By Simon Bird, Deputy Head, and David Mulae, Assistant Head Pastoral, Cranleigh School

Cranleigh celebrates difference by first seeing and recognising that individuals are all unique and that each individual has worth and should feel valued. Considerable time and expertise are poured into the formal structures that underpin this, such as a well-researched and expertly-delivered PSHE programme, and into the pupil-led groups championing tolerance and empathy.

For individuals who are minoritised or who have protected characteristics there are groups established as safe spaces, led by pupil leaders, but also staff supported, where issues that affect individuals and these minoritised communities can be discussed openly. The Cranleigh Diversity Alliance is a pupil-led group that acts as an umbrella structure for our protected characteristic support groups that consist of the Anti-racism group, the Pride Group (LGBTQ+/straight alliance), The Anti-Sexism group, the Neurodiversity Group, and we are looking to add an Interfaith Group to these offerings soon.

The Alliance banner emphasises the importance for all pupils of being an ally – this is central to one of the School’s primary values: Cranleigh Being which asks pupils and staff to recognise who we are, and how we are. 

It’s important that, in the spirit of allyship, our whole community celebrates difference, supports one another and provides a range of role models. There is a Swahili proverb “Asiyefunzwa na mamae hufunzwa na ulimwengu“, which roughly translates to the common adage “it takes a village to raise a child”. It is really important for teenagers to know that they have a range of different people to turn to and having a range of people in the school community, with a diversity of thought and lived-experience, means not only will pupils have a number of people who they should hopefully feel comfortable approaching, they can choose at any occasion the most suited person. We aim to increase the diversity on our staff body, to not only provide a range of people for the teenager to approach, but also a range of inputs in decisions and policies that will affect the pupil even before problems arise, because evidence shows diversity within a team encourages the entire team to think in a more diverse way. Having diverse role models in leadership positions is vitally important as teenagers, and especially those from minoritised backgrounds, will see these diverse role models in positions of authority and understand that there are people in the team who are looking out for them.

Cranleigh’s biggest strength is a more general feeling of community that is baked into our DNA. We are a small enough school for every single member of the community to know one another, and our eight boarding houses offer a supportive environment. Community thrives when individuals feel free to be themselves, when they can find solidarity among their peers and when support is part of the fabric of the institution. Communal living – central to the Cranleigh ethos for both boarders and day-pupils – helps foster patience, understanding and a feeling of inclusion. We have found that shared experiences break down barriers, so school life centres on offering the greatest possible range of shared experiences.

Conversations that might be awkward, clunky or divisive in the harried minutes between lessons become genuinely insightful in the safety of a boarding environment. Sharing a dorm with a pupil from a different faith, ethnicity, nationality or sexuality… these can be genuinely revelatory periods in our lives. And consequently, we often find that our youngsters are leading the way in this area – better versed in the language, less afraid of making mistakes, and more instinctively embracing of difference than older generations. This is work that is far from finished, and it is arguable that it can never be finished, but the signs of progress are uplifting.

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