What progress has been made this year towards creating a diverse curriculum at WHS?

WHS Classroom

Miss Emily Anderson, Head of History at WHS, evaluates the progress of the diversity in the curriculum working party since September, and reflects on our next steps.

It has been both a challenge and a privilege to have been leading the working party examining diversity in the curriculum since the Autumn Term. Ensuring that our curriculum is fit for purpose in both empowering our students to be active citizens of the world in which they live, and reflecting both their identities and those they will live and work alongside in their local, national and global communities could not be a more vital part of our work as teachers, individually, in departments and as part of the whole school. Such a curriculum would simultaneously support our students and ensure they feel that they belong in the WHS community, and would empower them to understand and champion diversity in their lives beyond school. The curriculum is not a fixed entity, and the constant re-evaluation of it is one of, to my mind, the most challenging and important parts of our professional lives as teachers.

As members of the school community will be aware from his letters and assemblies, in the autumn Deputy Head Pastoral Ben Turner asked staff, as part of our commitment to systemic change, to scrutinise three different areas of our work as a school in order to better inform our future direction. Alongside our scrutiny of the curriculum, colleagues have been looking at our recruitment of students and staff and how we reach out to a broader and more diverse range of communities, and at our work with our students beyond the curriculum, in our pastoral, super-curricular and extra-curricular contexts.

WHS Partnerships

Examining the curriculum were staff from the arts, sciences and humanities, bringing a variety of perspectives. I wanted to make an ambitious but absolutely necessary distinction from the outset – that we cannot approach the curriculum by diversifying what is already there, but need to create a curriculum that is inherently diverse. We discussed the need to broaden our collective understanding of different identities (the GDST’s Undivided work has been very valuable in this regard), and to model open, honest and often difficult dialogue. The difficulties of the process of change were also considered, especially the transition from an old to a new curriculum, and the fear of being labelled knee-jerk or tokenistic until it became embedded and normal. This is, however, no excuse for not trying. Doing nothing is not an option. Three areas for evaluation emerged for us to take to departments:

  1. The day-to day – teachers’ understanding about different types of diversity, our use of language and resources in the classroom, encouraging more challenging and reflective discussions in the classroom.
  2. The medium term – creating a diverse curriculum at WHS – looking again at KS3, and evaluating our choices at KS4 and KS5 to identify more diverse lines of enquiry or exemplars in existing specifications, or opportunities to move to other boards.
  3. The bigger picture – joining the growing national conversation with exam boards to make changes to GCSEs and A Levels to better reflect diverse identities, critically evaluating the cultural assumptions and frameworks through which our knowledge is formed and which privilege certain identities over others, to problematise and ultimately change these in our teaching.

The reflections that came back from discussions at department level showed that much carefully considered planning is being undertaken across departments, in terms of the individuals whose voices are heard through study of their work, the enquiries that are planned to broaden our students’ horizons and the pedagogical implications of how we create an environment in which diverse identities can be recognised and understood.  

My own department (History) are completely reconceiving our curriculum. My colleague, Holly Beckwith, wrote a beautiful rationale for this in WimTeach last year which I would highly recommend reading.[1] We have been preparing for major curriculum change for a number of years, firstly through trialling experimental enquiries to pave the way, such as a new Y9 enquiry on different experiences of the First World War. Our choosing of a unit on the British Empire c1857-1967 at A Level – a unit whose framework could, if taught uncritically, be problematic in terms of what it privileges, but which enables us to at least explore, understand and challenge such power structures and give voice to some of the people it oppressed through the study of historical scholarship – also helps facilitate changes further down the school as it demands significant contextual knowledge about societies across the world before the age of European imperialism.[2] Now, we are in a position to put in place major and increasingly urgently needed changes for September 2021 at Year 7 and Year 10, which will lead to a transformed KS3 and KS4 curriculum over the next three years.

To pivot back to the whole-school context, I also met with student leaders from each year group who had collated ideas from their peers to feed back. These were wonderfully articulately and thoughtfully put, often critical, and unsurprisingly revealed a great appetite for change. As teachers and curriculum designers, there is a balance to be struck here between taking students’ views into account, and creating coherent and robust curricula where knowledge and conceptual thinking builds carefully as students progress up the school – areas of study cannot simply be swapped in and out. As I have alluded to above, for example we start sowing the seeds of contextual understanding for GCSE and A Level at Y7. Furthermore, this process will take time, as meaningful change always does, and so managing expectations is also something we must consider. In and of itself, modelling the process of systemic change is such a valuable lesson for our students so this must be seen as an opportunity to demonstrate this.

So far, this process of evaluation has prompted profound and necessary reflection by teachers not only on what we teach in the classroom, but on how our own understandings of our disciplines have been conditioned by our experiences and educations. As well as educating our students, we are also continually educating ourselves, often unlearning old ideas. There is still a significant way to go in creating the inherently diverse curriculum we are aiming for, and I look forward to continuing to challenge and be challenged as we work together as a community to, ultimately, try to do right by our students and our world.


[1] http://whs-blogs.co.uk/teaching/vaulting-mere-blue-air-separates-us-history-connection/

[2] Akala, Natives, London, Two Roads, 2019; R. Gildea, Empires of the Mind: The Colonial Past and the Politics of the Present, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2019; P. Gopal, Insurgent Empire, London, Verso, 2019;

Gender Discrimination in Sports

Martha, Year 8, discusses gender discrimination in sports and outlines recent developments that have helped to move the industry towards greater equality.

What is the issue?

Gender discrimination in sports has long been a controversial topic due to inequality regarding wage, audience viewing numbers, and the overall range of opportunities that exists between men and women in the arena of competitive sports. Gender discrimination is still an issue in the 21st century; more people still will watch men’s football than women’s, and women’s football is rarely discussed in the media.

Above: Sport vector created by macrovector 

Why do people consider women’s sports as less deserving than men’s?

Many people think that if there was to be more media coverage or sponsorship of women’s sport it would be more popular with audiences. The media says that if women’s sport generated more interest in the first place then they would invest more time and money into it.

Most people agree on what it takes to make a sport successful: commercial appeal, interest from the general public, and media coverage. The fact is that sponsors are less likely to promote teams or individuals who don’t have lots of media exposure, and not many women in sports do. The Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation found that in 2013, women’s sports received only 7% of coverage and a shocking 0.4% of commercial sponsorships[1].

This is a vicious circle, as viewers want to watch sports at the highest professional standard, and sponsors want to be associated with the best athletes. Because of the lack of sponsorship many female athletes, even those who represent their countries, have to fit training around employment. Many male athletes, however, would have their sport as their profession and as such would not need to divide their training regime with other work. Women who are paid usually earn less than their male colleagues; the Professional Golfers’ Association, for example, offers 256 million dollars in prize money; the women’s association offers only 50 million[2]. This inequality also happens in pay for coaches of women’s teams compared to male teams.

What is happening now?

Things are changing, and there is energy behind equality for the industry. The English women’s cricket team became professional in 2014, signing a two-year sponsorship deal with Kia after winning many Ashes contests. The Wimbledon Championships started awarding women the same amount of prize money as men in 2007[3]. Most importantly, the opinions of sports fans seem to be changing: 61% of fans surveyed by the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation said they believed top sportswomen were just as skilful as their male equivalents and over half said women’s sport was just as exciting to watch[4].

The road to equality is not an easy one, and there are many different aspects to achieving this; pay, opportunity and recognition. Lots have been done in more recent years to address aspects like equal pay, but there is still more to do to gain full equality. When the Women’s World Cup has as much excitement, sponsorship and audience engagement as the Men’s World Cup, then we are nearer to having achieved equality in sport.


[1] https://www.womeninsport.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Womens-Sport-Say-Yes-to-Success.pdf

[2] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/golf/2018/12/17/top-ten-women-golfers-earn-80-per-cent-less-men/

[3] https://www.cnbc.com/2019/09/11/despite-equal-grand-slam-tournement-prizes-tennis-still-has-a-pay-gap.html

[4] https://www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2014/07/27/why-professional-womens-sport-is-less-popular-than-mens


The feminist blueberries of the Western Cape

Blueberry farm

Rosie, Year 10, explores how a blueberry farm run by her great-aunt empowers women from the local township in Hermanus, South Africa.

Feminist blueberries – a surprising concept! One I found to be very real during half-term, while visiting my great-aunt Alison. Here, I discovered the opportunities which blueberries provide, helping and empowering the lives of women in the area.

Customarily, in the South African agriculture, the women are the workers, while the men make decisions and look after the cattle. As Alison explained to me, there is a common danger for married women in this, that being that their husbands take away their financial freedom. Whilst this is not always the case, it does however restrain many women from choosing to marry in the first place. As a result of this, my aunt Alison tries to employ as many women so that the money could be sure to go straight towards the household – keeping a family fed and looked after.

On the farm there are six permanent jobs held by women, including driving tractors attending the pump house and ensuring that the irrigation systems are clean. However, come high season Alison will employ around 150 women for picking, packing and checking. Normally, these women are from the local area and take the bus to and from the farm; their day typically starting at around 6am and finishing at 2:30pm, allowing them to greet their children when they come home from school.

The women from these local communities – picking up fruit such as grapes and apples – have very little work as it is seasonal. Typically, the picking of fruit lasts from February through to March or April, and this is then followed by a long period of unemployment. By working on the blueberry farm, 150 of these women have an extra four months of employment. In addition to this they are also provided with casual labour, such as weeding or planting new plants, thus making a hugely positive impact on their income.

In South Africa, Monday has a reputation for being a very slow-moving day. Many men either work slowly and without efficiency or don’t turn up, due to hangovers from the weekend. However, Alison does not find this to be the case for her ladies at all. She complimented their fast learning and ability to fill buckets speedily to reach the bonus, while still staying careful and particular when sorting each individual berry.

A huge part of the female empowerment at work here is Alison herself. It is her drive and passion in running the farm that benefits and gives a purpose to so many other women in the area, and makes her a very inspirational woman. There is no doubt that Alison and her ladies grow some pretty special blueberries.  Having been named the best blueberry suppliers in South Africa last year after only their first year of growing, I can certainly testify, having tried them myself, that these blueberries are the most delicious I have ever tasted.


Cross gender casting in Shakespeare’s plays: Does it solve the problem of gender inequality?

Cecelia (Year 12) investigates the modern and historical practice of cross gender casting in Shakespeare’s plays.

From Tamsin Grieg’s Malvolia to Maxine Peake’s Hamlet, cross gendered casting is becoming increasingly popular in British theatre, never more so than in Shakespeare’s plays. New adaptations wanting to put a spin on the 400-year-old productions now look to casting female actresses in the typically male roles of Lear, Macbeth and Othello. Whilst this allows the play to be seen through a different feminine perspective and offers a completely new interpretation of the character, cross gendered casting gives women the opportunities to embody some of theatre’s most complex and popular roles.

However, this seemingly ‘modern’ twist on Shakespeare’s work is not as revolutionary as we may think. When Shakespeare wrote the majority of his work, women were not allowed to perform on stage and so his female characters were always played by young boys or men. As much as gender blind casting can provide a wider range of roles for female actresses, is it always effective and when should the line be drawn?

It is no wonder that Shakespeare’s work is constantly being revisited and adapted, his original text is so complex and diverse that something new can be gleaned from it with every new actor. Hamlet is the most frequently adapted Shakespearian play and has one of the longest histories of women playing the title role. The character of Hamlet is uncertain, passive and lacks resolve – qualities that are typically seen as feminine. Hamlet’s effeminate side has led to the character often being portrayed by women, with some believing that they can inhabit the role with more ease as they are able to fully connect with the feminine side to his personality.

Some of the most famous Victorian Hamlets were women, Sarah Bernhardt and Alice Marriot’s Hamlets were highly regarded by most critics with the part said to have benefitted from their “injection of femininity” (Catherine Belsey). Despite this, some critics argued that it was impossible for an actress to truly comprehend and identify with the thoughts and emotions of a man – a line of argument that is still present today. With this in mind some productions choose to play the character of Hamlet as a woman as demonstrated in Asta Nielsen’s portrayal of Princess Hamlet in the 1920 silent film. Nielsen played Hamlet as a woman masquerading as a man, possessing all the masculine skills and lacking only the instinct to kill. But regardless of the past success of actresses playing the Dane, there is still a public reluctance to accept this change; a 2014 YouGov poll found that 48% of Britons were not happy with the idea of a female Hamlet.

Many argue that by changing the gender of the actor, the gender of the character is effectively altered as well; as such, must the text itself be adjusted and if so, to what extent?

Whilst Vanessa Redgrave played the male role of Prospero, Helen Mirren’s Prospera was a female rewrite of the original. For most of Julie Taymor’s film version of The Tempest, the change to Prospera worked but because her daughter, Miranda, stayed female, the relationship between the magician and the child became complicated. The dynamics between a father and a daughter are vastly different to that of a mother and a daughter, and the Tempest is inherently a complex dissection of the fraught bond between a father and his daughter. The removal of this crucial theme dramatically altered the message of the entire piece and as such did not sit well with many audience members.

Whilst cross gender casting did occur in the 18th and 19th century, it has gained huge popularity in the last 20 years. As gender is beginning to be seen less as a biological definition and more as a social construct, the idea of a woman playing a man or vice versa has become far more acceptable. Our intrinsic understanding of male and female characteristics have changed, along with the ways in which we wish to see them portrayed on stage.

Of course, the opportunity for great female actresses to play great Shakespearian roles is positive. As well as giving women the chance to play classic and multifaceted roles, it allows for directors to create something new out of a play that has been around for hundreds of years.

Despite this, as we move forward, the dramatic community must place more of an emphasis on the creation of original female roles which share the same complexity and breadth of emotion as that of their male counterparts. Juliet Stevenson summarised the debate neatly with her statement on the red carpet that she “want[s] great parts for women, not women playing great parts for men”.

Twitter: @English_WHS