Diversity in the Curriculum
As an international boarding school, globalism is an intrinsic part of our pupils’ time at Marlborough. We value all backgrounds, experiences, talents, opinions and cultures, encouraging a community of diversity and inclusivity. Across the College, we promote the questioning of traditional views, a broader cultural awareness and cross-curriculum exploration. We look to create safe and open forums for our pupils where challenging topics can be discussed and moderated.
Our teaching and pastoral programmes see diversity in its many forms as a creative power, the driving force in igniting a thirst for knowledge and understanding, and in producing empathetic, socially minded young people who want to make a positive difference in the world around them. During their time with us, Marlburians acquire the knowledge, skills, values, beliefs and behaviours which will equip them to be outstanding members of the contemporary global community. Critical worldwide events drive what and how we teach, including an important focus on the histories and experiences of ethnic minorities and the UK in the specific context of slavery and colonialism.
We continue to ask ourselves what more we can do to move beyond awareness and words to action and lasting positive change.
For our newest pupils, the Shell, the Marlborough College curriculum is deliberately broad-based and at its heart lies our unique concept, ‘Form’, where everything in the area of human experience is considered potentially of interest and therefore relevant. Form seeks to enrich Shell pupils’ academic experience and to help them explore beyond the confines of subject boundaries, setting the foundations for how we want them to approach their studies during their time at the College and beyond.
It is a combined Humanities course taught in groups of 12 that takes the place of History, Religious Studies and English. One day a group will be enjoying the poems of John Betjeman, the next trying to decide why William the Conqueror conquered, or whether Boris Johnson is a good Prime Minister. Form is varied and exploratory, and teaches the pupils to listen critically to multiple and diverse perspectives, to form their own views and to express themselves coherently.
Central to Form lessons is the common study of the development of human civilisation, enabling pupils to appreciate something of the chronology of that development as well as its ideas, cultures, events and beliefs. Underpinning the course is the truism that learning is not a passive process and that, through constructive challenge, conversation and exploration, pupils can be guided towards a greater understanding both of their own place in the world and of the views of others.
We do not shy away from the hard topics. Shell pupils in Form have studied the transatlantic slave trade, the Byam portrait, the memorialisation of Colston et al., decolonisation, prejudice, the Black Lives Matter movement, Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, immigration and post-War race relations, Windrush and the poetry of Benjamin Zephaniah, apartheid in South Africa, treatment of indigenous Australians, American civil rights and Martin Luther King, unconscious racial bias and a full range of literature. Holocaust Memorial Day is marked annually with a talk from a survivor.
Of equal importance to imparting academic skills, the objectives of Form are to foster:
- an understanding of historical narratives, buttressed by critical evaluation of ‘facts’;
- the ability to relate current affairs to learning in class and vice versa;
- the capacity to adopt an enquiring, critical and reflective approach to one’s studies;
- an awareness of one’s self, personal feelings, identity and worth, as well as one’s relationships with others and the personal qualities and responsibilities needed for being a contributing member of a community;
- an exploration of values and beliefs that are different from our own; and
- the ability to reflect on fundamental questions and to engage with them intellectually and personally.
The year’s work culminates with the writing of a Form Project, an original, extended piece of writing, or a portfolio of work, seeking to explore a theme in an analytical, reflective and creative manner. An individual piece might take the form of an extended essay, an original artefact or even a performance, as long as the level and breadth of research, analysis and exposition shows independent scholarship, the consideration of multiple perspectives and genuine engagement with the theme. A portfolio should contain several, smaller pieces, providing evidence of different styles of approach to the main theme.
In this unique part of our curriculum, we are giving increased thought to how British history is taught, and to how we can help promote a much stronger understanding of the negative legacy of colonialism, of systemic racism and of the insidious way that it still affects our society today.
The Everest Reading Challenge is one of the first things Form beaks do with their new pupils, sending it out with their introductory letter and encouraging them to make a start before they arrive. Pupils are asked to read a number of books from a carefully curated collection in order to conquer ‘Everest’. The collection highlights both classic and modern texts, and seeks to provide Marlburians with works which broaden their horizons and expose them to ideas from minority voices.
We include books by an amazing host of talented authors, including Akala, Malorie Blackman, Tomi Adeyemi, Chinua Achebe, Laurie Halse Anderson, Uzodinma Iweala, Patrice Lawrence, Jason Reynolds, Nikesh Shukla, Angie Thomas, Alex Wheatle, Nicola Yoon, Malala Yousafzai and Benjamin Zephaniah.
The current reading challenge lists can be found under Resources on this page.
The Library holds a half-termly book group called ‘Books, Biscuits, Tea and Talk’, which is a forum for pupils and staff to bring and present a book of their choice. In this forum we have discussed the themes of race, identity and belonging in Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch and those of class in Poverty Safari by Loki. We look forward to other such discussions, stimulated by a powerful personal reaction to a book by one of our College community, in the school years ahead.
The Library works to promote fiction and non-fiction by minority voices through newsletters and social media, and by celebrating and highlighting important calendar events such as Black History Month and Pride. We are curating a series of recommended reading lists based around contemporary social issues, highlighting resources that will be useful to pupils who wish to engage with these topics. The first three booklets in the Series look at Race and Racism, Gender and Sexuality and Feminism. They are promoted on our website, in the Library and in lessons to introduce a wider number of pupils to important, accessible texts.
In the English Department, we have resisted the more conservative syllabus offerings for our literature courses and fill the Lower Sixth and Remove years with as many diverse texts, guests and experiences as possible, often in direct response to pupil interest. For example, The Handmaid’s Tale drew some very strong reactions from the Lower Sixth on gender equality and women’s rights. With the freedoms of the syllabuses as they are, we can continue to adapt to pupils’ most passionate interests.
Several beaks choose to teach Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God to the Lower School and, in the Sixth Form, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple is a favourite novel, often taught alongside Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison and Langston Hughes. In the Lower Sixth, we have added a study of James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk. Creative Writing students also cover texts from a diverse range of writers: a recent keystone collection of short stories set for study was Nafissa Thompson-Spires’ Heads of the Colored People. We intend for literature that features experiences of race, racism and institutional discrimination to feature heavily in every school year and we look forward to supporting our pupils in gaining a deeper appreciation of these hugely topical and important matters.
Poetry is a powerful way to communicate lived experience and our guest poets have given us inspiration and new understanding both through their work and their willingness to engage in discussion around the topics that influence their writing.
Our guests have included Lemn Sissay, Patience Agbabi, Zena Williams, Anthony Joseph, Sujata Bhatt, Indigo Williams, John Agard, Jacob Sam-La Rose (poet-in-residence), Kayo Chingonyi (poet-in-residence), Daljit Nagra, James Berry, Sarah Howe (poet-in-residence), Amir Darwish, Inua Ellams and Roger Robinson.
The History Department has responded to the growing interest in the history of Africa and the African diaspora, and to our pupils’ desire for a deeper understanding of this vast subject, by facilitating a pupil-led project that builds on the Young Pioneers’ Challenge.
The Young Pioneers’ Challenge (YPC) was created by our Head of History in 2015 and is unique to Marlborough. Its purpose is to help pupils get a sense of the important themes and events by providing a top ten ‘most important moments’ for each topic, aimed at encouraging a desire to learn more. The first version of the YPC focused on Western history (Europe and the US) from 1000 AD to the present. The second Challenge was dedicated to Africa and the African diaspora over the same time period. Pupils in the Sixth Form took on the task of researching and identifying the most significant events in African history based on their sustained impact on modern times.
We are pleased to present the YPC Africa and the African Diaspora here.
The Philosophy Department is delighted to be at a point of change, with a move to a new syllabus which significantly increases the amount of time spent on gender issues and interfaith dialogue, as well as a consideration of theological and philosophical issues from non-European perspectives. Responding to the issues raised by the Black Lives Matter movement, the Department created a short series of lessons, aimed at pupils in the Hundred who are preparing to study Philosophy in the Sixth Form, based around a philosophical approach to prejudice and race. The lessons are run as facilitated student-led discussion looking at implicit bias, stereotype threat, oppression, power structures and racial profiling. As part of this programme, pupils take the Harvard test to understand their own unconscious bias which is invariably a potent trigger to open and frank discussion. The final part requires pupils to write a 500-word response to key questions raised by the study of an academic paper titled ‘What is racism?’.
We have been thoroughly impressed with the critical engagement of the Marlburians involved, and excited about the potential this has to increase pupils’ philosophical literacy beyond the analytic tradition and into recent postmodern modes of philosophy. We continue to explore how this could be expanded and integrated into our curriculum and co-curricular activities.