Decolonising the Educational Psychology Curriculum

By Paige Garbett, Zoë Morrice and Julia Howe

time for change sign with led light

Photo by Alexas Fotos on Pexels.com

Background to the Project

This academic year one of the priorities for the educational psychology team at the University of Birmingham has been to complete a review of our curriculum using ideas from the decolonising movement. The idea of decolonising the curriculum has its roots in the Rhodes Must Fall movement, and this is discussed in an earlier blog post that we published in 2018. The impetus for the current review came from two sources: 1. an Action Plan developed by the tutor team in response to the many concerns raised by the Black Lives Matter movement and 2. the start of a decolonising project in the School of Education where we are based. At this time we have completed the first round of the project and here we are reflecting on our learning from the process so far.

The Decolonising the Curriculum Project

The School of Education project is based upon work conducted at Kingston University where an Inclusive Curriculum Framework Review has been developed. This is intended to be used in participation with students. In this approach, students review the content of a teaching module and then provide anonymous feedback to the lecturer who is the module lead. It was apparent that this process would require some adaptation for the educational psychology course. Our teaching modules tend to have more content than undergraduate courses and run throughout the academic year rather than being contained in one semester. A further complication is that the sessions on our modules are taught by a mixture of course tutors, other academics in the School of Education and visiting speakers, who are mainly qualified educational psychologists from the Local Authority services in the West Midlands.

As a result of these differences we decided to adapt the process to our course while continuing to work and share our experiences with colleagues across the School of Education. We began by asking for volunteers from our trainees to become involved in the project and thirteen students from across our three cohorts expressed an interest in taking part. We then approached the course tutors and four external speakers (all qualified educational psychologists) to ask if they would like to become involved in the project and have a teaching session that they deliver reviewed. From this process we were able to identify 6 teaching sessions on a range of topics and we matched presenters with a pair (and one group of three) of trainees. We began with a workshop with students and lecturers from the undergraduate courses, to set the scene and context. Following this, the trainees worked together to review the session using the Curriculum Framework Review and then met with the presenter to discuss the content. We then met as whole group to discuss our learning from the first stage of the project.

Zoë’s reflections:

Using the Curriculum Framework Review provided us with a valuable opportunity to collaboratively consider aspects of the session that I personally had never explored in as much depth before.  We discussed the language that was used to describe specific concepts– were certain terms Eurocentric and therefore exclusionary?  We considered the content from a historical and global perspective and agreed the importance of acknowledging other viewpoints, as opposed to only a Western understanding of the topic, creating space to challenge previously accepted ‘truths’.  Where research had been used to support an argument in the session, we reflected on acknowledging the population that the findings were derived from and whether these findings were representative of a diverse range of individuals and therefore useful to share.  Taking an intersectional approach to considering the content, and the fantastic conversations that came about as a result of this, really encouraged me to reflect further on my own practice as a trainee educational psychologist.  I have found the Curriculum Framework Review to be a useful tool when developing aspects of training, challenging my own reasons for including certain content and questioning whose voices I am representing.  Being involved in this project has been extremely worthwhile both personally and professionally and I’m looking forward to participating in the next stage of this work.

Paige’s reflections:

Being apart of the Decolonising the Curriculum project and using the Curriculum Framework Review has really shifted how I approach and view both the learning sessions we undertake as and the training that we provide to stakeholders. One of the points during my involvement in this project that really shifted my understanding and perceptions related to representation. Are you checking in with knowledge before discussing a topic? Are the images you are using diverse and representative? Is the underpinning theory and research diverse or are they based on white Western populations and theorists? The project has allowed me to understand and reflect on how important these aspects are for making sure all audiences are included, allowing me to reflect on my own practice as a trainee educational psychologist. It also allowed me to reflect on my own privilege as a white person as these were concepts, I had generally not thought of or noticed previously. The Curriculum Framework Review is an extremely useful tool for developing and delivering training, it has enabled me to think more critically of the content I am using as well as how effectively I am representing voices. Being apart of this project has allowed me to develop both professionally and personally and will have a continued impact on how I practice as a trainee educational psychologist going forward.  

The Next Steps

We are now entering the second stage of the project. We have taken our feedback from the first stage and used this to develop the Curriculum Framework Review, providing clearer descriptions for some of the categories and adapting some sections so that they fit our course a little better. For the next stage of the project we plan to spend a day in April with all of our trainees and tutors using the adapted Curriculum Framework Review to take a broader look at our course content. We made a decision at the beginning of the project that we wanted to forefront anti-racism in our curriculum review and the work so far has raised questions about how we maintain this while recognising the importance of intersectionality. We expect the debates in this area to be ongoing. There have also been interesting developments where our visiting speakers have taken the ideas from the project into their Educational Psychology Services and we have been working together on how the Curriculum Framework Review might adapted to look at the development of training and other materials in a service context. Perhaps the most importance learning is that we are not trying to develop an end product and the work is about changing thinking. In this way we hope that the project will have a long term influence on the training course.

Paige and Zoë are trainee educational psychologists in Year 2 of the initial training course for educational psychologists at the University of Birmingham. Julia is a tutor on the course.

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