Challenging anti-Black linguistic racism in schools amidst the ‘what works’ agenda

Ian Cushing

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (journal)peer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
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Education policy in England’s schools is driven by the ‘what works’ agenda, an ideological project which favours interventions focusing on minute technical issues whilst overlooking state-crafted structures of racial and economic inequality. In this article, I show how what works interventions reproduce anti-Black linguistic racism because to be perceived as someone who is ‘working’, racialised children must assimilate their language practices towards idealised whiteness. I describe case studies of two experienced teachers working in low-income, majority Black schools who positioned themselves as language activists and challenged anti-Black linguistic racism in their practice, where they rejected what works interventions concerning a commercially produced curriculum package and the so-called word gap. Both interventions had been billed by management as constituting evidence-based practice and implemented under a narrative of racial justice. The case studies reveal how both teachers felt deep discomfort about these interventions, in terms of how they were punishing the language practices of Black, working-class children through categorising them as displaying linguistic deficiencies in need of policing and correcting. I describe how both teachers designed anti-racist responses to these purportedly evidence-based interventions and discuss various institutional oppositions that they came up against in doing so, including having their own language, expertise and evidence called into question by white management. I argue that the what works agenda in schools is actively crafted by the state to delegitimise and discredit anti-racist efforts, and that for the state, what counts as ‘working’ is simply the reproduction of linguistic normativity predicated on idealised whiteness.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2170435
Pages (from-to)257-276
Number of pages20
JournalRace Ethnicity and Education
Issue number3
Early online date25 Jan 2023
Publication statusPublished - 16 Apr 2023


  • anti-Blackness
  • anti-Black linguistic racism
  • word gap
  • language policing
  • raciolinguistic ideologies
  • schools
  • Anti-Blackness

Research Centres

  • International Centre on Racism


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