Written By: Javier Espinoza 7/3/16
Private schools must accept more black students as leading private school heads say their pupils are “living in a wealthy cocoon”.
The headteachers of schools like Westminster and Rugby are increasingly bringing in more students from unprivileged backgrounds – including young black teens – as they address concerns of a ‘polarising’ society.
However, some of these pupils are struggling to adjust to these wealthier environments as they fight to reconcile “astronomically different” worlds.
The move comes amid renewed concern that private schools are perpetuating privilege and divisions among social classes in Britain. It also follows calls from the Prime Minister, David Cameron, for new laws to shed light on admissions of black and poor applicants at university.
But Patrick Derham, headmaster of Westminster, has highlighted how his school is making a conscious effort to recruit more students from poorer backgrounds and black teenagers because it is pointless to educate those who “have only met people like themselves”.
In an interview with the New York Times, he said: “More and more of us are concerned by this polarisation in society.
“There is no point producing people who have only met people like themselves.”
And it isn’t just his school that’s admitting more black teenagers. He recalled how in 2003, during his post as headmaster of Rugby School, Mr Derham worked on setting up a programme entitled the Arnold Foundation, which provided free boarding places for teenagers recruited from poor backgrounds.
Mr Derham also established connections with the Eastside Young Leaders’ Academy, a London club for Afro-Caribbean youngsters.
Others are also taking the issue of diversity at private schools seriously as well. Peter Green, the current headmaster of Rugby School, told the newspaper his institution is building on its history of charity, and adapting to modern times a long tradition of offering free places with 12 per cent of students at his school receiving a free education.
He said: “We may not be able to help everybody, but at least we can help some people.
Mr Green added his school must not be “an extremely wealthy cocoon”.
However, adjustment for some black teenage students at private schools hasn’t always been smooth. David Ejim-McCubbin said that when he went from a deprived district of London to Rugby School, he struggled to reconcile two “astronomically different” worlds.
Mr Ejim-McCubbin, who has a degree in law and a master’s degree in legal and political theory, said: “I left one realm, as it were, to peek into one that was — I don’t know how many — stratospheres above the one I was born into.
“I wondered: ‘Do I speak the way I normally speak, the slang, the colloquials? Do I do that at Rugby just because it’s me? Is it me?’ All these questions came into my mind.”
It isn’t just private schools that have been under pressure to accept more black and poor students to their ranks. Last month, David Cameron, accused Oxford University of “not doing enough to attract talent from across our country” and highlighted how the institution accepted just under 30 black British students in a year.
He vowed to create new legislation to name and shame universities into improving diversity.