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How We’ll #BreakTheBias at Exeter Cathedral School – International Women’s Day 2022

Tuesday 8 March was International Women’s Day 2022. There was less of a clamour about it this year than there would otherwise have been, world news being overshadowed by the heart-breaking situation in the Ukraine (do look out for Mr Kelly and Mrs Salter’s letter to you all feeding back on the week of reflection and fund-raising), but it is an important annual event. It’s a day – albeit shameful that we need one – which causes us to focus – really focus – on gender equality and on the part that we must still consciously and conscientiously play to #BreakTheBias.

EDI is a big deal here, and getting bigger. Led by our Head of Pupil Voice & Diversity, Miss Gilchrist, and our Year 8 Heads of Pupil Voice, Rosalila and Dominic, the various pupil councils and committees along with diversity assemblies, visiting speakers, visible displays like our expanding Black Lives Matter collage, and future plans for International Day, mean that pupils at Exeter Cathedral School know that they have a voice and know that they and others matter; each of them.

We used to be an all-boys school, of course – for about 800 years in fact. Not much gender equality there. It took until 1994 for girls to be able to become choristers in the cathedral choir (we were at the vanguard of this move, in fact, being second only in the UK to Salisbury to launch a fully-fledged girls choir). In 2016 both choirs came under the baton of the same director of music, and the final move to total parity was made in 2021 with the post-covid arrival at a 50:50 split between services.

It matters, that total parity. It matters in the opportunities it provides and in the messages that it sends. Children pick up on them, and I hope very much that these messages – that opportunities and aspirations are for everyone, no matter what you look like/where you come from/who you love/what gender you are – come at them loud and clear from the School.

With the exception of full-contact rugby and competitive netball, what’s on offer to boys is on offer to girls and vice-versa. We are a meritocracy as much as any school can be: we want pupils to be nurtured in the fundamental belief that equality matters.

On the sports field, Rounders is long gone, with girls’ cricket (the fastest-growing school sport) being introduced in 2019. Rather neatly – in that 25th anniversary year of our move to co-education – Captain of School Cricket was (for the first time in 900+ years) female. And sure enough she went on to earn herself a cricket scholarship at Clifton College.

When it comes to uniform, we did away with a ‘girl uniform’ and a ‘boy uniform’ in 2017 when we changed providers. Now we have 2 uniform ‘boxes’ instead – a trouser uniform and a skirt uniform – with children and their families picking which ‘box’ (no mixing and matching!) works best for them. Blazer+skirt+blouse or blazer+trousers+shirt+tie: the choice is theirs, irrespective of gender.

We have 2 Heads of School (we did away with the terms Head Boy and Head Girl some years ago), and in September 2021 we appointed (for the first time) 2 girls to these posts. So our two Heads of School are both female, and they are supported in their work by a superb team of Deputies and prefects (boys and girls).

What they see, what they experience, what they wear, what they do, what they’re encouraged in, who they look up to, who the provided role-models are: this is a child’s daily reality. And their daily reality informs their views, their values, their beliefs and their behaviours. Our job is to help our pupils acquire the right habits for life: here’s hoping that, through their experiences at Exeter Cathedral School and beyond, our pupils will take with them – into their senior school, their university, their workplace and their community – the ingrained expectation and the deep-rooted belief that equality matters. Because that’s how we’ll #BreakTheBias.

11 March 2022
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