A letter from the Head
Dear parents, current and former pupils,
No doubt you will have seen the media reports regarding concerns expressed by young people about their past experiences in schools across the country, in particular those between young men and women. Institutional discrimination has no place anywhere in society today, especially not a school. I wanted you to know our school’s stand point on this incredibly important matter, what we have done in recent years to help ensure any sexist attitudes and behaviours have no place here and what we plan to do now our eyes have been opened to the challenges schools are facing.
Although KES is not one of the schools in the spotlight, a great many schools and universities are now being referenced and we have received an email from one former pupil; I am grateful to her for raising her concerns. Sadly, I doubt that any school, or institution for that matter, can claim that these entirely unacceptable attitudes have not been present at some stage.
It is powerful movements like we are seeing here that open eyes and prompt change, just like #metoo and #BLM campaigns and I am grateful to all the brave people who are sharing their most personal memories and for being part of this.
Being relatively new to the school, I cannot provide much insight into the past but I can tell you what the school already has in place and what we will be doing in light of the issues raised nationally.
You may not be aware but in the past two years, the school has sought to improve its focus on challenging stereotypes. Last year we became an Official Gender Action Supporter, a programme to support a whole-school approach to this important topic and we have run teacher training on unconscious bias and gender stereotyping. These topics are also highlighted in whole school assemblies and talks. In September 2020, we relaunched our Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) policy following a specific RSE audit in order to enhance this vital part of our education. This was in part to combat the new challenges young people now face from social media and explicit content accessible online that can otherwise change attitudes, behaviours and boundary perceptions (see more detail below).
We believe we have a more equitable and balanced school make-up than ever. Nonetheless we believe that every student in our care has a fundamental right to feel safe and secure when at school. To support our pupils’ mental health, the school is currently in the process of appointing to a new Head of Wellbeing. Later this year we will also be opening a purpose-built Wellbeing Centre, to provide all of our pupils a space in which they can develop their mental health and resilience, and feel safe in seeking help whenever needed. We believe that these measures will enhance our ethos of positivity to all people, regardless of their background, gender, race, beliefs or life choices. I would also like to remind students that they have a range of people in school to reach out to for support, information, guidance and consultation including the school counsellor, nurses, head of years, Group Base tutors and teaching staff.
The prevention of negative behaviour would always be our preference, but as you will be aware, we do also have a zero tolerance policy in relation to illegal activities, which is enforced and requires us to report known illegal behaviour to the police.
Although I genuinely believe the school is in as good a place as any, I know there is yet more we can do. For this reason, I have asked Mr Collinson, Assistant Head (Pastoral) to conduct an audit of student experiences so that we can identify where we still need to improve.
Rest assured that we join the nationwide call for reform in this area and the subject of women’s safety being further elevated in the national conversation. As educators of the next generation, we do not underestimate our role in this and I hope as parents you are already aware that we are committed to playing our part to the best of our ability.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to any pupil who may have experienced any kind of misogynistic attitudes during their time at this school. It doesn’t make it acceptable but I sincerely hope that any negative experiences will be consigned to the past as we continue to evolve into better people who are more accepting of others.
As ever, if you have any questions on this matter, please do not hesitate to contact myself or another member of staff.
N T Parker
Relationships and Sex Education at KES
The following bullet points outline the RSE topics covered at King Edward VI School.
- What constitutes sexual harassment and sexual violence and why these are always unacceptable.
- That specifically sexually explicit material e.g. pornography presents a distorted picture of sexual behaviours, can damage the way people see themselves in relation to others and negatively affect how they behave towards sexual partners.
- The concepts of, and laws relating to, sexual consent, sexual exploitation, abuse, grooming, coercion, harassment, rape, domestic abuse, forced marriage, honour-based violence and FGM, and how these can affect current and future relationships.
- How people can actively communicate and recognise consent from others, including sexual consent, and how and when consent can be withdrawn (in all contexts, including online).
- How to recognise the characteristics and positive aspects of healthy one-to-one intimate relationships, which include mutual respect, consent, loyalty, trust, shared interests and outlook, sex and friendship.
- That all aspects of health can be affected by choices they make in sex and relationships, positively or negatively, e.g. physical, emotional, mental, sexual and reproductive health and wellbeing.
- That there are a range of strategies for identifying and managing sexual pressure, including understanding peer pressure, resisting pressure and not pressurising others.
- The law on consent, including the age of consent.
- The law on violence against women and girls.