So, today’s the day. Except it isn’t. It was going to be the day, but in the end it wasn’t able to be the day. That is pretty much how I started HM’s Assembly on Monday (it’s always lovely to welcome a handful of parents/guardians to these – do feel free to come along from 8.50), and, really pleasingly, a good number of hands went up when I asked the pupils whether they knew what I was talking about.
From the impressive show of hands available, we established: that the 29th was to be the day when Britain withdraws from the EU; what the EU is; what this withdrawal is known as; how it was decided that we would leave; and what the march in London over the weekend had been about. It was confirmation that we have some very politically- and socially-engaged young people at ECS, and that awareness – across the year-groups – of current affairs and of the importance of democracy (I’m afraid I mentioned Strictly Come Dancing again) – is certainly in the collective mindset of our school community.
We took a vote in the Quire on whether or not there should be a second referendum. I explained to the pupils that I wasn’t asking for their views on Brexit, that they didn’t have to vote, and that I wouldn’t ask them to justify their choice, but that I was keen to know what our community would choose to do. We spoke about some of the reasons why a second vote might be a good thing (were we in full possession of the facts the first time round? Have things happened as we were told they would?) or a bad move (does it set a dangerous precedent for future democratic processes? Would we be asking a different cohort of people, given that everyone who was aged 15-17 in June 2016 now has the right to a vote?). In the end, the ayes had it, with the majority of our pupils saying that we should allow another referendum, but there was certainly a strong minority who felt otherwise.
It is not always easy for schools to encourage an awareness of ‘other’: often, schools can be little bubbles of same-ness where the focus risks being an inward-looking one. Geography, demographic, historical and local contexts, varying sizes of ‘spheres of experience and exposure’ can all be contributing factors to the school-on-the-hill-feel that a number of institutions can all-too-easily fall into. Not so at ECS! I have written before of how we pride ourselves on the levels of awareness among many of our pupils; of how our location, history and links to a bigger institution play a part in that; of how we promote on a school-wide level the three crucial strands of awareness (of self, of other, of surroundings); and of how we promote, uphold and live out a culture of tolerance, acceptance, compassion and love.
I am always delighted to note just how aware of ‘other’ our school community is. A great example of the promotion of these values is next week’s International Day. Spear-headed by Leela in Year 7 and her planning committee – and supported in no small way by the indefatigable Mrs Stallard – Wednesday’s International Day promises to be a celebration of the variety (and taking a close look has made it apparent that this variety is broad) of cultures, backgrounds, up-bringing, ethnicities that exist among our ECS families. The timetable has been re-written for the day, during which (before we head off to the Senior Swimming Gala) pupils and guests will drop into Kalendar Hall and visit the stalls being run by parents, staff and pupils. We will learn about different cultures, customs, clothes, countries, food, and celebrate diversity and difference. What a good thing that is. Further details have made their way to you under separate cover: I do hope you’ll be able to drop in to experience the buzz of ECS’s first International Day, and help us raise awareness and funds for SARI (Stand Against Racism and Inequality).
So, whether it’s different political opinions, different experiences, different heritage or different cultures, we are proud to say (à la française): Vive la différence!