Mulberry Schools Trust’s first Partnership of Equals conference took place at the QEII Conference Centre on Friday 12 October 2018. The conference brought together 400 young people from schools across London and further afield to discuss and explore themes of gender inequality, with the arts as a key focus for the day. Following an opening discussion between Grayson Perry and Jude Kelly, students explored gender in dance, helped by a panel which included choreographers Shobana Jeyasingh and Matthew Bourne.
In the afternoon, the focus was on Shakespeare and students had the chance to watch an open rehearsal facilitated by Director Carrie Cracknell, before hearing from a panel of actors and directors including David Lan, Paapa Essiedeu and Jade Anouka. Keynote addresses to the conference were made by Edwina Dunn of the Female Lead and Baroness Shami Chakrabati. In addition to contributions by guests, there were also several student performances, including a dance performance by Mulberry School for Girls in collaboration with Heston Community School, and a Shakespeare performance by Mulberry Academy Shoreditch. Many students submitted poems on the theme of gender inequality, which were published in a special anthology. A selection of winning poems was performed at the conference itself, alongside a performance by renowned poet Dave Neita.
Over the course of the academic year 2018-19, Mulberry School for Girls is partnering with the English National Opera as part of their Operasquad programme. On Monday 15 October, singers, musicians and creatives from the ENO took over the whole of the school, running workshops and masterclasses and performing everywhere from the dining hall to the English Corridor. For the whole day, the school was alive with song in unexpected places, and almost every student in the school experienced the takeover day.
This is just the beginning of our relationship with ENO - throughout the year, there will also be opportunities for students to visit the ENO’s home at the London Coliseum to see productions, and to take part in a variety of programmes inspired by the operas in the ENO’s season. Mulberry UTC will also host a half-term project delivered by the ENO for young people from across London in February 2019.
In August 2018, 15 students from Mulberry School for Girls and Mulberry UTC, accompanied by Mulberry staff, travelled to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to perform a new play, Cry God for Harry, England and St George! The production was performed by a cast of 8, with support from production assistants, caterers and a film crew. Students spent 11 days in Edinburgh promoting and performing the production, as well as having the chance to see a wide variety of performances themselves.
The play was written by Mulberry students with support from the Director of Arts, and explored issues around leadership and Islamophobia, as well as Shakespeare. It was hugely well received in Edinburgh by both audiences and critics, with a string of positive reviews and many commenting on the professionalism and power of the production.
Following the eight performances in Edinburgh, the production was performed in London’s West End, at the Duke of York’s theatre, for one night only.
This was an extraordinary opportunity for all the students that took part, and the experience of being part of the world’s largest arts festival is something that they will never forget.
On Tuesday 13th March, a group of 15 students from Years 7 – 12 were invited to take part in a once in a lifetime opportunity: they were asked to attend the European premiere of the new Disney movie, A Wrinkle In Time.
This fantastic opportunity came to us through The Female Lead, an organisation founded by technology entrepreneur Edwina Dunn to raise the profile of inspiring female role models and connect them with the next generation of female leaders, girls currently at school. The director of A Wrinkle In Time, Ava Duvernay, was featured in The Female Lead’s inspiring book, ‘Women Who Shape Our World’, alongside our CEO and Headteacher Dr Vanessa Ogden.
Students joined Ava, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling on the red carpet, before attending a Q&A with the cast and director and then watching the film. This was a fantastic opportunity for our students, and one that they will never forget. The chance to attend a red carpet event is exciting, but what was especially meaningful for our students was the opportunity to meet and talk with women – and especially women of colour – who are not only achieving huge success in their chosen fields, but who are using their platforms to advocate for social change, to amplify the voices of those who are too often silenced, and to demand a fairer world for women and girls.
We would like to thank The Female Lead for everything they continue to do to inspire our students, and girls everywhere. We would also like to thank Ava Duvernay, Disney, and the cast and crew of A Wrinkle In Time for a magical, inspiring evening.
On 7th March, we were delighted to welcome a special guest for International Women’s Day: leader of the Metropolitan Police, Commissioner Cressida Dick.
Commissioner Dick joined us for a special event to celebrate successful women. The first female commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in history, she is an inspiring example of a woman who has risen to the top a traditionally male-dominated field, a success story which represents a significant step for gender equality in this country.
As the Commissioner arrived at Mulberry, she was greeted outside by the Police Cadets who delivered a police salute in formation to welcome her into the building. She visited a simulated MUN debate and a special meeting of Feminist Fridays exploring the life and work of the Indian Suffragette Sophia Duleep Singh. She then joined an audience of our students and students from Mulberry UTC and Green Spring Academy Shoreditch, where she gave a keynote speech about her career, her pride in the British police force as an organisation committed to keeping British communities safe, and the progress that has been made at the Met in creating an inclusive environment where gender inequality is possible.
We were also joined by Detective Inspector Tor Garnett, who gave an inspiring speech about the Police Now training academy hosted at Mulberry in recent years, and the fantastic successes of some of the female graduates of that programme.
Our students were able to participate in a Q&A in which they asked questions about building positive and trusting relationships between the police and local communities.
The event in the Main Hall was followed by a roundtable discussion on how the Tower Hamlets community can work together to tackle knife crime amongst young people.
Commissioner Dick was given a warm farewell by our students and Prefects, who cheered and waved police flags as she left the building. We would like to thank Commissioner Cressida Dick for giving us her time, and for engaging so honestly and openly with our students, staff and community.
February 2018 marked the 100 year anniversary of the Representation of the People Act, a piece of legislation which began the process of granting the vote to women in the UK. Although not all women were granted the right to vote at this time, the Act opened up the franchise to some women for the first time in British history, and was the first legislative step in a series of reforms which led to full suffrage rights for all women over the age of 18 in the UK.
To commemorate this special anniversary year, Mulberry led and participated in a range of exciting activities for students in all year groups. Some of our most interesting and exciting opportunities to celebrate and reflect were offered to us by the BBC.
On Thursday 1st February, two students in Year 12 – Shazia Anjoom-Zaman and Tamanna Islam – were offered the exciting opportunity to visit the BBC Radio 1 studio and interview journalist and presenter Anita Anand about her new book on the Indian Suffragette Sophia Duleep Singh, ‘Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary’. A goddaughter of Queen Victoria and a powerful voice in the Suffragette movement, Sophia dedicated her life to the empowerment of women and the advancement of their rights – but her story has often been overlooked by modern historians of the suffrage movement.
Anita Anand has set the record straight with a fantastic book exploring the life and work of Sophia Duleep Singh. Tamanna and Shazia interviewed Anita about her work on Sophia’s life, and about the importance of renewing knowledge about her story and her contribution to women’s rights. This was a fantastic opportunity for our students to encounter a new role model from history, and to learn about the crucial role that women of colour in 19th century Britain played in securing the vote.
On Tuesday 6th February, we were offered an extraordinary opportunity by BBC Asian Network: the chance for our students to take part in a live radio broadcast exploring the suffrage anniversary, political participation amongst British women of colour, and to what extent British women of colour face additional challenges in society that their white peers do not have to contend with.
17 students from Years 10, 12 and 13 joined the BBC Asian Network team in the Sixth Form Library for a morning of discussion and debate. Special guests visited the programme, including Labour politician Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, Conservative Councillor Gurjit Kaur-Bains, campaigners Rabiya Baig and Shani Dhanda, and comedian Guz Khan.
Our Headteacher and CEO of the Mulberry Schools Trust, Dr Vanessa Ogden, opened the programme by reflecting on how the East End has always been an important epicentre in the struggle for women’s rights, from the earliest Suffragette societies to the campaigning work being led by our own students and community members. Students took part in a passionate discussion about access, inclusion, their own experiences with challenging stereotypes other people hold about Muslim women, and the incredible power of young women of colour to push forward positive social change. Students reflected on how older generations of women in our community have always been important role models to them, and advocates for their own right to achieve their dreams: many students mentioned their mothers, aunts and older female cousins as important decision-makers within the family and community, who encourage their younger relatives to speak up and ensure that they are heard.
Students reflected on the challenges that they and other women of colour continue to face in society, and on what must be done – and by whom – in order to ensure that every girl, of every racial, ethnic or cultural background, has the fullest possible opportunity to thrive.
At lunchtime, a range of activities were offered to the wider school community. Students were able to visit a stall at break time to decorate gingerbread women: using icing pens, they iced the qualities of inspirational women that they admire on to the gingerbread women and then took them away to eat as a way of internalising the qualities they most admire in others.
Students were also able to visit a nail bar where staff applied transfers depicting inspirational women to students’ nails. Whilst having their nails done, students could engage in conversations about role models, and about the historic significance of ‘women’s work’.
All students were encouraged to practise their democratic rights by visiting a voting station to select a design for a commemorative badge: the winning design can be seen on the final page of this edition of the Berry Bugle. Badges were made to this design for every girl in the school, and handed out at our final International Women’s Day celebration on 23rd March.
Students were also led in activities about the history of the suffrage movement during morning registration – and all students were welcomed into school for the day by a rousing rendition of The March Of The Women, the anthem of the women’s suffrage movement, played through the tannoys!
All members of staff were presented with reconstructions of Suffragette badges, which they wore around the building with pride. Staff were encouraged to give their badges away to students who they felt had demonstrated some of the qualities of inspiring women – resilience, kindness, leadership, creativity, and many other inspiring attributes which our students have in abundance, as could be seen at the end of the day when hundreds of Mulberry girls went home proudly sporting the badges given to them by their teachers.
This was a fantastic week of celebration, reflection and giving thanks. We would like to thank BBC Radio 1, BBC Asian Network and all students and staff for their hard work.
Students with the BBC Asian Network team and special guests
On the 12th of December 2017, 7 alumna of Mulberry School for Girls hosted an event called Youth Got the Power. They worked with the charity Stand Up Speak Out to curate the event which aimed to bring together young people from across London with individuals from varying political backgrounds to discuss issues that matter the most to the youth as well as why youth engagement in politics is so low. The panel consisted of Professor Tim Bale from Queen Mary, QMSU President Yas Yeahia, SOAS Law student and Young Star 2016 Nusrath Hassan, Bristol Politics student Ife Grillo and former Director of Communications to Ex PM David Cameron Giles Kenningham MBE. We were also privileged to be joined by the spoken word poet Anthony Anaxagorou who performed a piece for us. The event led to engaging debate and discussion with an excellent networking opportunity for the school students and the panellists.
On Thursday 13th July, students from Mulberry and four other schools attended the second annual Mulberry Arts Conference at the Mulberry and Bigland Green Centre. This year, the conference put the spotlight on the film and television industries, and focused on the continuing lack of diversity within these industries.
On July 8th, Team Girl Leading were reunited at Mulberry to share the outcomes of their Personal Leadership Challenges at our Feedback Day.
The Feedback Day was an exciting and inspiring event. All of the young women who took part in Girl Leading have carried out extensive work to support the education of girls around the world, running events ranging from summer fairs to petitions and peer education campaigns. It was fantastic to see the range of leadership skills and styles on display, and to see students challenging themselves and achieving their goals.
On 18th July, Mulberry hosted London state schools for the second of our two annual Model United Nations conferences. This year’s summer conference focused on the theme of equality for women and girls, drawing together key topics such as poverty, health, education and violence.
Within the MUN programme, students are able to learn about the structure and functions of the United Nations through assuming the roles of UN council members. Students are allocated to countries in advance, and are expected to spend considerable time researching their country’s stance on the conference topic. Students also undertake training on the processes and procedures of UN committees. On the day of the conference, students are required to engage in fast-paced, often intense debates with council members representing other countries. They must represent the opinions of their allocated country, even if these opinions do not align with their personal attitude towards the conference topic.
MUN provides a stimulating atmosphere in which students are challenged to hone their research, debate and presentation skills, and to thoroughly understand crucial aspects of international politics and diplomacy.
This year’s summer conference was an exciting, well organised and stimulating event, drawing together some of the best young debaters in the UK. We were delighted to be joined for the first time by a delegation from Green Spring Academy Shoreditch, who provided delegates for committees and two aspiring young journalists for our Press Team. Students from Seven Kings School and Robert Clack School joined Mulberry students as committee Chairs, guiding the debate competently and professionally.
We thank all of our delegates and their schools for joining us, and look forward to the next MMUN conference in winter 2017.
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