Kevin Riley: Why EDL march does Bradford no credit

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IT was good to support the Positive Bradford day two weeks ago and see the City Park alive with so many people wanting to show how much they valued Bradford as a city.

All of us have fond memories of that great Cup run by the Bantams last year and how much of a boost that give to the city’s image.

So it is a disappointment that the EDL will be marching through Bradford today with all the attendant negative publicity that will bring.

I lived and worked in Wolverhampton in the 1980s when racial tensions were high; it didn’t help the city’s image and certainly made it harder to attract people to come and live and work in the city.

Bradford Grammar School has been a beacon of educational excellence in the city for over 400 years but that is only part of the story. It has also been a symbol of cultural harmony, opening its doors to students from all cultures, faiths and races. Frederick Delius is one of our most famous former students; his name is ‘Fritz’ on the school roll and his father came to Bradford in the 19th century to develop his career as a wool merchant, becoming a British citizen in 1850.

Now in the 21st century BGS mirrors Bradford’s demographic, with some 30 per cent of its students being from ethnic backgrounds. It is one of the few places in the area where people from very different backgrounds meet and discover communality.

Our recent Founders’ Day perfectly illustrates the way in which the school adapts to the modern world; we gather in Bradford Cathedral where nearby the school began in the 16th century.

We commemorate all those from the city who in some way have contributed to the development of the school but we also reflect the UK’s increasingly diverse population in the makeup of our student body present: hijab and turban, city and rural, boys and girls. The service gives the students a sense of their place in history and encourages them to aspire to emulate and indeed outdo their predecessors. The Lord Mayor was present, Councillor Khadim Hussain, to reinforce that message of aspiration within a cohesive and united community.

Contrast that with the message that the EDL wants to send out by marching through Bradford. One that says we do not value diversity nor do we want ‘you’ here, whoever that who might be. It’s a message full of anger which helps no-one and hinders the revitalisation of Bradford.

Education is the key to ensuring social cohesion and enabling students from very different backgrounds to understand what they have in common and crucially the differences too. Every year our Year 9 students enjoy a ‘Faiths in the City’ day when they experience a whole range of activities which introduce them to the richness of Bradford’s cultural and religious heritage. The school’s Bursary scheme enables it to offer places to bright boys and girls from all social backgrounds; all that counts is the willingness to learn and a determination to make the most of the opportunities available.

At an assembly last year, I handed out a certificate to celebrate one of our student’s successes in a modern languages spelling bee competition. She had come second in the regional round and was off to represent Yorkshire in the national finals. As she came up the steps onto stage, I reflected on one of the modern embodiments of the school; a demure Muslim girl in a hijab receiving a prize for spelling in French and German.

Bradford is a city with a great heritage which has had some tough times recently. In such situations it’s easy to become discouraged, to believe some of the bad news stories and fail to celebrate all that’s good about it.

We’re proud of our heritage and of being Bradfordians; we enjoy our links with the Cathedral and with all the other institutions which make Bradford the city it is today.

So let’s not let a march through our streets deter us from celebrating the rich diversity which makes up modern Bradford.

At BGS we celebrate great Bradfordians like Denis Healey, Ken Morrison, David Hockney, Adrian Moorhouse and the Brownlee brothers; we are mindful that we have the next generation of Bradfordians to follow in their illustrious footsteps; they will have a clear understanding of what it means to be part of this great city and to feel proud of it.

• Kevin Riley is headmaster of Bradford Grammar School.