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What is “Heath”? The importance of representation.

“What is Heath, Sir? That question really threw us”

They were referring to this question, from an Edexcel past paper:

Past paper question that begins "Heath is researching..."
Past paper question that begins “Heath is researching…”

I hadn’t expected that challenge. I realised that not one of the class in front of me would have met a “Heath”. I later looked at all the names used in the past paper questions I had been setting: William, Julie, Kerry, Xander, Hamish, Fiona, Kirstie, Byron, Grahame, Marian, Victoria, Johnny (there’s always a Johnny).

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I looked at the register: Yahya, Bilal, Naziba, Tahira, Adedeji, Mohamed, Manas, Caoimhe, Abdullah, Chandan, James, Sufyan, Nathan, Harry, Jamiha, Aseel, Isla, Zoya*

I had a think about this. I read some stuff on the importance of representation and cultural relevance. And I changed my mocks and test papers to include names from all the cultures of the children in front of me. It’s a small step but the right thing to do.

More importantly perhaps the exam boards have started doing the same. OCR’s recent (since 2020) papers have included the names Hope, Daniel and Rob but also Ali, Naomi, Iqbal and Amir.

That’s why I was a little frustrated to read a post on Facebook a few months ago that read “I’ve made this exam paper, with all the ‘politically correct’ names changed to Star Wars characters!” I wonder if that teacher had an Ali or a Naomi in his class, and what joy they might have been denied, not seeing their own name (or a name popular in their culture) in the materials in front of them.

It’s fine to try to add a little fun to proceedings and jump on the kids’ current interests, but please don’t do it at the expense of representation. Also I appreciate this might seem trivial, but every little counts as we try to make our curriculum more inclusive.

* this is a fictional register using students first names I have once taught, not a current register of any class, but it is representative of a typical class in my school.

By mraharrisoncs

Head of Computing and Digital Strategy Lead,
WHGS, a United Learning school.
CAS Master Teacher.

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