ‘us’, make sure you believe in us, engage with us and remember, you are there to make a difference and to create a more equal society for all. I urge all BAME people to stop seeking validation and to start seeking equality, justice and compassion; to begin campaigning against issues of inequality and help to create equality for all and supremacy of none; to stay honest, remain empathetic and remember to not only look out for ourselves. We need integration, we need conversation and we need change. It is time to lobby for more authentic BAME voices both in content as well as more representative BAME politicians.

It does worry me when some of our educators remain selectively silent on the George Floyd killing, the BLM movement or never acknowledge the corporate manslaughter at Grenfell in 2017 but would want to call Marcus Rashford ‘one of their own’ and ‘my son’ when the passion lies in sport. Educators need to have passion for people. Inconsistency and the selectivity help to firmly embed systemic racism into the fabric of our society. It’s time for change. Time to do the right thing. You are BAME, albeit a different shade of BAME.

Long live Marcus Rashford.

Thank you for reading,

Shuaib Khan

Twitter: @shuaibkhan26

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