The headmistress of a leading private girls’ school that counts Princess Anne among its former students has defended ‘woke’ pupils and demanded older generations stop labelling them ‘snowflakes’.
Samantha Price, of the £40,000-a-year Benenden School in Kent, said dismissing youngsters who demand change could mean they give up on equality and sustainability campaigns.
Mrs Price, president of the Girls’ Schools Association, will tell its annual conference in Manchester parents are ‘deeply unsettled’ about issues such as gender identity.
But she will call on school leaders to challenge anyone who dismisses the younger generation as ‘woke’, ‘snowflakes’ or a part of the ‘cancel culture’.
Samantha Price, head of Benenden School in Kent, said that dismissing students who demand change could mean they give up on equality and sustainability campaigns
Mrs Price said: ‘I think that if they are consistently dismissed in this way then what will happen is that they will just give up.
‘As they go into their 20s and into further maturity, what was such a passion for them will end up just going by the wayside.’
‘Therefore we probably won’t see the level of progress in society – from sustainability through to equality – that I think we have the opportunity to be able to see and sustain now if we, our generation, handle this effectively.’
In a speech to more than 100 heads of private girls’ schools, Mrs Price will also criticise references to teenagers as being ‘woke’ and adults who comment that they cannot say anything without being ‘called out’ by young people.
She will say: ‘It would be unforgivable for the older generation to close its mind to new ideas, to retreat to ‘the good old days’ and dismiss the energetic changes of this generation as something to be referred to in derogatory tones and sighs.
Benenden School in Kent (pictured). The leading private girls’ school’s headmistress has defended ‘woke’ pupils and demanded older generations stop labelling them ‘snowflakes’
In her speech, Mrs Price will also call for the delivery of Relationships and Sex Education to be made a compulsory part of teacher training.
She will say: ‘To really teach and facilitate these discussions well, teachers need to be prepared and confident to manage this.’
‘What has really struck me is that this so-called ”woke” generation are actually simply young people who care about things: about causes, about the planet, about people.
‘It ultimately comes down to something very simple: being kind.’
Pupils have been demanding action on an array of issues after a number of high-profile movements.
These include Black Lives Matter and efforts at combating sexual harassment, which have gained momentum during the pandemic.
The GSA president said schools have run more diversity workshops with parents, developed pupil-led inclusion groups and appointed inclusion leads in the past year.
In her school, a group of Asian students recently launched a twice-termly newsletter which addresses Asian-related issues and perceptions.
Actress Rachel Weisz (pictured with her James Bond star husband Daniel Craig in 2013) is among the famous former pupils
Mrs Price said they did this because they felt there was a lack of understanding about their culture.
On gender identity, Mrs Price said: ‘There is quite a shift in terms of what this generation determine as being equality, and their understanding of gender, compared to my generation.
‘And I think that the more you talk with parents, the more their understanding develops. Otherwise it can feel quite alien.’
But she drew the line at ‘walking out of class over climate’, explaining she does not think ‘standing in a street with a banner’ will have much of an impact.
She said pupils should raise their ideas on how to improve the climate with their school rather than taking part in strikes during lesson time.
Her comments come after youth activists took to the streets of Glasgow in school time to demand action on climate change from leaders at Cop26.
Pupils across the UK took part in a series of school strikes before the pandemic, led by climate activist Greta Thunberg, on climate change.
Mrs Price said: ‘I don’t think students should be walking out of class over climate.
‘I do think students should be encouraged to feel passionate about things and I think that students should feel that they can go to their school and they should bang the drum on aspects around climate, and think through with the school what they can do that’s actually proactively going to make a difference.
‘And I personally don’t think that standing in a street with a banner is going to make that difference.’
The head added: ‘I think in terms of their time in school, I think they can use that time much more productively.
‘But again, the school has to listen and the school has to help them to be able to respond.’
In a speech to the GSA annual conference in Manchester on Monday, Mrs Price will acknowledge that the younger generation do not always approach their protests in the best way.
She will say it is schools’ job to help teach pupils how to conduct themselves when campaigning.
She said: ‘I think that as school leaders where our responsibility comes in is working with the students to use their voice effectively so that it doesn’t become continually combative in terms of what they are trying to achieve so i.e. protests and rallies and just shooting from the hip and speaking out.’
She said students need to be able to actively listen and respond to differing opinions to campaign effectively. ‘I don’t think just going out and protesting is the way to do it,’ she added.
Schools should encourage more pupils to engage in debates on matters like sustainability from a young age, the GSA president said.
She said: ‘To create a safe space to talk in, people have to be respectful to each other.
‘And of course the younger you can start to instil that then obviously it becomes much more natural as students then go through school.’
Many schools have changed commemorative names in the wake of anti-racism protests.
These include in Bristol, where institutions have shifted away from being associated with slave trader Edward Colston after his statue was toppled by a mob.
A school in East Sussex also said it was dropping the country’s greatest ever Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill as a house name.
This came after pupils claimed he ‘promoted racism and inequality’ and was guilty of torture.
Meanwhile in Yorkshire a primary school changed the names of its houses from Sir Walter Raleigh, Admiral Nelson and Francis Drake after a former pupil tried to make out they supported ‘institutionalised racism’.