My name’s Saima and I’m the newly appointed Inclusion & Diversity Coordinator at the Cabot Learning Federation. Since 2003 I’ve had many roles in education including working as a teacher, an ALP manager and pastoral support – so I feel like I have never left education!

As this role is brand new to the Federation and so needed in our current climate, I really do feel the weight of responsibility!

Embracing who I am

I’m a forty-something year old, dual heritage, mum of one flipping fabulous trans son. I also have two fur babies, who I may or may not talk to more than my teen child talks to me.

It’s only truly been in the past five years that I’ve really looked at myself in the mirror and embraced the woman looking back at me. I’m so proud of my diverse heritage mixed with my Britishness and am so passionate about how I can use my own self-love to empower other black and brown people, students and staff alike, to be their authentic selves.

It’s been in these past five years that I’ve finally admitted the world isn’t necessarily the same for me as it is for my white counterparts. This has both frustrated me and inspired me. Now I live by an amazing quote from Daenerys Targaryen of Game of Thrones: “We’re going to leave the world better than we found it”. This is my approach every day.

As I mentioned, I started my professional journey 19 years ago. My first job in education was an E2E Tutor, while doing my Cert. Ed – and this is really where my EDI path started. It was there that I was first told that Eid wasn’t a day I should assume I could have off just because I was Muslim, especially as I “…have just had 10 days off for Christmas…”. This stunned me in to not asking for Eid off for 18 years. Ironically, it was there that I was also asked to deliver EDI training to new staff.

Since then, much has changed, but there is still so much more work to do.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at CLF

Cabot Learning Federation’s EDI strategy includes forward-thinking areas of development and key areas of improvement.  These will directly impact on us as staff, our students and their families. I hope this work goes some way towards making our communities a happier, safer and more inclusive places to live and work, as it will certainly do for our academies.

I am working from a strategic and operational perspective. This involves contributing to the vision and strategy for the Federation, from the planning stage to implementation. Our Trust’s HEART values will be at the forefront of this and I have already started to meet with existing staff groups and networks.

Work is already under way with colleagues to create more groups and networks, where and if they are needed. For example, Broadoak Academy have now put in place an EDI staff working group, in addition to accessing Integrate UK to get their students involved in some racial and gender equality work. Another example is that I am hoping we can get the LGBTQ+ Steering Group up and running again, as well as carry on the amazing work of Abbi Bainton, Assistant Principal at BBA, with the Racial Equality Steering Group (big shoes to fill).

I am also hoping to join the work of our data specialists to analyse outcomes by key groups, in addition to exploring exclusions data. There will also be some great Professional Development opportunities and I am just beginning to think about mentoring programmes across the Federation.

Getting started

My first term in role has been both inspiring and frustrating. Inspiring because of the amazing staff that I get to work with. So many colleagues have reached out, responded and welcomed me into their academies. We’ve had honest conversations about inclusion and diversity, the challenges they face and the barriers. Some frustrations we have shared, but our glasses are half full. It has been frustrating at times simply because there is still so much to do and so many colleagues to get on board. It’s 2022 and I can still walk into a room full of CLF staff and be the only person of colour in that room.

But I’m an optimist. I know we won’t eradicate racism, homophobia or prejudices, however I go back to that amazing Game of Thrones quote from Dany: “We’re going to leave the world better than we found it”. We are going to do this together.

Check in

One last thing I would ask, no matter where you work, in education or beyond; please check in on your colleagues. The black men and women you share a kettle with, the bi primary teacher you walk past in the corridor, the hijab-wearing teacher on playground duty between back-to-back lessons and countless others. Check in on them because their lived experience is not the same as yours and mental health is so important.

I love my job because I’m lucky enough to have a network of people around me who check in and support me. If you see something in the news or hear something in your community or whispers in the halls, chances are that even though you’re not directly impacted, someone else, someone you share a kettle with, is.

To my CLF colleagues, if we haven’t met or talked yet and you have EDI questions or want me to support in any way, please get in touch.



Starting the Day

My day begins at 7am when I get in the car to head to school. A short 15-minute drive and I arrive at the Bristol Brunel Academy building:  this gives me around an hour to go over my lessons for the day, make sure my resources are printed and sort out some admin that has piled up. These are often Education Health Care Plan reviews or feedback requests. 

Students filter into the building from 8:20am and our first lesson of the day begins at 8:40am. One of the brilliant things about teaching English at a secondary academy is how much my day varies. I teach one class in every year group, so most days I teach at least three different schemes of learning.

On some days I have consecutive doubles – two periods of year 10 followed by two periods with year 11 and finally two periods of year 8. On others I teach several single 50-minute lessons.  

Whilst the marking workload of teaching English can often feel insurmountable, it is made up for by the conversations I get to have with students in class. Due to the variety of texts we teach, my day could begin with Blood Brothers and a debate about social class and inequality, followed by an analysis of patriotism and duty in poetry, finishing with a discussion on whether Eddie deserves sympathy in A View From The Bridge. Discussing the central threads of literature (love, power, control, identity) and being able to listen to our students articulate their feelings and observations is a privilege. 

Break time comes at 10:20am and is short but sweet. As a department, our timetables are often aligned with each other, meaning on days when you have taught a double Key Stage 4 class (14 to 16-year-olds), most of my fellow English teachers have too.  

If I’m not caught up in the immediate need of a distressed child or a homework query, I take the opportunity to head into our work pod and discuss how other classes reacted to certain aspects. ‘Were your kids sympathetic towards Mrs Johnstone? Did your kids gasp when Macduff beheads Macbeth?’. Comparing notes on the reception of texts and work produced is an extremely valuable way of improving my own craft as a teacher. 

Catching up with Students at Lunch

Lunchtime at BBA is 30 minutes – blink and you’ll miss it! Twice a week I do lunch duty on the back playground. Whilst this can be a daunting task, it is also a good time to catch up with students. Supporting students is the best and most challenging part of being a secondary teacher. Being able to build a relationship with our kids, listen to their opinions and discuss their days is lovely. However, that also comes hand in hand with sometimes being their only trusted adult and their lives are often complicated and painful. More often than not, I go home in the evening and worry about the girl who came and cried at lunchtime or the boy who is having a tough time at home. I sit and fret about what they are doing and how we can make it better for them and the honest truth is, often we cannot. 

After six periods of teaching, we have 30 minutes of tutor time. As I am a Head of House, I do not have a tutor group, so I spend this time enacting my house duties. This ranges from delivering assemblies, visiting tutor groups across the school as they complete our planned Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural development curriculum, or speaking to individual students for a check-in. Recently we have been working on rebranding  our house system to be more relevant and representative of our school community, so a lot of my tutor time tasks have involved meeting with our student council to facilitate our rebrand. 

When the formal school day is over, I have some directed time commitments each week – this is ‘period 7’ for year 11 and Subject development meetings. As is often the way, it soon gets to 4pm and you realise you haven’t actually made it to the bathroom yet that day, or eaten your lunch. This is the time to sit in our work pod, mark that set of books and plan the lessons for the rest of the week.  

At BBA we work collaboratively, and this is often a wonderful part of my day, sitting with my colleagues, discussing texts and how best to deliver them. Laughing at often bizarre creative writing and getting advice from my more seasoned colleagues. After all, the people you work with end up being the people you spend your life with and luckily for me, mine are marvellous. 

Finishing for the Day

I usually get out of school at about 6pm. I rarely work at home, save for the unavoidable evil of exam-marking periods. However, it is impossible not to take some of it home with you. In the quiet solitude of my car, I run through the day. Did I remember to return her marked essay? Could I have been more sympathetic? Did Year 7 really grasp the concept of reconciliation? It is hard not to second guess yourself when so much of your day is made up by little decisions you have had to make on the spot.  

On a Friday, a group of us will often congregate in our staff room or after school to discuss the trials and tribulations of the week. Whilst I sometimes end the week exhausted, with essays still to mark on Sunday, and having incurred the wrath of a frustrated 14-year-old (occupational hazard), I always end the week knowing I love my job.  

I was out for dinner with some non-teaching private sector friends a few weeks back and one of them said “nobody actually enjoys their job though, do they?” and I had the smug privilege of knowing I do. 

My Morning Routine

My day starts around 7:30. This isn’t the time I arrive at school but rather the time I climb into the car: as soon as I leave the house, I’m getting into work mode.

By the time I arrive at school 15 minutes later, I’m no longer Ross (husband, dad, LFC fan); I’m Mr Fossard, Year 6 class teacher, mathematics lead and SLT at Frome Vale Academy.

First order of business is grab a coffee and last night’s printing. Others are doing the same, so this is a chance to say good morning. These conversations are like those in an Aaron Sorkin movie: both speakers are moving around and it ends with one person heading out of the door.

My classroom is at the far end of the building which gives me a chance to pop my head in round doors and wave a quick ‘good morning’ to anyone at their desk. This might turn into a short conversation, particularly if a teacher is thinking about maths. Despite the time pressure, I’ll always stop for these chats. I am predisposed to be helpful and often have some of the most interesting conversations at these times. I suspect it’s because people are coming to me with a question (rather than me approaching them with a thought) so they are already invested in the answer.

Once I’m in my room, I run through a list of daily jobs. These are all done with one eye on the clock. I love this part of the morning: there’s a sense of anticipation in the air. I imagine it’s how it feels getting your boots on in the locker room ahead of kick-off. At 8:45, it’s time to collect my class.

primary school teacher on playground duty

To continue my analogy, walking onto the playground is like coming out of the tunnel and onto the pitch. You’ve become someone else, a public persona. I’m projecting relaxed confidence, smiling at the parents, an expectant eyebrow raised as my class organise themselves into a line. Once they’re all in place, I bust out the big smile and catch as many eyes as I can. Any big news (birthday, injury, pet drama) is likely to come my way as we parade into class and it’s a chance to take the temperature early on. Fussing at this point is inauspicious and needs cutting out promptly. The first 15 minutes (register, check-in, early morning tasks) set the tone for the rest of the day and need managing carefully. I want everyone calm but engaged.

A hundred factors affect this (seating plan; tasks provided; choice of music; tiredness; weather; the list goes on) so, like most of teaching, it’s about having a solid plan and then being prepared to go in another direction if needs be.

Starting the Day

The period before morning break is often my favourite part of the day. The children have got their tails up and are full of energy. I split the 100 minutes before breaktime into three sections (20 minutes spelling; 20 minutes quick maths; an hour of writing) to keep everyone fresh and build up momentum for the writing lesson. I may be the mathematics lead but I have a degree in English literature and I feel like a good writing lesson has an energy, an electricity, to it that you don’t get in other lessons.

I never get tired of playing with words, crisscrossing the room as I try to explain the difference between ‘strutting’ and ‘strolling’, making my scrunched ‘je ne sais quoi’ face, throwing ideas back at the class to come back to me better.

Break (like lunchtime) means something different to teachers to what it might mean in other jobs. If I’m on duty then I’m on the playground for the duration. If I’m lucky, I might get to talk to some of the children or involve myself in a little game although it can be difficult to do this whilst keeping a proper eye on everyone. On a good day, nobody needs any first aid and there are no big fallouts. Going to the toilet and grabbing a drink when on duty are added bonuses that cannot be taken for granted.

If I’m not on break duty, then I’ll be in my classroom. You can mark a few books in 20 minutes or reply to an email. Sometimes, I’ll be working with children who have not completed work for whatever reason. This feels different depending on the context. Where a pupil has tried their best but is about to leave the lesson without the feeling of success, I genuinely don’t mind. I put the responsibility for that on myself and gladly give my time to build their skills and confidence.

The hour between break and lunch generally flies past. It is a single, solid hour of maths and each lesson follows a similar structure so that we can hit the ground running. Maths is a subject unlike others (except, perhaps, art) in that children (like adults) will self-identify as people ‘who just can’t do it’. For this reason, a large part of good maths teaching is creating an environment where all children genuinely believe that they can be successful in the subject.

Achieving this does not happen by accident: it involves a lot of responsive teaching, tailoring examples for individuals and providing the right resources to support thinking. If I’ve got it right, the whole class heads out for lunch feeling confident and ready for some fresh air.

Lunchtime – What Lunchtime?

Lunchtime is the first real chance to take a breath in the day even if I do spend almost the entire hour at my desk. I get on well with all my colleagues and would gladly spend my lunchtime chatting to them, but time is my most precious resource and I need to spend it carefully. I’ve worked in schools where staff are actively encouraged into the staffroom to socialize. This is always well-intentioned but I’ve never been convinced: unless someone is going to mark my books, plan my lessons, respond to my emails, refresh my displays, etc., then I can’t afford to spend a precious hour each day away from my desk.

The afternoon runs from 1:00 until 3:30 and is generally trickier than the morning. Pupils are more restive; you have the famous 2 o’clock slump; tiredness starts to kick in. However, this is the part of the day that most captures the essence of primary education: frictionless jumps from studying Ancient Greece to understanding atomic structure; creating batik tote bags one minute and coding a game the next. Throw in an assembly, school mile and a poem before home time and, when 3:30 comes round, everyone is very ready to go home. All except one of us does.

Primary school arts and crafts

Home Time – But not for me!

In the same way that some people think that footballers only work for 90 minutes on a Saturday afternoon, so it is too easy for people to genuinely think that teachers finish work at half three. Teaching is the part of the job I love. It’s the thing I signed up to do and it’s the visible bit that everyone can half-remember from childhood. It’s not the whole job though and, once the children go home, much of the other work starts.

On average, three days out of the week hold a meeting of some sort (staff meeting; SLT; something else, generally at federation level) which will run on till past five o’clock. Once these are completed, I can start to think about the other daily tasks (prepare tomorrow’s resources; back a board; reply to emails) which must be done. The gradual rethinking of effective feedback means that, thankfully, ‘marking’ is not the mammoth task it once was but there is still work to do at the end of each day.

The school is locked up at six o’clock and it’s not unusual to be chased out of the building, alongside my colleagues, by the rattling of keys.

I very rarely take class-based work home with me. With everything that needs doing in a day, however, it is difficult to find time for anything connected to my other roles. Not until I am home can I really begin to read those articles, write that NCETM action plan, prepare that staff training session. I’m lucky that I genuinely love teaching and willingly spend my own time engaging with people online and reading educational literature. The other side of this equation is that I can find it hard to switch off and only ever come out of work mode fully in the holidays. I suspect I’m not the only teacher for whom this is true.

Winding Down

Once I’ve switched off (nominally at least), the rest of the evening is my own. I can give my whole attention to my daughter, have a proper conversation with my wife or even – whisper it – watch the football. With a small baby in the house, this time is especially precious and, from the outside, I suppose people might wonder why I do it.

It’s a good question and one that makes me smile: you either get it or you don’t. Teaching isn’t for everyone but, if you let it, it can be the best job in the world.

To borrow a phrase that has kept me going more than once: I’m not saying it’s going to be easy; I’m saying it’s going to be worth it.

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