A message from the headmaster

The events in America, surrounding the killing of George Floyd by a member of the state police force, have shown that genuinely caring for each other, standing up for others and being honestly educated in matters of race, anti-racism, inequality and human rights is vital.  

George Floyd’s killing follows similar deaths of other black Americans. It was not an isolated event. It is also not only an American matter. Britain has a similar list of black Britons killed or rendered disabled through acts of atrocity.

I am sure I speak on behalf of us all by saying we must stand together, with all victims of marginalisation, injustice, repression and inequality. We condemn the specific actions leading to the death of George Floyd and the cultures surrounding them.

Open discussion at Emanuel

I have always been convinced that schools are places where all topics should be openly discussed, and all voices heard. I also believe that school populations offer hope for our society. Last week, Emanuel’s Junior Equality Society met to reflect on the killing of George Floyd and the complex matters surrounding this act by a member of the Minneapolis police.

The Society and its pupils have addressed personal stories of sexism and racism; the elderly and lock-down discrimination; as well as social inequality in the context of the pandemic, this term.

Important personal and collective responses to the tragic loss of a life in America (and the matters surrounding it) have come from across our school community. We have reflected on a racist and prejudice system and culture. We have seen that at times and in places, it is evident in this country too. These responses have been through informal communication, within formalised pupil group debate, through ‘Life Education’ (PSHE) lessons and will be in religious service and assemblies in the coming week.

Our ethos and values

Our school’s values and ethos reflect the importance of positive human relationships to everyone connected to Emanuel. We need our daily actions to uphold these words. We are heartened that so many people connected to our school care as we do.

We all rightly ask what more we should do.

The curriculum

Beyond the national regulatory guidance and exam courses that govern and direct much of our approach to teaching and learning and pastoral care, we have sought to make more curriculum changes in recent years.

This academic year, we hosted ‘Black History Week’, with a focus on literature, history and culture. We have started the new subject of ‘Ethos’ in the Lower School. This is a weekly lesson focused on debating, philosophy, society and morality. We plan to continue this in the Middle School and it will partner our PSHE lessons, as a period where young people can continue to think about and become comfortable in articulating views on matters that are important to them. We wish, however, to do more.

We will continue to ensure our curriculum allows everyone to address and learn about vital matters of race and anti-racism. We will do this through specific lessons, whole-school events, visiting speakers and content teaching in academic subjects.

These steps will build on the caring teaching and pastoral approaches in place at Emanuel.

The establishment of an Advisory Group

An advisory group of school staff – from across all employee positions – and pupils of different ages and backgrounds, is being formed to review the curriculum, through the perspectives set out above.

They will audit changes already made and guide new approaches. The group will have a specific focus on the ways in which we provide education regarding race, anti-racism and forms of inequality and representation in society.

In addition, the group will review the school’s approaches to:

  • pastoral care and behaviour;
  • the policies behind this (being aware of the regulatory guidance from the government and other bodies);
  • recruitment practices throughout the school;
  • and accessibility to the school for all young people (and their families) at every entry point.

It will seek to hear pupil, parent, governor and external voices on all matters of race and inequality.

Emanuel’s chairman of governors, Mr Markus Jaigirder, will be aware of the work of the group and I know that he sees this as a vital part of the school’s ethos and sustained development. The group will be led by the school’s senior tutor, Mr Andrews and report to the deputy head (pastoral), Mr Ravi Kothakota.

Building relationships in the wider community

Beyond the classroom, we will keep fostering our relationships with local schools, organisations and charities. We want pupils to see life beyond the boundaries of Emanuel. This will enable us all to better engage with, understand and act upon issues of social inequality, discrimination and mobility.

During the pandemic, our ‘Primary Ambitions’ partnership programme with 22 local primary schools – all with an average pupil population of more than 40% on free school meals – has continued to positively function, albeit in a different form.

We will also seek to learn more, through our longstanding partnership in the UWGCH Foundation, with Westminster City School. We will listen and respond to the views of pupils from this school too, in helping us to improve our own practices and culture.

The Battersea Rise Trust

Such approaches, alongside the social mobility aims of the school’s ‘Battersea Rise Trust,’ should be the means for us all to commit to our important role in shaping a fairer, more compassionate, accountable and educated world.

The work of the school’s Battersea Rise Trust, as well as other commitments to widening access by the school’s governing body, staff and pupils, has seen an increase of 123% in applications for ‘free places’ to the school.

We are grateful to all who have helped us in our commitments and strategies to widen access. We want all young people from all parts of society to have equal chances for gaining a place and thriving at our school.

We have made a promising start, but there remains a lot for us to do. We will continue in our efforts.

Pupil voice

During a discussion group’s meeting on George Floyd’s death, I was heartened to see that Year 7 pupils had reflected, with incredible maturity, introspection and honesty, on the disturbing social complexities and unacceptable cultures that have brought about this appalling event. I am grateful to all staff for helping to run these events and to all in attendance for their contributions.

Having the chance to listen to others, witnessing senior people speak up, hearing your own voice and being challenged, no matter how hard, remain the right opportunities for this school to provide.

We are fortunate to have colleagues and young people willing and sensitive enough to think and act in this way. We are clear that we can and should do a lot more, both in honest personal reflection and physical actions. We will endeavour to do so, developing the steps we have already taken throughout the school and the ethos we wish to uphold.

I wish to thank colleagues, parents, pupils and governors for their help and conviction in this on-going matter.

Mr Robert Milne, Headmaster