Sheffield school pledges to be anti-racist after 200 students stage Black Lives Matter protest
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Hundreds of pupils in Year 11 at High Storrs School took part in a lunch-time demonstration against racism on October 20, after they claim the school failed to tackle an incident of discrimination.
While students later admitted they had not informed the school about the extent of the allegations, around 200 students marched to urge teachers to take accusations of racism seriously, celebrate black culture through the curriculum and to abolish permanent exclusions which they claim disproportionately effect Black and Asian students.
Student protesters Noah Osborn, Patrick Wakefield and Ruby Waldron led the protest in the hope it would start a larger conversation about the experience of non-white students in school.
Ruby, 15, said: "More people are talking and a lot more people are starting to listen about the issues people of colour face, not just in schools but in general.”
Year 11 student Patrick added: “I know Mr Hutchinson has been at the forefront of getting black history implemented into the curriculum for a number of years.
"The message is to students is that racism is not something you have to put up with and it's not something you should put up with and actually you are in the majority if you want to stand up to racism and you will have support.”
Year 11 student Noah commented: “Peaceful protests in schools work so well because they get the attention of the students, they get the attention of the school and teachers.”
The senior leadership team at High Storrs, which prides itself on having an already inclusive and diverse learning environment and curriculum, has set up a new email address for students to report allegations of discrimination more easily.
Headteacher Claire Tasker said: "I think our reaction was firstly, our students are impressive and we respect their voice.
"Secondly we were asking ourselves what have we missed, it's a really happy school and we have a really great relationship with our kids and frankly that's what we all said to each other on the morning of the protest.
"The sad thing was that by lunch time we had talked to so many kids and they had given us really great ideas and we had worked in partnership with them, that possibly you could argue the protest didn't need to go ahead."
The school which investigated the claim of racism, using CCTV and witness statements, found that there had not been a genuine case of discrimination but allowed students to protest, with teachers monitoring in the playground to ensure social distancing.
Senior leaders at the school, which doesn’t have a uniform, are now working on creating new systems to help students report allegations of racism.
Mrs Tasker added: "We still needed to listen because they obviously felt they were experiencing things that weren't comfortable, that were possibly discriminatory and they weren't reporting them and they weren't getting tackled.
"We were a bit sad that we thought we had a really tolerant community and great relationships with these children and yet they weren't always telling us things that concerned them.
"We were looking at a group of children who were living in lockdown, in covid and watching America and Black Lives Matter and they were watching the world become polarised and looking to us to be decent and good and fair and get it right, even when we don't know what is wrong.
"They have now told us all kinds of things that we didn't know before, not necessarily about discrimination but they just said they felt a whole new level of comfort and support and being heard."
While the school already has a mandatory equality and ethos statements on their website, assistant head, Ben Lacey and lead for behaviour, safety and welfare is working on a new non-negotiable pledge and statement for the school to commit to being anti-racist, which will be co-written with members of the student council.
"From the school's perspective, I think it was about us having a new way to articulate the work we are doing and helping children feel listened to.
"I am a big believer in there is nothing new under the sun and you have to find new ways to articulate age old wisdom."
Student council member Zoe Wilson, 15, said: "I definitely feel our voice is being heard a lot more and the fact that we are changing the curriculum in different subjects and working with staff to do that, I think that is really important.”
Jude Daniel Smith commented: “As a student council we are going to prioritise how people report their concerns because that is a significant problem and one we didn't realise before.”
Since the protest, deputy head teacher Judith Vaughan has set up a new team of curriculum specialists in english, maths, science and history to discuss changes to make sure all aspects of culture are represented in the content students are taught.
"Our perception is that we have put a lot of work into diversity already but if their perception is different then maybe we haven't quite hit it, so we have to think about where to go next", she added.
The school gives pupils the chance to study Urdu, Latin, classics and astronomy at GCSE level, while students learn about the sacrifice soldiers from the British Empire made to fight in the First World War and are taught about the slave trade and its abolition from the experience of black people in Year 7 and 8.
History and religious education teacher Mark Hutchinson added: "It is important to keep listening because none of us can say that we know every aspect of what knowledge should be and to realise that young people learn and bring things into school.”