Statement from the Haberdashers’ Company

Statement outlining the outcome of the Robert Aske Legacy consultation

Robert Aske (1619-1689) was a silk trader, merchant and Master Haberdasher and one of this Trust’s greatest benefactors.  Thanks to the legacy (£32,000) he left to the Haberdashers Livery Company on his death, the Aske Charity was created.  Today there are 14 schools which are the beneficiaries of the Aske Charity, and over the 350 years since he left the legacy more than 100,000 pupils have received the benefit of an Aske sponsored education.  

Despite his philanthropic work, Aske’s life and work is not without some controversy.  In 1672, he made an investment of £500 in the Royal African Company.  This was a trading company which traded slaves from Africa to the West Indies between 1660 and 1708.  The majority of investors came from the City of London business community, and included the Duke of York (later King James II).  The history of the Slave Trade is painful and difficult to consider. It makes us question our assumptions about the past; answering these questions can deepen and enrich our understanding of our heritage.

The Trust began an extensive consultation in the summer term which concluded in July. There were a wide range of opinions from all stakeholders including pupils, parents, staff, alumni, local community and governors. Since the outset of the consultation, openness and transparency have guided discussions. 

The consultation focused on three key areas:

  • the current motto of ‘Serve and Obey’;
  • the use of ‘Aske’ in the name of the Trust and schools; and
  • the statue, paintings and other items related to Aske.

In some areas complete agreement was found on the way forward, in others, opinion was divided. But the Trustees took all points of view into consideration before agreeing the action to be taken.

The current motto, ‘Serve and Obey’, will be dropped by the Trust and by our schools. There was overwhelming agreement that its 16th Century origins need explanation and are no longer relevant to the society in which we live. It is important that pupils and staff feel a connection to any motto or strapline that will be adopted and discussions will begin on a new one as part of the Trust’s ongoing work on culture. 

There was a wider range of views regarding the use of ‘Aske’ in the name of our Trust and schools. Those in favour of its removal think that Aske’s investment – however small – was offensive, unacceptable and at odds with today’s values. Others thought that our school names are overly complicated and need refining, and that an opportunity has arisen to do this.

Those in favour of retaining ‘Aske’ believe that, through the legacy that founded the Haberdashers’ schools, Robert Aske benefitted generations of children. They also felt that historic acts should be viewed in the context of their time or that removing the name could be seen as tokenistic. 

Having taken all views into account and accepting that there will be inevitable disagreement, Trustees have decided that ‘Aske’ will be removed from school names and from the trading name of the Trust – this includes letterheads, signage and visuals in everyday use. It will be retained in the formal, legal name of the Trust, in recognition of the significant contribution made by the Aske Charity. The new trading name of the Trust will be Haberdashers’ Academies Trust South. This will be in use with immediate effect. 

Changes will be made on websites, letters and prospectuses and these changes will be seen quickly. The process for uniforms and school bags will take time and there is no expectation that current pupils purchase new uniform until they would ordinarily have done so.

This has been a challenging and complex discussion and every single voice has been an important part of the process. The Trust now has a range of learning opportunities: to support the understanding of historical acts, to look at events from different perspectives and to encourage the debate of difficult issues. To support this, we will seek to re-purpose the statue of Aske at Hatcham College. A formal committee will meet to review the extensive restrictions over its treatment and aim to contextualise it in a way that ensures alignment with the Trust’s values and longer-term educational objectives. 

There is an understanding and acknowledgement that not everyone will agree with the actions that are being taken, there will be some people who do not. Despite this difference, there is a unity for all involved and a genuine shared interest of our schools and pupils at heart.