Staff at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama have passed a vote of no confidence in its management, revealing they are “gravely concerned” about a lack of visible safeguarding action following reports of racism and abuse.
The vote of no confidence was passed last week, at a meeting of staff who belong to a branch of the University and College Union, who said they had reported serious concerns about “racism and systemic failures” in the managerial and administrative structures at Central and had raised issues about the “lack of support and resources for many of our administrative departments”. The branch features a substantial number of staff from across the school, not just in academic roles.
“We have seen no meaningful change,” they said, in a statement issued following the vote.
The vote of no confidence, passed unanimously, was in the school’s managerial structures and in the procedures for making and investigating complaints within the school. Members claimed there was “currently no basis for trust in the school’s managerial and human resources systems to implement change effectively”, and expressed concern that a lack of coherent structures in place to ensure ongoing leadership had left the school “looking incompetent”.
Their concerns followed reports of racism experienced by students at the school, which surfaced after Central issued social media posts in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“We recognise that many of the problems highlighted in the events since the #blacklivesmatter tweet, but which predate that event, are systemic, and that each of us must play a part in making Central a more inclusive place,” the report of the meeting states.
It said this could not be achieved unless there is a “visible and clear process in dealing with complaints”, undertaken independently where appropriate, and the school’s leadership and management takes “responsibility for events, works transparently and regains the trust of staff”.
“We are gravely concerned about the lack of visible safeguarding action taken in the light of claims of abuse shared on social media,” it added.
The staff said they stood in “solidarity” with students in calling for meaningful change within the institution.
Last week, following the racism revelations, the school issued a response that said it would implement a new system of reporting complaints, efforts to "decolonise" its curriculum and the creation of an advisory board, including external industry figures and academics of colour, as well as ensuring that all staff are "actively anti-racist in their teaching and practice".
The staff said they continued “to demand proper process, transparency and open and inclusive leadership”.
In their statement, staff called on management to take appropriate responsibility for the situation and commit to working “transparently with all of the school’s staff and students to address the problems we face”, adding that staff must not be infantilised and their “concerns must be taken seriously and within robust structures”.
They also called for the managerial structure of the school to be “shared, explained, justified, and – where necessary – be subject to change in consultation with staff”.
Staff also called on the school to act on action plans being proposed by current and former students and move away from “box-ticking’ solutions as problems are addressed.
“More must be done, publicly, to condemn the marketisation of higher education, which is completely at odds with diversity and inclusion; while the school cannot choose the societal context in which it operates, it can resist and protest,” the statement said.
Responding, interim co-principals Debbie Scully and Ross Brown said: “Events in recent weeks highlighted that action needs to be taken at the school to eradicate racism and ensure our students feel valued, safe and welcome, and this is what we are doing.
"On Friday June 12, the day after the UCU’s motion was passed, we set out a plan of action which is already being put in motion. We have pledged to listen to others, review our systems and dismantle and decolonise our curriculum to deliver an equal, diverse and inclusive representation of the arts. Most importantly, any abuses of power will be met with the strongest possible action where necessary and students, past and present, receive the support they need. They will be investigated swiftly, and appropriate safeguarding measures put in place where necessary during the investigation."
They said they were taking "these steps to address this crucial issue and welcome members of the school community, including the UCU, to be part of a constructive dialogue which will bring about real and lasting change for our school and many other drama schools in the UK".