Posted: 5 October, 2022

In Our Differences – Strength and Belonging

Blog, General, In the Press, News, Senior School, Sixth Form

Thoughts on Diversity and Inclusion

What could be more important for any school than helping an individual realise their potential? Creating a culture where each and every student can thrive and be happy, both personally and academically, is fundamentally what school is all about.

At Putney High School that goal has always been central to our ethos. We aim to ensure a democratic culture, recognising that there is no typical Putney student and that we all have different voices, vulnerabilities and strengths. No community exists without its individuals after all, and without variety, how dull humanity would be.

Rather than being defined by our differences though, we choose to be defined by our inclusivity.

Over the past two years, we have been working with all stakeholders to ensure that equity and equality are felt by everyone at our school, regardless of differences in race, religion, sexuality or disability – and crucially, that they are fully embedded within our culture.

The Action Plan

The first step was the creation of our Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan which identified a whole-school strategy, ethos and vision through which diversity could be further explored and issues and improvements made that would allow every individual to feel they belonged, were valued and recognized for who they are.

Two years on, we have seen enormous progress. We interviewed one of our newly created Diversity and Inclusion Ambassadors, Sixth Form student, Amba. She told us, “If you’re joining a school in Year 7 (or any year) you want to feel accepted and included in the school. Putney has really been taking Diversity and Inclusion seriously and made it a priority. We now have a team of Diversity Ambassadors and Diversity Prefects in our school.”

Amba has started a new multi-faith society – a safe space for all years and all religions to come together and the school has a prayer room for use by people of all faiths. When it comes to religion, “People are very willing to share their experiences, whether it’s going to a temple or a synagogue, the food that they eat at home, or the way they pray,” she explained.

With increased awareness and engagement through debate, education and more prominent student and staff voice, every day provides an opportunity for better understanding. And all these different voices mean a lot of listening goes on, whether in Assemblies, through the pastoral curriculum, focus weeks, academic lessons, school partnership opportunities, recruitment, or even clubs.

Putney has seized every opportunity to better understand and to celebrate diversity. Not only are there a host of activities and societies where students and staff can share and discuss ideas: POCSOC (People of Colour Society) LGBTQ+ Society, Diversity Society and FemBookSoc to name a few; there is also a dedicated Diversity and Inclusion Week every year with highlights including an extremely popular Fashion Show alongside sessions on intersectionality and unconscious bias.

Our biennial, PIE2 Day (Putney Ideas Exchange) last year gave us a whole day off-timetable to focus on ways to celebrate diversity and promote inclusion. We heard from keynote speakers: paralympic athlete, Tanni Grey-Thompson and Putney alumna and choreographer Aicha McKenzie who reminded the assembled audience how, “we are all different, that is our superpower”.

With talks from The Black Curriculum, workshops and seminars, dancing and ‘paralympic sport’ and even the launch of a student designed “Diversity app”, there really was something for everyone, and not just those at Putney. We welcomed students from a number of local schools who joined our Diversity Panel and POCSOC debates, sharing their ideas and experiences and making the day a valuable opportunity for greater connection with our local schools and community.

Throughout the academic year, there is huge value and enjoyment to be had in all of these events, but it is important to us that they are more than just “events,” that they are beliefs and commitments that as a community we live and breathe; firmly embedded in every aspect of school life. For this we have also needed to look more deeply at the curriculum itself.


All Heads of Departments have reviewed and revised their schemes of work to ensure they reflect diversity and look at the experience of different groups in different contexts.

Putney’s English Department were among the first to make change with a desire to reverse a “tendency to fall back on tried and tested texts in favour of offering greater diversity.” The results have been extremely popular making the subject appear not only more relevant to its GCSE audience but possibly even contributing to Putney appearing to buck the national trend in a decline of the subject’s popularity at A Level.

Amba agrees, “Our GCSE English set drama text has been Crumbs from the Table of Joy by African American playwright, Lynn Nottage, which we all found so much more interesting than Shakespeare. The story revolves around an African American family in Harlem and it gave us an opportunity to discuss quite mature themes like stigma and segregation.”

Debating these issues head on is really important to Putney and was not without its challenges. The English Department’s Kate Jeffrey explained, “We are determined first to develop that ‘confidence in talking about race’ in ourselves and our students, through honest and open conversations with our classes, and second to develop our own teaching resources which we hope to be able to share with other schools.”

“We offer, wherever possible, texts that broaden the mind and expose students to a wide range of experiences. For example, we have committed to promoting women writers and narratives that feature strong female characters, since it is empowering for young women to see reflections of themselves (or who they could be) in the stories they read.”

Even Maths has found new ways to be more inclusive, devising verbal problems using situations chosen to normalise for example same-sex partnerships or disability. Amba confirmed that it has been going down well, “In our School Council meetings we learnt that Year 11 maths students have been discussing the life of Alan Turing – they loved it and found it really interesting.”

Languages week is an annual celebration of multi-culturalism in our Senior School and for the Juniors, their Mother Tongue Festival celebrates the many different languages and cultures which make up our school community. Even before younger pupils have an understanding of inclusivity, they begin to learn the fundamental importance of kindness – a solid keystone of the Junior curriculum.


This October, as we again come around to celebrating Black History Month, we can reflect on the progress made and the commitments kept. If our last UNDIVIDED survey, compiled through the GDST, is anything to go by, then early indications show that progress is being made. 85% of students told us that they felt accepted at school. There is still work to be done.

Our recruitment processes and staff training ensure that as employers, we continue to champion the same values of equity, equality and transparency that we espouse throughout the school. We look forward to continuing our work as one of the first schools to partner with the Black Curriculum Project; the podcast episodes we will be creating with them this year on subjects including how black music has shaped Britain, will be an important opportunity to continue the conversation.

We will not rest on our laurels, there is still work to be done, but as a community we are already stronger and all the better for it.

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