Moving Forward with BLM

Two former Headgirls, Nichol Yesuthasan and Amy Djang, are working with the school to move forward the work on Black Lives Matter. They will post updates here.

By way of introduction, please watch this short clip outlining why myself and Amy set out on this initiative to champion equality, recognition and diversity in the St Michael’s school community

We are so grateful for all your support, the result of which has been Amy and I meeting with Senior Management at St Michael’s just before the end of the summer term for a discussion about how St Michael’s can move forward in its own actions and behaviours. For example, it has already taken prime place on the agenda as part of the School’s Development Plan for the year. Amy and I are very passionate about making sure that all everyone’s voices are heard and represented equally so firstly, thank you to all those who reached out to us and shared personal stories so bravely. We were able to have a frank and honest discussion about all the relevant incidents which have occurred at school in the past – this was done in confidence and we maintained anonymity as we looked to identify how the school can respond to recurrent issues.
Amy and I found the discussion very productive and identified a number of key outcomes:

  1. The School has released a Statement of Acknowledgement apologising and taking accountability for past incidents of racism, as although they may have happened in a different ‘era,’
  2. The School has placed this initiative at the top of the School’s Development Plan and Strategy for the year
  3. The School is looking at improving Governing Body representation
  4. The School is looking into how to further encourage BAME applicants to apply for positions, as part of the teacher recruitment process
  5. The Senior Management Team is looking into organising Racial Diversity/Unconscious Bias Training for Staff and how to deal with escalation of incidents pertaining to racism
  6. The Senior Management Team will look into a number of educational resources which have been shared by myself and Amy and how they can help support the diversification of the curriculum
  7. Amy and I will participate in a Governors’ Meeting to provide feedback on the curriculum

Since July, Amy and I have introduced ourselves to the student body ‘virtually’ as *Diversity Champions* and our aim is to be the link between students past and present and the Senior Management Team. Part of this will involve meeting with student focus groups (hopefully in person pandemic permitting…) to discuss concrete suggestions for changes at St Michael’s and equally monitor the progress of change and student awareness/perception as it hopefully improves. One of our long-term goals is to work alongside the Senior Management Team to approach overarching institutional bodies like the Department for Education with the resolve of making changes at a national level.

There has been a ‘virtual’ Introduction Assembly outlining these points with the student body and there is also a Google Classroom which has seen input from myself, Amy, teachers and students which has been great for discussion. At the moment, students are working on putting together an assembly celebrating Black History Month.

Update: 15 November 2020

Following a very insightful and informative Black History Month Assembly delivered by members of the student body, Amy and I have since been invited to review the current curriculum alongside curriculum leaders in the new year. We will then be following this up with the Governors’ Curriculum Group and putting forward our findings and suggestions.

In the lead up to this, each student year group will put forward representatives to form a focus group. Amy and I will liaise with work with the student representatives to gather ideas, topics and suggestions which we will be mindful of when participating in the curriculum review.

The school has also updated its Equalities Policy with target objectives which can be viewed here. They have also appointed a dedicated member of the Governing Body as an Equalities Governor. In addition, recent job adverts have been updated to encourage members of the BAME community to apply.

Update February 2021

Pre-Christmas, Amy and I worked with a focus group from Key Stages 3, 4 and the Sixth Form to gather ideas, topics and suggestions about what change current pupils would like to see in the school curriculum. Initially we have focused on History, English Literature, Religious Studies, Politics and Tutorials.

We’ve since met with the Governing Body and identified some areas for discussion which were well-received:

  • Students appear to be gravitating more towards Geography over History as they proceed with GCSE choices. This is because geographical case studies etc. are studied from different parts of the world, whereas the National Curriculum for History is rather British Empire-centric.
  • In relation to difficult historical topics such as industrialisation, colonisation and the Slave Trade could be looked at through a wider lens. It was suggested that some lessons be dedicated to what Africa/Asia was like before slavery and colonisation so students get an in-depth understanding of these rich continental histories and civilisations that existed pre-western invasion. At GCSE, even under the umbrella of the Cold War, it is felt that the Vietnam War – i.e. the Asian theatre of the Cold War – is only briefly looked at while the primary focus is on international relations in the West.
  • Considering history and religion, the role played by missionaries during colonisation is hardly discussed. For example, the exportation of the Catholic faith is something that has lent itself to the identity of many students inadvertently through colonisation. Though potentially uncomfortable, this is historical fact and helps students relate and understand how their own identities have manifested.
  • As a Catholic school there are some constraints around the Religious Education curriculum but students are keen to have greater emphasis on learning about other world religions. They also see room to include Ethics at GCSE-level as it opens up room for debate.
  • Although subject to syllabus constraints, perhaps opportunity could be used in English Literature to compare set texts with other global foreign texts in order to practice analysis. It was suggested that at A-level, study of The Great Gatsby could be accompanied by lessons on the Harlem Renaissance as this was a golden age of African American Art/Literature in the Roaring 20s.
  • At A-level, Politics can sometimes omit discussions surrounding racial discrimination including voting factors such as social class and the after-effects of slavery. Students are keen to engage with topical commentaries.
  • Tutorials offer room for education on topics that go beyond the scope of the set curriculum. Much of the diverse subject matter that students wish to engage with can include difficult, sensitive content. The way this material is delivered, in a positive and non-damaging way by staff was also considered.

We will now be discussing further with the relevant Department Heads and students from different key stages in order to implement some recommendations and establish a plan of action. We will also be looking into how things are done at different schools before also exploring how the school will interact with the Department for Education.

Love one another, as I have loved you