July 10, 2023, by Rupert Knight

Anti-racism within Initial Teacher Education

In this blog, Esther Fulton discusses the key points from her attendance at the first Anti-Racism Conference for Initial Teacher Education (ITE) providers, considering how this could lead to embedding an anti-racism curriculum in both centre-based and school-based parts of ITE.

Why the need for anti-racism?

Inclusion refers to the act or practice of including and accommodating people who have historically been excluded because of their race, gender, sexuality, or ability. Inclusivity in education is an important element of the ITE curriculum where the focus is on incorporating ways for students to support all children. However, focus on race can often be an area that is brushed over due to the way it makes many people feel uncomfortable.

An Anti-Racism ITE framework (ARF) has recently been developed by the University of Newcastle and Leeds Beckett University after research literature showed that although there is an apparent need, anti-racist pedagogies are not being taught across all ITE provision. Where they are, it is often reliant on one or two specific tutors as the lack of tutor knowledge and confidence and lack of time within the ITE programme are all acting as barriers. Possibly underpinning this is the lack of support or guidance from the Department of Education (DfE) and the Ofsted framework. Several key documents including the Teachers’ Standards (TS), the Core Content Framework (CCF) and the Early Career Framework (ECF) don’t explicitly reference racism or any other kind of discrimination. Instead, the TS only focus on fundamental British Values and ‘tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs’. Therefore, the ARF is filling this important gap as:

‘ITE plays an important role in transforming school practices, and hence we believe that an anti-racism framework for ITE/T is an essential stepping-stone on the way to a more equitable education system overall.’ (Smith & Lander, 2023, p.25)

The ARF was compiled after the authors completed a global literature review and a student survey. From this, key themes were highlighted. Each theme then has practice questions, things to think about (linking to the literature review) and external links and practice notes and examples. There is guidance throughout on how to implement anti-racism within your curriculum, with student teachers and placements, with leadership in ITE and with staff training (centre-based teacher educators and school-based mentors).

The anti-racism conference

Due to the launch of the new framework, which can be used in conjunction with the National Education Union (NEU) Framework for developing an anti-racist approach, an Anti-Racism Conference was hosted by Leeds Beckett University in March this year. This was the opportunity for ITE providers to share good practice and discuss ways of embedding anti-racism into their own curriculum.

It was made clear to all attendees that ‘Being anti-racist is not the same thing as being non-racist; anti-racism requires vigilant action, prioritisation and embedded practice. Being anti-racist means to actively look and see, to describe and understand, and to dismantle racism.’ (ARF p.4)

Racial diversity within the school workforce is valuable in ‘fostering social cohesion and most importantly, in supporting pupils to grow and develop in an environment of visible, diverse role models’ (DfE, 2018, p.2) However, the teaching profession workforce is predominantly white, although data from  NFER Research report  (2022) shows that applications from black, Asian and other ethnic backgrounds are high, the actual acceptance rate into ITE is generally lower than white ethnic backgrounds and by the completion of training and achieving QTS there is under-representation within the workforce. For example, acceptance rates on ITE courses are 13% lower for applicants from Asian ethnic backgrounds and 21% lower for black and other ethnic backgrounds. This trend then continues at each stage of the profession.

‘Despite recent progress in improving diversity at the first point of entry into teaching, significant disparities in progression rates from one stage of the teacher career pipeline to the next remain’ (NFER p. 4)

Sarah Pearce (Goldsmiths University of London), a keynote speaker at the conference, suggested three ways of embedding an anti-racism ITE curriculum:

  1. Anti-racism should be a standard integral part of the course. White privilege should be addressed and understood as highlighted by Peggy McIntosh back in 1989, where the colour of your skin is ‘an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions.’ Pearce suggested that anti-racism should be seen as part of the safeguarding element of any ITE course and should be constantly referred to within school visits and weekly discussions with mentors.
  2. All teacher educators need to challenge deficit thinking. This is the idea that children fail in school due to their ‘internal deficiencies’ which could be their home life, economic status, their gender or their race. An anti-deficit approach to teaching can improve relationships in the classroom and improve the confidence and self-efficacy of children so that they can understand their own beliefs and cultures and be more accepting of those of others. Linked to this, teacher educators should think about ‘implicit bias’ and how this can affect decisions that are made about the children in schools. As Yolanda Young expresses in her article, these biases can start as early as pre-school where she found that black students were nearly four times more likely to be suspended than white students and nearly twice as likely to be expelled. She writes:

‘Implicit biases take the form of subtle, sometimes subconscious stereotypes held by white teachers, which had been shown to result in lower expectations and rates of gifted program referrals for black students.’ (Young, 2016, p.1)

  1. We should create space for all ITE students to think and talk about identity. They need to understand institutional and structural racism, which is discussed in Pearce’s book.‘Many teachers need to improve their understanding of how race affects the way they teach, and their perceptions of the children in their classes. And in order to do this they need to understand how their own lives have been influenced by race. That is no easy task.’ (Pearce, 2005, p.131).

Teacher educators need to understand ‘whiteness’ and whether they recreate it or choose to challenge it. They should be more aware of microaggressions that are still common and they need to give students the confidence to challenge these safely. Pearce suggests using scenarios to discuss and rehearse possible responses by making them context specific.

It was agreed by all the speakers at the conference that embedding anti-racism within the ITE curriculum is a long-term and difficult process and we shouldn’t expect dramatic change in a short time. Another ITE provider at the conference shared their processes with us and explained how they had put together a plan that was over three years, but this had been extended as each step took more time to be embedded.

These were the main steps that they focused on:

  1. Marketing and recruitment-making all Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) video, imagery and language visible on the website and in marketing. Being aware of unconscious bias, visual bias and auditory bias when recruiting.
  2. Curriculum-making EDI a ’golden thread’ throughout all subject sessions. Identifying blind spots and identifying the ITE team’s knowledge base and investing in improving this knowledge and understanding.
  3. Student experience– looking at reading lists to ensure appropriate diversity. Setting up ‘affinity groups’ so that students can network with similar people (including alumni and teachers in the local area).
  4. Working with partnership schools -making sure all schools and mentors are on board with the EDI policy and making it a non-negotiable part of mentor development and partnership agreements.


What next?

All those involved in ITE, whether in the classroom or elsewhere, still have a long way to go. A starting point may be to look at ourselves as teacher educators and how we can start becoming anti-racist. This Becoming Anti-Racist model highlights the three different zones we all need to go through in order to embed anti-racism into our own practice. We may find this uncomfortable and difficult, but we need to move through the ‘learning zone’ before we can take on the ‘growth zone’. Then by unpicking the ARF, ITE providers can focus on the areas they feel need prioritising and could draw up their own long-term plans of embedding anti-racism throughout their courses and beyond.

We also need to consider how we can incorporate anti-racism into the school setting. It is of vital importance that children have teachers who can help them develop healthy positive attitudes to differences between people and reflect on the contributions diverse communities have on wider society.

We are all on a journey and as long as we all keep moving forward then change can happen, even if it is not an easy ride.


‘Anti-racist work is uncomfortable. I think that all inclusion work, done well, should be uncomfortable otherwise we aren’t growing. And without growth there is no change’ (Barnett, 2023)




Smith, H., & Lander, V. (2023). Finding ‘pockets of possibility’ for anti-racism in a curriculum for student teachers: From absence to action. The Curriculum Journal, 34, 22– 42. https://doi.org/10.1002/curj.177

Posted in Uncategorized