POST BY: Clare Smith – BSN Senior School, Assistant Headteacher, Student Leadership
Working in education, we are often required to manage behaviour. It is part and parcel of helping students mature. Nothing is quite as impressive though, as when students challenge each other and hold one another to account.
Last summer a group of year 8 boys made an inappropriate joke and a sixth former stopped and told them off. Flawed, they responded quite negatively to the challenge, yet when the sixth former came to relay the story, she quickly cut off my apologies with a call to action: wouldn’t it be much better if someone explained to the boys why what they had done was inappropriate? Couldn’t we use this as a learning opportunity too?
Out of this, Equality Week was born.
It started with a vision from three sixth formers to help our community reflect on the inequalities in society. They felt particularly strongly about the habitual sexism that pervades culture. Throw like a girl. Boys don’t cry. If you wear that, you know what you’re encouraging. Different voices added their views too: what about the casual racism you hear and see? Or the slurs that are made because of how people choose to dress, or how they identify? The discussion outgrew the initial idea, and now students were forging ahead with a new plan.
What had begun as a desire to deliver an assembly about treating one another with more respect had become a week-long celebration of the diversity of our international community and the longing to be an example of celebrating what unites, rather than creating division.
I am very proud to work in our school where the question is typically how not why. There has been unwavering support for the students and their aims and staff have been working round the clock to support their efforts.
Our school is already a very accommodating one. The diversity of the student body is a joy, and somehow everyone finds their place. Through this whole project we want to ensure that we don’t downplay what makes the school the safe and happy environment that it already is: that students are kind to each other and accepting of individual difference.
That said, like most of society, it is easier to be in the mainstream, and this week is also about education. Students who feel on the fringes or in minorities have a safe forum to share their opinions, experiences and fears. When I asked a member of the team what this week meant to him, his response was considered: “It’s important to widen people’s horizons so they understand the challenges that other people face. Exposing people to that is the only way to change society to encourage more understanding of difference.”
Time and again we have returned to our original purpose: to celebrate diversity and expose areas of inequality. Thoreau captures this desire when he asks: “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”
We’re just hours away from our first Equality Week and staff and students are already talking about the developments they can make in next year’s programme. Too often perhaps, we hope that student leadership will allow the plans staff have to be put in place. This project though, feels much truer to real student voice, where engaged students come to us with their initiatives, help us to understand how their school experience can be enriched and sustain the vision and energy to impact the whole school community. But the journey is as important as the destination and this has been a learning opportunity beyond any I have been part of previously.
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