Drama school’s former principal apologises for past racist remarks

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The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama was founded in 1906

The ex-head of a drama school embroiled in a race row has apologised for saying the introduction of diversity quotas could lead to a lowering of standards.

Prof Gavin Henderson said he would “regret forever” his “racist” comments.

This week a group of young BAME actors spoke out about racial discrimination they faced at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London.

The school said it was “deeply sorry” and has announced measures aimed at achieving “real and meaningful change”.

They include moves to “de-colonise” its curriculum and “cultivate a workforce of more diverse academic staff”.

The institution has also pledged to investigate “every single complaint of racism received”.

Prof Henderson made his comments at a 2018 event called Dear White Central.

“We want to make this as accessible a school as possible but there are absolute standards we have to achieve,” he later told The Stage.

In a statement released on Friday, he said his comments had “undermined” Central’s credibility and caused “lasting pain and damage”.

He said: “I apologise unreservedly for the lived experiences of students of colour during my time as principal of Central. Our systems failed.”

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Media captionFormer student Shaniqua Okwok on Central’s “overt racism”

In a letter sent earlier this week, 240 former students said “words and actions of open and overt racism” had blighted their time at the school.

Their complaints included teachers calling black students by their wrong names and a lack of diversity in the plays being studied.

The group formed after being dismayed when the institution posted a message supporting the Black Lives Matter movement last week.

‘Transformational change’

Prof Henderson, who was due to retire at the end of term, has brought forward his retirement by three months.

In their response, the school’s current chiefs apologised “for the lack of effective change and leadership” and for not taking action sooner.

“Transformational change is needed and will be enacted,” they promised, adding: “We know that the school has a long road to travel.”

Founded in 1906, Central’s many famous alumni include Riz Ahmed, Dame Judi Dench, Star Wars’ Carrie Fisher and Sir Laurence Olivier.

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