The village school lauded for its lessons in tolerance

Richard Garner
Monday 07 March 2011 01:00

The poster in the school corridor of the small village primary serving a predominantly white area of Cornwall sums it up. "Little, gay, black, Islamic, old, Asian, Gypsy, Jewish, dyslexic, Polish, male, Cornish, lesbian – BRITISH," it says. In other words, you can be any one or a combination of these and still be British.

The message may be simple, but it has won the 77-pupil Gwinear primary school near Redruth a national award for the way it approaches issues such as religion and gay rights. After all, it could have ignored them. Not many of the children are going to come into contact with, say, Sikhs or lesbians in their rural villages.

"You could say: 'We don't want to upset or offend anyone and so we won't do it'," said David Hampshire, the county's adviser on religious education and personal, social and health issues. "If you don't bite the bullet and do these things, things are still going to happen, though. And when people see you're doing it from a stance of goodwill, it generates community spirit and people get behind you.

"The school wants to engage with the real world. Education is more than just getting good test results – not that they're not important."

Mr Hampshire was one of the people who nominated the school to the Accord Coalition, which promotes an inclusive approach to education. The school is now being used as a model to help others – including those which had failed inspections by Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, because they were not carrying out their legal duty to promote community cohesion.

The approach is simple: role models – lots of them (Islamic speakers, Hindus, a gay parent) – are asked to attend assemblies and speak to the children about themselves and their beliefs. In a quiet corridor in the school, children's books explaining different religions are left out for the children to browse at their own pace. Older children are writing essays on "how to become a guru".

The school also designates one week every year as "Modern Britain Week", where children are taught about the cultures that make up the population in the 21st century.

Mr Hampshire believes it is important for the school to tackle issues such as race and comparative religions. "There is a feeling that migration isn't an issue down here," he said. "However, if you see people picking fruit, they may well be eastern European."

According to police statistics, migrants in Cornwall are eight to 10 times more likely to be attacked than those in an inner city area such as Leeds.

Mr Hampshire cites the case of a black teaching assistant employed at a primary school – who was punched in the face on his first day for no reason other than his colour.

"The school has not avoided the issue [of migration] but seen it as a point of celebration and encounter," he said.

In his letter of recommendation, he also made special mention of its decision to approach lesbian, gay and transexual issues, "which many schools are keen to avoid".

On this issue, a gay father who had adopted two children was invited to address children at the school. Elizabeth Shepherd, a governor at the school who has been connected to it for 26 years, said: "Few schools in this area would have thought to do that sort of thing. He was an absolute hit. He was a lovely man and spoke simply to the children. There is a real buzz about this school and Helen [Scholes, the headteacher] is a thoughtful leader," she said.

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