I’d been desperate to seize an assembly because I wanted to talk about the Macpherson Report which had been published on the 24th. I’d quizzed a year 11 general RE class about Stephen Lawrence earlier in the term and was dissatisfied with their knowledge and their approach. Getting hold of all of them was too good a chance to miss. So I told them the story of Stephen’s murder, and what happened after it, how the arrests weren’t made, what Macpherson was commissioned to do and what he’d said. I explained the concept of institutional racism and explained that, despite being 99% white and three hundred miles away from Eltham, it concerned every one of us. I was apparently quite impassioned: everyone was late for period 1.
Stephen Lawrence’s murder and its subsequent handling by the police is part of Tallis history. Stephen went to the old Bluecoat school and then to John Roan sixth form. Tallis people knew him. After the murder, Roan and Tallis – students and teachers – marched to Well Hall Road in protest. Good for them. And yesterday we marked Stephen Lawrence Day in school for the first time and made our commemoration by whole-school clapping in favour of a diverse and just society. Despite the years that have elapsed and the mistakes that were made we committed ourselves afresh to learning to build a better world together, as our cousins in the US will need to do, now that the verdict in the Floyd trial is in.
Good policing, unarmed and by consent, is a public good when it is fair and just. A robust court system protects everyone’s rights. A National Health Service protects us all from cradle to grave. The comprehensive school system, similarly built on dreams of equality, endeavour, excellence and community should equip citizens with the shared understanding and values that help us all live happily. None of these are achieved without constant monitoring, protection and proper funding. Our society is just like a big school: we rely on everyone to play their part and to do their job with kindness, diligence and integrity.
Year 13 and I have finished our A level course and Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador appears in the last topic and there are some parallels. Like Stephen Lawrence, Romero was brutally murdered; in his case, in his church in San Salvador in 1980 for protesting about state violence and disappearances. His previous professional life gave the oppressive authorities no warning that he might turn the world upside down with his words. Appointed as a safe pair of hands, he became a thorn in the side of the state until they killed him. When Macpherson was appointed to investigate Stephen Lawrence’s murder many people assumed that it would be a whitewash, but he told the police that they were institutionally racist and needed radical and immediate change. He was given a job to do, and he did it, without fear or favour. The title of this piece is the heading to the seventy recommendations at the end of the Stephen Lawrence Report.
In order for us all to be happy and prosper in community we need to be able to rely on everyone else. There’s no easy way to do this. Everyone has to make the effort to do their job well, even if it’s boring or annoying.
Which is what I said to Grace who’d flung herself out of a classroom. When the huffing and puffing subsided it transpired that the major injustices perpetrated upon her were not being allowed to choose her own seat and not being allowed to discuss her work with a friend during a test. ‘It’s so jarring, so jarring’, she wailed. I put it to her that these were not unreasonable requests and pretty basic to the smooth running of school life. We can’t always do what we want.
After I’d deposited her in a safe space my route back was impeded by exemplary politeness where Abdul was holding the door open for a teacher who was trying to persuade him to go first. They appeared to have reached an impasse so I thanked them both for their example, assigned precedence and we all got back to work.
Despite Covid potentially retreating, the news this week has been generally depressing. We have a long way to go before the world is changed for the better, but our young people made a terrific start this week in their spirited embracing of antiracism, of justice and kindness. We recommend openness, accountability and the restoration of confidence in all of our public life.