Islington: Call to name centre after UK's first Black headteacher

Sue Seifert Friend Of Yvonne Conolly CBE at freedom of borough ceremony.

Sue Seifert Friend Of Yvonne Conolly CBE at freedom of borough ceremony. Right, Yvonne Conolly. - Credit: Islington Council

A community centre could be renamed to honour Britain’s “trailblazing” first Black female headteacher.

Yvonne Conolly was appointed to the top job at Islington's Ring Cross Primary School in 1969 when she was just 29.

She had to be escorted to the school on her first day because of racist threats.

Islington Council wants to rename the community centre on the Ring Cross Estate after her.

She was posthumously awarded the Freedom of the Borough this year.
She once recounted arriving in the UK from Jamaica in 1963 on “a grey, grey day – I wondered what I had done”.

Speaking to the BBC in 2019, she said she was aware of racial tensions in many UK schools. “There were small silly things, nothing dangerous but enough to cause discomfort," she said. 

When she was made headteacher at the primary school in Holloway’s Eden Grove, she was the focus of media attention.

She recalled: “When I was appointed somebody threatened to burn the school down.”

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Conolly added she was sent the articles with her picture crossed out and “nasty comments” written over them. Some Black people thought she had “sold out” too, she said.

However she was determined to do the job she trained for.

“I had a responsibility for all the children in my school, regardless of race or religion,” she said. “The differences were less than the commonalities that we shared. And therefore we had to get on with it.

“Happily the parents were only interested in whether their children would get a good education. And that was my focus.”

Conolly died in January 2021, aged 81.

Holloway ward councillor Rakhia Ismail, who was the UK’s first Somali-born mayor, proposed renaming the Ring Cross Estate after Conolly.

Ismail, the only Conservative on the council, brought a motion last week saying: “Black and minority British children’s voices are still under-represented in great numbers in education establishments, and it is obvious that discrimination on an institutional and structural level is experienced daily in the leadership of children’s learning.”

Cllr Ismail said 92 per cent of headteachers and 85 per cent of school teachers in England are white British, according to 2019 data.