More than 250 former pupils accuse top private school of racism

More than 250 former pupils accuse top private school of racism in joint letter claiming abuse was often dismissed as a ‘joke’ or ‘overly sensitive’

  • The pupils are calling for the school’s teachers to be trained in ‘everyday racism’
  • Also asking for curriculum changes and place where pupils can report racism 
  • School apologised and headteacher admitted the school had a ‘long way to go’ 

Pupils at a top private school have raised allegations of racist abuse by staff and fellow students. 

More than 250 former and current pupils at the Norwich School said racist abuse at the institution was often dismissed as ‘jokes’ with victims labelled as ‘overly sensitive’ and they are now calling for teachers to be trained in ‘everyday racism’. 

In a letter to the chairman of governors, written by three former pupils and signed by hundreds of students, they also requested changes to the curriculum. 

More than 250 current and former pupils at the Norwich School signed a letter calling for teachers to be trained in ‘everyday racism’ and requesting changes to the school curriculum

In response, the school apologised and headmaster Steffan Griffiths said it was making changes but admitted it had a long way to go. 

He said the experiences of racism at the school, reported in the letter sent last week, made for very uncomfortable reading and shocked him but added it was a wider problem not only confined to Norwich School.

‘Lots of schools are going through this process,’ he said. ‘Day by day I see a happy school with friendships across different ethnicities but we recognise there is more for us to do.’

The letter read: ‘When left unchecked these incidents can help to affirm racist attitudes that are carried into both university and the working world by the perpetrators of these actions.’

Attached to the letter was a document filled with examples of racism which more than 20 former and current pupils said they suffered at the hands of both teachers and their peers.

The examples included one pupil being asked to apologise for wearing a Black Lives Matter badge and another claiming a teacher told him he would grow up to be a ‘drug dealer’. 

Other instances included a teacher mimicking an Indian accent in class and  a student who reported racism by another pupil being told to ‘move on’ by a teacher after the incident was investigated. 

Several BAME students said they changed their names to teachers would stop saying them wrong or confusing them for another BAME pupil.

After receiving the letter, the school apologised and headmaster Steffan Griffiths said it was making changes but admitted it had a long way to go

Other claims in the document include anti-semitic ‘jokes’ being made to Jewish pupils and one student waving a Swastika.

The allegations range from a black pupil being told to wear beige tights, to full blown abuse.

At an alumni drinks event one black person was allegedly told by an ex-pupil: ‘Black people are the worst’. This was recorded on camera and reported to police at the time.

Pupils also wrote that a teacher went on a ‘rant’ about how people should stay in the countries they are born in and another teacher ‘publicly ridiculed’ a pupil’s name for sounding ‘funny’.

Meanwhile one ex-pupil wrote they were told by their teacher that the reason for their bad grades was because they were Jewish.

The authors of the letter said the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month, had compelled them to call on the school to change.

In a statement they said: ‘This is just an important first step to affecting real change and holding the school to account for the way their pupils and staff have treated BAME students.’

Mr Griffiths said pupils from all backgrounds enjoyed their experiences at Norwich School and was shocked by some of the examples in the letter.

The incidents date from pupils who left the school in 2015 to the present day and were reported anonymously over a five-hour period in an online document on Thursday last week.

The letter called for ‘everyday racism and microaggressions awareness’ to be added to the curriculum, a place where pupils who do experience racism can properly report it and Bystander Intervention Training for staff and prefects to help them recognise and address racism.

In response to the letter, the school’s chairman of governors Patrick Smith wrote: ‘I would like to say how sorry I am that pupils have felt hurt and belittled during their time at school and that, largely, they have not felt they could do anything about the cause of their hurt.’

He said the experiences tell a ‘sorry tale of pain’ and would be addressed with a variety of measures.

He said he and Mr Griffiths viewed ‘favourably’ the three suggestions made.

Mr Griffiths said in a letter to pupils: ‘During my time at the school, I am aware of a small number of incidents of a racist nature; the school has acted in good faith in handling these situations appropriately but all who care about our values will regret distress caused to members of our community.’

He said he was shocked and saddened by the incidents, many of which he was unaware of until last week.

He added: ‘We must all seek to do better. This is not confined to Norwich School.’

Mr Griffiths also said changes had been made to the curriculum in recent years to make it more multicultural, particularly history and English.

This was in response to a separate letter sent by another ex-pupil which called for a ‘decolonised’ curriculum.

A similar letter, regarding the lack of diversity in the curriculum and amongst teaching staff has been sent to private schools across the country.

Mr Griffiths said in a letter to current and former pupils: ‘I hope you will agree that, in general, the school’s ethos is indeed one of tolerance and compassion.

‘I also hope the letter shows that education about diversity, including the unacceptability of racism, is part of the Norwich School curriculum.’

Mr Griffiths said pupils had been moved by a visit in February of Baroness Doreen Lawrence, whose son Stephen was killed in a racist attack in London in 1993.

‘Our pupils’ eyes were opened to the extent of racism that her family experienced,’ he said. ‘In this Norfolk bubble there has not been an appreciation of the negative experiences that people have had.’

Regarding a lack of diversity among staff he said the school had made ‘less progress than is comfortable’.

He added: ‘We must work harder to make candidates of all backgrounds view Norfolk, Norwich and Norwich School as somewhere they might wish to work.’ 

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