EDI: ‘It’s not about calling each other out’

Mutisunge Edwards, equality, diversity and inclusion lead at Christ’s Hospital School, talks to Zoe MacDougall about her vital role

Mutisunge Edwards, equity, diversity and inclusion lead at Christ's Hospital

Christ’s Hospital, as its brand strap-line says, is truly a school like no other. Founded in 1552, its aim was to provide an education for “fatherless and other poor men’s children”.

Its home was Grey Friars, and money for the school was raised by the City of London. Today, housed in stately buildings near Horsham, it continues to offer a boarding-school education, primarily, for children who have experienced hardship.

“The school’s roots are embedded in social responsibility.”

And here’s the difference that makes the school unique: a total of 678 children are on means-tested bursaries and 90 children pay no fees at all. A total of 14 per cent of children are on free school meals – below the national average but very high for an independent school. Students are drawn from over 30 nationalities. The current student body is 41 per cent African/British-Caribbean, 38 per cent White, 12 per cent East Asian and 6 per cent South Asian.

The school’s roots are embedded in social responsibility and its mission is to “challenge inequality by providing a nurturing, transformative education for young people from all backgrounds.” Little wonder, then, that Christ’s Hospital is committed to investing in EDI. And in fact, the school was a finalist in the Diversity, Equality, Inclusion and Justice category of the Independent Schools of the Year Awards 2023.

“These children don’t fit a bygone stereotype of boarding school pupils.”

When Mutisunge has visitors to the school, she always takes them to see its marching band. As they watch the spectacle, she says: “They are crying. They say, when you talked about Global Heritage Majority students, I didn’t understand what you meant.”

There is a sharp juxtaposition between the traditions of the ceremony and setting of the band parade, and the individuals taking part. These aren’t children who fit a bygone stereotype of boarding school pupils.

A non-teaching role

Heading up a school’s commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion is about asking questions about current practices, evaluating what has happened to date from a sharply focused, contemporary perspective, and recommending appropriate change.

Unusually, the role of EDI lead at Christ’s Hospital comes without any teaching responsibilities. Mutisunge acknowledges that “Other EDI leads in schools are full-time teachers”. She pauses, then asks, emphatically: “How?” and describes what she does, and why she wouldn’t have time to do it if she had a full timetable of classes.

In the school’s structure, Mutisunge works alongside the designated safeguarding lead, the mental health team, the chaplaincy and the Learning for Life (PSHE) team; her line manager is the deputy head with responsibility for pupils.

Unconscious bias

Mutisunge works extensively with all departments to explore unconscious bias. “There’s a curriculum adviser in each department who I work with, someone who’s dedicated to looking at how we can decolonise.”

Mutisunge’s approach with her teaching colleagues is to say, “I’m not an English teacher, or a history teacher. You are. You know what’s missing. You’re passionate about your subject; let’s discuss it and find the holes together. It’s not about calling each other out. It’s about calling each other in.”

Crucially, she says, everyone at the school is up for it: “There is buy-in from the head, and from the heads of department to the support staff. There is whole-school buy-in.

“I’m not there to tell teachers what’s wrong.”

“We have an inclusion working group that has students, members of support and teaching staff and governors; and we have honest conversations. The perceived block in my job is that I’m going to be telling someone what to fix.

“But as EDI lead I’m not there to tell teachers what’s wrong. I’m there to find resources, invite relevant speakers. I can highlight conferences. Teachers don’t have the time to be looking for this stuff, but I can say here it is, at this time, on this day: click on the link – do you want to go?”

Students’ voices

Mutisunge’s role also encompasses working with the students. “I’ve got five EDI monitors; they’re all Grecians and they are my source of information, my ear to the ground, for the whole school.

“Then I’ve also got an EDI house rep in each house. So then the students can have informed conversations, in their houses.” In another original move, Christ’s Hospital champions their student-led EDI groups: the African-Caribbean Society, the LGBTQ+ Group and the Christian Union have been long standing.

Also operating successfully are the Anti-Sexism Group, the East Asian Society, the International Students’ Society, the Jewish Students’ Association, the Mixed Heritage Society, the Muslim Students’ Association, the South Asian Society, the Neurodivergent Society and the Young Carers’ Society. About these groups, Mutisunge says, “The school creates an environment where the students feel they have a voice, and they will be heard.”

“Christ’s Hospital champions its student-led EDI groups.”

There is, perhaps, a potential pitfall here, in that a student may want to set up a group which is challenging or offensive to others in the school community. Mutisunge has this covered. She asks all students with new proposals to explain their intention, and the likely impact of their plan, which she hopes will tease out any underlying mis-representation or hostility.

Furthermore, each new group proposal has to be mentored by a member of staff, another tool to ensure that there are appropriate safeguards, as well as supportive measures. In the instance of a student proposing a group which Mutisunge feels to be inappropriate, she calls in the safeguarding and therapy teams. There has to be a balance between compassion for, and the safety of, everyone in the school community.

Partnerships

Critical to Mutisunge’s role is her partnership work. She explains, “You have to partner with organisations that know what they’re doing. To assume that I, as EDI lead, am going to be an expert in all protected characteristics – it just isn’t true. I will find someone who we can all learn from”.

She has a valid point, as the Equality Act 2010 outlines nine characteristics: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion and belief, sex and sexual orientation. That’s a wide brief for any single person to tackle alone.

Prior to Mutisunge’s appointment, the school worked with Inclusion Labs to conduct a survey about race, ethnicity, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation and identity. The results of that survey were instrumental in creating and defining the role of EDI Lead.

Mutisunge has also worked with FLAIR, to conduct a survey on race. They in turn partnered with a second organisation, the African-Caribbean Education Network (ACEN), to deliver the recommended action points.

“You have to partner with organisations that know what they’re doing.”

Another partner is Educational Action Challenging Homophobia (EACH), which held workshops with staff, student leaders and seniors. She has also worked closely with the Church of England ‘s office for racial justice on the intersection of race and faith.

EDI house reps this year have undertaken training with Bold Voices, an organisation tackling misogyny. In the library, Mutisunge is also working with BookLove, a “Multicultural Bookshop and Travelling Book Carnival”, which is committed to tackling the stark lack of multicultural representation in libraries, galleries and high street bookshops.

Safe space

At Christ’s Hospital, Mutisunge’s work aims to create a safe space where staff and students can make mistakes and learn from them. She makes it clear that it’s OK to say the wrong thing: “EDI isn’t about being perfect. It’s not about all of us doing the right thing. It’s about us acknowledging our mistakes and putting our hands up. And a mistake is all it is – until someone decides they’re going to get defensive about it. You can’t do that.”

Being an EDI lead is not always an easy role, and Mutisunge acknowledges the toll it has: “it’s heavy work”. Her role continually throws up things she wants to fix, even though she is thwarted by her own recognition that some things just aren’t fixable. But that doesn’t dampen her  determination to make the world a better place.

Mutisunge Edwards’ career so far:

Mutisunge worked for many years in Nairobi and the UK in EYFS settings, during which time she found herself drawn more and more to questions about equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI). ” On one occasion, Mutisunge was working as a consultant for a Christian school where murals featured a white Jesus, or a white Noah. “I asked myself, why?” she says. Mutisunge felt committed to answering such questions honestly, and making change happen.

She was alerted to the job advert for EDI lead at Christ’s Hospital by her husband, who is himself an Old Blue, having attended the school. Initially, Mutisunge was apprehensive about heading up EDI in a school steeped in tradition; would it really welcome change?

However, on meeting the staff, Mutisunge says, “We had beautiful, honest conversations. The whole-school buy-in was incredible”. Her interview-day tour was given by Grecians (sixth formers) who had just been given the role of EDI monitors: “They were saying, this is what we want to change. And I said, how much of that can you actually do? And they said, we’re just waiting for someone to take this job, so that we can do it together.”

From that day onwards, Mutisunge was hooked. She’s now in her second year in the post.

This article first appeared in the latest print edition of School Management Plus magazine, out now.