From Attock and Bangladesh to the land of milk and honey

I was recently invited to give a talk on the 100+ years of South Asian presence in the UK. This helped me to learn even more about the community, my community, who have made this country their home. Around the same time I recall a fellow Kashmiri saying goodbye to his home (in Kashmir) which had been visiting and was now about to return to his other home (Luton in this case). This gave rise to a discussion about ‘where are we from?’ and whether we should write our stories. 

Two sets of stories that have already been written are included here. These have helped me to get to know a little more my fellow Brits, in their own words. First up is Attock to Attock Park, ably facilitated and curated by Nabeela Ahmed. It’s a collection of stories told by the residents of Bradford Moor who reside near Attock Park. The stories cover a range of themes that include first encounters with England (for the older generation) or Pakistan or Kashmir (for the younger generations). Helpfully, the collection includes traditions that centre on death and funeral, a subject I happen to be running a workshop on in the near future so to raise awareness amongst fellow Brits who are outside the Pakistani community but who wish to be in a better position to support their Pakistani neighbours in times of sadness and loss. Other themes included in the book are: traditions around Ramzaan, Eid, food, weddings, in their villages and towns in Pakistan and Kashmir and here in Bradford Moor. They talk about racism and share humour and poetry. The participants met each week, discussed a new theme each time. 

The second set of stories are contained in the excellent book Old Wives’ Tales. Put together by Mashkura Begum and Aftab Rahman, it pays tribute to the challenges endured and sacrifices made by Bangladeshi women who have made their home in the UK. With their resilience they have laid solid foundations for their community upon which much has already been built upon. The book is sadly out of print but you can get a glimpse through this video. Like Sofina Islam, who wrote the Foreword, after reading the book I felt as if the women are my own family members. I include here just one of the stories, which typifies the grit and determination of the women included:

Kusheda Khatun is described as a women of steel. Her life was one big tragedy. She never saw her mother as she passed away when Kusheda was a baby. Her father passed away when she was young. Her mum’s sister raised her. She lost her brother.  She got married at age 12, to a husband who was already married. He was the son of her aunt who had brought her up. Upon getting married, for 30 years she lived in Bangladesh while her husband was in England. Her first child died age 6 months. She had a son who died after 28 days.

Such was her resilience that her story ends in these words: I am happy. Although I have had many ups and downs and have seen many deaths I remain grateful to God for everything he has given me.   

Birmingham Pakistani exclusion from (health) structures


In 2013 I published the book Dear Birmingham which drew attention to the exclusion of Pakistanis from opportunities and centres of power across Birmingham. Since then, further research has been conducted which has shown continued exclusion of the community. The focus here is on Birmingham City Council and the health services in the city.


According to the Census 2021, 17% of the Birmingham’s population are Pakistani. Two-thirds pf this community are from Azad Kashmir, the remainder are Pashtun, Punjabis and other ‘Pakistanis’.

Drawing on Birmingham City Council 2011 data, 24% of the school children were Pakistani. This percentage will have increased since then. According to local health data, Pakistanis had the largest number of pregnancies which provides a clear indicator of population. 

Birmingham Pregnancies

  • Pakistani                      517
  • British (White?)         515
  • Black African              91
  • White other                91
  • Asian other                  77
  • Indian                          73
  • Bangladeshi               69
  • Middle Eastern          37

Pakistani health

British Pakistanis are generally a disadvantaged community.

According to the Birmingham Pakistani Health Profile,

  • life expectancy of Pakistani women 84.8
  • life expectancy of Pakistani men is 82.3
  • Pakistanis consistently had the highest rate of infant mortality of all Asian subcategories.
  • Pakistani women are the least active of all ethnicities, men not much better.
  • Pakistani men, almost three times as likely as the general population to have type 2 diabetes
  • Pakistani women five times more likely to be diabetic when compared with the women in the general population
  • Pakistani children, ages 10-11, have higher prevalence of obesity; also children 4-5 years of age with the same problem
  • 49.9% of Pakistani mothers were in consanguineous relationships.

Birmingham City Council Employment

According to the Birmingham Stephen Lawrence Commission Report (2001) the Council had previously set and achieved a 20% target for employing ethnic minorities. The Council then decided to set differentiated targets, in proportion to the population. For their Pakistani workforce the Annual Improvement Target (2001/2002) was 6.9%. I have monitored the progress of this target over the years through Freedom of Information, as follows:

Birmingham City Council Pakistani workforce over the years

2000                2%

2012                3.85%

2018                4.8%

2020                5.19%

2023                6.99% (the 2001/2002 target). This is against the Pakistani presence in the population of 17%.

Pakistanis in the health system

Through Freedom of Information, I have collected the following picture of Pakistanis as registered patients, in the health workforce and on health boards.

Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust

  • Pakistani patients                    20.71%
  • Pakistanis on boards               5.43%

Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.

  • Pakistani patients                    14.22%
  • Pakistanis in the workforce  6.41%
  • Pakistanis on the board          8%
  • Positive Action

The Trust has no strategy targeted at any singular ethnicity in its workforce, including the Board. But the Trust is committed to a representative workforce with inclusive leadership. To support this, we have various work streams to increase the representation of BME staff at Band 8a above. This includes Band 8a assurance framework, positive action for underrepresented groups, and equality statement on Trust job adverts. In addition, the Possibilities Beyond Limits programme is in place to support BME colleagues to progress. This work is focused on BME staff and not one sole ethnic group. We provide inclusive leadership training to all senior managers on Band 6 and above, in addition to cultural competence training.

Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust

Pakistanis in the workforce                5.2% 

Pakistanis on the board                        7% 

Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust

Pakistani patients                    7.6%

Pakistanis in the workforce    5.49%

Pakistanis on the board                       There are NIL Pakistani board members.

Please note that there are 2 board members without an ethnic origin recorded on the Trust ESR system (workforce system) and therefore we are unable to confirm if they of Pakistani ethnic origin.

NHS Birmingham and Solihull Integrated Care Board.

  • Pakistanis in the workforce                6.3%
  • Pakistanis on the board                      0%
  • Positive Action is covered in our Equality Strategy (slide 26), and EDI Policy.

The ICB do not specifically target action at individual ethnic origin categories, such as Asian Pakistani but take a wider view where there is under-representation of minority ethnic groups at a particular pay band.

The ICB is working towards the NHS requirements, set out in the Workforce Race Equality Standard Model Employer paper, published in January 2019, this sets out an ambition to increase black and minority ethnic representation at all levels of workforce by 2028.

Our positive action work covers all levels of the organisation.

Key Question

What difference does it make when a community such as the Pakistanis is underrepresented in the workforce and in the decision-making structures? How does it impact on the services that are provided or the appropriateness of such services? What message is being sent to the Pakistani community? (you are not welcome here; you have nothing to contribute; we will decide for you!).

Suggested recommendations

Suggested recommendations

  1. 17% target Pakistanis in the workforce – pipeline strategy
  2. 17% target Pakistanis on the Boards and all decision-making structures
  3. Decision making structures to include multilingual strategies such as interpreters (in Mirpuri/Pahari, Pashto), especially for women.
  4. A Pakistani health practitioners’ group (sub-groups such as Kashmiri, Pashtun) to feed intelligence and expertise into the system.
  5. Pakistani sub-groups on health (e.g. Kashmiri, Pashtun) in order to understand the needs and provide a culturally competent health service.
  6. A BLACHIR type approach to Pakistani community, in partnership with authorities such as Bradford whose ‘Born in Bradford’ study offers a model for work on consanguinity which was flagged up as a Birmingham problem.
  7. A health profile to be produced for the largest of the Pakistani communities, the Kashmiri community.

Birmingham City Council should take urgent action to rectify the unacceptable imbalance between the Pakistani population and Pakistani origin employees in the Council.

Professor Muhammad Anwar, Birmingham Pakistan Forum report 20-21 April 1996.

My mother tongue and other languages II

It was in 1983 that we went to Paris, for our honeymoon. It was 13 years since I had arrived in England from Kashmir, speaking only a little English, now nearly a graduate with a Bachelor of Education. 

Unlike me, the woman I had married had gone to a grammar school and had learnt some French. So, other than saying ‘sorry’ and ‘thank you’ during our time there I was able to hide behind her whenever it came time to communicate with the locals. 

During that visit we both fell in love with France and would return there for holidays every few years. Each time we went I felt embarrassed, almost ashamed, for my inability to speak French. 

Then about 20 years ago I took the radical step to eventually start to learn the language, with the help of a teacher friend. Every week I would have a half hour  lesson with him. Then, in between the lessons, I would get on with my normal life, in its English-speaking environment and forget any French words and phrases I had learnt. 

Then it suddenly dawned on me; here I was learning a new language and failing while at the same time I continued to forget the language(s) I did know once ie Urdu and Pahari. 

I then remembered the advice of a teacher when I first arrived in England. She had said: if you want to improve your English then read, read, read as much as you can. I thought to myself: if that works for English then it must work for any language. 

I decided to subscribe to the Urdu weekly paper, The Nation. In the 7 days before the next one arrived I used to read all of it – news of the politics in Pakistan and Kashmir, social matters in the UK, adverts including for marriage and anything and everything else that was there. In the early days I struggled but then I began to notice the improvement. Interestingly as I read Urdu it began to improve my spoken Pahari. 

After cancelling my newspaper subscription, I have continued to read regularly, a forever increasing list of well-written Urdu books and articles that have content that is of interest. Whereas before I would read and re-read old favourites; Kashmir udaas hai by Mahmood Hashmi, Shahaab Nama, book on the achievements of Muhammad Ajeeb by Yaqub Nizami and numerous Manto books. 

Then, thanks to a Facebook friend, I recently discovered a book by Syed Shabbir Ahmad: Observations and Impressions. What an excellent story teller; with a Manto-esque style of writing as well his selection of material. The detail he provides and the emotions he captures leaves one with the stories and their characters for days to come as if one had personally been there. 

My reading journey of his work began with Radio Bachpan. Here we learn about the arrival of the radio, in 1965, from his Vilayati (Blighty, England return) uncle. 

I remember the family would gather at teatime and listen to the covered in cloth radio given pride of place on the table. We children used to wonder how it was that a human being had gotten inside the machine to then talk and sing to us. 

We would go to school and brag about our prized possession. Upon return from school I would run straight to my uncles to enjoy this innovative piece of equipment. A few years later when my father bought our own radio I remember family members cautioned him that it might interfere with our education. 

It was very helpful to see included in the book a chapter on Mahmood Hashmi; a timely opportunity to have confirmed my existing knowledge (as well acquire some new detail) on him before I write a chapter on this man known as the Father of Urdu journalism in the UK. 

In the story where he promises his mother not to cry, my particular interest focused on sections that provide an insight into the daily routine of women and families. Recently I happened to have read Gupta’s ‘Embers the Beginning and Embers the End of Mirpur’ which described the horrors of Partition. So I welcomed the feel-good story of Muslims coming to the aid of Hindus. 

The writer also draws on his work as a taxi driver in a number of places. A few years ago I wanted to set up a project to gather Taxi Tales. It never came to fruition. I would encourage him to maybe write that book in order to share with us the world and insights of people in this trade which has working within it as many as 25 percent British Pakistani workers. 

There is ‘People who love are in the West too’. As someone who has only lived in the West, I can only agree. 

Although I have had knowledge of the British education for over 50 years (as a pupil, teacher, teacher trainer, schools adviser, parent, governor) it was nevertheless enjoyable reading this ‘outsider’ perspective in the chapter devoted to our education system. 

Last but not least, is the chapter: A girl is born. This took me back to my early days in Kashmir and then in England. Being the only son in a family of 6 and later an uncle to 4 girls, I learnt the appalling treatment of girls in our families. I am always keen to promote gender equality whenever I get a chance. We see the writer also challenging the ways of our community. He has written a couple of stories about daughters. In one he gives out mathaaee sweets. A colleague enquires what the occasion is to which he responds: birth of a daughter. The enquiry continues: the first? “No, the second” he says, leaving his colleague confused as such practice usually only happens at the birth of a son. Later, in the same story, when he said goodbye to his daughter at the hostel so she could attend medical college, it brought back tearful moments when we left our first-born at her university. In another story we learn about another’s daughter being allowed to marry the man of her choice. I could only wish her well and say to her parents: good on you to allow her to do so. 

I strongly urge you to read this gem of a book. 


I am sad I never mastered French. Occasionally we have talked about going to France on an extended holiday and immersing ourselves in their language. Dreams do become reality. One day!

From CSEs to a PhD – a thank-you note to the Lifelong Learning Community

I was born in Kashmir, in the 1950s. There were very few education opportunities there. There was one primary school, serving a population of a few thousand children. It was about a half hour walk away. It had one teacher. There were two items of furniture: the teacher’s chair and a blackboard. We sat on the dusty floor, writing on wooden boards known as takhtis. Each class had a Monitor, to act as a Teacher’s Assistant. I was one such pupil, almost from day one. I loved learning and often came top in the exams.

After five years there I moved to the secondary school, over an hour’s walk away. This had a few more teachers and a wider curriculum. This included languages other than Urdu. For the first time I encountered Arabic, Farsi and English. After two years here my parents decided to send me to England, to live with my older sister and her husband. They had concluded that I would have more opportunities in my new home. How right they were. All my achievements (there are numerous) over the 50 years that have followed came about because of that decision and their sacrifice, to part with their 12-year-old son.

In England, I attended a local Secondary Modern. This served a mainly white working-class community which was in the early stages of becoming multicultural. Many of the local children had jobs lined up where their dads and mums worked so they thought they did not need qualifications. This was true in those days, but not for long. The Kashmiri and other minority children had a similar attitude to qualifications. I was an exception.

After three years at the school, at 16, with a couple of good CSEs, I left to get a job and stand on my own two feet. I was glad the school leaving age had been raised. The extra year made all the difference for me. That was in 1974.

Three years ago (2017), I completed my PhD, from Warwick University. Through this I have earned the right to use the title ‘Dr’. As well as publishing my thesis in book form I have begun to encourage others to take similar qualifications. The following is an example of this; a comment from a Pakistani contact who I am mentoring as he moves nearer to doing his own PhD:

I am deeply inspired by you. In your work you have focused on issues that are important to me. Our last conversation, about me doing a PhD, was an illustration of you giving your time to up and coming people. I admire who you are and your writing. Seeing someone like you, with the experiences you’ve had and your writing . . . inspires me. I can see myself as someone who can do the same because you’ve done it. Thank you so much.

So, what is the story in between these stages of my life?

With the help of the school’s careers officer I managed to get a job as an Admin. Trainee at a local factory. What sold this job to me was the promise of a day-release, to continue my education. This was the start of my relationship with the world of further education. Between this and my second employer, where I worked as a Youth Work Trainee, amounted to six years of post-16 study. I now had the required O and A-levels to gain entry to higher education, for my first degree. I would not have reached this point without the transformative power of FE, for which I shall be eternally grateful. Here, it is worth mentioning the mature student’s grant I was able to access. Without this, there would have been no higher education.

The next phase of my life, relevant here, was my thirteen years as a middle manager at a post-16 community college. Alongside my role as a DeputyDirector of Equal Rights and Opportunities Management Unit, I was attracted to working in the department that provided qualifications for mature students who had left school with few or no qualifications. Utilising my own experience, I designed an Access to HE course in Youth Studies. The students were from disadvantaged backgrounds; ethnic minorities, white, single parents, those who disliked school or who the school disliked. But now all of them had a deep desire for learning and self-improvement. What they needed was another chance. FE, particularly this college, whose aim was to serve the needs of deprived communities, came to their rescue. Naturally, I saw myself in my students’ life trajectories.

Then the college merged with another and the new institution had no place for me. So I took voluntary redundancy. I soon discovered that this was nothing new in our world, even though it seemed tragic personally. So, the key question I asked myself was: what was I capable of doing? It seemed quite a lot by this time, thanks to my experience and education, which by this time included a master’s degree. Instead of becoming unemployed, I became self-employed. I set up a consultancy, with its own website, and began to get work, some fairly prestigious.

Soon after, I undertook a project, to research and champion the educational needs of white disadvantaged young people. With the help of the local MP, the findings were taken to Parliament. At such moments I invariably and proudly remembered my young self who had left school with hardly any qualifications. It was also a reminder of what difference (second chance) education can make. Later, I was to make a case for a joined-up approach to the education of the young people who underachieved at school and who needed a ‘cradle to grave’ educational strategy.:

We need to enable our early years practitioners, school staff, colleges, universities and a range of other community organisations and individuals to work together for a single goal in addressing their needs. Their work will not happen without the systemic change, and the associated resourcing.

Following the above research, I did my PhD, where my focus has been the educational underachievement of British Pakistani boys, in Birmingham (2018). This has shown that over 1,000 young people from this community leave school each year without the benchmark qualifications.

Possible response

So, reflecting on my own life’s personal and professional journey, what should our further education provision look like? In short, this should be lifelong, cradle to grave. All stages and types of education – early years, schools, adult education, universities, formal and informal – should be joined-up and be accountable to their communities, whose needs the provision should be focused on. There should always be Positive Action, that is, greatest investment for those with the greatest need. Everyone should have a learning account, with a deposit of money from the government, to be used whenever, bearing in mind not everyone is able to gain access to university nor is such provision suitable for or wanted by all. There should be a duty placed on employers to provide ongoing learning opportunities for their employees.

I have experienced two redundancies. On both occasions I was able to pick myself up and not just survive but thrive. The end of job-for-life is even more a likely reality for the future generations. Melissa Benn (2018) reminds us: ‘In order to get ahead or even just to survive, tomorrow’s workers will have to be entrepreneurial, good communicators, globally aware, thrive in solo work . . . and skilled in teams’. She also quoted Theresa May, promising when she took office in July 2016 in these words: ‘We will do everything we can to help anybody, whatever your background, to go as far as your talents will take you.’ If such promises were made good, in relation to lifelong learning, the future of our nation could indeed be bright.

This blog was first published in Post-16 Educator


Benn, M. (2018) Life Lessons – the Case for a National Education Service. London: Verso.

Iqbal, K. (2018) British Pakistani Boys, Education and the Role of Religion – in the Land of the Trojan Horse. London: Routledge.

Not easy being a woman in Pakistan

By Tanveer Zaman Khan (translated from Urdu by Dr Karamat Iqbal)

In the Pakistani society women are treated as a symptom of all that is bad. Even worse, men are seen as inherently good and whose corruption is blamed on women. Women are the temptress who use their obscene bodies to lead the innocent man astray. In fairy tales and myths and legends women are presented as witches and ghosts; to be avoided. This creates a most horrendous picture and perception of women in the nation’s mindset.

All this in a society where men control absolutely everything. Within the home fathers, brothers and husbands, in their own way and with their supposedly God-given powers do as they wish; to control women, to abuse them and destroy their lives through such evil cultural practices as :

  • Wani – a custom found in parts of Pakistan where girls, often minors, are given in marriage or servitude to an aggrieved family as compensation to end disputes. Vani is a form of arranged or forced child marriage, and the result of punishment decided by a council of tribal elders.
  • Karo kari – a practice of honour killing. The country has the highest number of documented and estimated honour killings per capita of any country in the world. such a killing is murder of a member of a family by other members, due to the belief the victim has brought dishonour upon the family or community. The death of the victim is viewed as a way to restore the reputation and honour of the family.

When the woman leaves the home she knows she is entering space that does not belong to her. Men will treat her as if she is a wild animal who has escaped the jungle. She will be raped by their looks alone, creating absolute terror for her. If a man takes a fancy to her and she rejects his advances then he may resort to throwing acid on her; a case of ‘if I cannot have you no one can’. If a woman ever looks likely to gain the upper hand in a dispute with a man then he has the whole social, legal, political and religious system on his side, to ensure that his masculinity is not marred even the slightest.

If the rest of the system is not enough then the Urdu language will step in with its rich vocabulary that can be used by men and the general society to put the woman in her lowest possible place. Labels such as: insolent, audacious, shameless, impudent, impertinent, wicked, freedom-loving, pleasure-seeker, vagabond and, if all else fails to categorise and castigate women then there is always ‘westernised’, a catch-all label that defines everything that is undesirable and objectionable.

When women demonstrate against their oppression, such as through the Aurat March (Women’s March) they are subjected to propaganda from the media and especially from the government and religious lobby:

  • They are Western agents, being funded by the West
  • They want too much freedom
  • They are all lesbians
  • They dress inappropriately and unacceptably
  • The educated (too much education!) women are leading other women astray

From the moment they are born, women are unwelcome and seen as a burden. The birth of the first girl maybe tolerated but the arrival of second or third girl in a family will likely lead to visits by relatives to commiserate with her unfortunate parents.

Some argue for more laws. In reality it’s not a need for more laws it is fair and serious implementation of existing laws, to protect women as free and equal human beings. Above all what is needed is change of a toxic anti-woman culture where men flaunt multiple wives, something that is supported by religious leaders as a good thing. Men have created the culture for their own benefit, according to rules that suit them and where they have a free-for-all in oppression of women.

Whether she is killed, raped, sexually assaulted, attacked when she leaves home… it is the woman who is to blame. She is blamed whether she wishes to work, to be educated, to leave home or indeed demands any rights as a human being. According to the county’s justice system a woman is expected to put up abuse from men. It is a laughing matter that if a woman wishes to bring a case of rape or other assault or abuse against a man she will need witnesses.

Across the Pakistani society abuse of women (and children) has skyrocketed to heights never known before. Nowhere is safe for women. Even women parliamentarians are abused and assaulted by their male colleagues, which makes it known for the women that they are in a male space which does not welcome them.

The whole system – from the lowest clerk to the highest office – is of the view that women are to be blamed for their rape and murder. Even the Prime Minister Imran Khan has blamed rape of women on their inappropriate dress. His comments have shaped the national discourse. This led the activist and writer Noor Zaheer (author of ‘My God is Woman’ and ‘Denied by Allah’) to point out that inappropriate dress accusation does not explain abuse of women. According to her, what the Prime Minister said has been said for generations, where victims are blamed for their abuse. So, the accusatory finger begins to point towards the victim and away from the perpetrator. Such sexist attitudes are designed to limit the lives of women. In any case what he said is nonsense when one is to look at appropriately dressed women who are abused, such as those on the Hajj pilgrimage.

The recent murder of Noor Mukadam in Pakistan is a sad illustration of the problem of women in Pakistan. Described by The Guardian newspaper as ‘gender terrorism epidemic’, it involved the 27-year-old woman allegedly tortured and beheaded by the son of a business tycoon. “In a country where so-called “honour” killings are common practice, the brutality of the killing has forced Pakistan to confront its poor record on gender-based violence.” The newspaper also reminded us that in the World Economic Forum’s global gender index, the country is ranked 153 out of 156 countries, just above its Taliban-ravaged neighbour Afghanistan. What is appalling in the situation is not that she was murdered, which it is, but that the media and large sections of Pakistan society have blamed the victim, for just being who she was and where she was i.e., in her murderer’s house as if being there was an invitation to be deprived of her life.

Pakistan is a sick society where all systems and structures and institutional policies and practices are anti-women. It is an unsafe environment for women; from cradle to grave (yes, even after death they are not safe). So, what is it that women demand?

Demands of Pakistani women

Compared to what women can take for granted in many countries and cultures, the demands of Pakistani women are quite simple and basic. Central to their demands is equality with men, in the home and outside; freedom of movement (including to access male spaces); freedom of choice in matters such as relationships and life generally (My body, My choice); freedom to travel; freedom to drive a car or cycle/motorbike; equal access to work and opportunities; equal pay; freedom from abuse and harassment; safety and dignity in the workplace and wider society. In other words, women demand equality with men, in the home and outside. They demand all the rights that are taken-for-granted in the wider civilised global community, and which are their human rights within the United Nations charters.

Muhammad Ajeeb CBE – a living history of British Kashmiris


The book in my view had an unfair advantage. Given its subject matter – the unique, pioneering, role model for many (beyond his own community) – the writers could not go wrong. Mohammed Ajeeb CBE; a true leader.

The book helps us to learn about the person (according to those who have known him) whose life’s journey has been one of ambition, endeavour, courage, perseverance, self-discipline and unflinching resolve. They have also described him as articulate, forthright and engaging. As a researcher into the Pakistani Kashmiri community, you can guess my joy at being provided another excellent reference book, which has already been referenced in my next book on education. So, my heartfelt gratitude to Ishtiaq Ahmed, Yaqub Nizami, Zaffar Tanveer and Dr Sufyan Abid Dogra for producing the excellent book:  Muhammad Ajeeb CBE – Rising Above Ordinariness.

Early migration

The book takes us on a journey into the story of multicultural development in British society. It also offers us a glimpse of the internal workings of the Pakistani community. We learn about people living in crowded accommodation and making do with very limited food choice:

We lived in a four-bedroom house with 18 other males…. For the first two years we could not purchase any halal meat and therefore we had to make do with eggs, tins of beans, processed peas, cauliflower and potatoes and not much else. p14

The ‘push’ factor of migration.

The village, Chattro, in Mirpur Azad Kashmir, had little promise for his future life. His father, a hard-working sole bread earner, a mason by profession, could only afford the high school education that was locally available for him. Had he remained living there…he would have ended up in menial clerical jobs… Therefore, he decided to leave his birthplace and move to Karachi, which in those days was a good place (for work and part time education). p56

We learn about the efforts of the earlier migrants from our community who had little, who travelled far and who achieved much despite hostilities of racism and poverty. I wonder whether the subsequent generations, especially the current youth, could follow suit in accessing the opportunities that the world offers.

All communities

We learn that there was greater integration of the Pakistani community in the earlier days of migration. The men in the community were more willing to interact with the majority white community, at workplace, neighbourhood and public houses. 

While others in his community were still of the view that England was a temporary workplace from which they would return to Pakistan he had bought a house, been appointed to the Race Relations Board and joined the Labour Party, which was to become the vehicle for his most significant achievement, becoming the first Muslim Lord Mayor in the U.K. Given their acceptance that they were in someone else’s space, many in his community overlooked racial abuse; not him. Once he walked out of a job because the supervisor was being racist towards him. 

The word ‘community’ is a broad and inclusive one when it comes to a person of Ajeeb Sahib’s stature, given his ability and willingness to relate to, and work with, all peoples, regardless of ethnicity, religion or any other differences. So, it is befitting that, in addition to the Pakistani community, the book includes plaudits from a range of people – Hindu, Sikh, Caribbean and Christians…

“Just look at our backgrounds. Mohammed Ajeeb, a Muslim from Mirpur, Azad Kashmir; myself a Hindu from Jinja, Uganda, of Gujarati Indian origin…living, working, playing in peace and harmony in Bradford, in the U.K.. I feel blessed and proud to have him as my Elder Brother.” p69.

His appeal was broader and more mainstream. He was not a BME politician but a Labour Party politician.

“Ajeeb never tried to crawl into the limiting and belittle shell of an ethnic Pakistani or Kashmiri or Mirpuri or clan-based Councillor of a biraderi; but always took pride in being a Labour Party Councillor.”

One writer pointed out: 

His abiding legacy is the instilling in each one of us…the belief, confidence, conviction, and capacity to engage and operate across political and community divides, in the pursuit of common objectives and in the changing of people’s lives for the better. p29

His achievements are worth acknowledging and celebrating at any time. But they take on a special worth given their uniqueness and pioneering nature.

… in the history of British Pakistanis, he stands the tallest, just like the Lister Mills Chimney that dominates the horizon in hilly Bradford, giving people a sense of direction.”

A man who “has never shied away from addressing difficult issues within the Muslim communities.”

His inspirational life was summed up by two writers in these words:

By his achievements he has demonstrated that barriers could be overcome and that it is possible to chart a path to success to the highest level, even in a racially hostile climate and under adverse conditions. p29 

(He has) risen above party political lines and social and cultural affiliations to speak openly and honestly on important matters that matter to all of us. He has not shied away from controversy and he has not been frightened of criticism….p71


I recommend the book for adults and the younger generation across all our diverse communities; so that they gain an appreciation of the post-war development of our society and are better able to build on the foundations laid.

Do BAME lives matter in the Church of England?

The following are my notes of a seminar delivered by Anderson Jeremiah, Anthony Reddie, Elizabeth Henry, Lusa Nsenga Ngoy and Sharon Prentis. Any inaccuracies is my responsibility.

BAME are at the mercy of the majority community. Being white is the norm. So, minorities are defined by not being white instead of the rich diversity each of us brings. Lives of minorities are of inferior status and less valuable if not negligible.

The church in general and the Church of England in particular is a product of the wider social framing. The church replicates and mirrors the normativity of white lives as special, superior, essential and all others as inferior.

Society and church are primarily defined by a particular privileged majority community that sees the minority communities as neither equal nor valuable; as something that needs to be included at the behest of the majority community. There is a gatekeeper, there is fencing and framing within which the minority community has to be accepted. So, you will be accepted if you fit into the norm. However, the gospel of Jesus Christ questions such a social framing. It gives self-worth to every living being bearing the image of God as proclaimed in the Old Testament, as a God who embraces everyone and redeemed by the blood of Christ, gathered as a family as described in the book of Acts.

The church by its very nature is diverse. It cannot be defined by one particular norm. By its very nature, the church cannot be defined by any one majority community. Therefore, if BAME lives are not valued in the Church of England it has to seriously reconsider its definition as a church. If the Church of England is defined by a white majority, is it a church?

Minorities in the Church of England continue to be measured from the white privileged position which has access to power, opportunity and agency.

To ask the question ‘do BAME lives matter in the Church of England’ is absurd. It should be axiomatic that all lives matter. If our lives mattered we would not be asking the question in the first place. We wouldn’t need a movement if humanity had behaved in the way God had intended. We have to start with the failure of the church to be the church.

Theology of good intentions

When the church is accused of not caring for those on the margins they set up a working group, they produce a report, they have apologetic rhetoric that says we have not done better in the past and promises that we will do better in the future.

After the working group has been wound up and the report has been published with its recommendations life goes back to normal. Things are done the way they were before; until another incident forces another apology… Then we go through the same cycle again. Another working group, another report, another set of words… another theology of good intentions.

Instead what we need is radical action for change. And dethroning of whiteness

Original sin of theology; silence in the face of white supremacy

The Church of England has to ask itself who is its real lord and master. Is it Jesus Christ, a Palestinian Jew who was on the side of those on the margins or is its white supremacy? Until that question is addressed our lives are not going to matter; they will continue to be governed by the theology of good intentions.

How can a white person in 2020 ask ‘what does racism look like?’

Do BAME lives matter in the Church of England? The answer to the question is: the evidence tells us not and the experience tells us not.

My family have been Anglicans since 1643. They were slaves and indentured slaves.

When my mum came to this country from the Caribbean, she, like others, went to an Anglican church but it wasn’t the church for her. She ended up in a Pentecostal church.

Often Black lives do not matter. We are being called to repent, to lament.

The moment the Church became captive of imperial powers it lost its ability to be the church that originated in the margins. (I wonder whether the moment the Church became safe, it lost the voice it was meant to speak with. It stopped being persecuted because it was no longer posing a threat).

What would the church’s reorientation look like?

Those who currently hold the power in the church need to relinquish it and step back. With power comes privilege. Will there be relinquishing of power?

All theology is contextual. It is also autobiographical. It is (wrongly) presented as universal. This is especially so with white theologians. They pretend to be neutral, well informed, scholarly …Utter nonsense. Everyone should admit their starting point, their bias.

Theology is human speech about God. God does not do theology. Humans do. But we do theology from our locatedness as creatures. God is the creator; we are his creation. We can only write partially.

When we have all our voices around the table, then and only then we get close to who God is. It’s a lot better than just having a limited number of voices, usually white. So, a question worth asking is: who is missing from around the table?

As a minority seminarian I learnt European theology. By doing so I lost my ‘mother tongue’; because I was being taught to speak someone else’s language.

Education is key to transformation. But it’s sad the church has lost its pedagogical tool of empowering and equipping people.

How to enable BAME people in more senior roles in the Church of England?

We would never need to say: how to enable white people to do so; to get there and to flourish effectively.

We have the reports. We know what’s needed. What we need to do is to remove the structural barriers.

There is a lot of patronage in the church. This is likely to benefit white people. We have to be honest; we have an appointments process that is not fit for purpose. The church needs to make room for talented BAME people. The patronage which means there is a lack of transparency. So, the structures and systems that allow this have to be changed.

How can we be a model for society?

We have Jesus as our model. He thought things were not right, so he decided to challenge it. He wanted to offer a new model. He invited people to follow him.

So, the very task of the church is to be the alternative model.

The church should enable the presence of God in every community that we live.

If the presence of God is not facilitated by each one of us whatever ethnic background we happen to be then we cannot call ourselves as church.

In any situation we should ask: who is advantaged and who is disadvantaged. We should then ask what we need to change in order to advantage the disadvantaged. What structures and models do we need to operate so that the normative way of doing things is turned over?

The Beloved Community in the Episcopal church is a good example. It contains repentance, reconciliation, proactive action, identifying with those on the margins and having courageous conversations.

It was said of the First Century church: look how they love one another. Do we now really love one another?

Council of World Mission is another example. They moved their headquarters from London to the global south in order to decentre empire. They are planning reparations.

Bishop Francis-Dehqani, a Persian Christian added:  

  • Being powerful in and of itself does not make us an effective church.
  • In answer to the question: do BAME lives matter? the answer is: BAME lives matter to God. The church is God’s expression on earth through the power of Jesus Christ.
  • If BAME lives matter to God then the church is not truly church or it’s a very diminished church until it fully encompasses that. To do so it need to fully understand and practice justice

Critical Race Theory with David Gillborn

My notes of a Talking Race podcast from the Centre for Race, Education and Decoloniality at Leeds Beckett University.

CRT developed in the US, in law schools. According to the theory racism is fundamental to society’s everyday working. White supremacy is normal. Anyone questioning faces severe consequences.

Minoritised groups are always hit by crises first, the hardest and for longest (Gillborn 2007). Now we know that to be true in the Covid 19 crisis.

Systemic racism

It saturates normality. It saturates the economy, the health, the criminal justice service, education…it saturates the world. Racism is not just outside in the wider world; it’s in your home too. It’s in the programmes you watch on TV or listen to on the radio. It’s in the books on your shelves.

Racism operates at every point in the education system. It operates how White people, who are usually the people in charge of the system, make certain assumptions; about what it means to be clever and who is clever, what does ability look like in a classroom, what does a clever five year old look like, what does a disruptive five year old look like. How do you tell the difference between someone who is bored and someone who is challenging? These assumptions are absolutely vital at every stage of education.

The fact that racism is systemic is not because someone at the top is directing it; it’s worse than that. It’s shaped by the white people (in charge) and their assumptions from the earlier days. It comes natural to them. Policy makers don’t have to sit in Whitehall thinking: how can we make things difficult for black kids and better for white middle class kids. They don’t have to think that because on average all policies will do that automatically.

If you don’t set out to make a policy antiracist it will tend to be racist in its consequences because people making the policy and people enacting the policy at every level will embody those same racialised and racist processes in their decision making. So, one of the constant dangers is that we fall into a competition: is it individuals or is it systemic?

I remember the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry. It drew attention to the ‘a few rotten apples’ theory of racism- it was just a few bad police officers, or, in education, a few nasty old white teachers; once we’ve got them out of the system everything is going to be great. The Lawrence Inquiry opened people’s eyes to the reality. It pointed out that racism inhabits the whole institution – the institution of education, the institution of the criminal justice system…. Literally, within a few months of that inquiry the Home Secretary said: well, it’s not the institution it’s the people within it.

(According to Gillborn) It’s all of them; it’s the institution, it’s the rules, the way people get promoted and it’s the people who are making those decisions, because racism infects the whole system. It structures the system.

What does systemic racism look like in education? It looks like…there is a pipeline. If students follow certain pipelines they end up in certain places. They can’t do the career they wanted to do because it’s not open to people who took that route.

A five-year-old black child may begin with certain worksheets or put in certain groups or tables, some of which may be deemed clever and given high quality tasks and some are given simple tasks. As the child moves through primary school the gaps are getting bigger with other kids and s/he is seen as less able or more challenging.

They then move into secondary school but how they were seen in primary school and the opportunities they were given or denied goes with them. The child is likely to be low ranked. Cover less of a curriculum. Have a less experienced teacher. More likely to get into trouble; even if they do the same thing as a white kid research tells us they are more likely to be penalised. They are more likely to be given a fixed-term exclusion. They are more likely to be given a permanent (original emphasis) exclusion. Even if they get to the end of secondary school they are less likely to be taking high-tiered GCSEs where you can get the highest ranked passes which you need for A levels. Even if they do the A levels a lot of Black kids are steered to do the vocational qualifications. And if they buck the trend and get good A levels they then apply to university, they are less likely to be accepted at elite universities than a white kid with the same (original emphasis) qualifications. Even if they get into the elite university they are less likely to get a top-ranked degree because in the university these same (original emphasis) processes apply. So they are less likely to get a first class degree and even (original emphasis) if they do get a first class degree they are less likely to get an equivalent job than a white person with the same degree because the racism is sitting there in the labour market as well. So, that (original emphasis) is systemic racism. It’s not one or two bad individuals it’s the whole (original emphasis) system and the vast majority of the individuals within the system who are enacting that racism on a day (original emphasis) by day, minute by minute (original emphasis) basis.

It’s that cumulative way in which (ref middle class black parents research which challenged the myth that it was about class, not race. Low expectations. The disciplinary process…

Teachers predicting the grades because of C19.

It’s bad news. We know that they will systemically be predicted lower grades than they are capable of getting. We know black kids will have been less well served than their white counterparts, regardless of social class. Some minoritised students will do well out of it such as Chinese students, as the ‘naturally gifted’. But for black students, the Bangladeshi students, the Pakistani students that (teachers predicting the grades) will be bad news.

White working class underachievement

On this issue David and I see things differently as I have said elsewhere.

For David, White working class underachievement is a lie. But that has fallen on deaf ears. We know the latest investigation into race inequality will (original emphasis) include a concern with white working class children. That is astonishing.

Unconscious bias

It’s the multicultural education of our times. It’s designed to not get people’s backs up in the way talking about racism does. It has no edge, no understanding about history, no concept of power (original emphasis). It’s not whether we like this or the other; these things are about power.

UB has come to be a way of having a coded conversation that is supposed to cover racism, gender, gender reassignment, disability…. everything you want to throw in there. It is about power. It can be testing for White people. We will do UB and in ten years time we will do something similar because the inequalities will still be there. Some will have got worse because of UB because it’s taking time and attention away from the real problems.

Cycles of racism and responses to racism

After Stephen Lawrence everyone became antiracist. Universities, schools, Ofsted…. But then it disappeared. Now the only reference to race in the Ofsted inspection framework is an optional extra; that inspectors can look at if they really want to, but they don’t have to.

And we know from research on school inspections that inspectors don’t like to talk about race because it is seen as political; it’s seen as aggressive. If the school is doing well overall in its exam results, it’s best to stay away from race. And if you raise (original emphasis) race as an issue be ready for the school to come back and challenge. Most Ofsted inspectors are White people who don’t feel competent to talk about race (original emphasis).

Jack Straw had said, immediately after Lawrence: every school is antiracist. Now, 20 years later, most schools are not antiracist; they’ve never been antiracist and the school policy from the top down is focused on the white working-class children. Race will disappear again if we don’t make people accountable. If it just becomes slogans and badges on people’s lapels nothing will change

If Gillborn was in power…

It’s not rocket science; it’s about priorities. Equality Impact Assessment for every policy, that before you enact a policy you look at all available data to say how is this policy likely to impact different ethnic groups. And if some groups are negatively impacted then you change the policy, or you find a different policy.

Policies are implemented on the back of what the government think is a good idea and that is usually structured by particular interest groups that feed into political parties. When it comes to exclusions and underachievement we know we can do because we have done it in the past. Exclusions went down especially for Caribbean kids during a particular period in the Blair government because the government realised there were too many exclusions.

We can get achievement up … we have done that. Remember schools used to get 10% passes. Things changed but it widened the gaps between Indian, Chinese, and white middle class and others. If we want to change things on achievement we have to be specific about where race is concerned. It’s no good saying: we want to raise achievement for all because actually what happens is we don’t raise achievement for all we raise achievement for those groups who are already doing better.

We need to make people accountable. For example, if Vice Chancellors don’t achieve the outcome they don’t get their pay rise.

Anything else

Racism is fluid and complicated and always has an answer. When White people think of racism they think of Nazi thugs. They think of something horrible, vicious, distasteful. Really obvious. They don’t think about business as usual.

Minorities who side with whiteness and white power are rewarded. And minorities who name the reality, who name white racism are likely to be written off as special pleading, who are looking for favours. Racism is not a simple, monolithic thing. Racism is tremendously complicated. Antiracism is never done because no matter what racism will always adapt.

When God disrupts your life

Having had serious disruption at age 12 (when I was suddenly uprooted from the safe and known life in my Kashmiri village), I have always appreciated order, structure and predictability. I had that in my employment, especially in my college job. I had been there 13 years, a middle manager, with a good pay and respectable title (Deputy Director: Equal Rights and Opportunities Management Unit). Being a deputy brought with it a certain cushioning; there was always my boss who would keep an eye on matters and my contribution. 

Then it all changed. My employer informed me I was no longer needed at my grade level but I could step down and stay; or leave. This was a major life decision so I systematically set out to seek counsel and pray about it. The last person I spoke to said to me to listen to my heart “because God will place in your heart what he wishes you to do”. I followed that advice and accepted redundancy. It was a major step of faith and trust in God. Otherwise why would I leave! I had a family to support, pay the mortgage and other expenses. Even a step down would pay me a reasonable salary.

It was the right decision. I heard God right. It has been the best 20 years of my life. Of course, it has had challenges but then that is where the growth has come. Being self employed is fun and exciting but most of the time one does not know if and when the next job will come.

During this period I have done more than I could have ever imagined; work, study, writing, relationships…. Then my serious illness 6 years ago! I have never been more conscious of the gift of life because of that event. Since then I have done even more, finishing the PhD and thrived on all that which has come as a result. 

What if I had not left my college job? But then, what if my parents had not made the sacrifice to part with me as a child fifty years ago. Was it a part of God’s plan to live a different life? I hope so. 

Is BAME(ed) the new NAME?

My 50 years in the UK runs parallel with, and is a case study of, multicultural education, from its birth to death and rebirth.

It was in 1965 that the government published the Education of Immigrants, possibly the first such policy. In the opening sentence of the circular (Circular 7/65, issued on 14 June 1965) we learn that children of immigrants were a ‘problem’. The Circular was designed to consider the “problems” and offer advice to local authorities and schools within them.

One of the aims of the Circular was to enable the newly arrived children of immigrants “to be given knowledge and understanding of our way of life”. It spoke about “assimilation of immigrant children”. In its view this depended “a great deal in the early stages on the teacher’s knowledge and understanding of the children’s heritage and of the religious, social and cultural habits and traditions that have influenced their upbringing.”

It also saw the presence of immigrant children as an opportunity for other children to increase their understanding of where they (the children) had come from.

The policy spoke of ‘spreading the children’: “as the proportion of immigrant children in a school (if it goes over one third) or class increases, the problem will become more difficult to solve and the chances of assimilation more remote.”

If the numbers of immigrant children went above one third in a class or in a school then they were to be ‘dispersed’. This came to be known as ‘bussing’ and was implemented in areas such as Bradford and Southall. Parents of ‘non-immigrant’ children were to be reassured that their children’s education was not going to suffer.

The policy of ‘no more than one third’ had been designed after advice from the Birmingham MP Denis Howell, who was my MP and later when I became middle class I moved a few doors from him.

Birmingham’s response was to establish a team of English as a Second Language teachers. It also set up two Immigrant Reception Centres which provided intensive English teaching to all immigrant children coming into the city (except those who were West Indian; they were assumed not to need such provision).

As to ‘bussing’ it would appear the policy was too late for Birmingham. There were too many schools already with more than 30% immigrant children. It would have been too difficult to arrange transport in order to move them across the city. It was also felt that the White parents in the Outer Ring would not have liked to see immigrant children arriving in their schools. I don’t know whether they ever considered moving White children to the Inner Ring schools in order to create a racial balance. So, things were left as they were.

Five years later

I arrived in the city in 1970. I began at the Steward Reception Centre. After two terms here I transferred to a secondary modern school near where we lived in Nechells. The school had a policy that all brown children were sent to Mrs Hussain, the only Asian teacher in the school. There was much racism in the school, involving both white students and teachers.

Multicultural Education

We had had the publication (1971) of Bernard Coard’s ‘How the West Indian Child is made educationally sub-normal’. Later we had the Rampton Report into educational underachievement of West Indian children. It spoke of racism which did not endear it to the government so they replaced the chair with Lord Swann (who published his Swan Report in 1985). The government did not much like his report either and the Secretary of State for Education Keith Joseph gave it a lukewarm endorsement in his Foreword.

For a brief period in the teaching profession there was a great deal of emphasis on multicultural education. Many excellent works were published. During my teacher training we were exposed to some of the developing ideas. When I joined the then Multicultural Support Service in Birmingham there were probably over a 100 in the Service including the Antiracism Development Team.

During the New Labour government there was much emphasis on multicultural education in Initial Teacher Training and in the then new Teacher Standards. Then came the slow death of such thinking. This was the start of the colourblind ideology which did away with multicultural education, leading one commentator to talk of the death of multicultural education.

There was NAME

Parallel with what was going on in schools and the education system generally, there was teacher-led grassroots activity, in the form of the National Association of Multiracial Education. Later, it became the National Anti-Racist Movement in Education.

Now we have BAMEed

For a couple of years I have been aware of BAMEed. It is is a movement initiated in response to the continual call for intersectionality and diversity in the education sector. All members are volunteers and have committed their time and efforts into creating a tangible support network to equip teachers and leaders with the tools to progress into and through the workforce.

BAMEed connects, enables and showcases the talent of diverse educators so they may inspire future generations and open up the possibilities within education careers. Like NAME, it was founded by, as the old saying used to go ‘Black and White working together’.

Over a year ago, I was invited to deliver a workshop at their annual conference. Recently I have learnt about and joined BAMEed West Midlands. There are similar branches across the country. In addition, the network works in partnership with a wide range of organisations who are similarly working towards equity.

After a couple of conversations and meetings, I have concluded that this ‘movement’ is very like the NAME of earlier days. Just like then there are now local groups across the country. Working with teachers of this age in this way certainly has given me much needed hope. Maybe some of this grassroots activity will percolate upwards into the colourblind corridors of the Department for Education and Ofsted.