School named after slave trader Edward Colston will change its name

6 October 2020, 17:17

The school's name and association with Colston had been the subject of renewed public debate
The school's name and association with Colston had been the subject of renewed public debate. Picture: Getty

By Matt Drake

A school named after Bristolian slave trader Edward Colston will change its name after a consultation with staff and students.

Colston's Girls' School (CGS) in Bristol was established in 1891, 170 years after the death of Colston and was built with money he had endowed to support education.

The school's name and association with Colston had been the subject of renewed public debate after a statue of the 17th century merchant was toppled during a Black Lives Matter protest in June.

A consultation was launched, including an online public survey and series of lessons and debates in school, with 81% of students and staff voting on whether the name should be kept or changed.

Gail Bragg, chair of trustees for Venturers Trust, said: "The Board of Venturers Trust has unanimously agreed to change the name of CGS, following a very clear result from the school community vote.

"I'm incredibly proud of our students who have shown maturity and sensitivity in developing and delivering the consultation.

"The broad spectrum of feedback from within the school and from the online survey, make it very clear that there are strong feelings on both sides of the debate.

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"For some people this announcement will be disappointing and for others it will be cause for celebration and it's important that we acknowledge that.

"We will not be erasing the history of CGS, it is a part of Bristol's story which is now an integral and permanent part of the curriculum.

"However, the school will be forging a new identity that represents its diverse and inclusive community and this is the momentous beginning of a new chapter."

An online survey was open to the public between July 17 and August 14.

It received 454 responses, with 63% of respondents voting against changing the school's name.

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Students gathered further opinions from across the city, including from interviews with leading Bristol figures, to help stimulate discussion and debate within a series of lessons, the trust said.

Academic and historian Professor Madge Dresser advised students how to facilitate a balanced debate process, it added.

Current students and staff voted in a final poll, with 75% in favour of changing the name.

Kerry McCullagh, principal of CGS, said: "Students have learnt so much about the democratic process and have expanded their own opinions by talking and listening to such a wide range of people.

"I am particularly impressed by the way in which all opinions were genuinely welcomed so that those who expressed a desire to keep the school's name were able to do so without worrying that others might judge them.

"The entire process has been positive and perfectly illustrates the inspiring qualities of our compelling students.

"These are difficult conversations with strong views on both sides and the classroom has provided a safe space in which to explore complex issues.

"Students were encouraged to seek and understand the views of others and not just to make themselves heard, which is a really valuable life skill."

Students will now develop a list of potential names for the school, using feedback gathered during the consultation process.

The new name for the school, which has 940 students, is expected to be announced by the end of October.

A report including feedback from the online survey will be published on the school website when the process has concluded.

Last month, Avon and Somerset Police said it had asked prosecutors to consider charges against four people over the toppling of the Colston statue.

The bronze memorial was pulled down on June 7 and dumped in Bristol Harbour. It was later recovered by Bristol City Council.

Detectives said they would approach the Crown Prosecution Service for a charging decision against three men aged 32, 25 and 21, and a 29-year-old woman.

Five other men, aged 18, 20, 29, 33 and 47, have been offered a conditional caution for the offence of causing criminal damage.