Well it was meant to be the first day of the holiday. Like every other teacher around I had gleefully turned off my alarm for this morning, failed to iron a shirt and planned a nice easy morning watching the final round of the Open. Except then I remembered we were due to have a visitor. No names, no clues other than that it was a “high ranking member of the cabinet” and an SLG only invite. I wearily re-set my alarm, figured I better dig out a shirt and tie and then pondered who it could be.
Being a big sports fan I watched the train wreck of the Ashes yesterday afternoon and had missed all manner of government announcements about a key note speech in Birmingham on Monday from the PM. So I casually strolled into Ninestiles at 8:30 am on the first day of my hols to be greeted by all manner of security staff, sound technicians, police officers and government aides. And so began the build up to the Prime Ministers speech on tackling extremism.
As I’ve said before I’m incredibly proud to work at Ninestiles. From the day I walked through the door ten years ago I’ve felt a warmth and compassion in the place that just brings people together. I was born just down the road and my father went to Ninestiles as a boy so I understand the community that we live in and have always been at home in a multicultural melting pot but life at Ninestiles has always seemed so diverse, so easily. However, you can never take this for granted. We may think it happens by luck or by serendipity but actually it happens with hard work and love.
In his speech David Cameron spoke of the need to live with each other in a community of strong British values. We work incredibly hard to ensure our students understand and respect each other. We have daily assemblies on topics that relate to community cohesion, tolerance and respect. Our first few for next year are respect, democracy, sameness and differences and the rule of law. I promise I didn’t make those up and couldn’t believe it when David Cameron mentioned them directly in his address. We have fortnightly Aspire sessions aimed at actively engaging our students in their community and ensuring they know about their peers. Our staff are well trained, knowledgeable and vigilant, keen to protect us all but also desperate to ensure our students have a chance to build lasting and trusting relationships with adults in school. When we had Prevent training and FGM advice it felt like a natural part of building our knowledge base and protecting our community. Our tutor groups are smaller than you might expect with two teachers in each room to ensure that there is an adult every child should be able to relate to at the start of the day.
We start the process early… This year, in two weeks time I’m part of a fortnight of activities to introduce the new year 7 to each other and to some teachers. It’s ostensibly come from catch up premium money but we supplement it to ensure all our students feel part of the Ninestiles family from the very start. We plan our trips with our community at heart. Last year every year 7 visited a Mosque, a Gurdwara, a Synogogue and a Church. In his speech David Cameron mentioned the powers that will now exist to remove passports form children that are thought to be at rick of fleeing overseas. I can see the process that leads to this but I would also point to the students that I took to Barcelona in my last blogs that had never left the country before. Travelling overseas in their own diverse little group to learn about other cultures. The wonder of a group of Sikhs, Muslims, Christians and Atheisists marvelling at La Sagradia Familia breaks down many stereotypes.
So when the Prime Minister spoke of how we could tackle extremism I reflected on the things we do here at Ninestiles. We don’t do it all perfectly but our values mirror those outlines in the speech. We give everyone a chance regardless of background. This year we’ve seen Afghan refugees sit in exams alongside the rest of our school community, safe in the knowledge that we’ve given them a real start. We avoid the grievance justification by being scrupulously fair to all groups in all situations. We try to tackle poverty in all our groups by the effective distribution of the funding we get using it sensitively and intelligently to create opportunities.The liberal values that our school lives and breathes by ensure students and teachers alike are given true freedom of speech and worship. We openly condemn violence in any form in school and deal with it earnestly. We have strong voices amongst the teacher groups which give themselves and students an identity that ties in with cultural and spiritual heritage as well as strong British values. We could do more to hear even more from the students in this way, we’ll make it happen.
I came into teaching 10 years ago to help young people succeed. I thought it would be easy, teach them maths, help them do well. I give no heed to their background from a teaching point of view. I want every student to do equally well regardless of their race, religion or socio-economic background. As I’ve progressed I’ve come to realise that it is all inter-related and growing the community raises the aspiration of the students. Academic success and a strong relationship with peers, teachers, families and the school community actively fights religious extremism in all its forms. There have been times when I’ve wondered (loudly) if the culture of our great school was too much about being a great citizen and a valued member of the community at the expense of the greatest academic success. Today I couldn’t be prouder that it is like this. I want us all to succeed together, for the benefit of everyone, regardless of who we are, what we believe and where we come from.