In recent conversations about the death of HM Elizabeth II and surrounding events, it has been said to me that leaders of publicly funded educational institutions should make their own decisions about whether or not to allow the institutions that they lead to publicly acknowledge her death, irrespective of the wishes of employees or students.
I am no monarchist, but publicly funded educational institutions are ultimately answerable to HM Government who fund them (through the taxpayer) and pay the salaries of their leaders and staff; such institutions are, accordingly, an aspect of our state of which the monarch is the head. In the UK, the leaders and staff of our schools, colleges and universities enjoy the freedom of being able to openly criticise the monarchy as an institution, alongside being able to choose not to acknowledge the death of a head of state should they so wish.
Nevertheless, acknowledging the death of a monarch – perhaps Elizabeth II in particular – does not undermine the sincerity of a belief that our constitution should be reformed. Indeed, such an example has been set by that most ardent of republicans, Billy Bragg, who wanted to “take a moment to reflect on the passing of a person who has played a role in our national life over the past seven decades that is unrivalled in its significance.” Even those openly hostile to the United Kingdom have acknowledged the death of the Queen. President Vladimir Putin has written to the acceding monarch Charles III to offer “deepest condolences on the passing of Queen Elizabeth II.”
Looked at from the point of view of a particular core value held by our state-funded educational institutions, a wilful lack of acknowledgement of her death looks even more strange. The Department for Education and Ofsted both state that “A key part of our plan for education is to ensure children become valuable and fully rounded members of society who treat others with respect and tolerance, regardless of background.” Inclusivity is meant to include all, not just those with whose politics one agrees – that is one of the reasons why it is at the core of British education and internal to the kind of society that we want to realise.
For a leader of a school, college or university to use the excuse that, as someone opposed to the monarchy, they would find it impossible to select the right words for a tribute is disingenuous and graceless. One need not make a tribute – a simple acknowledgment of the death of the Queen and the offering of condolences to her family would suffice; we are, after all, also acknowledging the death of a human being within a family.
There are plenty of conversations and political arguments to be had about the future of the monarchy at a later stage – particularly now that we have a new King. However, it is a very small and mean-spirited mind that refuses acknowledgement of the Queen’s death and the offer of sympathy, because of personal political disagreement.