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Letter: Adams' Grammar School old boy praises 'valuable lessons in life'

North Shropshire | News | Published:

Adams' Grammar School has been at the centre of controversy since old boy Matt Broomfield published a blog claiming racism, sexism and homophobia were rife.

The school, in Newport, is one of the country's top grammar schools and the blog caused national headlines. It also brought a big reaction from pupils and former pupils who defended their school.

Deputy school captain 2013-14 George Jackson, of Longpools Farm, Hinstock, Market Drayton, is currently studying at Durham University.

Here he explains why, after a difficult start, he grew to love the school:

Former pupil George Jackson

"I have taken the time from my studies at Durham University to write what I hope will amount to a dismissal of the preposterous claims made by a former Adams' pupil in the Oxford Tab.

""Now before I begin, I must confess that I never really wanted to go to Adams'. Indeed my motives for this view as a mere eleven year old were somewhat compatible with those expressed by Mr Broomfield. Back in 2007, Adams' had and arguably still has something of a reputation as being a school dominated by mathematically adept rugby players with an overinflated sense on self-confidence.

"So for a patently inactive stamp collector such as myself, for whom social interaction comes as something of a chore, Adams' was a school to be avoided. In short therefore, when my parents finally persuaded me to cross the rubicon and walk tentatively through the gates of the school, I arrived one of the 'weaklings' that Mr Broomfield so passionately and it seems altruistically defends.

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"Whilst I cannot claim to be a member of the discriminated against groups in which Broomfield takes such an interest, namely women, homosexuals and ethnic minorities, I must confess that the first few years or so of my Adams' career were tough. You see, in any school or indeed in any community, people have a malicious tendency to latch onto and exploit any deviation from what is narrowly perceived to be the norm. In my case, I provided the perfect target. A timid, privately educated boy who happened to pronounce words like bath or plant or castle in a manner deemed to be 'posh' or alien to this part of North Shropshire.

  • Read more Adams' Grammar School stories here

"The irony of this was of course delicious, given that my family of dairy farmers have hardly shifted from this corner of North Shropshire for several generations.

"Needless to say the taunts and the jokes eventually died down, thanks in many respects to the swift actions of my form tutor, who did not question the somewhat curious nature of the bullying, but dealt with it in the same expedited manner as one would racism or sexism. For her I have the upmost respect and gratitude.

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"At that point, it is no exaggeration to say that I had something of an epiphany. A realisation that would change my outlook on life, but also lead me on to great success and fulfilment at Adams' and ultimately to this delightfully bland 1970s accommodation block overlooking the soaring romanesque architecture of Durham Cathedral.

"Throughout the past half century, two 'big ideas' have been wrestling for influence in Britain's education system. The first is the belief that schools should educate confident, self-assured and diligent individuals as a means of preparing them for the cut throat competitive world that lies ahead. The second, is the view that 'competition,' 'ambition' and 'individualism' are words straight from the devil's lexicon and instead phrases such as 'compassion,' 'cooperation' and 'social contribution' should be venerated above all others.

"I don't suppose that anyone who has read Broomfield's hard hitting article can be left in any doubt as to which side he would endorse.

"However, to dress up these two 'big ideas' as somehow necessarily in conflict with one another is sophistry of the worst kind. Broomfield might appreciate the use of lewd language as a means of indulging his obvious penchant for ideological radicalism, but I am certain that such tactics are utterly transparent and hold no sway with the good people of Shropshire.

"Mr Broomfield talks of institutionalised elitism as the established litany of Adams', even in the assembly hall. Well, I can only reply, that short of the possibility of a serious bout of amnesia on my part, we must have been sitting through entirely different assemblies. For my chief recollection from the five years that our school careers overlapped was time and time again, the Headmaster, followed by deputy headmasters followed by housemasters in house assemblies, taking to the rostrum to proclaim a very simple truth, a truth which became a vision statement for the school.

"It was at precisely this time that I realised something important. My experience of bullying taught me that intolerance is a scourge on all. Whilst it is easy to get on your high horse and passionately denounce racism, sexism and homophobia as a means of indulging one's enlightened self-righteousness or allaying one's feelings of guilt, it is perhaps less easy to address the general underlying cause of all types of discrimination, present in every human community.

"Yet, at Adams' like no other community I know, we have succeeded in addressing this. In one assembly I heard it phrased as the importance of 'empathy'. In another it was championed using the expression 'valuing and respecting diversity.' For me it is simply a matter of respecting others for who they are. Different ways of saying the same thing and it has been the mantra of Adams' for years.

"A respect for individuality, an entirely separate concept but all too often conflated with individualism, is key to the Adams' vision. That rather than being bullied and ostracised for individual quirks and talents, they are celebrated. Adams' has made huge strides during the past decade to break down the rugby monolith and encourage its students to engage in a whole array of extra-curricular activities as a means of finding their niche within the community. This enterprise has succeeded and continues to succeed in an important respect, that I fear may have escaped the attention of Mr Broomfield, it provides individuals with self-confidence. Self-confidence, without arrogance, where otherwise those individuals might have become lost in the crowd.

"Here we arrive at what I feel is Broomfield's most grave and frankly offensive misconception. Diversity, variety or individuality, whatever you wish to call it, does not, in the school that I know and love, lead to elitism, arrogance and division. In many ways Adams' has been prescient in recognising this truth, that it is only by encouraging and celebrating a sense of independence within all students do we learn the value of interdependence. At Adams' rugby players have an interdependent relationship with public speakers who themselves are interdependent with chess players. Each possesses a noteworthy talent, each are equally worthy of esteem and most importantly emulation. It is on those foundations that one builds a caring community such as Adams'.

"In Adams' I see a school, not dogged by anachronisms and prejudice, but rather the future of education, in which at long last we bring the two 'big ideas' into harmony. It is to this vision that I owe a great personal debt and is why I have been motivated in this rare instance to publicly air my disgust at a savage, gratuitous and more to the point counterproductive attack on one of Shropshire's best loved institutions.

"It is a community in which, despite my initial reservations and teething problems, I spent seven long and happy years. Having started Adams' as amongst the 'weak,' last year I was afforded the immense privilege of the deputy school captaincy. Along with several other colleagues with similar backgrounds in the senior prefect team I was able to look the rugby players and the confident types in the eye as an equal, as a friend. Friendships based on mutual respect for individual talents. I have not touched a rugby ball in years, do not consider myself a 'lad' and am by no means a parasite, drawing my strength from my perceived superiority to others.

"The truth is that Mr Broomfield is attacking an institution that no longer exists. That is not to say that there is no prejudice or discrimination at Adams'. I am sure that even as I write this letter there is a student currently feeling deflated by the bullying, taunts and cruelty of his/ her peers. No one is standing in defence of the Adams' of the last century. We only seek to defend the school that we have built together and the vision that has overcome many of the mistakes of the past. Mistakes that are incidentally common to all schools, be they state or independent, single sex or mixed.

"I can therefore say with the upmost confidence, to that deflated student as well as concerned parents and public alike, that if a student embraces Adams', then Adams' will embrace them. In the process they will learn what I have come to recognise to be the highest and yet the most elusive of all human virtues, true tolerance.

"Yours faithfully,

"George Jackson, Adams' Grammar School Deputy School Captain 2013-14."

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