Open Letter stories
An Open Letter to our community from Heath Monk, CEO of The British School in The Netherlands (BSN).
Many of you will have read or be aware of the allegations on Twitter and Instagram of racist comments being made by a number of students at Senior School Voorschoten (SSV). We have also received many emails about these reports from concerned students, parents, alumni and friends of the school.
The BSN must be a safe space where every single student can thrive, knowing that their voice is listened to and their individuality respected.
I found these reports deeply distressing and painful to read. Racism has no place in our schools, or anywhere in our society. We are extremely proud of our diverse and international student community and the BSN must be a safe space where every single student can thrive, knowing that their voice is listened to and their individuality respected.
It would not be appropriate for me to comment on the specific allegations, but evidently, we must always ensure that students are encouraged and empowered to report incidents of racist behaviour at the BSN; that all such reports are followed up swiftly and fully; and that, where students are found to have made racist comments, they are dealt with through the disciplinary sanctions available to us and helped to reflect on the impact that their words have on their peers. We do our best to listen to our students, but clearly, we need to do more.
Addressing racism requires not just policies and processes. It requires the creation of a culture where it is simply not acceptable.
Addressing racism requires not just policies and processes, but developing a culture where it is simply not acceptable. Over time, that is about the way in which we educate our young people both through a broad curriculum that reflects different perspectives from diverse societies across the world and through the use of assemblies, PSHE and strong pastoral care. It is also important for us to create the space and a shared language for conversations around race and identity within our community and our wider society at large. I believe that this is the only way in which we will achieve lasting and sustainable change.
Supporting Diversity within the BSN
We have been working hard to support diversity across our campuses.
- At SSV, we created a Race & Diversity Working Group of staff and students following the murder of George Floyd last Summer. This group put together student-centred staff diversity training in January, which focused on the specific experience of BSN students.
- Subject areas have been examining their curriculums to see where we can better represent diversity in our classrooms.
Creating a real and lasting change in culture
However, it is clear that we need to intensify our work. We all have a part to play in this, especially at a time when many societies are seeing an increase in white supremacist beliefs and online far-right radicalisation.
Therefore, we will introduce the following immediate measures to respond to this situation, alongside our longer-term approach:
Creating a safe space to share concerns
We will put in place a designated member of staff linked to the safeguarding team on each campus to whom students and staff can go to report concerns and incidences of discrimination. This member of staff will receive specific training in handling complaints of this nature and will be responsible for overseeing their investigation and keeping a record of the issues raised and actions taken. This will be reported to the Board of Management and Board of Governors on a regular basis.
We will also set up a central mailbox (firstname.lastname@example.org) where people can share concerns and report any incidences of racism or discrimination. This will be completely confidential (unless requested otherwise), and concerns will be passed on to the designated member of staff on the relevant campus on an anonymous basis. In addition, we are investigating the use of third-party organisations that specialise in talking with students that have experienced racist abuse.
I hope that these steps will help to give our students a safe space in which they can report or discuss concerns and know that they will be dealt with thoroughly and seriously. While I can only imagine the frustration of students who feel that their experiences have not been dealt with effectively, the public naming of individuals (with no right of reply) is not an appropriate way to resolve these issues and risks causing significant harm.
Improving our policy
Many of the emails that we received over the last few days have asked for us to improve our policy on discrimination and make it absolutely clear that we take a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination of any kind. I wholeheartedly agree with this and we will set up a cross-BSN Working Group, of which I will be personally be part, to oversee the creation of a new diversity policy.
Making our own staff body more diverse
If we want to encourage equality, inclusivity and allyship amongst our students, we clearly need to ensure that the diversity of own staff better reflects that of our student community. I have asked the HR Team to put together a Staff Diversity Action Plan, with short term, medium term and long-term actions on how to ensure our staff body is more diverse across every level of the organisation.
This was one of the priorities that I set at the start of the year and I apologise that we have not made more progress.
I would like to assure you of my complete commitment to making the BSN a diverse, safe and respectful space for all. I know that all of the Headteachers share this sentiment.
This was one of the priorities that I set at the start of the year and I apologise that I have not made more progress. I would ask that you give us the time to take action on these areas and to report shortly on our future plans.