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


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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
JournalRace Ethnicity and Education
Early online date25 Jan 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 Jan 2023


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


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