Sir Nicholas Coleridge has been announced as the next provost of Eton College, a move welcomed by campaigners who hope he will restore the school’s “Enlightenment values”.
Sir Nicholas, who is chairman of the Victoria and Albert Museum, was announced on Monday as Lord Waldegrave’s successor after being selected by the school’s governors, known as “fellows”. He will take up the role next September.
The provost of the school is chairman of its governing body, and assisted by a vice-provost and 10 fellows. One of the provost’s key powers is the ability to appoint Eton’s head master.
Simon Henderson, the current, self-confessed “woke” head, has brought in several progressive initiatives since taking the helm in 2015, including a move to “decolonise” the school curriculum.
Campaigners believe that the appointment of Sir Nicholas, who has spoken out about the dangers of hastily erasing the past, is an attempt to restore some ideological balance at the school.
Chris McGovern, of the conservative group Campaign for Real Education, said: “We know a majority of former Etonians are very unhappy about the move in the liberal Left woke direction.
“We do think it should be important there should be free and open discussion and Eton has jumped on a bandwagon, following the prevailing wind.”
Mr Henderson, who became Eton’s youngest ever head when he was appointed at the age of 39, has earned the nickname “Trendy Hendy” for his progressive attitude to social causes.
In 2020, the school was plunged into a free speech row following the dismissal of master Will Knowland following a dispute over a lecture he had posted online, titled “The Patriarchy Paradox”.
While the lecture, which questioned “current radical feminist orthodoxy”, was never shown to pupils, the school demanded that Mr Knowland take it down. When he refused, he was dismissed and warned that Eton’s “soul” was under threat.
The same year, Mr Henderson pledged to “decolonise” the school’s curriculum following calls from pupils and parents in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, including assemblies and societies as well as classroom subjects.
Earlier this year Mr Henderson said that he was unashamedly “woke” and he denied trying to indoctrinate pupils with an “ideological framework”.
By contrast, Sir Nicholas backed a set of guidelines designed for institutions when facing calls for change.
The guidelines, included in a report by writer and broadcaster Sir Trevor Phillips, warned against the “re-evaluation of school curricula” among other measures.
In the 2021 report, written amid calls to remove a statue of Cecil Rhodes from Oriel College, Sir Trevor said that there was an “alteration of public history taking place – whether through the removal of statues, the renaming of streets, the re-evaluation of school curricula or the removal of museum exhibits – without a rigorous and non-partisan approach having been taken”.
Sir Nicholas, in his role as V&A chairman, lent his support to the report, adding: “Practical, rigorous and above all sensible, I am certain any board or institution would do well to study them carefully instead of arriving at some drastically hasty, prejudiced and wrongheaded decision.”
Sir Nicholas, a former chairman of Condé Nast Britain, previously criticised Naomi Campbell for suggesting that Vogue was not diverse under its former editor Alexandra Shulman.
In 2017, the supermodel had highlighted an image of Ms Shulman’s all-white staff, saying she was “looking forward to an inclusive and diverse” team under her successor, Edward Enninful.
Sir Nicholas told the Independent: “I thought that was unfair of Naomi. She’d appeared on the cover of the magazine so very many times during Alex’s time as editor, and was written about extensively too.”
‘Breath of fresh air’
Mr McGovern said that Sir Nicholas would provide a “breath of fresh air” and that his appointment would help restore Eton’s “Enlightenment values”.
Sir William Russell, chairman of the Old Etonian Association, said: “I look forward to welcoming Nicholas as the new provost of Eton. He will bring to the post years of experience both as the managing director of a high-profile company and as a trustee of one of Britain’s greatest museums.
”Old Etonians will know that he also shares with many of us a deep affection for our old school.”
Lord Waldegrave, a former Conservative minister who will have served 15 years in post when he retires, said: “I am delighted that Nicholas Coleridge will be joining the fellowship in the autumn and succeeding me in a year’s time.”
Mr Henderson said: “I am greatly looking forward to working closely with Nicholas when he becomes provost. He will bring to Eton a wide range of experience in both the commercial and charitable sectors and a fresh perspective to the work we do.”