Leeds private school says it "regrets" claims it dismissed racial abuse of black students

A private school in Leeds has responded to allegations that it failed to take racist abuse of former students seriously.

Thursday, 4th June 2020, 6:02 pm
The Grammar School at Leeds
The Grammar School at Leeds

The Grammar School at Leeds (GSAL) said it "deeply regretted" accusations that abuse experienced and reported by two female black students whilst at the school were ignored, and vowed to further investigate the issue.

The abuse dates back to 2015, when one of the former students says she and a classmate took "pages of evidence" to their head of year in which they were called derogatory and racist names in a group chat online after speaking out about racism at the Alwoodley-based school.

Posting the screenshots on social media, the alumni wrote: "We went to our head of year with pages of evidence. He silenced us and tried to make US apologise to THEM. These boys went on to get glowing references so they could attend top unis/medical schools".

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Screenshot of a message sent to one of the students at the Grammar School at Leeds

She added that the experience "was not an isolated incident" and that "racism in the school was excused daily".

In a thread shared on Twitter which has since been widely shared, the alumni wrote: "No one bothered to recognise us as individuals. We were lumped together as those two black girls that The Grammar School at Leeds used whenever they needed smiling black faces for their brochures".

Following reporting the abuse, the woman said her and her friend were "harassed the entire day" by students who defended the perpetrators.

"[Our head of year] invalidated our feelings and dismissed the incident as a little disagreement," she added.

"The boys got a short suspension from school before they were allowed back as normal. This was during A Levels. While they were enabled to go on to uni with glowing references, I flopped my A Levels because I had been isolated from the school community and left with no support

"In meetings with our head of year he was cold and dismissive. He described it as joke that had got out of hand. He told us he was reluctant to punish the boys too hard as it might ‘affect their futures’. None of the other staff members rallied behind us.

"Senior figures in the school were unsurprisingly silent during this time. A lot of energy was put into protecting the Grammar School at Leeds brand but there wasn’t even a single assembly to address the clear racism that existed amongst students.

"To top it all off, [the head of year] threatened to prevent us taking our A Levels weeks before their start because he inaccurately accused us of inciting violence against the boys. We were asked to apologise to them. We never received a sincere apology from anyone involved."

Following the allegations, hundreds of former students of the school have joined forces signing an open letter to the school's Headteacher and governors accusing the school of "fostering a culture in which inappropriate bigoted rhetoric is passively tolerated".

It follows increasing pressure on the UK and US Governments this week to address the issue of institutional racism following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week.

A meeting was held at the school earlier this week between senior figures at the school and the former students.

Following the meeting, a statement issued by the school condemned the abuse received by students as "truly sickening" and "totally contrary to our values of tolerance, kindness and respect".

A spokeswoman said: "Racism is a poison which has no place in the school environment or in society as a whole. The comments made by our former pupils in 2015 are truly sickening and totally contrary to our values of tolerance, kindness and respect for people of all backgrounds.

"The school investigated and took action at the time but this was clearly not enough to satisfy the two women concerned, something we deeply regret. We had a very helpful meeting with them today, and we have promised to keep discussing the matter, and we are carrying out further investigations, so we can learn from this very distressing episode."