1 October 2021
I had the great privilege of attending the inaugural African Caribbean Education Network (ACEN) Anti-Racism Conference at Dulwich College last week; it was an inspiring and invigorating experience.
I think what particularly impressed me about the conference is that ACEN was set up by a group of black mothers who wanted to ensure their children’s education in the independent sector met their needs, understood who they were and allowed them to flourish; it is a wonderful example of what women can achieve when they work together for the greater good. Seeing so many teachers and other educational professionals together working towards a common goal was galvanising and the positivity in the room was tangible.
The paralympian, Claire Harvey, posited that the system in the UK was not actually broken, but that it had in fact been deliberately made the way it is over hundreds of years. This is why change might not always be as quick as we would like it to be, but we must not lose hope as we fight for a more just and inclusive world. She argued that we must not see inclusion as being limited, so that if one group benefits, another loses out. We can amplify the common experience by being inclusive to all. We were encouraged to be not “non-racist”, but “anti-racist”, so that we regularly clarify our values and call out when they are not met. Aisha Sanusi from the ACEN urged schools not to be colour blind in their approach, but to see our students’ race and think about their lived experiences in our day-to-day care for them and in our curriculum.
As a history teacher, I was enthralled by Professor David Olusoga’s passionate rallying cry to teach British history in its entirety. He reminded us that history can be ugly and discomforting, but that we shouldn’t shy away from this and only see history as something which makes us feel good about ourselves. Whilst many schools are trying to redress the balance, including here at BGS, many ethnic minority stories are still being marginalised and the current history curricula at GCSE and A-Level continue to have very few modules that include their experiences. This means that for some ethnic minority students they don’t see history as being for them and the imbalance is perpetuated. Yet the history of Britain is inextricably linked with the British Empire and we must recognise that our history is shared. He finished by saying that history could either be used as a weapon to drive us further apart or used to bring us more unity, and I for one certainly hope it is the latter.
It is important that as teachers we show cultural humility: we can acknowledge that everyone is a mixture of culture and experiences; we must preserve the dignity of each student in the classroom; we should always remain professionally curious about others; and we must remain committed to having a culturally sustaining pedagogy. We are launching our curriculum review this year, which will in part encompass a close look at how far our students can see themselves represented within our teaching in all of our subjects across the School. It is a profoundly important task and we are relishing the opportunity to undertake a deep rooted and meaningful review.
We pride ourselves on being a warm and welcoming community, but we are on our journey and are committed to being brave; we acknowledge that we have a lot to learn, discuss and change in our ambition to become more inclusive and diverse. Our students and staff are fantastic in guiding us, but we also want to work with our parent body and external experts to continue this exciting phase of growth and development. Our Diversity and Inclusion calendar of events will be published soon and we have already celebrated The Big Hair Assembly and Black History Month starts on Friday 1st October. We see these as opportunities to open up discussions and to allow our students to celebrate the cultures they are so rightfully very proud of promoting a greater understanding for all. Events across the year will celebrate the myriad of different cultures and religions we have in the school along with LBGTQ+ events and a focus on disabilities. As we celebrate 10 years of BGS, we will be hosting our inaugural Culture Festival in the Summer Term, encouraging all of us to come together and recognise how the diversity of our community makes us collectively stronger.
Gemma Gibson, Headmistress, Bedford Girls’ School