FORMER pupils at William Edwards School in Grays have launched a petition calling on the school to reverse its decision to change its four house names.
News of the planned change emerged this week and was described as exciting by school head Simon Bell, who adds it has been welcomed by current students – but former pupils are less impressed.
One of those upset is William Edwards old boy Dean Burns, who says: “The current headmaster has seen fit to change the names of the houses of the school (Whitmore, Warren, Rokell and Bryun) to some more… let’s say… modern, woke, names.
“I am sure this will upset many ex pupils. The names of the houses are families from Thurrock’s past, who have ties to the area, and especially in the case of the Whitmore family who have given so much to the local community this is so upsetting.
“Former pupils are appalled at this, as it is a clear case of ‘cancel culture’, and it has infested our old school now. We have started a petition, and have gained support in 24 hours, and will undoubtedly gain more in the coming days.
“I have also emailed the head, and have had a reply but it was very dismissive. It’s as if tradition and history doesn’t matter.”
Head Mr Bell says the decision to change the names of the houses is part of the school’s response to the pandemic.
He says: “The pandemic has had a devastating impact on young people, schools and education and consequently, we are making a number of changes for September to ‘relaunch’ the school and to rethink a number of aspects of school life which have been forever changed as a result of the last 18 months.
“Part of that relaunch is the introduction of a fifth house to increase our capacity to support the pupils who have been most affected by the pandemic.
“Therefore, we took the decision to rename, rebrand and relaunch all of the houses. “Pupils and staff have suggested names and have decided to move away from the traditional names we have used that have had a local connection.
“They have chosen role models, heroes and interesting figures from history that they want to celebrate and be associated with. For example, as a result of the magnificent work carried out by the NHS over the last year, pupils wanted to celebrate the role of nurses and have therefore chosen ‘Nightingale’ as the name for one of the new houses.
“This is entirely appropriate and I am very proud that this is something that they want to do.
“As a history teacher myself, I am clear on the importance of tradition and history in both society and schools. That is why we will always continue to celebrate the history of the school.
“However, we are also clear that occasionally things need to evolve and change and we feel strongly that coming out of a pandemic is exactly the right time to make this type of change for the reasons outlined above.
“When we unveiled the new houses to our current pupils on Monday, they were excited by the change and there was a palpable ‘buzz’ around the school. We will always make decisions based upon the best interest of our pupils.
“Regrettably, I cannot do anything about it if that decision is one which some former pupils do not agree with. Please rest assured that the history of the school will continue to be celebrated within the school building as it is an important part of the evolution of the school.”
The five new houses are to be called Parks, Nightingale, Attenborough, Ennis-Hill, and Turing.
Mr Burns says he hopes that weight of opinion may force a change of mind and he and other former pupils are asking former friends and students to sign an online petition created by another angry former student, Ryan Ponder.
It can be accessed via this link.