The American School in London is Britain’s most expensive day school, charging an astonishing £32,650-a-year in fees to the capital’s loftiest bankers, corporate lawyers and celebrities.
At pick-up, parents rub shoulders with footballers Thierry Henry and Mikel Arteta, Hollywood siren Salma Hayek and the occasional plutocrat and oligarch.
To a certain breed of turbo-powered Londoner, having children at ‘ASL’ is a badge of wealth and privilege, denoting membership of an exclusive club where your child becomes what the prospectus dubs a ‘lifelong learner and courageous global citizen’, hopefully with top academic grades and a place at a major university.
Or at least it was.
For behind the secure walls of its state-of-the-art campus near Regent’s Park — where famous alumni range from actress Kathleen Turner to NFL star Andrew Luck and Police drummer Stewart Copeland — you will today find a spiralling culture war.
The American School in London is Britain’s most expensive day school, charging an astonishing £32,650-a-year in fees to the capital’s loftiest bankers, corporate lawyers and celebrities
Despite its rarefied status, this elite seat of learning is at the epicentre of a spectacular and utterly toxic dispute over claims that a cabal of Left-wing staff are seeking to brainwash impressionable pupils via ultra-woke ‘identity politics’.
The row culminated last week in a group of concerned parents sending its headteacher, Robin Appleby, a 12-page complaint accusing ASL of ‘institutional racism’ and ‘indoctrination’ of children via the teaching of ‘critical race theory’, a ‘controversial and divisive’ ideology that revolves around the concept of ‘white privilege’.
The parents argue that ‘partisan’ teaching has created a ‘culture of fear’ that is ‘harmful to our children’s mental health’ and claim the school’s treatment of race and gender issues breaks the Education Act.
The detailed letter also alleges that a recent decision by ASL to create racially segregated after-school clubs, in which pupils mix solely with peers of the same ethnicity, breaches the Equality Act.
‘It feels like ASL has fallen into the hands of a woke cult,’ says one of its authors. ‘Every subject, from art to literature to history, is now being taught through a prism of race or gender, at times to very young children.
It’s pernicious and divisive, and we think illegal. In the case of after-school clubs, they are operating what amounts to a system of apartheid.’
At this point, you may be wondering whether to care if ‘wokeness’ is, or is not, affecting the gilded education of some of London’s most privileged children.
Yet the row currently playing out at the American School in London matters to all of us because, behind the scenes, similar disputes are under way in a cross-section of schools across the land.
At pick-up, parents rub shoulders with footballers Thierry Henry and Mikel Arteta and the occasional plutocrat and oligarch
Many parents caught in the crossfire fear a divisive, politically-correct agenda — focused to an almost obsessive degree on race, gender and identity politics — is being rammed down the throats of children, at the expense of both their academic attainment and emotional wellbeing.
The MP Robert Halfon, chairman of the Commons Education Committee, argues that the teaching of ‘white privilege’ has become widespread and has ‘got to be stopped’. It is ‘divisive’, ‘pits groups against each other,’ he added.
His intervention last week came as the Committee published a scathing report into the reasons why white working-class children are dramatically underperforming peers from other ethnic groups.
It blamed, among other things, damage being done to the state-of-mind of underprivileged pupils by teachers who tell them they must assume ‘collective guilt’ for racism perpetuated by other people.
The scale of the problem was laid bare in an extraordinary dossier sent in April to the Department for Education by Bryn Harris, chief legal counsel to the Free Speech Union [FSU], which campaigns against cancel culture.
It contained a collection of teaching materials obtained from the concerned parents of children at no fewer than 15 English schools where the FSU alleges that teachers have ‘failed to comply with their duties to forbid the promotion of partisan political views and to secure balanced treatment of political issues’.
The schools include a secondary in Peckham where ‘persistently politicised teaching’ recently saw teachers circulate Black Lives Matter petitions and encourage art students to produce work containing the slogan ACAB: All Cops Are B*******’.
Also seen at the school’s state-of-the-art campus near Regent’s Park, Hollywood siren Salma Hayek
Elsewhere in the dossier are details of how pupils at an academy in Wargrave, Berkshire, were handed ‘a kid-friendly guide to social justice terms’ that asserted the following definition: ‘Police: workers chosen by, protecting and serving people in power.’
At a community college in the North-East, pupils were told during a presentation that ‘disagreeing with black, indigenous, or other people of colour’ was an ‘example of covert racism’.
And at a secondary in London’s Balham, students were asked: ‘What is a police officer?’, then immediately presented with the following key words: ‘Colonies, racial profiling, juvenile, corruption, reform, accountability’.
The FSU argues that the examples suggest that both state and private schools are routinely ignoring their duty, under the 1996 Education Act, to ‘prevent political indoctrination and secure the balanced treatment of political issues’.
Parents whose children are on the receiving end of such teaching complain a culture of fear prevents them speaking out at the risk of being labelled racist.
The American School in London provides a sort of case-study of the excesses of the new orthodoxy. Here, discontent stretches back to the protests and public debate that followed the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota last summer.
During the holidays, parents were sent an email declaring that, in the wake of that unrest, ASL had decided to implement a ‘detailed action plan’ to improve its policies on ‘diversity, equity and inclusion’ as well as ‘social justice’.
Pupils who ‘identified’ as belonging to a racial minority, or who believed that they might be gay, lesbian or transgender were to be invited to form ‘affinity groups’ or spend time in ‘safe spaces’.
Parents were to be instructed in how to ‘raise anti-racist children’ and ‘recognise their own implicit biases’. In other words, this exclusive establishment — whose assembly hall is a regular pit-stop for visiting U.S. presidents, from Reagan and Clinton to Barack Obama — was going woke.
Over the winter months, parents learned that PE lessons had been replaced by earnest debates about ‘politics in sport’.
The curriculum was then ‘decolonised’ via a programme that saw the library vetted for potentially offensive material.
Teachers launched a ‘queer and questioning affinity group’ for 13- and 14-year-olds who were ‘questioning their gender expression, gender identity and/or sexuality’, or thought they might belong ‘to the LGBTQI+ spectrum’, or be ‘non-binary or gender nonconforming’.
Teachers launched a ‘queer and questioning affinity group’ for 13- and 14-year-olds who were ‘questioning their gender expression, gender identity and/or sexuality’, or thought they might belong ‘to the LGBTQI+ spectrum’, or be ‘non-binary or gender nonconforming’ (file photo)
Staff began signing off emails by citing their ‘preferred pronoun’, to indicate whether they wished to be called ‘he’, ‘she’ or ‘they’.
‘It’s completely over the top,’ says one parent of a nine-year-old boy. ‘My son seems to be having crazy political views shoved down his throat every day. ‘
Another adds: ‘Race, gender and equality seem to be the prism through which every single subject, from art to science to history, is being taught. Pupils are being told they are either a ‘victim’ or an ‘oppressor’, depending on their skin colour.’
On one occasion, a school assembly was used for a ‘call to action’ to urge pupils to support Black Lives Matter (whose stated political aims include the defunding of the police and the destruction of the nuclear family) by signing petitions, attending protests and reflecting on their ‘privilege’.
In another incident, teenage pupils were shown a YouTube video, entitled ‘Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man’, which described white people as ‘oppressors’ and racists, and asserted that ‘right now, black people are dying at the hands of white people’.
Jewish parents, who believe Black Lives Matter’s leadership to be anti-Semitic, complained of a ‘culture of fear’. At one point, the head of ASL’s middle school issued a formal apology for allowing students to be shown a highly partisan video about recent hostilities in the Middle East.
Things culminated a fortnight ago, when two afternoons were carved out of the timetable for ASL pupils between the ages of ten and 14 to learn about ‘inclusion’ and ‘social justice’.
A programme obtained by parents revealed that children were offered lectures entitled: ‘You play like a girl: Addressing gender bias in sports’, ‘Saint or strumpet: A historical evaluation of female fashion’, which proposed that clothes have traditionally been either ‘made for women catering to the male gaze’ or ‘made for men without women in consideration’, and a presentation about how to make emojis ‘more politically correct’.
All of which were, many felt, highly unsuitable.
‘This is indoctrination,’ says Hugh Cochrane, a father of two ASL children aged 11 and 13. ‘In my view, it’s the culmination of a radical, socialist education programme in which our children are having a set of values imposed on them in a completely unbalanced way.’
So horrified are Hugh and his wife Alexandra, a health coach, that they have decided to remove their sons from the school at the end of this academic year. ‘In the past year, my boys have been repeatedly made to feel guilty for being white and male . . . and invited to feel responsible for sins committed against minority groups generations ago, when they were not alive,’ he says.
The ASL describes all of its teaching as ‘age-appropriate’ and insists students have never been told they ‘should feel guilty for being white’. It denies any lack of balance in the way it teaches political or social issues and says in a statement: ‘We are committed to building and sustaining a diverse, equitable and inclusive school community and firmly believe that this will lead to a better future for all our children.’
Be that as it may, two other sets of parents, speaking anonymously, told the Mail they were on the verge of withdrawing children.
‘There’s a sort of reverse McCarthyism going on, where people are afraid to speak out publicly for fear of being labelled racist or homophobic,’ said one. ‘But behind the scenes you’ll hear endless complaints. People who are paying a fortune resent feeling that a crazy agenda is being shoved down their children’s throats.’
Among those concerned by the woke-ification of British education is equalities minister Kemi Badenoch, born in London to Nigerian parents, who used a Commons speech in October to highlight the duty of schools to avoid political partisanship. She does not want white children being taught about ‘white privilege and their inherited racial guilt’.
‘Any school which teaches these elements of political race theory as fact, or which promotes partisan political views — such as defunding the police — without offering a balanced treatment of opposing views, is breaking the law,’ she said, adding that schools should not openly support ‘the anti-capitalist Black Lives Matter group’.
Among those concerned by the woke-ification of British education is equalities minister Kemi Badenoch (pictured), born in London to Nigerian parents, who used a Commons speech in October to highlight the duty of schools to avoid political partisanship
The Government may be fighting an uphill battle, though. A recent report by the Church of England’s ‘anti-racism taskforce’ said that by the start of the next academic year, all of its roughly 4,500 British primary and secondary schools will ‘develop a broad RE curriculum with specific reference to the promotion of racial justice’.
Meanwhile, in Brighton the City Council last year sent schools a ‘trans inclusion toolkit’, telling them to introduce gender-neutral toilets. And in Sheffield, a head teacher made headlines by using a letter to parents to assert: ‘Our society is built on white privilege.’
Then there were the recent cases of Will Knowland, sacked by Eton last year, after uploading to YouTube a contentious lecture challenging feminism, and St Paul’s Girls’ School, which has invited American researchers to speak to pupils about changing sex.
According to Frank Furedi, the emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Kent, this is all part of ‘an unprecedented move towards displacing education with indoctrination’. He argues that the development gained traction in the U.S. — where trends in education tend to start before spreading to our shores. And if that is true, recent controversies there may signal worse to come here, too.
In San Diego, California, an entire school district introduced teacher training last year which told white teachers they were guilty of ‘spirit-murdering’ black children, while a school district in New Jersey voted to remove all holiday names from the school calendar, including religious holidays such as Yom Kippur and Christmas, to avoid upsetting minorities.
A high school in New York banned teachers from calling pupils ‘boys and girls’ arguing that it perpetuates gender stereotypes, and should be replaced by ‘people, folks, friends, readers, mathematicians’.
In San Diego, California, an entire school district introduced teacher training last year which told white teachers they were guilty of ‘spirit-murdering’ black children (file photo)
Just a couple of weeks back, a private establishment in the city’s commuter belt called Dwight-Englewood made headlines when an English teacher called Dana Stangel-Plowe resigned protesting at what she described the insertion of ‘Critical Race Theory’ into her curriculum under the reign of a ‘Director of Equity and Diversity Engagement’ named Mirangela Buggs.
‘Over the past few years, the school has embraced an ideology that is damaging to our students’ intellectual and emotional growth . . . forcing them to adopt the status of privilege or victimhood,’ she wrote, claiming her students now routinely ‘recoil from a poem because it was written by a man’ and ‘see inequities in texts that have nothing to do with power’.
Staff meetings had been racially segregated, she added. Pupils were scared to write about their overseas summer holidays, for fear of being accused of racism, or cultural appropriation: ‘A hostile culture of conformity and fear has taken hold of our school.’
In response, John McWhorter, a black English professor at Columbia University, tweeted: ‘Truly anti-racist parents, in the name of love of their kids, should pull them from the Dwight-Englewood school as of next Fall.’
Meanwhile Mirangela Buggs — the architect of this ‘culture of conformity and fear’ — recently announced her own departure, to become the newly created ‘Director of Institutional Equity’ at another top private school, this one across the Pond. Its name? The American School in London.