I knew it would be something of a wrench to leave the South Devon coast and get back up to London after half-term: it’s been seven months since we were last here and absence has definitely made our hearts grow fonder! I’m sure we haven’t been the only ones wondering whether we could disguise Zoom calls to give off the impression that we were in N6: could we persuade the House Martins to tone down their song for the duration of our work-day conversations or could we hermetically seal our rattling windows against the hypnotic lapping of the waves? To all of you who have been able to make a break for unaccustomed freedom, I understand that coming back to school in the city may be something of a grind!
But scanning the diary – could it really only be four and a half weeks before the summer break? – an entry caught my eye: not the Summer Festival or Lille@Highgate or the Leavers’ Ball, italicised dates which, like so many events before them, await the news of the virus, but a virtual student conference on Racial Justice. Arranged for 6 July by Haringey Citizens (click here to find out more) and students at the London Academy of Excellence Tottenham (LAET) and Highgate School, the conference for Year 12s across Haringey builds on a round table discussion, again organised by students, with local MPs, Catherine West and David Lammy in March 2021.
Like so many students across London and the UK, Highgate’s young people saw George Floyd’s murder with disbelief and shock, and wanted to understand what they could do to respond. A number of them quietly formed an anti-racism working group jointly with fellow students at LAET. A teacher who has witnessed their work commented to me: ‘I think it’s worth mentioning the way that the work grew organically out of a call for action from the pupils. Their response to the events surrounding George Floyd’s murder gave voice to what many of us were thinking, but maybe had become numb to by the events we had seen repeatedly over the years. What struck me was their desire to educate themselves as to how they could take action and not be passive in the face of something so horrific, but even more sadly, commonplace. I think lots of them were asking “What if….?” Especially reflecting on the stroke of luck or foresight that saw the events captured on a mobile, without which we’d probably only have heard about George Floyd as another sad statistic and victim of systemic racism.’
For the anniversary of George Floyd’s death, the group tasked five of its members to record a short video assembly for our Senior School pupils, which includes the foundation of the African Caribbean Cultural Affinity Group; elsewhere in our Pre-Prep, Junior and Senior Schools, colleagues have been working on creating and embedding an anti-racist curriculum at Highgate, and volunteer staff have joined an Inclusion Working Group to consider how we can embed anti-racism in our ethos, our approach to recruitment and admissions and the welfare of the diverse range of people who work and study at Highgate.
The same colleague, reviewing this work with the students on the Racial Justice Group, justified his optimism for the future: ‘I always use the word hopeful when I work with our pupils and other young people I’ve come into contact with through organising, and nothing gives me more hope than seeing the way they won’t let things go and are pressing for change in things that have been unjust for so long.’
The realities of lockdown are not only those of gaping inequalities growing wider or of the harm and hurt which the virus has visited on us unequally, but also of the clearing, searing vision we have, which our young people have, of our communities, and their determination to live out change in action. What young people have – energy, optimism, voice, time, passion, connection, knowledge – need not wait for adulthood and employment to bite. It’s great to be back.
You can read Mr Pettitt’s previous blogs that relate to our work on diversity and inclusion below: