An Oxford Student Has Made Shocking Allegations About Racism And Homophobia At His Grammar School
Matt Broomfield's post "Grammar School Made Me a Bigot" for the Tab is a coruscating attack on institutionalised prejudice. This post contains offensive and racist language. UPDATED: The school has now responded to this article.
This is Matt Broomfield, 20, from Shrewsbury. He's a student at Oxford University.
And these are the opening lines of a blog he recently wrote for the Tab:
I dated a black girl when I was 17. When my school friends found out, some of them laughed openly in my face.
They asked me if her vagina smelt of shit. They made monkey noises. This happened in England in the 21st century.
Specifically, it happened at Adams' Grammar School in Telford.
When one of the three black guys in my year walked into a room, people would sometimes hide their possessions as a joke, because "all n____rs are thieves". People said "n____r" a lot, as a joke.
People said "faggot" a lot too. A friend of mine who left the school a couple of years before me often used this word; I have since heard that he has started sleeping with men at university.
Broomfield left Adams' Grammar School in 2012.
His blog describes how a Muslim head boy at the posh school was subjected to jokes about bombs and famine and how girls were treated with “secondary value” and were regularly “groped, bullied and harassed".
Here are some comments from a private Facebook page used by pupils from the school.
On a personal level, I had been considering writing something about Adams' for some time; I'd become increasingly aware of my anger and dissatisfaction with the school, and of my personal failings during my time there. The question of educational institutions permitting or facilitating a sexist culture is a hot topic at unis across the UK at the moment, and I felt that my personal experience would form a useful part of this discussion. I started planning the piece a few months ago, and consulted with former pupils affected by the issues discussed before I pitched the idea to the Tab over the summer.
Several factors which affect many similar establishments came together at Adams' in a particularly toxic way. Lad culture, grammar-school snobbery and the indulgence of bigotry in supposedly harmless jokes ('boys will be boys') are all much wider problems which affect a lot of schools across the UK. All of these played their part at Adams', and I feel that the school as a whole encouraged a sense of arrogance and self-worth which heightened and magnified these problems. When I say 'the school', I am referring to the whole culture and community around AGS; this veneration of the 'Adams' Boy' came from some of the teachers, but also from old boys, senior students and parents. The teachers never encouraged or permitted direct or open racism; a number engaged in open sexism. But the staff did cultivate this sense of superiority, which tipped easily from healthy confidence into unpleasant arrogance.
In the blog, he writes:
Adams' drilled into us that the strong were always superior to the weak. The ethos of self-advancement, self-protection and self-promotion was echoed everywhere from the assembly hall to the rugby field.
The arrogant confidence I learnt at Adams' taught me to capitalise on my privilege.
"You are Adams' Boys" ran the endlessly repeated litany.
We took it to mean "you are better than those dirty little shits at the comprehensive – you are better than those below you in the exam tables or weaker than you on the rugby pitch- you are better than everyone else because you have beaten them- you are better because you are Adams' Boys."
When I started university, I was a sexist and a homophobe.
The experience of starting university and finding that your horizons expand as a result of meeting a new set of people is a fairly normal one. As we talked about our various school experiences, I become more aware that things I'd considered "normal" at Adams' were out of the ordinary; jokes that we laughed at would have seemed unacceptable elsewhere, behaviours that were written off as boyish high spirits would have been deemed vicious bullying and so on. Again, I don't think the problems at Adams' during my time there were unique to the school by any means. But I found people were shocked at some of the incidents I described, and this led me to think more closely about my actions and the actions of some of my peers at AGS. At Adams', it was difficult for anyone who disliked the atmosphere in the school to raise concerns without being laughed at. Several people (both current and ex-pupils) have contacted me saying that they agree with the points I raise in the article, but that they would rather not publically express their support. 'I agree. It's disgusting and I'm glad someone said something. But having grown up at Adams you know how much I'd get ruined if people knew I agreed,' one ex-pupil confided in an email. I thought this was desperately sad. Outside of this culture, I found it easier to look critically at my own actions and at the doctrines of the school.
Broomfield told BuzzFeed News the school has encouraged its pupils to talk about these issues during their form times.
He said the interest his post has received is "fantastic news – I wrote the article hoping that it would open up debate where there was little to none before".
There is one distinction I wish I had made clearer in my article. The culture of sexism was constant, blatant and ugly. They were treated as second-class citizens and this, for me, was the ugliest aspect of our behaviour. Racism was not overt in this way, and I wish I had made this clearer in my original article. (As people have pointed out, the school had two people of colour as head boys during my time there.) However, it was there in a latent sense, in a culture of casual, 'humorous' racism. This was still immensely unpleasant and still a serious problem, and I have spoken to POC who it affected greatly; but it was manifested in a different sense to the direct and open sexism and homophobia. Apart from this, I stand by my original arguments entirely. Every time I receive a message from someone who suffered at Adams' thanks to the culture of prejudice I described I am reassured that this was a conversation which needed to happen. I hope that it is not taken in isolation, and that people recognise that I am spotlighting one particularly disturbing manifestation of several wider cultural trends. I knew that this article wouldn't be well received by many of my peers, but I've had far more positive responses than I expected. I sincerely hope that the school can change- and is changing- for the better, and that these changes will be mirrored in other schools across the country.
BuzzFeed News has contacted Adams' Grammar School for a response.
The school has provided a statement. It told BuzzFeed News:
Staff at Adams' were saddened to read an article written by a former pupil that attacked the school, its ethos and values.
We disagree wholeheartedly with the view that Adams’ supports racism, sexism and homophobia and that such opinions are institutionalised within its walls. In fact, precisely the opposite is the case: we make every effort to educate our pupils to be tolerant and respectful of diversity, and to counter prejudices that are, sadly, still all too common in the world outside school. We also emphasise to our pupils that their academic talent should not be mistaken for moral superiority, but rather places a special obligation on them to use their talents wisely for the common good.
Adams’, like all schools, continues to be challenged by some kinds of unacceptable pupil behaviour, but nobody should be in any doubt that the ethos of the school, its policies, and its day-to-day practice, are all designed to eradicate such behaviour and to create young people who are confident themselves about combating racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of intolerance and prejudice.
An Ofsted inspection which took place last November praised “students’ excellent attitudes to learning and behaviour, their mutual respect for each other and support are significant factors in creating a positive culture for learning".
The report went on to comment “the school takes a firm stand against any prejudice-based bullying such as racist, homophobic and trans-gender bullying and sexism. Students stated they felt accepted for who they are. All students spoken to stated they felt safe at school and in the rare instances of bullying knew who to go to for support. They are confident that any bullying is dealt with swiftly.
"Students regulate their own behaviour. The sixth-form students, especially in boarding houses and the house system, are key to ensuring this. Older students model high standards of behaviour for younger students. They take responsibility for the care and welfare of younger students and ensure that school is a caring community."
The Good Schools Guide, who visited the school in July 2014, praised the school’s “very active and visible commitment to celebrating diversity. What used to be casually swept aside as male ‘banter’ is now no longer acceptable and is rigorously scrutinised for racist, sexist or homophobic overtones by the boys themselves."
The school would like to thank the many pupils, parents and Old Novaportans for their messages of support.
Adams' Grammar School is not a fee-paying school. An earlier version of this post stated otherwise due to an agency photo caption error.