Morality matters for pupils

Recently I had the enormous pleasure of reconnecting with Kiko Matthews, a British adventurer who became the fastest female to row the Atlantic, solo and unsupported in March 2018. She raised over £100,000 for Kings College hospital which saved her life and inspired by her story we were privileged to be able to sponsor her in her endeavour.

Not one to stand still, Kiko has now launched her latest challenge, KikPlastic, cycling the coast of the UK to raise awareness of single use plastic and to engage communities in doing more to tackle this issue. There is no doubt that the ever increasing plastic tide is beginning to rear its ugly head on our coastlines and it is high time that we all took steps to turn back this tide, both here and further afield where the impact is far greater and much more sinister. Our responsibility to educate future generations has to extend to ensuring that our pupils are in tune with their wider social responsibilities, developing a social conscience beyond their school years. Communities are built on respect and, at the heart of all we do here at Sydenham High School, is a respect for those around us, near and far, as well as our physical environment. We recognise the common purpose that we have towards ensuring that the community to which we belong embraces its social responsibility towards the world we inhabit.

So how does this translate into everyday life? What does it mean to be a school which places importance on having a social conscience? One of our key aims as a school is to ensure our pupils have a strong moral compass and are accepting and respectful of themselves and others and perhaps this underpins all that we do to ensure that we instil how essential global responsibility is. As a school we began the new calendar year pledging to do our bit to turn off the plastic tap, which has seen a real movement in school to encourage small steps that will make a difference. In addition to environmental ethics, we also want them to have a greater understanding of the social challenges out there, in terms of injustices and inequalities, stereotypes and gender bias as well as prejudices. Our pupils are the leaders of tomorrow and we need them to take the lead in a whole range of areas, be this through running LGBT+Q society, Eco Council or our African Caribbean Society. By talking about these matters openly and by bringing the wider world into the lives of our pupils, we can help foster a need to question and challenge injustice, inequality and prejudice.

Teaching citizenship and social responsibility cannot be confined to the PSHE programme and should instead be embedded within the culture of a school. If I look back over the past term, I can fully appreciate all that our pupils have achieved not only in terms of their academic successes, but also in terms of their own personal development. As part of the Girls’ Day School Trust, nothing holds our girls back and being part of a network of 25 schools leading the way in girls’ education means that our girls are very much guided to their place in the world. Our girls give back generously through charity work and outreach, as well as signing up to promote matters that are important to them. Our recent publication of ‘The Feminist Issue,’ led by our Head Girl, provided our pupils with a voice and a platform for writing about sexism, stereotypes with the hope of changing perceptions and misconceptions about men and women, particularly in the workplace. Equally, ‘Politico’, edited by our sixth formers, is not afraid to cover a number of critically important topic areas affecting young people today. Schools have a duty to ensure that pupils not only have a voice, but also feel empowered to feel that they can make a difference and that the relationship they have with society is the best it can be. Becoming socially conscious grows organically through an appreciation and understanding of the wider world and the community around an individual. Apathy is not something our pupils suffer from and we are hugely proud of the fact that they lean in and recognise the importance of responsibility beyond their everyday lives. Our approach to enrichment, both within and beyond the classroom, through for example our assemblies and societies, is key to allowing pupils to find their voice on topics which are relevant and contemporary. Our digital leaders play their part in helping guide and structure digital responsibility, whereas our Socrates programme broadens pupils’ horizons on a whole range of themes. Visiting speakers also play an integral part in helping young people to become articulate when discussing topics, whilst debating and Model United Nations helps equip our pupils with the skills with which to express themselves with clarity and eloquence.

I was a teenager in the eighties, protested against fox hunting and nuclear armament, listening to bands such as the Communards, championing deep down the social injustices that existed then, and to some extent still exist today, Yes, we have made great progress, but if I look at some of the social issues facing young people today the world is definitely a much more challenging and difficult place. How do young people make sense of the terror atrocities, the rise in knife crime, the rise in natural disasters, climate change, the media, political situations, not least of all Brexit and US politics, the online world and the ever increasing pressures on young people? And yet, I look at the pupils here and feel so positive about their ability not only to cope with whatever the future holds but also to actively engage with current affairs and issues that are important to them and the world. Despite the landscape they face, our pupils are future confident, possess a true sense of self, recognise only too clearly what is right and wrong and are open minded, switched on and genuinely care.