Here we are, at half term already. This is, for teachers and pupils, a great chance to recharge and get ahead. It’s also really well timed: the initial excitement of a new school year is waning, the nights are drawing in, and we might be getting just a little fractious. Half term gives us all the boost we need to power on into December.
I am well aware, though, that not everyone benefits from such a break, and it’s also not universally well timed. Black History Month, for example, occurs every October in the UK, and while it fortuitously follows immediately on from National Inclusion Week, our two week half term means it can feel, in school, more like Black History Fortnight. But we don’t see it like that: we want our commitment to inclusion, in all its guises, to be year-round.
As such, this half term has seen multiple inclusion initiatives, for a range of identities, in the curriculum, clubs and societies, reading lists, assemblies and more. During our recent Step for Change sponsored walk, Highgate Sixth Formers joined their peers from LAE Tottenham to cover 17 kilometres across our shared borough of Haringey. Representations of Black History so often focus on globally known figures such as Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks; it is right to include them, but in so doing it is also easy to overlook local pioneers in this field. To that end, a poster at the Tottenham stadium itself recognised Walter Tull, the first Black player to represent Spurs, and another on Nightingale Lane showed Emma Clarke, who made history by playing in the first official women’s club football match in 1895. The walk also passed the Bruce Castle Museum in Lordship Lane, which currently hosts an exhibition dedicated to 75 years of the Windrush community in Britain.
While the sixth form walk invited interest in local Black history, Year 1 pupils have the chance to explore a space-themed story, including looking at the 2017 film Hidden Figures which portrays three Black, female, mathematicians who worked at NASA during the Space Race. Other Pre-Prep events include a visit from author Laura Henry-Allain MBE and Ghanaian drummers, and a “listening month” during which the pupils will hear a range of inspirational music from Black composers. This all relates closely to their One World theme and week, which celebrated identities and communities. Their work is not limited to October, either: for example, Year 2’s summer project on Carnivals includes a study of Notting Hill.
In the Junior School, Year 3 is marking BHM with, among other things, a Come an’ see Anansi workshop provided by Bigfoot Arts Education. Jamaica is a Geography focus in Year 4 while History in Years 5 and 6 includes study of Empire, colonisation and the Commonwealth’s contribution to the two World Wars, none of which are necessarily tied to BHM. The picture is similar across the Senior School: there have been BHM inserts into History lessons this October with Year 8, for example, considering what depictions of Black people from the 16h and 17th centuries can tell us about the roles of Black Britons more widely at the time. Outside BHM, Geography’s use of Dipo Faloyin’s Africa is Not a Country helps pupils unpick the homogenous stereotypes about the continent; Ghanaian drumming, Blues and Jazz all feature in Music, and practitioners such as Charles Nkosi, Elizabeth Catlett and Zanele Muholi all feature in Art. Senegalese writer Fatou Diome is studied in Sixth Form French, Dr Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and the Black Panther Party are all major focal points in Sixth Form History, James Cone and Black Liberation theology have been taught in Sixth Form Theology and Philosophy, pupils look at the Benin Bronzes in the History of Art and Jesmyn Ward’s masterful Sing, Unburied, Sing is one of many potential texts in English Literature.
As some of the above shows, we are consciously moving beyond a reliance on drop-down activities in an October lesson, valuable and carefully crafted though they are. This year’s Black History Month offering has been curated by multiple staff across the Foundation, from Pre-Prep to Senior School and Support staff, overseen by Strategic Inclusion Lead, Chanel Noel. Our Wellbeing Director, Kemi Omijeh, has shared advice on how to help students who have experienced racism, along with some wonderful events including the Black British Book Festival at the SouthBank Centre. In the Dining Hall, special dishes have been themed around the twelve nationalities represented by our catering staff. Lots more is student-led: History Society, Vinyl and Philosophy Society and History of Art Society have, respectively, hosted a talk on Toussain L’Ouverture, another on Afropop and created a Black History of Art display. Central Hall currently hosts a Black women in History display, and all Senior School pupils have had an assembly on this topic this week. Pupils and staff will continue to share such inclusion themes in similar ways: they present terrific opportunities to celebrate individuality in our community.
At a more strategic level we are developing a range of inclusion partnerships aimed at bringing external inclusion expertise and best practice into our CPD and training offer. We are also working on representation both in admissions and staff recruitment, and we will continue to engage pupil and staff voice throughout the year.
All of this runs the risk of doing exactly what I said we aren’t: showing off our commitment to inclusion when it’s a hot topic, with no guarantee that we will feel the same in November or March or the summer holidays. I prefer, though, to think of it another way. Yes, we are giving this particular element of inclusion a boost right now because it ties in with so much that is going on nationally: for more detail, have a look at the BHM website. But our mapping of inclusion work across the curriculum in each part of the school, the various ways in which we are introducing our pupils to Black (and other) heritage and culture, our continuing work with parent groups and outside bodies, and Chanel Noel’s appointment as Strategic Inclusion Lead gives me confidence that we are well on the way towards embedding these values into everyday life. And that is important: if a community, such as ours, isn’t as diverse and representative as we want it to be, and needs to be, it’s not enough just to strive to make it more diverse and representative – which we are intent on. We have to own under-representation and minoritisation and marginalisition: we have to lead our pupils’ questioning of why communities are under-represented, minoritised and marginalised, why it is still the case and what needs to happen to make that change.
There is more we need to do and it’s important that we look critically at ourselves at regular intervals, to make sure we aren’t just feeling inclusive in October. I know that parents, colleagues and, most of all, our pupils will keep us up to the mark, and I look forward to it.