Instead of my usual blog, this week I wanted to share an email I sent to all pupils this morning.
I know that many of you feel strongly about the events of the past few weeks and have joined the calls for racial justice, following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The culture at Brighton Girls is one that champions equality and celebrates diversity – it is over 150 years since Emily Shirreff and Maria Grey based their case for girls’ education on “the spiritual equality of all human beings” and went on to found the Girls’ Public Day School Trust. However, as recent events have underlined, so many inequalities remain in the world, and no-one can afford to be complacent; as a community and as an educational establishment, it is our duty to ensure that we are doing all we can to promote equality in everything we do.
You will have heard me talk about our school values in various assemblies and, as we continue to reflect on our identity as a school, this question of how to build a world that is fair, inclusive and equal, is one we cannot ignore. On Wednesday night, the Brighton Girls community had the opportunity to listen to Paul Barber, CEO of Brighton & Hove Albion, talk about the values of his club. During his talk, Paul stated that one of his ambitions for Brighton & Hove Albion is for the club “to be as equal and as diverse as our city”, and to lead the way in promoting equality.
At Brighton Girls, our ambition should be the same.
By the end of this week, through discussions with Form Tutors and in assemblies, you will all have had the chance to explore the issues surrounding the death of George Floyd, and the wave of anger unleashed by this tragic event, but I wanted to write to outline some of the additional measures we are taking as a school.
- It is important that you have a channel through which to air your views, and that you have the opportunity to explore, to discuss and debate. With this in mind, the Head Girl team, and the Year 12s as whole, will be establishing an Equality and Diversity Group (the name of this group is something the school community can decide). When Year 12 have finished their assessments, Marieta Goodband will be in touch to explain how you can get involved.
- As a school, we want to encourage a culture of reflection – in fact, this is already one of our priorities for the year ahead. As part of this, we will look closely at the education we provide to ensure that we are doing everything we can to promote equality and celebrate diversity. We will review many aspects of our education provision, from the books we provide, to the speakers we invite to school, and the topics we cover in lessons.
- At GDST level, a committee is being formed to work on a GDST Charter of Action. This committee will be drawn from across the GDST and will involve students and alumnae as well as staff. A dedicated communication channel is also being established to ensure that everyone can be involved in this important conversation.
- We are already in the process of refining our school values and I will be speaking to all of you during special assemblies or (for Year 10 and 12) while you are in school in the next two weeks to gather your views on what our school values should be. There is an opportunity here to place diversity centre stage, if we choose to grasp it, and I look forward to hearing your views on this.
- Another way of having your voice heard would be to write an article for The Temple Times; I know that Miss Kerridge would welcome this.
However, you choose to express your views, I know you will act with courage, with kindness and, above all, with respect.
While it is important for us to speak out and take action, it is just as important for us to take time to listen and reflect. I was pleased to receive this in an email from one member of our school community this week: “I am very much still learning about anti-racism”, the writer explained, “but I am reading/watching everything I can to educate myself quickly”. I was particularly pleased that this email came from a teacher: we all have a lot to learn and, to make a positive difference, we must be informed. So, read as much as you can, watch as much as you can, listen to a range of views. Form Tutors will have shared resources this week to help you with this.
It was not until relatively recently that I read Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ – a book I wish I had read much earlier in life. Although daunting in its length, it is a book that should be on everyone’s reading list. Of the nearly 250,000 words that chronicle Mandela’s fight for racial justice in South Africa, these are the words that resonate the most:
“No one is born hating another human person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite”.
These words are important because they offer hope.
They are a reminder that we can bring about change, as long as we are prepared to learn.