How can we promote acceptance of stigmatised appearances in primary schools?

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Primary Schools are excellent places for child development, learning and socialisation, but unfortunately can also be hubs for bullying, social isolation and stigma. The chances of a child having negative experiences during Primary School education increase if they have an appearance which is socially stigmatised. If you are wondering what a socially stigmatised appearance is… it essentially means having an appearance which significantly deviates from society’s ‘standard’ characteristics, for example being of a higher weight or having a visible scar.

Of course, no two children’s experiences will be the same and having an appearance which is deemed socially stigmatising does not necessarily mean a child will have a negative experience in or out of school. However, studies which have considered the experiences of children with various socially stigmatised appearances suggest it would be naïve to believe, in general, their experiences are the same as children who have a socially ‘normative’ appearance (e.g., white, able-bodied with no visible difference).

Why is this the case? Well, there are a number of factors at play here. External factors such as the media, parents, education and policy can all influence children’s attitudes towards other appearances. Think of a villain in a children’s film… a number of villains have an appearance which is deemed socially stigmatising. Scar from the Lion King? Ursula from the Little Mermaid? These messages likely influence children’s attitudes towards various appearances.

Children develop attitudes towards socially stigmatised appearances at a very young age – at around 4 years stereotyping and prejudice can exist. Although, some evidence suggests this is even younger, with stigma towards people of higher weight being present at the age of 3 years, according to one study. Another study found by the age of 5 children make judgements based on weight and are less likely to choose a higher weight child as a playmate. Children with facial differences such as burn scars, a birthmark or cleft lip and/or palate are also at risk, with evidence that they are less likely to be accepted by their peers. All of this evidence highlights how children who have a socially stigmatised appearance may be less accepted and judged accordingly. Therefore, it is unfortunately not surprising that studies have also found children with a socially stigmatised appearance have a lower quality of life and are more likely to be subjected to bullying.

This issue is not new. Research during the 1960’s painted a similar picture, whereby children consistently ranked a child with no socially stigmatised appearance as most preferred in comparison to various other socially stigmatised appearances. However, to date, majority of intervention? Efforts within psychology and body image have focused on secondary school children. However, attempting to promote acceptance of socially stigmatised appearances in children aged 11 years and above may be a fruitless endeavour, as attitudes are likely well ingrained by this age. It is important efforts be placed in younger age groups, when attitudes are still developing, in order to combat stereotypes and subsequent behaviours. 

Further, the majority of school-based body image interventions have focused on a medical (individual) model and less on the social (group) model. For example, consider a child who has a facial burn. This child may be perfectly happy with their appearance. However, if they are being teased, bullied or excluded from social events, previous efforts regarding the child’s body image, would attempt to help that child increase their self-worth and self-esteem. However, efforts are not focused on changing the attitudes and behaviours of children around that child. Providing body image interventions which target acceptance at a group level allow for improvements beyond just the individual.

There has been a handful of interventions developed which target Primary School aged children in a bid to do exactly this – promote acceptance of appearance, at a group-based level.  A pilot study of a recent body acceptance intervention, titled ABC-4-YC, has found promising findings in Australia. However, interventions developed to target this broader issue have either not been evaluated at all, or require further evaluation.

What is clear is that children develop attitudes towards appearance at a very young age and this can impact on the lives of those who have an appearance which is socially stigmatised. Yet, majority of the efforts to target this issue have focused on older children or at the individual level. Therefore, undoubtedly there is a need for evidenced-based school resources which promote acceptance of stigmatised appearances in Primary School-aged children. Efforts should be made within psychology, education and social policy in order to combat this issue in a sensitive, timely and age appropriate manner.

If you are interested in research on body image in schools, Appearance Matters: The Podcast! Co-hosted by Jade Parnell (me!) and Nadia Craddock delves into what we know about how we tackle body image within the classroom. This episode can be found here.

Jade Parnell is a PhD student at the Centre for Appearance Research, based in Health and Applied Sciences (HAS) at the University of the West of England (UWE). You can contact Jade directly via email: jade.parnell@uwe.ac.uk or twitter: @jadeparnell.

Project Zulu Research Seminar

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The Department of Education and Childhood Presents: The Bristol Inter-disciplinary Group for Education Research (BRIDGE)

Project Zulu Research Seminar 2nd April 2019 — 5pm – 7pm — Room 2S704 , Frenchay.

Project Zulu is a UWE educational development initiative which works with partner schools in township and rural areas of Kwazul-Natal, South Africa. Collaborations between school communities in SA and UWE staff and students seek ways of enhancing infrastructure, pedagogy and learning opportunities through knowledge exchange, action research and practical support. The three research projects presented in this seminar have developed over the last three years and are based on such collaborations.

Dr Alex Palombi and Vanessa Parmenter LD Nursing and Occupational Therapy collaboration at township SEN school

Over the last two years, learning difficulties nursing and occupational therapy students have volunteered for 4 weeks within a special educational needs (SEN) school within Madadeni Township in South Africa as part of Project Zulu. This research used five semi structured interviews and a focus group to explore the impact of Project Zulu on the health and social care students’ professional learning, and on the participating SEN school’s teachers and principal. Transcripts of the interviews and focus group are to be thematically analysed to explore the nature of the learning derived from this experience and the extent to which teachers and principals view the project as a partnership and the extent to which their mutual learning. Initial findings indicate mutual perceived value in cross cultural learning and useful professional develop alongside managing concerns about sustainability and measuring value.

Dr Jane Carter and Karan Vickers-Hulse Reading Partner intervention at two rural South African primary schools

This project builds on current RET funding (An evaluation of the Bristol Reading Partner (BRP) Intervention) and the work to pilot BRP in two of the UWE Project Zulu (PZ) partnership schools. South Africa was the lowest performing country (out of 50 participating countries) in reading in the Progress in International Reading Study (PIRLS 2016) and is the priority area of the PZ schools’ Principals. In Feb 2019 we trained teachers in the pilot schools in the BRP intervention programme; PZ UWE student volunteers will be trained in BRP in March 2019 and will work 1:1 with children in the two pilot schools in KwaZulu Natal in August. This work will also add to the body of data and knowledge we have about BRP and EAL learners.

Dr David Wyatt and Ben Knight ICT project at a rural South African primary school

This three year ICT intervention project at one rural primary school in South Africa aimed to enable integrated ICT learning for pupils. Actions at strategic, infrastructure and teacher digital literacy levels were implemented over three phases and evaluated via teacher questionnaires and a focus group interview. Findings highlight the opportunities and challenges of managing international sustainable enhancement projects, and illustrate the critical role teachers play in pupil skills development and the importance of investing in their digital literacy.


This event is free to attend but pre-registration is required. Register here to book your place. 

Did you know you can change a life? Changing a life is easy.

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Changing a life is easy.

Start by watching this short film.

 

Changing a life is as simple as sharing a book with a child. This is the message that has engaged and enthused  a team of librarians, academics, family workers and local authority education specialists from across five European cities who are part of the Erasmus Plus project ‘Open the Door for Reading’

There is a growing body of research that provides the evidence about the benefits of reading aloud to a child: whether you are a parent, caregiver, teacher or from a whole host of professions working with children and families.  The research by Shahaeiana et al (2018) offers a comprehensive overview of the benefits,

Results indicated that early shared reading was associated with children’s academic achievement directly and indirectly through receptive vocabulary and early academic skills. Also, the frequency of early shared reading predicted the outcome measures, over and above other home learning activities. Associations were stronger among low and middle socioeconomic status groups compared to the high socioeconomic status group. We conclude that shared reading offers unique opportunities for adults to teach young children new words and concepts

Gothenburg, in Sweden had for some time been troubled by the apparent decline in caregivers reading to and with children, and the city embarked on an initiative to promote reading – to be “The City Where We Read for our Children”. Their research had suggested that only four in ten parents read with or to their child.

To develop the project further Gothenburg applied for Erasmus Plus funding for the ‘Open the Door for Reading’ Project launched with cities that had a similar focus: Turku in Finland; Brussels in Belgium; Milan in Italy and Bristol. Each city faces particular challenges and has similar issues with families who have traditionally been harder to engage in education or social services.  Details of the project can be found on the website. The cities have met three times now and have learnt from the practice in each country. Exciting ideas like cloakroom libraries in Gothenburg; bedtime story book shelves in early years settings in Turku and using UWE teacher training students to read with children in Bristol have ignited the imaginations of participants. Gothenburg also shared the short film linked at the start of this piece. It was produced to promote reading to caregivers. It is a powerful reminder of the impact of reading for both the child and the caregiver.

The Bristol team, Debbie Miles and Cerys Stevens (Reading Recovery Teacher Leaders), Kate Murray (Head of Libraries) and Jane Carter have been working on the projects’ output: a practitioners’ guide to supporting caregivers with reading. This guide is full of practical ideas and tips for non-education focused professionals in ways to encourage first steps in communication around a text. It is hoped that midwives, social workers, family workers and early years professionals will become ambassadors for reading in the knowledge of its life changing effects.

The team is also now trying to gather support for a Gothenburg style initiative in Bristol and has begun to plan ‘Bristol, a reading city’. The city’s councillors are interested in the project as are many stake holders who attended a first meeting a few weeks ago to plan possible first steps in the project. Representatives came from local businesses, charities, city council services (Early Years; Family Support), the museum, libraries and schools. We are currently exploring funding avenues and hope to establish the first Bristol Cloakroom libraries along with community reading ambassadors. I am planning for UWE students to be involved in this exciting initial step and with the ‘Bristol a Reading City’ when funding is secured. Watch this space!

Author: Dr Jane Carter, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Education and Childhood, the University of the West of England.