What is ‘Britishness’ in the Twenty-First Century?

Charterhouse is a partner school of the Aldridge Foundation, a relationship which we cherish and which includes interaction between staff and pupils, particularly at the Kensington Aldridge Academy in London, where we have previously shared valuable professional development workshops for teachers and senior leaders. On Thursday 16th March, Charterhouse hosted the inaugural conference for Lower Sixth pupils, joined also by girls from The Godolphin & Latymer School in Hammersmith. The day’s theme was ‘Britishness in the Twenty-First Century’.

Johnny Stocks (S) and Jil Sinnes (S), who were amongst the Charterhouse delegates at the conference, report:

“Charterhouse was delighted to welcome pupils from our two partner schools in London, Kensington Aldridge Academy and The Godolphin & Latymer School. On arrival, Carthusians welcomed the other delegates in Hall and were engaged in passionate political debate within moments. Throughout the whole day, pupils enjoyed gaining different perspectives and opinions on matters which they had not considered or come across before.

The keynote speaker, The Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin, is the 79th Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons, and coming from Montego Bay, Jamaica as well as being a woman, she had a unique perspective on British values and ideas of tolerance of different groups, or ‘acceptance’ as she said she would rather think of it, which captivated the entire audience. A very strong character, Rose was unafraid was to question the establishment and spoke about the good things as well as the bad things of the British system, as well as living in 21st century Britain, and her vision for a better society with a renewed sense of shared humanity. She was a great inspiration for everyone, and pupils from all three schools asked some particularly poignant questions, which opened a wider debate for the rest of the day.

Following further discussions over lunch, there were a variety of workshops led by teachers from all the schools on different topics about social divides and inequalities in the UK. We particularly appreciated the interactive nature of debate with a plethora of new perspectives and ideas to consider. The most interesting question, to us, seemed to be whether it is really healthy that the British Government defines exactly what these values are, or whether they are too complex and more a part of a deeper British psyche. Are values really values if we have to be explicitly told what they are? Furthermore, Oli Rockall (V) said afterwards, “I learnt that British values have changed over time and that a lot of different cultures within the UK have different views on what they are. I don’t think it’s necessary for the Government to define them as they are more subjective and constantly evolving, and they shouldn’t be forced onto the population. I think values are too complicated to be explicitly stated. Charterhouse, a lot of the time, gives you the freedom to work out on your own, or as a community, what matters to you and the wider international community.”

Next was a plenary session for pupils from each workshop to share what they found and the conclusions they reached. After this, there was a question time panel chaired by BBC Senior Producer Danie Linsell, consisting of a human rights barrister, a social entrepreneur, the Bishop of Dorking, and a charity CEO. This was a great opportunity to put unanswered questions formulated over the day, having been exposed to a wide range of issues and opinions, to a panel of brilliant speakers, each with a distinct and unique take on the issues.

Overall the day was a huge success and it was our pleasure to meet, debate and share ideas with pupils from these two great schools; we look forward to further engagement with them in the future.”

For more information about Charterhouse’s partnerships with a range of schools, locally and further afield, please contact Mr Ben Nicholls: bn@charterhouse.org.uk. You may also like to visit the Aldridge Foundation website: www.aldridgefoundation.com.

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Speakers from the day included The Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Chaplain to The Queen and to the Speaker of the House of Commons; Tom Cleaver, human rights barrister and member of the Council, Liberty; The Right Reverend Dr Jo Bailey Wells, Bishop of Dorking; and Danie Linsell, senior producer at the BBC.