Black Lives Matter: Rector's Reflections

As the events of the last 25 days since the murder of George Floyd, have unfolded, I have found myself questioning my own thinking, perspective and actions.

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As the ‘new’ Rector of the school and as a member of staff for the past 30 years, I have claimed to know the school and to understand what makes it tick.

Yet the past few months have turned this on its head. We have been faced with the unprecedented challenge of a global pandemic and alongside this, events which have prompted us to evaluate our own attitudes, behaviour and responsibility within a human context. As never before our shared humanity has been exposed to reveal a deep legacy of division, prejudice, inequality, violence and self-promotion. These are issues which run entirely contrary to the Core Values to which we aspire and are a stark and brutal reality which we must confront and work together to defeat.

I have been faced with the realisation that, although we have made many important steps forward in recent years, we can and must do more, more urgently and more collaboratively. COVID-19 has also demonstrated that the same shared humanity has also prompted amazing acts of kindness, care, community, selflessness and warmth. It is this that brings us hope that we can do things better, take responsibility for our words and actions and each take a lead. I am committed as Rector to this endeavour, to using this moment in History to take action and build a better, more inclusive, gentler environment so that we can all go out into the wider world to change it for the better.

Like many, I have been inspired by the public actions and statements of Michelle Obama, her words sum up the way ahead for me and, I hope, for us all: “Don’t ever make decisions based on fear. Make decisions based on hope and possibility. Make decisions based on what should happen, not what shouldn’t.”

As someone who has worked for many years as a History and Guidance Teacher, the responsibility for challenging fixed and bigoted thinking and approaching issues with empathy and compassion has underpinned my own career. However, the time is now to challenge what we teach and, just as importantly, how we teach. Great teachers have an impact far beyond their subject, or role. Often, they push us to consider a different view, one which challenges our preconceptions and highlights the minority. They can inspire. This is particularly important in the setting of an independent school, where our privileged position demands that we never take this for granted. We have an obligation to expose the aspects which detract and undermine this and champion the best that we can do. My determination is that we apply the same commitment to action on diversity, equality and genuine respect for all, that we have traditionally applied to achieving the best academic outcomes for all our pupils. I believe that this will allow us to work together to help change the world for the better.

I want to make a commitment to you all that I will make this a key strategic priority. To engage the whole community in challenging ourselves to examine our views of the world and to live our Core Values. To respect all those around us, to listen to the experiences of all, to add our voices and actions to those demanding change and to act with compassion, confidence and kindness.

Summer Reading Challenge

The murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter Movement has challenged us all to take responsibility for becoming better informed out with our own comfort zones and spheres. With the help of Mrs Tevendale and the school Librarian Ms Lloyd Wiggins, we have put together a Summer Reading list which focuses on the writing and experiences of Black, Asian Minority Ethnic Groups.

I would like to ask the HSD community to take on the challenge of building a better understanding of experiences other than our own by reading some of the recommended titles. There is a specific challenge for our older pupils, staff, parents and FPs to read at least five of the books on the list over the summer break. These titles will form the focus of discussion groups next session. The list is aimed at senior pupils, staff, parents and any FPs who would like to get involved. We plan to extend this into the younger years with recommended reading from early years through to upper primary in the course of next session.

It is a starting point to challenge fixed thinking, to question versions of history and culture and to drive forward positive change.

You can find the list here.