James Dahl: Bridges Not Wedges

There has been a lot of talk about free speech in schools and on university campuses in recent weeks, not least in the light of the Government’s announcement last week of their intention to legislate to protect free speech and academic freedom within higher education. As Tom Peck wrote in The Independent, will Gavin Williamson be able to succeed in cutting through the Gordian Knot with which the likes of Voltaire, JS Mill and Rousseau struggled? Let’s see…

It was therefore something of a surprise to wake up yesterday to an article in the Mail on Sunday which referred to Wellington College, particularly our teaching of Mandarin and our links with the Confucius Institute at UCL’s Institute of Education. Even more surprising was the implication (swiftly removed when contact was made) that the College was one of many UK private schools to have been bought by Chinese owners. The College remains, of course, an educational charity founded by Royal Charter as the national memorial to “the greatest Englishman who ever lived”. We therefore do not have any owners, as such, but never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

The teaching of Mandarin Chinese at Wellington was introduced in 2007, and remains an important part of our curriculum, alongside the teaching of other major world languages in French, Spanish, German and Russian. Hundreds of Wellingtonians have benefitted from being exposed to and learning about the language and culture of China, and 2015 marked an important moment when our first Sixth Former was accepted by Oxford University to read Oriental Studies, having first been introduced to Mandarin as a Third Former in the Combermere.

The College takes very seriously our responsibility to prepare pupils for the world of tomorrow, not of yesteryear, and to encourage Wellingtonians to look outwards beyond our four walls and, indeed, beyond our national borders in doing so. It is why we offer the International Baccalaureate as well as A Levels. It is why we have pupils from almost 40 different countries worldwide. It underpins our ongoing mission to open sister schools around the world. And it is why we teach Mandarin Chinese, alongside other modern and classical languages. To adopt a more insular, inward-looking approach would, in my view, be a dereliction of our educational duty.

Now, more than ever, this outward-facing, inclusive and internationalist approach to preparing the next generation needs to be nurtured and encouraged if we are to recover, on a global level, from the societal, educational and financial scars of COVID-19. To this end, Wellington College will continue to build international bridges rather than drive wedges between East and West, not only for the benefit of our pupils and those Wellingtonians in our family of schools, but also for the rewards which can be reaped at an organisational level – the sharing of ethos, values and best practice, professional support and teacher exchange, and the joys of being part of large global family.

As an educational establishment, we will always promote knowledge and understanding of those from different regions of the world through our own curriculum and through meaningful partnerships with our family of schools. Only by working together, transnationally, generously, and with mutual understanding of our unique contexts, backgrounds and cultures will the world heal its current wounds and move forward for the benefit of all humankind. This approach has characterised a Wellington education for the past 15 years and will feature centrally in the next chapter of the College’s history.

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