Students and teachers at Christ’s Hospital, a £36,600-a-year boarding school in Horsham, West Sussex, are set to be given ‘diversity training’. The plans, announced in June 2020, mean lessons will be given on ‘micro-aggressions and stereotyping’. Christ’s Hospital is far from the only public school to march headlong down this route; they are following a path previously trodden by the United States’s private schools. But this doesn't mean they aren't making a big mistake.
The narrative of those who welcome Christ’s Hospital adopting the post Black Lives Matter fad for universal inclusivity training is that it is precisely the privileged pupils of Britain’s leading public schools who are desperately in need of discovering why they need to check their privilege. Yet this misses the truth about a school like Christ's Hospital.
The school is perhaps best known for two things: its uniform of breeches, yellow knee socks, barrister-type white shirt with bands and cassock-style blue coat (provided free to all pupils), would not have looked out of place in the eighteenth century, but certainly makes its pupils stand out today. More importantly the school offers far more bursaries than almost any other.
Christ’s Hospital, now co-educational, was established in 1552 to educate and house poor boys from the streets of London. Many other of Britain’s great public schools, including Eton, were also established to provide education to the poor. Whilst most now offer only bursaries and free places to a small minority of pupils, Christ’s Hospital has to a far greater extent stuck to its original purpose. It has managed to maintain its founding ethos through its £381 million endowment and total funds of £433 million; funds it has amassed through its historic links to the City and its livery companies.
Out of Christ’s Hospital’s 878 pupils attending during the 2019-2020 school year, 661 received some level of fee support with 93 on entirely free places – far more than for any other school. Only 22 per cent of pupils pay full fees, but even this underestimates matters. The school has roughly 90 day pupils who are not eligible for the main bursary programme and also takes overseas boarders, very few of whom will receive any fee support. Very few British boarding pupils at Christ’s Hospital will be on a full fee place of £36,600; virtually all of them will be getting some level of fee support.
Its pupils do not fit into the stereotype of privileged, out of touch public school children who have no idea of the problems suffered by the disadvantaged. Indeed, many of them come from just such disadvantaged backgrounds.
If anywhere is in need of lessons in white privilege, it is surely not Christ’s Hospital. The school’s practical actions have done a huge amount for social mobility for both white and ethnic minority pupils. The school is proud of the fact that it is 'the most ethnically diverse independent school in the country', drawing some of its children from its most deprived estates. English was an additional language for 82 of the school’s pupils in 2018, although many of these will actually have been foreign boarders paying full fees rather than poorer children on bursaries. The school’s diversity is precisely why it should not be introducing divisive lessons on white guilt.
Courses on historical guilt will do nothing to promote social mobility – something the school itself and its bursary model does so much to achieve. Concentration on race will only lead to a more divisive atmosphere at the school: children from poor white backgrounds are likely to be antagonised by being lectured to about a privilege they have never felt; ethnic minority children who did not previously perceive themselves to be aggrieved will have grievances imposed on them by the school’s hectoring.
Christ’s Hospital should continue to do what it has been doing so successfully for five centuries – and not succumb to new dogmas which do nothing to enhance the school or the experience of its pupils.
How widely did the school consult before deciding on these measures? As Trevor Philips has argued in a recent Policy Exchange report, it would have been appropriate for an institution such as Christ’s Hospital to have consulted, not just with its current staff and pupils, but also its alumni, its donors past and present and the City institutions that have historically supported it before making such wide ranging changes. Christ’s Hospital made a mistake if it failed to do so.