Following on from the recent Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May, Highgate decided to accelerate plans to put Inclusion at the heart of the school’s strategy and operations. These plans were already underway but had been unavoidably delayed due to the Covid-19 lockdown.
Ms Salima Virji was appointed the school’s first Director of Inclusion at the end of last term. She was previously Highgate’s Development Director, a post she held for seven years, and she has been a member of Highgate’s Senior Team since 2015.
Salima’s role covers the Pre-Prep, Junior School and Senior School, and she has overall strategic responsibility to make sure that Highgate is as inclusive a school as possible, for every member of the community: pupils, teachers, staff members, parents and carers, and alumni.
Director of Inclusion, Salima Virji
When we say “inclusive”, we mean that we want everyone who works or studies at Highgate to be in an environment that:
- welcomes them
- enables them to be themselves
- understands them
- encourages questioning, self-knowledge and self-expression
- helps them not just to manage, but to thrive: to discover and pursue their passions, and to develop as individuals and members of a community.
We want every pupil to have the opportunity to find out about themselves, in the broadest sense: what’s important to them? What makes them unique? What do we have in common? What can we learn from one another, and teach one another? Inclusion is about everyone – helping every member of our school community to feel a true sense of belonging.
Our recent ‘What’s Your Story’ diversity campaign across the digital screens and notice boards in School
To help embed inclusion at the heart of life at Highgate, an Inclusion Working Group was established in Michaelmas 2020, comprising staff from across all three schools, both teaching and non-teaching, chaired by Graeme Robertson, Deputy Head (Pastoral) of the Senior School, and working closely with Katie Giles, Principal of the Pre-Prep, Gideon Zucker, Deputy Principal of the Pre-Prep, and Philippa Studd, Deputy Principal (Pastoral) of the Junior School. This group will work on six main areas, identified as strategic priorities:
- How to become an actively anti-racist school
- Pupil welfare, with particular attention to pupils from ethnic and religious minorities or with other protected characteristics
- Staff training, with an initial focus on ‘how to talk about race’, and cultural competence
- Curriculum review, to ensure that our academic curriculum enables pupils to hear diverse voices, different perspectives, and embrace other cultures, across all subjects
- Staff recruitment, to ensure that teachers and support staff from all backgrounds are attracted to work at Highgate, and find a welcoming and inclusive environment with us
- Pupil recruitment and admissions.
Listening exercises are underway with pupils and alumni, and are planned for parents/carers and staff, so that the school can understand and learn from their lived experiences. Highgate has also joined the Schools’ Inclusion Alliance, to learn from best practice in other schools, and is working with diversity and inclusion experts to devise and implement an impactful strategy for inclusion for our school.
Pupils, parents and carers and OCs will also be invited to contribute to the work of the Inclusion Working Group; pupils have designed anti-racist resources in the wake of the recent Black Lives Matter protests, and teachers are already helping to ensure a diversity of perspectives, stories and heritages are represented in the lessons we teach, the books that we read and the images we see around the school – from the Pre-Prep right up to the Sixth Form.
All parents/carers of children in all three schools will be invited to participate in a listening exercise, with the opportunity to speak with Salima or other members of staff. However, please do feel free to contact Salima at any time for a confidential conversation about anything to do with inclusion at Highgate – firstname.lastname@example.org