Westminster School accused of 'toxic culture' of racism

Westminster School is accused of a ‘toxic culture’ of racism by 250 former pupils as black alumni of some of the country’s leading private schools outline the abuse they suffered

  • Former students say UK public schools need to tackle ‘toxic culture of racism’ 
  • Over 250 black alumni of Westminster School wrote an open letter to the school 
  • It called for a broadening of the curriculum and for it to address slavery links 

Hundreds of former pupils at Britain’s leading public schools have demanded that more is done to rid the student bodies of a ‘toxic culture of racism’.

More than 250 black alumni of Westminster School, in central London, signed a letter urging the establishment to incorporate the teaching of black culture into the curriculum, and to address it’s historical links with slave trade. 

Addressed to headmaster Patrick Derham and his soon-to-be successor Dr Gary Savage the letter suggested that racist incidents had been overlooked. 

Stating that the school needed ‘to reverse a longstanding toxic culture of racism within the student body, which has long gone unpunished’, reports The Guardian.

The letter, which was prompted by the Black Lives Matter movement, explained that former pupils had recently been examining the racial issues that existed at the school – whose alumni include Nick Clegg, Nigel Lawson, Chris Huhne and Dominic Grieve.

An aerial view of central London showing (bottom centre) Westminster School with The College Garden to its left and Deans Yard to its right

It read: ‘Schools such as Westminster, with all its privilege and power, have a duty to ensure its students are actively anti-racist, and equipped to contribute to a fairer and more equitable society.’ 

Pupils claimed they did not read a single book by a black author while at the school.

Last weekend the school’s war memorial outside Westminster Abbey was left with graffitti reading ‘BLM’, in the aftermath of Black Lives Matter protests against the death of George Floyd who died in police custody in Minneapolis, U.S.

Pupils at the school say the establishment needs to address the links it holds with problematic figures, with at least 28 of its alumni known to be slave owners or slave traders.

These include Richard Hakluyt, who promoted colonisation of the Americas and has a house at the school named after him and John Locke, who supported slavery and has a society named after him.    

An employee of Westminster School cleans graffiti from their war memorial outside Westminster Abbey, in aftermath of protests against the death of George Floyd, June 8, 2020

Pupils at the school say the establishment needs to address the links it holds with problematic figures

Another notable example given by the ex-students was a statue of Elizabeth I within the school, which they would like removed as it celebrates ‘the monarch who began the English colonial project’, reports The Guardian.    

A spokesman for Westminster School told The Guardian it now had a ‘challenging racism committee’ to ‘ensure a diverse school community that is truly reflective of the multicultural city in which we live’.      

Additionally an open letter to the Independent Schools Council 300 black alumni of public schools across the country called for a broadening of the curriculum, reports The Times.

In the letter – collated by Tiwa Adebayo, 21, who attended Haberdashers’ School for Girls in Hertfordshire – students shared experiences of racism they had experienced and called for unconscious bias training for staff and pupils. 

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