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Norwich School announces changes after 250 pupils sign racism letter

PUBLISHED: 11:30 19 June 2020 | UPDATED: 09:45 22 June 2020

Former and current pupils have shared their experiences of racism at Norwich School, prompting the headmaster to announce changes to the curriculum. Photo: Archant

Former and current pupils have shared their experiences of racism at Norwich School, prompting the headmaster to announce changes to the curriculum. Photo: Archant

Archant

Norwich School has confirmed a string of changes to tackle racism, as the Black Lives Matter movement sparks reform in schools.

Amaka Elumogo, a former student at Norwich School, who co-authored a letter about racism she and other pupils experienced at the school. Photo: Amaka Elumogo Amaka Elumogo, a former student at Norwich School, who co-authored a letter about racism she and other pupils experienced at the school. Photo: Amaka Elumogo

It comes after former pupils wrote a letter to the independent school last week about racism they said they endured from staff and fellow students.

In a statement, in response to this newspaper’s coverage of that abuse, headmaster Steffan Griffiths and chairman of governors Patrick Smith said from September they would be taking up reforms suggested by former pupils.

They include:

-Changes to recruitment to encourage applicants from all backgrounds

-A module on racial prejudice added to the curriculum to look at “everyday racism”

-More support for pupils who experience racial abuse

-Training for staff and pupil leaders in spotting unconscious bias

Examples of racism reported by pupils included a student being told by a teacher he would grow up to be a drug dealer, a Swastika flag being waved at a Jewish pupil, a teacher “publicly ridiculed” a pupil for having a “funny” name and a black pupil being told to wear beige tights.

People take part in a Black Lives Matter protest outside the US Embassy in London. The protest follows the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, US. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA WirePeople take part in a Black Lives Matter protest outside the US Embassy in London. The protest follows the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, US. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Mr Griffiths and Mr Smith wrote: “We aspire to be a loving, compassionate community and regret any instances of unkindness, so this range of recollections, from unintended slight to more intentional unkindness or worse, is difficult indeed, particularly as there is a sense that pupils often did not feel mechanisms of support existed to raise their concerns at the time.”

Former pupil Amaka Elumogo, who left in 2017 and was one of the letter’s three authors, said: “Although the initial steps are important and appreciated, this is an ongoing issue that needs sustained work to be tackled from the roots.”

More than 250 former and current pupils, as well as parents, signed the letter last week calling for changes.

The rise of the Black Lives Matter movement has also sparked many schools to look again at their curriculum and policies.

Steffan Griffiths, headmaster at Norwich School, said the school was addressing racism. Photo: Norwich SchoolSteffan Griffiths, headmaster at Norwich School, said the school was addressing racism. Photo: Norwich School

Private schools have been the focus of attention after former pupils published a letter to the Independent Schools Council at the start of June about the prejudice they experienced.

Headmaster of the independent Langley School, near Loddon, Jon Perriss, said schools had not done enough to recruit ethnic minority staff.

“We need to get into teacher training colleges and work harder,” he said. “I have thought that for a long time.

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“In terms of the curriculum we have been celebrating Black History month for well over a decade, but we do need to do more.”

He said changes could be made to the English or Geography curriculum to increase the range of what children are taught.

A wider debate is now underway across schools.

A group of MPs, including Norwich South’s Clive Lewis, have called for changes to how British history is taught, to include its shameful parts, such as the slave trade, as well as its glories.

Norwich South MP Clive Lewis has joined calls for the history curriculum to include the atrocities of British colonialism and the slave trade. Photo: Neil DidsburyNorwich South MP Clive Lewis has joined calls for the history curriculum to include the atrocities of British colonialism and the slave trade. Photo: Neil Didsbury

The Inspiration Trust, which runs 14 schools in Norfolk and north Suffolk, said it was revisiting its inclusion strategy in response to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Chief executive Dame Rachel de Souza said: “Our children need a curriculum that is diverse, reflective of society and inclusive.

“We need to take further action to make this happen and I want to see quicker, more significant improvements happening within our trust.”

The Trust’s HR team is reviewing its recruitment process and staff will be given training.

Dame Rachel de Souza, chief exeuctive of the Inspiration Trust. Picture: Andi SapeyDame Rachel de Souza, chief exeuctive of the Inspiration Trust. Picture: Andi Sapey

It has changed its English curriculum to include protest poetry and folk tales from around the world, while its history curriculum will also be reviewed.

Norfolk’s schools are asked to report incidents of prejudice to the county council each year.

In 2018/19, the last year figures are available for, 91 out of the 156 schools which responded to the council’s survey reported incidents.

There were 733 reports, with 467 to do with race.

Jon Perriss, Langley School headteacher, said schools needed to work harder at recruiting a more diverse workforce. Photo Tim Stephenson PhotographyJon Perriss, Langley School headteacher, said schools needed to work harder at recruiting a more diverse workforce. Photo Tim Stephenson Photography

That was a sharp rise from 335 racist incidents the year before.

John Fisher, cabinet member for children’s services, said: “Children have a right to enjoy learning free from fear of prejudice or abuse and we expect all schools to challenge prejudice wherever it occurs”

“As a council we have a broad range of experienced and skilled advisers, who work with key partners to promote inclusion.

“We have also taken part in national programmes to help tackle prejudice and bullying.”

Mr Fisher said the council was looking at what support and training it can give to schools to further tackle prejudice.


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