Jami Edwards-Clarke portrait

Written by Jami Edwards-Clarke

Director of D&I at Hurstpierpoint College, Housemistress and PE Teacher

As I sit and reflect on my journey so far as Director of D&I at Hurst, I am overwhelmed with positivity, hope and joy. What has been achieved since March 2020, is something Hurst’s community should be extremely proud of. Every initiative has been fantastic and that’s down to our pupil platform. They have been the engine throughout this journey and the work they have put in to ensuring its success, is phenomenal. It’s evident that there has been a visible amount of real, meaningful and immensely valuable progress and I am so proud of what has been achieved. 

  

Upon returning to the college in September, the platform began arranging our first big event: Black History Month in October. As curricula still all too often erases Black existence and achievements in history, we wanted to encourage students to engage with this annual celebration as a starting point for learning outside the curriculum. We put up posters just about everywhere and kicked each week off with an email full of resources like books and films which could help students learn about Black history. 

 

The next date on our agenda was the UN Disability week in December, with the theme ‘not all disabilities are visible’. Students often receive little education about disability and how to treat people with disabilities. We started to change that, with daily emails containing videos or articles that we hoped would broaden people’s understanding of disability. A shout out to Luke Morris and Mrs Naumann for heading this up, the work you put into making this a success was superb. 

 

As well as celebrating such events, Hurst pupils have been inspired by several speakers. Outside speakers include polymath Sophie Cook, the first transgender woman to work in football’s Premier League; Abdi Omar, a motivational speaker and Youtuber who lives with cerebral palsy; and Siya Twani, who was imprisoned for speaking out against injustice in South Africa – to name but a few. Additionally, members of the D & I group have delivered assemblies to the Shell and Fifth form on the aspects of Diversity & Inclusion that the platform hopes to promote across the college. The D & I group also created a PowerPoint slideshow, like the assemblies, to be presented to Year 7 & 8 by the D & I pupil ambassadors in the Prep School – who’re equally as keen and motivated to enact change in the college as those in the senior school.  

 

We have not been deterred by lockdown either, with Teams Q&A sessions with figures like Harry Hitchens, an ex-Hurst pupil who is now a key figure in the fight to Ban Conversion Therapy in the UK, and Devin Ibanez, a USA rugby player who is openly gay despite the stigma which remains in the sport. In fact, one advantage of online talks has been that parents can tune in too: 57 families watched Jude Guiatamacchi’s talk on their experiences as a non-binary model and campaigner. These thought-provoking talks have been incredibly valuable in giving students, parents and staff an authentic and ‘real life’ perspective on such important topics. 

 

D& I’s weekly Friday lunchtime meetings continued remotely and have also provided the opportunity for more talks – this time by teachers within the school. Highlights include Miss Cave and Miss McNeill’s talk on mental health, and Mr Cuerden’s frank discussion of his experiences at the time of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Additionally, Mrs Watson-Saunders delivered a powerful speech during the staff inset on her experience of being a person of colour in the UK. This teacher engagement with D&I is incredibly exciting – HoDs have been encouraged to reflect on their department’s curriculum to make it more inclusive; the History department have done a talk reflecting on Black London, hosted by Olly Ayres, the Drama department is planning to put together an LGBTQ+ themed monologue and the Art department have had a Black Lives Matter focus; a sign of change across all levels of the school. 

 

D & I have also been looking for ways to engage not only pupils but also parents. That’s why we have teamed up with Hurst’s Climate Awareness Group to create the Engage for Change newsletter, a monthly newsletter, sent to all Hurst pupils and parents. It contains articles written on a broad range of issues, from pollution to body positivity – all written by Hurst pupils from Shell to UVIth under the direction of Ms Lewis, Mr Jordan and Mrs Edwards-Clarke. The newsletter includes think pieces, advice, and interviews with pupils, staff and parents. Look out for the third volume in your inbox next month!  

 

The READI group (Rainbow Education Alliance of Diverse Identities / Individuals), a subsection of D & I, also began meeting during a Monday lunchtime towards the end of the second Half of Michaelmas term. The aim of this sub-group was to provide a safe space to talk about the experience of being LGBTQ+. In the first meeting of the group, we introduced ourselves, with those who were confident talking about their experience of being LGBTQ+, something which allowed people to overcome barriers – if individuals thought they were previously alone in their experience of being LGBTQ+, they knew that this was no longer the case. Something that came from this group was conversation over ‘identity and gender’. This got us onto the development of a gender-neutral uniform for the college. This takes time to get right, and there have been numerous meetings with SLT and discussion groups between staff and students to ensure pupils feel heard. However, we still have a bit of work to do in this domain, as we do not want to rush this process. We want all voices heard and a plan that suits all. We are hoping for some changes to come into place for September 2021. 

 

Lastly, I think it would be completely outrageous if we didn’t talk about what we are celebrating throughout February, so far, I would say it has been our biggest success. Hurst has thrown itself into celebrating Pride History Month with a push from the pupil platform and our marketing team. Planning started in January, with guest speakers taking the stage (Teams) for whole school tutorials. These events saw up to 500 pupils all tuned in for very exciting Q&As. The month started with a Prep and Senior School wide video made by a range of staff and students responding to what ‘pride’ meant to them, and why it’s important we celebrate this month. It was fantastic to see the prep school speak alongside senior school – feeling like a true moment of community during online learning. The weekly emails sent out by the amazing Ms Lewis highlight a few media options for staff and students to engage with and this has been well received. There have also been some initiatives for students to get involved with, like an Art department creative challenge to produce a timeline of events in LGBTQ+ history. Additionally, we offered LGBTQ+-themed books to any students and staff who wanted to get involved, sharing their views after the half term in a book-club session and even a PHM Bake Off! The involvement is going well and hopefully we can make this an annual initiative. Something that I personally enjoyed was connecting with OJs ( some dating back to 1979!) on their own LGBTQ+ memories back when they were at the College. It’s safe to say, that the work we are doing presently, has brough much joy and it’s evident that huge progress has been made. I really do hope we can form a stronger bond on all things D&I in the future with our Hurst Foundation programme, as it’s all about creating a strong relationship of past and present to really encapsulate the ‘community’ feel.  

 

What has easily been the highlight of the month is the fantastic tutorial talks we have had. Speaking from a pupil, staff and parent point of view, the feedback and engagement has been first class. The range of experience and viewpoints from Jude (a transgender, non-binary activist and model), to Harry (a gay, male activist) to Sarah and Leah (professional athletes, competing for GB and Wales in hockey). The eloquence, respect and genuine interest the student-body has reinforced why it’s important we as a school engage in celebrating LGBTQ+ History month. We are really proud at Hurst to be taking such a lead in celebrating all things diversity and inclusion, and we appreciate the active support the parent-body has shown us this month. Something that has really resonated with me from all of the online CPD sessions and Q&A discussions is how effective having a positive presence of allies and role models. Typically, people get inspired to do something when they see others like them do it and I believe as educators we have a huge responsibility in supporting, guiding and listening to everybody as the individuals they are, both academically and pastorally. We also have a significant responsibility in challenging those who do hold adverse opinions. Standing up for respect and kindness is something I stand by and with our mantra #Be #Yourself at Hurst at the forefront of this initiative, I will continue to do my absolute best to make sure every pupil and member of staff feel that they can stay true to just that.  

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