Reflections on the Black Lives Matter movement

In response to protests taking place around the world, pupils from across The Schools of King Edward VI in Birmingham have come together to ask each of our 11 schools to take further action on racism and race education.

We are actively working with our student body and our alumni to develop a meaningful and sustainable approach to this fundamental area of our pupils’ education. Already, two of our current pupils and a recent Old Edwardian have produced an assembly for the whole school community in which they talked openly about their personal experiences of racism. They also raised a number of ways in which the school and the wider community could help influence societal change.

Emil Ali, School Captain and one of the young men featured in the assembly, said: “For myself and all others that contributed to the assembly, we hoped that it would be just the start of how our school proceeds to deal with the racial and social issues that have been brought to the forefront as of recent times and hopefully much more. Though I only have a couple weeks left as a current student at KES, I am proud to see and be a part of how the school is focusing on such a prevalent matter and I look forward to seeing the sustainable change that manifests as a result.”

The new Diversity Forum, a working group comprising staff of differing age, gender, ethnicity and subject discipline, has been set up to examine how we educate ourselves and our pupils in this area. This forum is auditing our curriculum to detail what is already covered on racism throughout history and how this may be improved; investigating how we respond to incidents of racist behaviour; and, alongside our pupils, will be discussing creative, intelligent and considered approaches to the challenges we face in school and society.

Ms Anne Ostrowicz, Teacher of Religion and Philosophy and leader of the forum, said: “This is an opportunity to pause, listen, reflect, share, and form a creative response that enriches the whole KES community. We want to better equip our pupils to become individuals who both desire and are enabled to engage wisely, meaningfully, and joyfully in our society and beyond. Part of this process will be to take very seriously the challenge of what it truly means to ‘decolonise the curriculum’.

“My own thoughts were profoundly stirred by a talk given just three years ago at Agora Society by Old Edwardian Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman*, a leading philosopher. Nathaniel delivered one of the most challengingly hard-hitting (and well-crafted) talks I have ever heard at the school, and did not shy away from reference to OEs Enoch Powell and Francis Galton. His challenge in regard to ‘the white-washing of the curriculum’ has become an undiminishing personal challenge, especially to learn much more about and from non-white, non-western thinkers.

“In our endeavour to respond to the present Black Lives Matter movement we would love to hear from pupils, parents, Old Edwardians, and our local community, and are enormously excited at what could emerge.”

The headteachers of the 11 Schools of King Edward VI in Birmingham have met with student representatives from each of the schools to hear about their experiences and initiate a Foundation-wide approach to race education.

Dr Katy Ricks, Chief Master of King Edward’s School, said: “The Black Lives Matter movement has had a significant impact on both our pupils and alumni, whilst also providing cause for reflection on how matters of race are not only taught within the school but how they are dealt with in the narrative of the school’s 450+ year history.

“We cannot change history, but we can ensure that our pupils are provided with the contextual knowledge to be able to tackle these controversial issues and understand the perspectives of others. As an International Baccalaureate (IB) school, tolerance and understanding are an inherent part of school life, exemplified by the IB’s mission statement: ‘to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.’

“Individually we can all do something to bring about change and collectively we can have an enduring impact on society.”

There will be much more activity to follow and we would be very keen to hear from any member of the school community who has suggestions for initiatives that could support a successful diversity education. If you would like to get involved, email: equality@kes.org.uk

 

*Nathaniel strikes through his surname for the following reason: “My fourth and final name was imposed on me by Michael Collman, in an act of attempted ownership; my three former names were bestowed on me by my mother, in an act of love.”