GTC Scotland recognises teacher as a Pioneering Spirit in Equality with Saroj Lal Award
The General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTC Scotland) has awarded the Saroj Lal Award for a Pioneering Spirit in Equality and Diversity to Edinburgh Biology teacher Hardeep Kaur.
The Saroj Lal Award celebrates the efforts of GTC Scotland registered teachers who challenge adversity in a bit to promote and facilitate a culture and ethos of equality and diversity. The award is linked to teachers’ Professional Values of social justice, trust and respect, and integrity and the Standard for Career-Long Professional Learning. This Professional Standard provides an aspirational and developmental framework for teachers in Scotland and supports their professional growth.
Hardeep Kaur is a Biology teacher at Portobello High School.
Early in her career, Hardeep resisted being seen as the token person of colour working in the equalities area. In 2019, a racist incident was the catalyst for her becoming an active participant in equalities work in her school, not for her own benefit, but for the learners, staff, and members of the school community.
Hardeep wrote and delivered staff training with a focus on microaggressions and the importance of pronouncing the names of black and minority ethnic (BME) learners correctly. She spoke to learners at Personal and Social Education classes and assemblies, and started equalities groups for staff and learners, giving space for learners to grow in confidence and articulate their anti-racist principles.
Hardeep’s learners led a Standing Together campaign, placing posters around the school that include QR codes which allow learners to discreetly report racist incidents when they happen.
Hardeep established guidance in her school, writing a policy for managing racist incidents. Her core guiding ethos was to make sure the policy was not punitive, but restorative and informative, to lead to genuine anti-racist change and impact. She is now working with the University of Edinburgh’s School of Education to develop their anti-racist practice and policy and support students in Initial Teacher Education.
Hardeep said: “I am deeply humbled to have been selected for the Saroj Lal award, from a field I know is rich with talented colleagues all working to ensure Scotland is an inclusive and diverse country to live and work in. To have been given an award named for such an amazing woman is a huge honour and I will keep striving to make sure I’m worthy of it. I’m grateful for all the support I have received from family, friends, colleagues and most importantly the young people I get to work with and be inspired by every day.”
The award is named for Saroj Lal, a trailblazing teacher and campaigner in Scottish race relations.
Her son and award panellist, Vineet Lal, said: “I am truly delighted that Hardeep Kaur is this year’s recipient of the GTCS Saroj Lal Award.
“Hardeep’s steadfast commitment to challenging prejudice within education, and her determination to embed the values of anti-racism within the school environment, exemplify the pioneering spirit that is the hallmark of this award.
“Hardeep’s story is one that will undoubtedly inspire and encourage other practitioners within the sector to go above and beyond in the name of equality, and to make a real difference – all qualities that Saroj herself would have recognised and applauded.”
GTC Scotland Chief Executive and Registrar Dr Pauline Stephen said: “The teaching profession in Scotland is held to high standards. The framework of Professional Standards guides professional growth with the Professional Values of social justice, trust and respect, and integrity at the very heart of what it means to be a teacher.
“Hardeep exemplifies these Professional Values through her courageous leadership of anti-racist programmes and policies in her school, focused on creating a safe space for conversation and developing understanding of staff and learners.”
Equality and diversity in teaching
The Professional Standards for Teachers include a section ‘Being a teacher in Scotland’, which outlines the professional value of social justice which includes a focus on fair, transparent, inclusive, and sustainable policies and practices in relation to protected characteristics”.
Saroj Lal was a trailblazing teacher and campaigner in Scottish race relations, Born and educated in India, she migrated to the UK in the late 1960s. Saroj taught at Edinburgh’s South Morningside Primary School for three years and was among the earliest Asian primary school teachers in Scotland.
Saroj’s BME background and experience as a schoolteacher were central to her later work in multi-culturalism and anti-racist education. She would challenge perceptions throughout her career at the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) and Lothian Race Equality Council, fighting for equal representation of minority ethnic communities in the classroom, children’s literature and the media, as well as setting up Edinburgh’s first dedicated ethnic library, developing minority arts and expanding mother tongue teaching citywide.
Read more about Saroj Lal on GTC Scotland’s award page