What I know about ‘woke’ schools

Posted: 21st February 2023

The leading head teacher Katharine Birbalsingh has said the private sector is in thrall to ideology. One parent responds.

“How are your homelessness workshops going?” I asked my 15-year-old son recently after he said he’d signed up for an “exciting new project” touted in his school’s weekly email. “I’ve stopped going,” he said. “There was a load of stuff on ‘preconceptions of homeless people’ that were kind of obvious. And anyway I had to go to the library as I had eight pieces of homework this week.”

A snapshot, I know, but as a private school parent this rather sums up my response to an essay by Katharine Birbalsingh, the superhead and former chairwoman of the Social Mobility Commission, saying that elite private schools have become obsessed with embracing woke issues and pupil-centric learning. Birbalsingh’s view is that private schools are empowering pupils to assuage the guilt they feel for their privilege by embracing woke campaigns on topics such as race, gender and sexuality, and this then gives them a “green pass” to feeling like a good person. The implication is that pupils may learn to be people who are very vocal on Twitter, but they will be less likely to choose a career or vocation that would involve them giving back in any meaningful way.

Three schools were singled out in a news report yesterday. St Paul’s Girls’ School in west London, whose head girl is now known as head of school. The American School in London, which has recently been downgraded by Ofsted for focusing overly on social justice issues and reportedly teaching critical race theory. And Eton, which appointed a director of inclusion education, encouraged Black Lives Matter waistcoats and decolonised its curriculum.

Headteacher Katharine Birbalsingh
Headteacher Katharine Birbalsingh

So yes, my son’s top London day school offers workshops on homelessness; yes, they’ve had numerous lectures about diversity, studied unconscious bias and the difference between sexuality and gender; and yes, the books on his English reading list are refreshingly more diverse than mine were 30 years ago. But right now the true focus of his school experience is getting through mountains of Latin and chemistry homework and feeling pressured by teachers to achieve “‘success” in his GCSEs. When it comes to pupil-centric learning, he would say the only thing he gets to choose is whether he does his two hours of homework a day in the library or at home.

Someone did post the news story about Birbalsingh’s views on our parents WhatsApp group yesterday. “I’m all for more lectures on these topics,” she said — quickly followed by “BTW can anyone recommend a good GCSE French tutor?” The WhatsApp group moved on to more pressing matters: academic results.

Source: What I know about ‘woke’ schools | Times2 | The Times

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