Chris Hutchinson, Headmaster of Royal Russell School in Surrey, explains why inclusion is so important in his school
The pathways we made in education in racial inclusion over the past 10 years are no longer adequate. This is obvious in conversations I have with young people and staff on the matter, as well the wider mood in society. The pupils’ voice is loud and clear, and their message is that it’s time we shift gear on inclusion and bring our communities along on that journey together.
It can be difficult to know how to start to effect change. I know many of my peers may feel a sense of uneasiness in attempting to lead in this area for fear of either doing the wrong thing or having instances when the school has fallen short and is held up as an illustration of our failures – something that I have felt very keenly this year.
At Royal Russell School, I have been really clear that driving change in inclusion is a journey and that inclusion does not stop with a ‘check list’ of activities, reported upon once per year. Our community knows that we will continue to question whether actions and initiatives are as inclusive as they can be and that we will continue to learn from growth experiences as we progress.
Fear of being called out for doing the wrong thing can no longer be a barrier to progress in this area – we simply do not have the luxury of time to wait and see what others might do. This means getting comfortable with having uncomfortable conversations. I am very aware of the privileged position I hold and that I have little personal experience of the barriers which members of our community face. Sometimes that means having to hear harsh truths about the lived experiences of pupils and staff under my care, but I know we can no longer afford to be squeamish about these conversations.
We decided to align all of the activities we undertake in support of inclusion with our strategic priorities. This way, we knew that inclusion would be a thread flowing through all areas of the school, making all key areas accountable for their success. This took some reflection from our own leadership team as well as some help from external consultants, including those who helped us to anonymously collect our community’s attitudes to and experience of race and racism at the School.
Once this period of reflection was complete, we created an action plan which explained what we would do in each of the strategic areas and who would be responsible for the delivery of each activity. These activities were included in the annual objectives for the leadership team to be cascaded throughout the school.
The final part of the creation of this document was to communicate it to the various parts of our community. Again, I approached this with some trepidation – what if people didn’t think it went far enough? What if people thought we had missed the point completely? What if we’d gone about the piece of work in the wrong way and we’d cause more damage than good?
Royal Russell has an Inclusion Group made up of staff members, current parents and former parents which discuss topics of inclusion each term. This group was an ideal sounding board to test whether our approach was resonating with our community and also to give some feedback as to whether there were any elements which they felt were missing.
One of the best pieces of feedback we received was a resounding ‘thank you’ for having the courage to reflect upon what we need to do and for asking ourselves tough questions. We know there is a lot of work to do and that not every element of our plan will be successful, however, we’re committed to playing our part in creating societal change and excited about the work we’ll do together as a community to achieve it.
Royal Russell School, Surrey, is a happy, vibrant and forward-looking community, providing girls and boys from age 3 to 18 with an outstanding range of exciting learning opportunities. You are warmly invited to our next Junior School open day on 28 Feb 2022 between 9am and 11am. For more information, email [email protected] or visit royalrussell.co.uk
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