Challenging the Culture of Institutional Racism - Miss Giblin, Headteacher
We are ready to listen.
We are able to learn.
We are willing to respond.
On 17th June I received a letter composed by four former students titled ‘Challenging the Culture of Casual and Institutional Racism at Denmark Road High School’ and undersigned by other former and present students. The letter spoke of their experiences as students of colour, their opinions on education and a call for dialogue with Denmark Road High School on racism and anti-racism.
I am grateful to these students for contacting us. I am grateful that they care about the education of our present and future students. That they want to work with us to bring about change within our community. I responded to them and invited them to school for an open discussion about their letter, our plans to date and with hope to begin a partnership to promote and embed anti-racism at Denmark Road High School. The meeting was an empowering experience. At times uncomfortable. At times challenging. But always honest, mutually respectful and educational.
We are ready to listen
The bedrock of our school is the curriculum. Throughout the academic year 2019-20 we have collaborated to achieve a curriculum which is relevant to our community and prepares them for the wider world. We looked at curriculum offers in other schools and focussed in on an article that appeared in The Times about Townley Grammar School in London. It spoke of how they had modified their curriculum offer to engage with what matters to their students and improve inclusivity. We shared it with all staff as the basis of what we wanted to achieve.
During the immediate aftermath of the death of George Floyd I listened to students of colour at Denmark Road who contacted me. I also listened, as so many of us did, to the voices of friends of colour who had not spoken before to me on this issue, I listened to the voices of people of colour in the media. As I reflected on their views I wrote an e-mail (5 June) to students, staff and parents. I stated “It is time to no longer assume we know what racism is. To no longer assume we know how it should be taught. We need to listen. To educate ourselves of the reality. And then to respond.”
Following recent events and considering the views of our students we became aware that our review plans were not far reaching enough. We recognised the need to ask more questions. Considered the extent to which unconscious bias may be present in our school. Realising that being merely ‘not racist’ was no longer enough. We must be ‘anti-racist’.
We are able to learn
My meeting with the former students who wrote the letter, gave us further opportunity to listen, to discuss and to learn. We discussed the changes we had made to our Anti-Bullying Policy as we became Denmark Road High School in 2018. How the school has sought to address casual bullying in its varied forms and tackling the misguided acceptance of certain behaviours as normal. We recognised this as a break from The High School of the past and that our school of now will go further.
We talked about role models, or rather the lack of relevant role models, for people of colour. We considered how we may address this through our curriculum, student voice, visiting speakers to schools. We spoke of promoting aspiration in BAME students of Gloucester to join our school. Of ways we may encourage them to see themselves at our school by providing access to current and former students that they may engage with. Finally, we discussed the wider issue of a lack of people of colour in high profile roles, in teaching and in leadership and how we may play our part in providing role models from alumnae so that students see themselves in these roles and aspire.
We are willing to respond
This week our school began the process of becoming an anti-racist school. We reflected on the diversity of our school and enhancing how we promote equality and inclusivity for the groups represented in our community. We have thought about what we teach, when we teach it and in what manner. Each subject has considered how they may begin to decolonise their curriculum and study material that reflects our diverse community and educates them on the realities of the past. We have identified ways to include more positive role models for people of colour, and to promote anti-racism.
I boldly stated in my 5 June email that we would complete our curriculum review at the end of this term. I presented this as though the anti-racism agenda would be solved in our school in this short time frame. As I listen more, read more, understand more, I know that this journey will be much longer. Denmark Road High School leads change, it models excellence, we will not be guilty of quick fixes or undertaking change for the sake of appearance. During our INSET this week we have opened the door to greater inclusivity and the development of anti-racism. We recognise that we do not have the definitive answers and still have much learning to do.
To this end we look forward to working further with our alumnae of colour. Those who wrote to us have agreed to provide materials they are aware of that may help us in our planning but also to act as mentors to our students of colour. They are but four and need the assistance of their peers. We are therefore asking that any former students of colour who wish to act as mentors to current and prospective students to make contact with us email@example.com.
When we return in September we will educate staff and students in our revised Anti-bullying policy with amendments that specifically refer to micro-aggressions and emboldens our zero tolerance stance on slurs. We will also be improving student voice to include representative groups that can regularly offer feedback on our revised curriculum. Staff will also undertake training to raise awareness of unconscious bias and how we may modify our behaviours accordingly.
Developing an anti-racist school is an exciting prospect, yet also a little daunting, for it involves cultural change. At Denmark Road we always act in honour. We would never accept a sticking plaster approach of adding a scheme of lessons on Black Lives Matter. Our curriculum must promote equality and inclusion. Acknowledging your school needs to consider its part in institutional racism is not an easy step to take, but it is a vital one.
We have taken that step.
We will continue to listen.
Continue to learn.
And will continue responding.