In the wake of last summer's Black Lives Matter protests, a number of leading British private schools announced plans to decolonise their syllabus. Winchester, Fettes, Ampleforth and St Paul's Girls were all reported to be 'formulating new approaches' to teaching about Britain's colonial past and whether subject curriculums were inclusive enough.
Now Mr S can reveal that the Haberdashers' Aske's schools are the latest to join the list. The governing body of the Haberdashers' Company has written to parents and guardians at its famous boys and girls schools in Elstree and its sister Federation in South London about its benefactor Robert Aske, a London merchant who died in 1689. In a letter seen by Steerpike, chairman Simon Cartmell reports that it 'is with great sadness' the schools have become aware that Aske whose 'bequest over three hundred years ago laid the foundations for the education of children across London, was a shareholder in the Royal African Company.'
He continues: 'It is clear to us all that the role of the Royal African Company, and the other companies involved in the slave trade, was deplorable and abhorrent. Such activity sits in stark contrast with the values which underpin the activities and philosophy of the Company, its Schools and beneficiaries today.'
Cartmell goes on to say that 'We cannot change the past, but equally we cannot ignore it' and that 'the Schools are already engaged in comprehensive reviews of their culture, values and ideals' which are now being considered as part of a consultation and review process'.
He continues: 'Furthermore, the matter will now be subject to deliberation by the Company, which is rightly proud of its ethos of benevolence, fellowship and inclusion, and the diverse nature of its membership. The outcome of these reviews, including the future use of the Aske name, will be communicated when conclusions are reached, and decisions made.'
The two Habs' schools in Elstree are among England's most prestigious public schools, boasting politicians, actresses and entrepreneurs galore among their alumni. Any such renaming, if agreed, would undoubtedly put pressure on other members of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference to follow suit in reckoning with their past.