By Julie Mills OBE, CEO & Group Principal
I look out of my office window at the College and I see the Pride flag flying, and it does my heart good.
There is a well-worn path to the College’s door trod by representatives of all manner of good causes and campaigns looking for our support, vocal and financial. It’s impossible to back them all, so there is a need to be choosy. However, when the request came to make a contribution to Pride:MK, to fly that flag and to place a rainbow version of the College logo on its website, there was no decision to make. Diversity, equality and acceptance are at the heart of everything we believe in.
If education is not for all then what is it for?
If social mobility and the chance for improvement are not for all then what are they for?
I am very lucky to work in the education sector which has long been, albeit quietly, at the forefront of social change with regard to gender, race and sexual identity. There is almost an assumption in education that those ugly prejudices which still mar our society have no place here. In honesty, it’s a bit of a bubble which insulates from the more disturbing attitudes still to be found in the world beyond our walls. It’s very easy sometimes to sit back and assume that if everything is fine in one’s immediate vicinity it must be the same everywhere whereas in fact, while prejudice remains, we have to fight it wherever it might be, and to be seen to fight it. If we don’t, think what we lose, personally and collectively.
My first principal was Ann Limb, who is the first woman to chair the Scout Association (as seen on The One Show this week). Ann is a Deputy Lieutenant for Buckinghamshire, founder of the Helena Kennedy Foundation, and chair of Destination Milton Keynes and the city’s International Festival, to name but a few of her contributions. I’ve spoken before about how Ann inspired me and made me believe in myself as a woman in a professional role. In a more prejudiced world Ann, as a gay woman, would never have been principal, and I would never have learnt from her, and I would never have been principal either.
We are incredibly proud at the College of our association with Bletchley Park, and the plans to open an Institute of Technology there. If one man’s name is synonymous with the incredible work done there during the war breaking enemy codes it is that of Alan Turing. Mathematician, father of the computer, cryptanalyst and patriot, he killed himself at forty-two having been pursued and shamed by the state for his sexuality. What other great service could he have done for Queen and Country had he lived a kinder, longer life? What other great breakthroughs might he have achieved? How much have we lost?
It’s easy to assume that things like that “couldn’t happen today.” And yet, only last week an MP went on television saying that not only was it wrong for the BBC to say same-sex dancers would be welcome on Strictly, but that “such people” should only be seen, “after the 9.00pm watershed.” While such attitudes persist our job is far from done. Rather than congratulating ourselves for our modernity and equality we need to talk to those who don’t want to listen. We need to engage with people who do harbour prejudice and keep talking until they see the light. Don’t block the trolls, answer them back, argue with them, and prove that they’re wrong. Tell them about Ann Limb and Alan Turing and all those other people without whose contributions society would be so much the poorer. Tell them it’s not just about fairness, but productivity, growth, law and order, social cohesion; without true equality none of these things can ever be the best they can be.
Fly the flag and talk the talk and be glad that you’re making your own contribution to social change for which we should all be PROUD.