After it was revealed that a local primary school in Newham had asked it’s pupils to come to school dressed as slaves to mark the 30th Anniversary of Black History Month myself and Cllr Beckles took these actions and on of them was to meet with the headteacher of St. Winiefride’s RC School.
James and I were keen to hear the school’s side of the story and put forward our view for how they could move forward to cover Black History Month in a more holistic way.
On the morning of the 31st October we arrived at St. Winefride’s and were greeted by Paul Underwood the Headteacher of the school, we were also introduced to the Deputy Headteacher, School Governors including the Chair of Governors, a parent governor and a representative from the diocese.
The meeting was cordial and we were given a background to the incident in question. During the meeting we were shown a portfolio of Black History Month activities that had been planned for this year and told about successful BHM events that had happened in previous years. There was the sense that this incident had shocked and embarrassed the school and the reputational damage would be very hard to live down despite work done in previous years. Seyi and I set out our initial reaction to what had happened and the need for us to speak up about this incident as elected representatives. We also offered advice about how this might be avoided in the future, how to embed diversity, intersectionality and black history throughout the curriculum and the year. James and I also spoke about how the school could work to become a lead in delivering quality UK Black History , working with the local community, parents and teachers. To their credit the school were very receptive to our ideas and will follow up on some of these. They are reviewing their procedures to avoid a similar incident in the future.
Although these measures could not take away from what occurred it did show consideration and understanding of the situation and a need to repair trust with parents. We cannot say what the outcome of any investigation on the teacher will be and it isn’t our place to pass judgement here. But we came away with a sense the school wants to work with us and move past this incident. They also, crucially, do not want a repeat of what happened.
Before leaving the school we were given a tour, where we met a number of students and their teachers. Like most schools in Newham, St. Winefride’s has a diverse school population and there was, on first impressions, an indication the school sought to reflect and celebrate that.
On a separate but related note please consider signing this petition to have Black History taught in schools.