The following is based on “Black Lives Matter, a movement not a moment” written for the special edition newsletter on 12th June 2020 by Ms Fuwa, Mrs Moore and Ms Contini. It summarises the initiatives to which BGS has committed.
There is a real risk that the issues raised by the BLM movement are lost when the media attention subsides and momentum is lost. This is why, as a school, we are committed to a journey to make our school actively anti-racist, to amplify black voices and to review our curriculum and policies. This does not mean erasing white voices, going on a witch hunt against everybody and everything we have learnt, but it means critically evaluating our practices and whether they are complicit in systems of oppression.
So here are some of the initiatives that we, as a school, have already embarked upon and commit to continue:
Decolonising the curriculum:
What it means - in the UK, we are still living under the ‘legacy’ of the British Empire. As a result, much of what we are taught reflects the values of the British Empire and its colonial ambitions: That thanks to men and women of the 16th, 17th and 18th century, Africa, Asia and the Americas became civilised; that as a result of Christian missionaries, these continents have government, education, law and order - that they can now be considered a civilisation. But prior to the arrival of Europeans on these continents, these very things were already established. So we need to ask the question: Does our curriculum tend to highlight and glorify the actions of British men and women over centuries rather than equally discuss the negative implications of their actions? These might include Florence Nightingale’s refusal of Mary Seacole during the Crimean War and encouraging her nurses not to associate with Mary, or Winston Churchill’s colonialist ideology in the face of African countries demanding independence, for example the Mau Mau Rebellion in Kenya in 1952. Decolonising the curriculum is a reconsidering of the curriculum and how it is taught.
How can we do it - Departments across the school will evaluate their curriculum and be willing to remove or contextualise content that is outdated and encourages that bias. Departments may need to create new schemes of work to address any imbalance between white and black lesson content.
What we aim to achieve - Nelson Mandela said, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.’ What we teach reflects our values. When we change what we teach and have a curriculum that truly reflects the world that we live in, then, education can help undo the racism, discrimination and prejudice that remains prevalent in our society.
How to decolonise the curriculum - this is a huge undertaking as it means questioning the way we as staff have learnt, which shapes the way we teach it. We will seek support to achieve a balanced curriculum.
Implicit bias - this is one of the most important areas upon which to work. We all have implicit bias, in that we all form an opinion or a judgement about somebody within a few seconds of seeing them. This judgement may affect the way we interact with that person. It may affect the expectations teachers have of their students, and it may be at the root of students’ underperformance or exclusion rates. Black boys at BGS, for example, make above average progress but have higher than average exclusion rates. Even though BGS is a very warm, welcoming environment where we pride ourselves on caring about each individual student, and the relationships between staff and students are very positive, we are not immune from implicit bias - we are human and have been conditioned since birth. We will seek the support of external agencies in delivering training to recognise and mitigate the effects of implicit bias, so as to have a positive effect on our relationships with black students.
Safe space for students:
We will encourage and support the setting up of an after school club, open to anyone who is committed to taking an active stance on racism and further educate themselves - not only on inequality but also on the brilliant contributions of black artists and academics in any field of knowledge. Ideally, this would be led by Sixth Form students (also an amazing CAS project) and supported by members of staff. It can be a place for safe discussions, but also to read literature, watch movies and documentaries and discuss/plan whole school initiatives such as assemblies and other events.