Brexit? It is time to act on our future hopes not future fears.
It’s been a historical week in the country, and any school that doesn’t address the changing national tone needs to take a firm look at how it is preparing its young people for the future.
I am incredibly proud of the political awareness of our students. It’s one of the many things I think sets our school apart from others. We encourage a safe space for debate and, if ever it is needed, now is the time.
I am respectful of the outcome of the referendum, even though my personal view is that this isn’t the direction that I feel reflects the values of a 21st century power, or indeed, reflects the school community that I lead with such passion. There has been much made in the media of changing times, and it may be unsettling for our students, for our families and friends. I want you to know that we remain as we always will be, a welcoming, supportive and safe environment, one where we can reflect on the changing dynamics of the world, but where we can also explore some of the real challenges that our student (and staff body) will face as inevitable inhabitants of one of the most dynamic cultural cityscapes in the world.
Let me be unashamedly personal for a moment. I am proud to say that I’m the child of immigrants. My story is the story of London, of Britain, in all its shades. It will echo the history of some of our students and parents. The countries may be different, the experience and the history will have similarities. We live in a shrinking global environment, and it’s the role of education to prepare our students for it.
My dad was a maths teacher in India, something that took considerable sacrifice and social mobility from his agricultural roots. When he came to England in the 1950’s, his qualifications and skills weren’t recognised. He ended up working in a factory for most of his life, working double shifts and overtime throughout his 35 years with the company. My mother joined him from India a couple of years later. She too worked in factory, 12 hour shifts for most of my life, half a day on Saturday. It’s a source of intense embarrassment to me now, but when I went to university to read English, everything she earned, I mean everything, was sent to me to support me in London so I wouldn’t have to work part time and could fully concentrate on my studies. I had absolutely no understanding of what this kind of sacrifice meant as an 18-year-old set loose in London for the first time. I didn’t spend either my money or time wisely – why would I when cheques would arrive with the kind of regularity that they did? And for hundreds of pounds a month. Like I say – I’m embarrassed about the laissez faire attitude I had then.
My education has given me opportunity. It’s given me breadth. A mornings visit to my mum’s factory in my last year at school taught me that a 12 hour back breaking, physically demanding shift 6 days a week in a large industrial estate was something never ever to forget. I never felt that being from a different heritage was an issue – professionally or personally, in fact its opposite. It’s given me a work ethic, a richness of history. Its allowed me to integrate different values and beliefs – all good things. All things that have made me the person I am. Its understanding what education can do that led me to be a teacher. When things happen that we cannot make sense of, we fall back on our values and beliefs, on our education and on our upbringing.
This weekend, I’ve had to take real stock of what the media is telling ‘us’. Like many of you, I have watched the constitutional and political discourse in the media unfold at a pace, and a tone, that has made me uncomfortable. There’s the obvious irony of education in this country firmly presenting opportunity to explore and embed British values - you know, things like respect and tolerance. Both of these have felt in short supply if the media is to be taken at face value this weekend. Things will settle, this is a period of political confusion and uncertainty. This period of time might frighten people. There’s clearly more that we all need to know before we can truly understand the implications of the referendum result.
What I know is that the school community, a diverse and multi-cultural set of faiths and values remain our greatest strength. Diversity is not a negative word, and neither will it be, if we educate and support each other through this period of change. Our students will have questions. Our students will wonder about the change in the media. Our students will engage with challenging ideas and discourse as a result of what has happened. This is what education should do. It should equip our young people to look at the changing world and respond to it confidently. It’s our job, as a school, to ensure that we are creating the next generation of leaders, whatever skills set they will need. We do that by ensuring our teachers continue to broaden the students’ cultural capital as well as push academic excellence.
This week just gone alone, students participated an amazing sports day -thanks to Ms Power and the PE team. Students mingled freely with the hugely inspirational JJ Jegede, fresh from his last Rio Olympic training session, who joined us and spoke with students who he saw with natural talent and skill. One of our Hornsey College students beat off national competition to achieve a place at Cambridge Trinity Law – thanks to the support offered at the 6th form and our partners on the Access Project. Additionally, students and staff were award winners at the Jack Petchey awards in Haringey and the student Leadership team are working on a school wide pledge for the next year. We were also successful in becoming a stonewall champion school - bronze award holder - thanks to the fantastic work being undertaken by Ms Hardy. A typical week in a high performing school! This, more than anything, shows that we come from a place where we act according to our hopes for our students, not our fears. We care about our students and we want the best for them.
Everyone is welcome. Everyone is challenged. Everyone is safe and cared for. Hornsey School for Girls is a fully inclusive environment and no referendum outcome will ever change that.
26th June 2016