Challenging assumptions about diversity in a rural primary school

Case Study : Primary School

Our small rural Primary school consists predominantly of white British pupils from wealthy backgrounds. We have only one male member of staff. Their day-to-day experiences do not expose them to a very broad cultural background: for example all our teaching staff are white. Although our Ofsted report rated us outstanding, our main area for improvement was identified as helping children learn more about the customs and beliefs of the many different communities in our own country. Conversations with and between children demonstrated a lack of awareness of diversity at times – we wanted to change this.

Previous work in the school had concentrated on charity appeals and differences between cultures; this could have contributed to stereotype reinforcement and a lack of awareness of diversity in Britain.

Initial audit

We decided to carry out an initial audit using Who will have which job? to elicit more formally pupils’ views on others and stereotypes they subscribed to. We initially trialled the activity with school staff. We found that we matched jobs with a picture of a person without challenging the activity because we felt there should be one specific answer. We assumed that, when children undertook the activity, they would respond similarly. 

The majority of Key Stage 1 (age 5–7) and Foundation (age 4–5) children carried out this activity quickly, assuming that there was going to be a correct answer. We observed children’s discussions and wrote down their responses.

  • He looks clever; he must grow up to be a doctor
  • She has a kind face so she must be a teacher when she’s older
  • He has glasses so he will probably work with computers

There were also responses such as:

  • These are just pictures, how are we meant to know what job they are going to have?
  • It’s silly, I have no idea what they are going to be


The Key Stage 2 children (age 7–11) eagerly started the activity without questioning it. They made comments based on the clothes the children wore, their perceived nationality, them having glasses or not. They found it easy to match everyone to a job by looking at the pictures and even more interestingly the answers were very similar. Afterwards five of the children said they had completed the activity because we asked them to and that if they had thought about it, they would never have completed it. The rest genuinely seemed to think you could tell what job someone did by looking at them.

Typical comments:

  • That child must be a computer programmer because he is Asian
  • The girl must be a teacher because she smiles and teachers always smile
  • He looks as if he is poor so he must be a builder


Teaching in between

After our initial audit and Global Week, we realised it was important to get training to develop our skills and our understanding of how to teach children about the global community they live in. We attended a Global Citizenship course at the local Development Education Centre, bought some relevant books and felt far more confident to tackle this area within the school.

Our Learning Goals after training were

  • To focus on teaching children about similarities before differences
  • To embed Global Citizenship within the school curriculum and make links explicit in planning
  • To realise that no one has a single story


In KS 1 we decided to study the Chinese artist Huang Xu. We felt that this tackled two aspects of Global Citizenship: the impact we have on the environment and thus on other countries and people, and the need for our pupils to be exposed to a modern artist from a different culture. We began to look at Huang Xu’s art and what it could represent. This was a difficult concept for the children, and so we tried to make it relevant to their lives by discussing ways in which we could reduce our use of carrier bags or reuse them. We made artwork out of carrier bags that the children brought in from home and then presented it, discussing what it represented. Showing our views in an art form was a successful activity that offered many global teaching opportunities.

In KS 2 we studied the work of the artist Romuald Hazoume to see what we could discover about him as an artist. We talked about the different messages that could be found in his work: reusing materials, slavery, stereotypes and waste. The children discussed the connections between people often bringing home masks as souvenirs when visiting an African country and him making masks out of reclaimed materials, such as oil drums. We decided to make our masks from milk bottles.

The children brought in milk bottles and any other waste materials they had that they wanted to decorate their masks with. We spent time designing our masks, considering what we wanted the colours we chose to represent and what sort of message we wanted to get across with the project. This activity related to our learning outcomes because we saw a stereotype used to promote a more modern image of Africa, and it reminded us there is no one story.

Final audit

After our initial audit, further training, the implementation of changes throughout the school, and our themed art week, we decided to do another audit to measure whether attitudes had changed. This took place a year later. We adapted our activity from the initial audit as we were aware that some pupils might remember the first activity and felt this might affect their responses. The audit consisted of another set of numbered pictures of a diverse range of children This time we, as a school, came up with our own response sheet, with the categories:

  • Language spoken
  • Hobbies
  • Food
  • Nationality

We felt that this response sheet would not only highlight changes in attitudes from the initial audit, but also identify any existing stereotypes and views. The children carried out the activity independently without prior discussion.

Key Stage 1

The results in KS 1 were varied. The children found it difficult to think of a response outside of their own experiences. For example when writing down what food a child might like they wrote things down such as fish and chips and as hobbies reading or playing. This demonstrated to us that these children may need more explicit teaching about different cultures, although as this was not an issue further up the school, it could merely reflect their age and experience. Although still happy to write down their answers, the children seemed less judgemental than in the initial audit. They were looking for other clues in the pictures as opposed to just judging the children based on what they looked like. Furthermore they wrote similar or identical ideas for many of the children, showing that they were not necessarily judging on appearances but more on what children in general are like. Pupils had clearly been receptive to our teaching on similarities before differences, because they agreed that even if the children looked different, they probably liked similar things as themselves.

Key Stage 2

The Key Stage 2 pupils had the opportunity to write down any response to the children as there were no options of jobs or hobbies given. For most pictures a pattern still emerged: librarian was a popular job choice for one of the children; and, for all pictures there was a common job chosen. There was a distinct lack of understanding demonstrated by some children, such as their language was Islam and their hobby was religion. Nationality also seemed to be a sticking point as many children again were quite judgemental and happy to form a view on this solely from looking at the pictures. This shows that more work is needed in KS2 because when we talked about the results after the activity, they were amazed that their answers were so similar.


One of the key things that has changed during the process is the work on similarities and differences – the children can now see as many similarities as differences, and this emerged during the tasks in Art week but also through assemblies. The slight danger with the audit is that the children are giving opinions without initial discussion and there also seems to be much more of an understanding when they collaborate.

We would adapt the response sheet for KS1 as they found it hard to fill it in independently as they did not have as many experiences.