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Black Lives Matter

Friday, 12 June 2020

We have taken some time as a school to reflect on recent events in the USA and their subsequent impact across the globe. We have considered the systemic issue of racism in the UK and have looked inwards to our own culture here at City of London School.

The commitment of this School – and all of us who work within it – is to a culture that is truly diverse and inclusive. That is reflected in our vision and ethos, it has driven progress in recent years, and it provides a strong foundation moving forward. However, it is also a challenge: and the nature of that challenge is what the last couple of weeks have highlighted. We have an ongoing responsibility to ensure that the experience of our BAME pupils and staff is one of inclusion and that they always feel heard and valued, and that is not something about which we can be complacent.

Our Head wrote to parents, pupils, staff and alumni this week and the staff leads of our Afro-Caribbean Society wrote to parents last week. You can read the contents of these letters to parents below.

Letter from the Head
8 June 2020

Dear Parent,

Events in the USA over the last two weeks have been shocking. The global reaction to them, including in the UK, has had an impact on us all, I am sure, and that is no less true within the CLS community. You may have seen my assembly to the pupils on Friday (which was shared with you via the weekly newsletter), and you will have read the powerful words from the staff co-ordinators of the Afro-Caribbean Society in that same communication. I do, however, want to write to you myself, to share some of the work that is going on within School.

Quite rightly, events of the last two weeks have demanded that institutions – schools included – look inside themselves and consider what they really mean when they state a public commitment to diversity, inclusion, equality and the principle of mutual respect. It was this commitment at CLS that attracted me to the School in the first place: it lay behind my application in 2017 and explained why I was so proud to take up the headship at the start of 2018. I believe that CLS has a responsibility to serve the people of the city whose name we are proud to bear. That responsibility means access to the School for pupils from all backgrounds. It means celebrating diversity within the education that we provide, and that we all, staff and pupils, use that diversity as an opportunity to learn. And it means, at its core, ensuring a genuinely inclusive environment for each and every person within our community. You will – I hope – recognise those priorities in the School’s Strategic Vision, as published in September 2019, the product of much work and consultation through my first 18 months in post. This document identifies the priorities for the School over the coming years.

Naturally, I realise, though, that stating such things is not enough. Institutions must work actively and collectively to ensure that those aspirations, that vision, is lived out, day in, day out, and recognised in the experience of every member of the community. So, it is not enough to state that we are against racism. We must work actively to identify and understand it, to acknowledge it and to eradicate it. The ongoing need for that work has been reinforced by events of the last two weeks.

I do believe that we have made progress in recent years. Through this academic year, we have been consulting with and surveying the School’s pupil-led Afro-Caribbean Society (ACS) about their lived experiences, and the changes that they would like to see. We have established a Diversity Group within the staff body: this has been discussing issues of diversity and inclusion, and how to implement change within the School community. We have reviewed provision across various aspects of school life (for example, through promoting BAME authors in library displays, consideration of our assembly programme, and a focus on LGBT+ people of colour in the marking of this year’s LGBT+ History Month), and we have begun work to decolonise the curriculum. Some groups of staff and pupils have had unconscious bias training, and this training has been planned for delivery to all staff (and would, without Covid-19’s intervention, have taken place in April 2020). Conscious of a body of teaching staff that does not reflect the diversity of our pupil body, we have revised our recruitment materials, seeking to encourage more actively, applications from candidates of all backgrounds. The impact of that work can already be seen in the teaching appointments made for September 2020. And, through all of our pastoral work, our efforts continue to build a culture in which our pupils feel respected, empowered and able to speak out. I am confident that this work is bearing fruit in what we hear from our pupils about their experience at School.

However, I do not – for a moment – believe that this work is done: it is ongoing. The consultations referenced above have fed into a further plan of action for our work on diversity and inclusion, which will be presented to, and discussed by, the School’s Senior Management Team before the end of this term, and considered by the Board of Governors at the start of next academic year. That strategy considers further steps (beyond those referenced above) in relation to our curriculum (including, but not limited to, the PSHE curriculum), staff training and recruitment, and other aspects of school life. Furthermore, it considers steps in relation to the recruitment of pupils into the School, and the language, implementation and oversight of our Behaviour Policy. I will be in a position to provide greater detail on this work in the autumn of this year.

I am already in contact with pupils and alumni about their experiences, and they have been keen to share their personal thoughts, views and reflections. These communications have been helpful, thoughtful and, sometimes, challenging. But, they have also been a source of inspiration, in demonstrating the motivation of people across the City community to make further progress on this matter, and – in so doing – realise the vision that unites us all. To that end, and in light of recent events and subsequent communications, we will be broadening the basis upon which we consult, to include all alumni and all current pupils, as we finalise the plans laid out above.

Michelle Obama says the following: “It’s up to all of us – black, white, everyone – no matter how well-meaning we think we might be, to do the honest, uncomfortable work of rooting [racism] out. It starts with self-examination and listening to those whose lives are different from our own. It ends with justice, compassion and empathy, that manifests in our lives and on our streets.”

This is work that City has started. But, as with others, institutionally and individually, it is not work that is finished. I know how very important the diverse and inclusive nature of City was to you in choosing the School for your son, and I am entirely committed to ensuring that we continue to realise that ambition, for each and every member of the community.

With best wishes,

Alan Bird

Letter from the staff leads of our Afro-Caribbean Society
5 June 2020

Dear Parent,

In a story we all know, the story of the oppression of Black people, some things have the power to shock. George Floyd was not the first Black person killed whose attacker expected impunity: the list of names we know is long; countless more have been murdered whose names are lost. 

Some things have the power to shock. Perhaps because in that horrific video we can see it all happen in real-time – there is little room for the usual excuses: ‘I felt threatened’ or ‘he was resisting arrest’. Perhaps because it was preceded by another video of a White woman threatening Christian Cooper with death at the hands of the police for asking her to leash her dog in a park, which at the time of writing is not even the latest iteration of the weaponising of an emergency call when a Black person’s ‘right’ to be in a certain space is questioned.

Still, some things have the power to shock. It was as if across the world, Black and Minority Ethnic people and their allies took in a collective breath and exhaled a scream of exasperation and pain which now fills streets in every major city, dominates every news bulletin, crowds social media. 

City of London School looks on the killing of George Floyd, and the oppression of Black people with horror and sorrow, and stands with its Black and Minority Ethnic staff and pupils. Many are feeling tired, unnerved by the constant stream of bulletins, exhausted by having to explain ourselves, devastated by the complicity or worse of those in power.

Yet the galvanizing effect of George Floyd’s death is already being felt: societies are beginning a process of radical self-examination; institutions are committing themselves to the work of antiracism; there is a growing recognition that racism is systemic, not some kind of settled moral viewpoint held by an individual person.

Whatever hashtags we may use, whatever Insta posts we turn black, a commitment to antiracism requires an openness to listen and learn, an openness to getting things wrong, an openness to being uncomfortable. But until we all commit to antiracism, the systems which kill, degrade and exhaust Black people will remain in place. And if we have a hope for a more just society, in which we can all flourish we must commit to working against systems which oppress all those outside of that which the powerful consider ‘the norm’. 

The door is open.

I’m no longer accepting the things I cannot change – I’m changing the things I cannot accept. (Angela Davis)

Best wishes,

Joe McHardy, Director of Music, HM Chapel Royal, St James's Palace; Chris Apaloo, Head of Lower School and Coco Stevenson, Deputy Head Pastoral

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