Film 2023: Exploring the potential of a Film Club to promote critical reflection on race and religion in teacher education

Lucy J Wenham, Janet L Orchard*, Phyllis Curtis-Tweed

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference Paperpeer-review


High stakes testing and academic attainment dominate teachers’ work in many parts of the world. Conventional Teacher Education (TE) has become pre-occupied with content and academic attainment as a result. This leaves insufficient opportunity to address fundamentally human concerns that characterize both teaching itself and those moral, religious, and civic aspects of the hidden and taught curriculum through which wider society continues to expect teachers to educate both children and young people (Orchard 2020).
Yet researchers have long-debated how concepts of racism interplay with education, whether at the systemic or classroom level (Gillborn, 1995). Race, and purported levels of racism, remain contentious and widespread, causing governments to commission reports, and researchers to scrutinise their limitations and implications (Tikly, 2022) with teachers sitting in the thick of these problems. Further research on efforts to impact on racist views and which have involved bringing diverse groups together to develop mutual understanding, suggest that perspective-taking can effect change in racist attitudes and unconscious bias (Levin et al, 2016), assumptions that have been explored by Shared Space | Re-Humanising Teacher Education (
This session takes an activity-based approach, building on our experience of having run a pilot ‘Race and Education Film Club’. This uniquely positive opportunity for teachers and academics to discuss issues of race, religion, and cultural distinctiveness promotes teachers’ subject and pedagogical knowledge and academics awareness of contemporary classroom practices. Funded by the Culham St Gabriel’s Trust, this initiative was conceived to spark fresh dialogue, disrupt the more established narratives in education and, hence, perhaps to unsettle them (Biesta et al., 2019). Moreover, being a group of mainly religious education (RE) teachers, at a moment when RE is working hard to reinvent itself as ‘religion and worldviews’ (R&W), we wanted to explore what a distinctive R&W contribution could offer to consideration of the teaching and learning of race and education issues. Modood’s notes (2018) that when such discussions extend to consider religion as well as race, the complexity and contestation deepens further, his concern being that prejudice and discrimination against those identifying as ‘Muslim’ (or ‘Jewish’) may not be identified as ‘racism’ without this additional focus.
A novel, creative, open – yet safe – space is established at Film Club, where a diverse group of teachers and researchers can meet to discuss race, religion, and education, prompted by a series of films (Wenham et al, 2022). In total our pilot has consisted of six virtual screenings to date, watched asynchronously prior to an online discussion, and two face-to-face sessions. This will be a third.
Dialogues are led by practising teachers, to foreground reflections, applications and impacts for teachers, for pedagogy and for learning in the classroom. In addition, three teachers and three academics record their responses to the films and discussions regularly in individual reflective journals. These varied personal trajectories, thoughts and insights are analysed inductively, to explore possibilities from participating in such a film club.
So far, a thought-provoking space has been created to discuss controversial issues, while promoting teachers’ subject and pedagogical knowledge. Discussions range widely, encompassing racial, ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity, with an effort to talk about the relevance and meaning of these topics, and those experiences portrayed, to teaching and increasing our understanding of our students and ourselves as classroom teachers and researchers. Members of the film club traverse moments of disquiet and discomfort themselves, one teacher reflecting that this ‘made me appreciate the emotional labour for kids of talking about the impact of racism’.
The safe space to discuss controversial issues appears to have struck a balance between settled and unsettled, comfort and discomfort (Zembylas, 2018). This affective space where individuals come together to challenge their entrenched ideas, through discussing film, allows for pedagogies of discomfort often necessary for raising awareness – or critical consciousness (Freire, 2021) – yet with support and friendship.
Having presented our findings briefly in this conference abstract, we invite colleagues to attend the partial, licensed screening of a film. Members of the team will be present during the screening and take notes, as they have done throughout the Action Research element of the project. We will be happy for participants to take notes ‘our way’, or experiment with their own approaches. We will organise a shortened version of the discussion technique we have developed through the film club of the film (30 minutes) and finish by discussing the approach overall as well as answering questions about the wider project (20 minutes).
Biesta, G., Filippakou, O., Wainwright, E., & Aldridge, D. (2019). Why educational research should not just solve problems, but should cause them as well. British Educational Research Journal, 45(1), 1–4.
Freire, P. (2021). Pedagogy of hope: Reliving pedagogy of the oppressed. Bloomsbury Publishing.
Gillborn, D. (1995). Racism and antiracism in real schools: Theory, policy, practice. Open University Press.
Levin, M. E., Luoma, J. B., Vilardaga, R., Lillis, J., Nobles, R., & Hayes, S. C. (2016). Examining the role of psychological inflexibility, perspective taking, and empathic concern in generalized prejudice. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 46(3), 180-191.
Modood, (2018). Islamophobia: A Form of Cultural Racism: A Submission to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims in response to the call for evidence on ‘Working Definition of Islamophobia, June, 2018.
Orchard, J. (2020) ‘Moral education and the challenge of pre-service professional formation for teachers’, Journal of Moral Education 50 (1), 104-113.
Tikly, L. (2022). Racism and the future of antiracism in education: A critical analysis of the Sewell Report. British Educational Research Journal, 48(3), 469–487.
Wenham, L., Orchard, J., Brown, A., Curtis-Tweed, P., Evans, M., Saleh, S. (2022) A ‘race and education’ film club: New reflexive possibilities | BERA.
Zembylas, M. (2018). Affect, race, and white discomfort in schooling: Decolonial strategies for ‘pedagogies of discomfort’. Ethics and Education, 13(1), 86–104.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 14 Sept 2023
EventBritish Educational Research Association (BERA) Annual Conference 2023 - Aston University, Birmingham, United Kingdom
Duration: 12 Sept 202314 Sept 2023


ConferenceBritish Educational Research Association (BERA) Annual Conference 2023
Abbreviated titleBERA 2023
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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