Offwell School drops Drake and Raleigh for Attenborough and Anning

Offwell School pupils with their new leadership role models

Offwell School pupils with their new leadership role models - Credit: Offwell School

What’s the link between David Attenborough, Mary Anning, some rocks and a local school? 

Offwell School, near Honiton, has recently taken a step towards celebrating greater diversity and providing their pupils with inspirational leaders.   

For many years the two school houses have been Drake and Raleigh – well-known adventurers (some might say pirates) from the Elizabethan period.  The children undertook research into their lives.  Both men achieved much in terms of navigation and exploration but their role in the exploitation of people through slavery was inescapable.   

The children debated the issue and decided change was needed. But who would be suitable replacements? They wanted people who could inspire and motivate them and make them feel proud. It was also an opportunity to aim for more equality in the choice and celebrate diversity. For example, half of us (at least) are female! 

One of the first names suggested was Sir David Attenborough, a man whose enthusiasm and concern for nature and humanity has deeply affected many - he was elected unanimously.   

One down, one to go.  

With diversity in mind the children identified five women who they felt were at least a match for Sir David.  The shortlist, from the past and present, was: Greta Thunberg, Maggie Aderin-Pocock, Malala Yousafzai, Rosa Parks and Mary Anning.  Again, research was undertaken and presentations were made to the rest of the school. 

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After two extremely tight votes… Mary Anning was adopted as the Leader of the second House! The children felt that Mary’s life showed dedication and perseverance: she came from poverty and discrimination, as she struggled for recognition of her contribution to science, but she never gave up. 

The school has since been delighted to discover a link between Sir David Attenborough and Mary Anning, through the Mary Anning Rocks charity, based in Lyme Regis. Sir David, famous for his interest and enthusiasm for fossils, shares this passion with Mary Anning, who searched for and found fossils on our local beaches near Lyme Regis.  Mary’s work began out of necessity to keep her family alive but eventually led to a level of acknowledgement rare for women in the 19th century.   

A truly remarkable man himself, Sir David recognises Mary Anning as a remarkable woman and he is currently their patron and is supporting a campaign run by Mary Anning Rocks to erect a statue of Mary in Lyme Regis and for the Mary Anning Rocks Learning Legacy, which will live on long after the statue is raised. Making sure Mary’s voice is never lost in history again. 

Headteacher Mrs Legg said, “Following the lives and works of two such dedicated people gives our school excellent role models to continue into the 21st century. This process has helped our children consider equality, and celebrate the strength in our diversity.  They are passionate about our environment, both local and global, and want to learn as much as possible to be able to have a positive impact on their future.  Our older children are writing to Sir David, seeking his agreement and even, perhaps, a brief visit one day, for a Devon cream tea! The Mary Anning Rocks charity founders continue to see how best to celebrate this under-estimated, yet influential woman. 

Mary Anning Rocks founder, local schoolgirl Evie Swire, said: “We love hearing about stories like this. It really makes what we have been trying to do these past 3 years all worthwhile. I love that you have changed your house names to Anning and Attenborough, well done” 

Children at school have redesigned our House Point cards, one of the school reward systems, to reflect the new names.  They are also working to create a wall mosaic which combines the interests of Sir David and Mary Anning.  This will provide a  pleasant reminder to all our children and will make a good talking point for visitors. 

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