Laura McPhee, Director of Education at University Schools Trust, shares the group's commitment to developing global citizenship and tackling racial inequalities

Decolonising the primary curriculum, embedding diversity, and becoming an anti-racist school is a challenging and at times difficult process. However at University Schools Trust, we are determined to ensure educators are empowered to tackle racial inequalities.

It may surprise some to learn that it is not compulsory for Britain’s role in colonisation, or the slave trade, to be taught in the national curriculum. While pupils must learn “how people’s lives have shaped this nation and how Britain has influenced and been influenced by the wider world”, colonialism is not referenced until key stage 3.

It is for schools and teachers to determine which examples, topics and resources to use to stimulate and challenge pupils, and reflect key points in history. Campaigners world-wide have been vocal in calling for existing biases and omissions that limit how young people understand the world to be challenged.

One such campaigner is Orlene Badu, former headteacher and author of ‘How to Build Your Anti-Racist Classroom’. She explains: “To effect profound social change that leaves a legacy we need to change policy and practice. No longer do we want to be non-racist, which is passive and seeks to propagate inequality. We want to be anti-racist: an active role that seeks to disrupt cycles of inequality.”

Orlene describes the process of becoming an anti-racist school and the difficult work that is required as part of this process, acknowledging that individuals are often required to move within three zones:

  • The fear zone: Avoiding hard questions and denying that racism is a problem.
  • The learning zone: I listen to others who look differently to me, I educate myself about race and structural racism.
  • The growth zone: I sit with my discomfort and yield positions of power to those otherwise marginalised, I promote and advocate policies and leaders that are anti-racist.

At University Schools Trust (UST), we develop pupils’ critical thinking. As leaders committed to social justice, we recognise we must also commit to creating policies, processes and a curriculum that provide equity of provision.

Our schools have a clear road map for decolonising the curriculum, comprehensive racial literacy training and benefit from collaboration with our parent community. We place a high premium on collaborating with our professional network of DEI experts who bring supportive challenge and help us to define excellence.

Our schools have a clear road map for decolonising the curriculum, comprehensive racial literacy training and benefit from collaboration with our parent community.


Measuring the impact of this work and communicating progress to stakeholders is paramount. Therefore it was essential that we created clear accountability structures and systems to avoid ‘marking our own homework’.

Each school across the Trust takes part in a regular equalities audit. These are led by Marva Rollins OBE. Marva retired from the role of headteacher in August 2019  having led two London primary schools for almost 25 years. She continues to work closely with school leaders supporting them to execute their strategic and operational roles.

For over the past 30 years, Marva has played a key role in increasing the proportion of leaders from Global Majority Heritage through co-writing and leading a series of programmes for the National College, the Institute of Education, NUT/NEU and other organisations. She explains:

I am clear on my purpose, to positively impact communities and leaders at all levels. Developing the pipeline of leaders of Global Majority Heritage is more important than ever. This is urgent work and there is a moral imperative for those in positions of power and influence to act. We need to ensure children have a sense of belonging as we know this positively impacts on their wellbeing and this is also reflected in pupil outcomes. The equalities review promotes the right conditions for inclusion. Promoting and understanding diversity and providing opportunities to develop empathy means students of all backgrounds and abilities are more likely to extend compassion and kindness to others as children and adults.’

The audit is designed:

  • To develop all educationalists’ understanding of the impact of historical privilege on current thinking and curriculum contents.
  • To understand how the recording of key events in history has influenced and limited the life chances of the Black community in Britain.
  • To use the work of historians to revisit and correct this narrative resulting in a greater understanding by school leaders and influence their commitment to broaden the current knowledge in the national curriculum.
  • To create a shared forum of strategic and practical actions so that equity of provision can be realised.

The review has a far ranging remit, examining a number of aspects of school life including leadership and school culture, curriculum, tracking, community engagement and staff development and well – being.

Each aspect is scored and RAG rated against statements which describe the minimum standard. Evidence is also provided to demonstrate how the setting has met the standard.

Once completed, the information from the audit informs the Headteacher’s equalities action plan, a working document to track the progress moving forwards. This provides leaders with the psychological safety that the audit is not a ‘test’ to pass or fail, but rather a genuine opportunity to create the best provision for pupils and the community. The action plan provides the wider school community with the assurance that the equalities review is not a ‘tick box’ exercise and progress is communicated to all stakeholders. Therefore it is essential that we also  capture the views of pupils as our most valued stakeholder, the pupils.

This is the beginning of our journey. Becoming a culturally proficient organisation is a process and we are all learning. We are fortunate enough to work with exceptional experts in the field and our school leaders have approached this work with a tenacity and humility that is inspiring. As a result, we are seeing the impact of this work in our schools and wider communities, however there is always more to be done.

The vision? For identity, diversity and action to pervade all aspects of teaching, learning and policy; to deepen pupils’ understanding of social justice and to empower pupils to become agents of change.


Laura McPhee is Director of Education at University Schools Trust, East London. She is a facilitator for the National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH) on behalf of the London South Teaching School Hub. She is also board member for the Virtual School Management Board, executive committee member of the Lambeth Safer Children Partnership and guest lecturer at London South Bank University.