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  • Writer's pictureDr Shungu Hilda M’gadzah


Updated: Apr 13, 2023

The role of Educational Psychologists in confronting systems that discriminate.

Extract from my report focusing on the holistic needs of a young Black boy.

The boy has been given a pseudo name and information changed so that he cannot be identified.

More and more parents are challenging the systems that discriminate and fail their children. They are questioning the disproportionate sanctions given out to their children and systems where children are viewed through lenses of adultification.

They are also questioning the assessments of key professional such as educational psychologists and an apparent failure to ask the right questions and confront the systems that discriminate. This lack of action by some EPs is making the profession complicit and part of the problem and part of the systems that discriminate.

I have decided to start sharing my assessments as an Antiracism Expert to support those EPs currently not reflecting on these issues in their assessments and reports. Also to support those of you who want to do more but need support in asking the right questions and formulating hypothesis around diversity equity and inclusion.

o I am the author of Understanding and Dealing with Racism- The Six Stages Framework published in May 2022. I have provided training for Local Authorities and other organisations in this area. I have extensive experience of organizational consultancy, coaching and supervision for teams in the area of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI). This includes implementing the Six Stages Framework- a structured assessment tool designed for identifying where individuals and organisations are in the journey towards understanding and dealing with differences and discriminations including racism. This includes providing training for teams and Local Authorities and writing EDI reports complete with EDI strategic plans. This also includes being commissioned to be an anti-racist expert advising on complex casework within Local Authorities, the NHS and by parents.

o My work in the area of Diversity Equity and Inclusion- the Six Stages Framework – highlights the need to look at DEI/EDI across all levels of an organisation to understand the impact on individuals, children and families.

o As part of my assessment of this young person (Lewis), I also asked the school about their EDI/ DEI Strategy. I see this as a legitimate role for EPs when assessing a child or young person's needs. The role of the psychologist is to consider the behaviour and performance of children/ young people within the school and in doing so it’s important to take a systemic lens to the situation when considering the impact of the different parts of the system on the child/ young person. In this case it’s important to consider the impact of the school staff and other children on Lewis’s performance, behaviours and mental health within the school. This includes exploring how the school have addressed and worked to remove barriers to learning which affect Lewis as a child but also as a Black child. To explore the impact of the education system (and people within it) on his performance, confidence, self-esteem and ability to be included within the school system and outside in the wider ecosystem.

o I explained to the school that as an educational psychologist with an expertise in DEI/EDI, I use my role as an antiracist expert to explore and assess the school’s understanding and ability to deal with racism. Only by doing so can we explore whether we are part of systems that discriminate and explore what steps we need to take to ensure the children we work with are fully included.

o This is done through conversations and gathering evidence from the assessment in a similar way we do for other assessments. But we have to be able to ask the right questions and formulate relevant hypothesis. The Six Stages Framework is a tool that helps individuals and organisations explore where they are in their understanding and ability to deal with racism. I ask the question, where are the school in their journey? How has the school responded to Lewis’s presenting special educational needs and also to his cultural needs as a Black child?

o I explained that consideration of the issues of Lewis’s self-esteem and identity were particularly important in my role as an educational psychologist and in this case even more so given the concerns raised by parents about the failure of the school and Local Authority to meet Lewis’s needs as a Black child and the allegations made about racism.

o From the current assessment it would seem that the school have not focussed on Lewis’s holistic needs. The focus has been on his behaviour instead of looking at the root cause of his learning difficulties.

o I always ask the question if Lewis was white how would the school have responded? Is there a difference in the way this teacher/ school view Black children. We all have have biases and we need to understand the biases that the schools we work with hold. More importantly we need to understand the biases we ourselves hold and how they impact on our work with schools and black children and families.

How would the school have characterised him and described his behaviour if he was White?

o I discussed with the school my impression from the information provided and the interventions in place that the school’s main concerns about Lewis seem to have been in the area of SEMH, behaviours and not exploring his impulsivity or probable ADHD, ASC and/or specific learning difficulties.

o There seems to be a tendency to interpret Lewis’s language and behaviours (and that of the other boy) through the lenses of adultification- perceiving his behaviour and language as a threat rather than immaturity, impulsivity and social communication difficulties. And failing to consider the impact of his environment and the social media he may be exposed to.

o From further discussion it seemed clear that the school needed to implement positive behaviour management strategies and ADHD strategies. Lewis had been suspended 4 times last term and he had had 8 detentions. I explored with them the use of disproportionate sanctions which failed to take into account his special educational needs and undiagnosed needs- probable ADHD and ASD.

Key questions seemed to be: How do we support teachers to look for the positives rather than the negatives? It seemed that the teachers needed to catch Lewis being good and use this as a time to praise him. He needed to know that his teachers trusted him. They needed to use clear and more frequent incentives. Currently the focus was disproportionately on his behaviour and he was perceived as a threat to children and adults.

o It also seemed to me that the school had failed to focus on learning as the main focus and barrier to Lewis accessing the curriculum. They considered his behaviour to be the main barrier to learning. The parents are understandably questioning whether this failure to focus on Lewis’s specific needs as a Black child and his learning difficulties was due to a lack of understanding of his needs as a Black boy and to racism.

o Certainly, from the current assessment it would seem that the school require training and support in understanding the needs of Black children like Lewis and in ensuring that they are fully included and have a sense of belonging within the school.

o Lewis has low self-esteem, identity issues and issues concerning belonging within the school system. Lewis’s school needs support in understanding his specific and cultural needs as a Black boy and to be able to respond by putting in place appropriate interventions and support to meet his needs in this area.

o My report points to Lewis’s specific needs as a young Black boy . It is important that these needs are taken into consideration when drawing up his EHCP and identifying schools, provision and interventions. I would expect the EHCP to reflect on these issues and for his outcomes to be related to the areas raised above.

o Lewis is a bright boy who is currently not achieving to his potential and could do really well if existing barriers to learning were removed and if the adults around him were able to readjust the lenses they are viewing him through.

o Lewis becomes anxious and overwhelmed and thus dysregulated. He will need support with self-regulation and supporting him to manage this himself.

o From the current assessment it would seem that Lewis is presenting with low mood and low motivation, anxiety and possible depression. He seems to ruminate over incidents which occur at home and at school.

o Lewis is a bright young person, and his cognitive profile extends to the high average range. His profile is indicative of specific learning difficulties, with huge discrepancies between literacy related areas (spelling) and Nonverbal skills.

o Given Lewis’s presenting cognitive profile and specific learning difficulties he will need specialist teachers experienced in working with children with attention difficulties, executive dysfunction and verbal memory problems not specialist teachers focusing on SEMH.

o Given the issues which have been identified in this report regarding Lewis’s specific needs as a Black boy, including his self-esteem and identity issues it seems important that any school Lewis attends will have a diverse group of staff including Black teachers. Particularly important would be providing Lewis with a Black male TA/mentor.

o I hope that his new school will provide a more settled environment and that he will have more positive experiences both from the children and teachers within the school. He will need support in learning to trust adults and teachers in authority given how they've let him down in the past.

o More information about the Six Stages Framework can be found on my websites:


If racism was a virus …

Black special needs kids failed by schools: Blog and my comment in Voice Newspaper article


"Parents reveal struggle to get assessment and support"

by Sinai Fleary, Journalist @TheVoiceNews


Claire Stewart-Hall/Equitable Coaching in a recent publication in Equity in Education and Society "Preventing School exclusions of Black children in England" described these systemic cogs as "institutional racism, policy and teacher racial illiteracy in schools.”

It’s time to face up to the fact that educational psychologists are part of the “systemic cogs that enable and mask exclusions."

“This paper is positioned as strategies found to prevent, not just documenting more, but recognising the systemic cogs that enable and mask exclusion: institutional racism, policy and teacher racial illiteracy in schools as main contributory factors. It’s nothing new, but it is synthesised and in one place.”

Check out my services: Inclusion Psychologists Ltd

I offer supervision and coaching to different professionals including applied psychologists.

I also support professionals including Educational Psychologists who are experiencing racism (and other forms of discrimination) within the workplace. DON'T SUFFER IN SILENCE!

I also offer Educational Psychology Assessments as part of antiracism expert assessments.

I am also an expert witness in the following area:

- medico legal work/ clinical negligence

- fitness to plead assessments

- SENDIST Tribunals

Check out my services and contact me if you want to improve your practice in this area.

Dr Shungu's blog:


Check out my book:

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