‘Go to the back of the queue… or I’ll send you to one of your gas chambers’
‘Go to the back of the queue… or I’ll send you to one of your gas chambers’: What teacher at top school told distraught Jewish girl
A Jewish teenager at one of Britain’s top public schools was left distraught after a teacher said she would be sent to ‘one of your gas chambers’ because she had jumped the lunch queue.
The astonishing outburst happened at girls-only North London Collegiate School, whose former pupils include actress Rachel Weisz, ChildLine founder Esther Rantzen and Vogue editor Anna Wintour.
The teacher has apologised privately to the girl for the horrifying remark, but the school refuses to identify the woman or explain what, if any, disciplinary action has been taken against her.
The incident took place at the girls-only North London Collegiate School which was rated ‘excellent’ in all categories in a recent inspection
Last night, the parents of the girl, who was 17 at the time, urged the headmistress to make a public statement to underline the seriousness of the incident.
The Mail on Sunday knows the girl’s identity but has agreed to a request by her family not to publish her name.
According to her father, the offensive comment was made after the girl committed a minor misdemeanour by unhooking a rope barrier within the lunch queue as she entered the dining hall in January. It was overheard by a large number of other pupils waiting in line.
The girl’s father said: ‘A teacher was passing by and she rushed up to my daughter and said, “Don’t do that or I’ll have to send you to the back of the queue or to one of your gas chambers.” ’
The teacher, who has worked at the school for several years, was not one of the student’s subject tutors and there had been virtually no previous contact between the two.
The pupil’s father – who is a successful businessman – said: ‘It was very unpleasant, very uncalled-for and very unfortunate. My daughter was shocked and upset. She didn’t say anything to the teacher at the time but all her friends expressed amazement. They kept saying, “Did she really say that?” ’
Movie star Rachel Weisz, left, and Vogue editor Anna Wintour, right, are both former students of the school
The matter was reported by another family to the Community Security Trust, which combats anti-Semitism in Britain. It also campaigns for better public education about the Holocaust, in which six million Jews died – many of them gassed in Nazi concentration camps.
Community Security Trust communications director Mark Gardner said: ‘This would be highly offensive in any circumstance, but to be directed at a pupil by a teacher is unheard of and makes it far worse.
‘We are working with all parties to resolve the matter.’
Esther Rantzen, another alumni, said: ‘When I was there… it was a model of tolerance and I am absolutely astonished by this incident’
North London Collegiate School has an outstanding academic record and fees for senior pupils are almost £6,000 a term. Founded in 1850, it stands in 30 acres of parkland in Stanmore and has Royal connections. Headmistress Bernice McCabe has directed the Prince of Wales Education Summer Schools for teachers and is now co-director of the Prince’s Teaching Institute.
Between 20 and 25 per cent of North London Collegiate School pupils are Jewish, according to deputy head Alex Wilson.
The teacher who made the remark has apologised privately to the student, who is now 18 and studying for her A-levels. But the girl’s family say there has been a lack of transparency in the disciplinary process because it is not clear what sanctions, if any, the teacher has faced in the three months since the incident.
The father said: ‘The school doesn’t deserve to be in the middle of a race issue. It is normally a model of correctness in these things.
‘But there should be an element of visibility so people see the teacher has been disciplined. My wife and I would also like the school to make a public statement that there has been an incident and [the remark] was totally unacceptable.’
Esther Rantzen said: ‘When I was there, it was a most inclusive school in which everyone was very aware of the rights of others. It was a model of tolerance and I am absolutely astonished by this incident.’
The school was judged ‘excellent’ – the highest rating – in every category by the Independent Schools Inspectorate last year.
The inspectors said in their report: ‘Pupils understand and respect other faiths and cultures. Staff provide excellent role models for polite and considerate behaviour.’
The school said in a statement: ‘North London Collegiate School is proud of its rich, multi-cultural history and celebrates equality and diversity within the school community. The school was recently made aware of an allegation of an offensive statement made by a member of staff. The school promptly commenced an investigation.
‘Having reached a determination and sought specialist legal advice, appropriate action was taken.’