My Pahari moment

On my iPad I was organising my Pahari articles. There seemed to be an obvious omission; that of Dr Farah Nazir. I knew she had written several articles, as I knew her work through the British Kashmiri Academics WhatsApp group which I had established. So, I searched her name on the internet. Up came a long list of entries, including the article I had instigated. I saved the links for reading later. One particular entry stood out as a bit of an emotional Pahari connection moment. The item came up with the name Awais Hussain (he of the Mirpur Heritage page on Facebook, member of the above WhatsApp group). I then noticed the picture. It looked very familiar, not surprisingly because it was a photograph, of the snowcapped Himalayas, I had taken during one of my visits to my birthplace, taken in Ratta where I had gone to Middle School. My first thought: how did she end up with that? 

I carried on reading the post. Of course, it was the poem Hill Speak by Zafar Kuniyal, he being the son of the man from Mirpur. It went….

There is no dictionary for my father’s language.
His dialect, for a start, is difficult to name.
Even this taxi driver, who talks it, lacks the knowledge.
Some say it’s Pahari – ‘hill speak’ –
others, Potwari, or Pahari-Potwari –
too earthy and scriptless to find a home in books.
This mountain speech is a low language. Ours. “No good.
You should learn speak Urdu.” I’m getting the runaround.

Whatever it is, this talk, going back, did once have a script:
Landa, in the reign of the Buddhists.
… So was Dad’s speech some kind of Dogri?
Is it Kashmiri? Mirpuri? The differences are lost on me.
I’m told it’s part way towards Punjabi,
but what that tongue would call tuvarda,
Dad would agree was tusaana –
‘yours’ –

truly, though there are many dictionaries for the tongue I speak,
it’s the close-by things I’m lost to say;
things as pulsed and present as the back of this hand,
never mind stumbling towards some higher plane.
And, either way, even at the rare moment I get towards –
or, thank God, even getting to –
my point, I can’t put into words
where I’ve arrived.

Then I got to the bottom of the post and there it was, the acknowledgment:

Photo credit: Dr Karamat Iqbal, taken in 1986 in tehsil Dadyal. I then remembered something about sharing with Farah the photo; memory and old age!

Birth of Bangladesh (and the origins of the International Mother Language Day 21 February)

I remember 17 December 1971 very well. I had been in England just over one year and two months during which time I had learnt a little about East Pakistan. It was part of Pakistan that I had not heard of until I came to England as a 12 year old. But then I didn’t know much about anything, being the age I was and having grown up in a rural community in Kashmir which had no contact with the outside world. We had not much access to radio or newspapers and no television (there was no electricity). And now East Pakistan had become Bangladesh.

Upon arrival in Birmingham I began to read Urdu newspapers. There was much coverage about East Pakistan. There was also much talk about Pakistan where an election was taking place, first such election in the history of the nation. 

Following the election I remember learning about the war in East Pakistan. This I believed was because the East Pakistanis wanted to become separate from Pakistan. I thought they were terrible people (for this was how they were portrayed in the Pakistani press). 

I also learnt there was some sort of disaster which had led to many people dying. This had led to a concert being organised in the West. I saw the film – A Concert for Bangladesh – at the cinema in Quinton, Birmingham. This was the concert where people had applauded Ravi Shankar, when he was tuning his sitar. 

Since then I have been trying to educate myself about what was East Pakistan, the birth of Bangladesh and the reasons for it. It took little time and learning effort to come to the conclusion that there was much reason for the new country to be born. I even wondered what took them so long. 

By 1979 I had a very different view of the Bangladesh situation and those who had come from there and were now living in Birmingham. It was this year that I established the Asian Studies, a course which enabled white public sector professionals to learn about the Asian communities they served. I made sure the Bangladeshi community was included alongside Pakistanis and Indians. 

Late, after deciding to become a baptised Christian, one of the first volunteering roles I had was to chair the Management Committee of St James Advice Centre which served the Bangladeshi community and which was staffed by the Bangladeshi Zia ul-Islam. A few years later I led the Birmingham Asian Role Models project. The 20 people I included in proportion to their presence in Birmingham had Tozammel Huq. Also, I took any opportunity to develop friendships with Bangladeshis wherever I could. 

My learning journey about Bangladesh has continued. Many years ago I picked up a copy of the book The Last Days of United Pakistan by GW Choudhury (1974). The author had been a member of the Pakistan Cabinet in 1969 so was able to see the situation first hand as it developed into the final breakup of Pakistan. He was of the view that there were similarities between the Muslim nationalism of undivided India and Bengali sub-nationalism within united Pakistan. He quoted an East Pakistani political leader:

What was the original demand of the Muslim League in India before independence? Fair shares – in appointments, in jobs, in political influence. It was only the blindness and selfishness of the Hindus that translated that into the demand for partition and now the West wing [West Pakistan] is taking the same attitude to us.

Elsewhere the author goes onto sum up the fundamental problem that led to the break up of Pakistan:

In a democracy, the majority should not have to ask for safeguards, such as regional autonomy, reservation of places in the civil service and the Army, and guarantees that the economic development of their region would not be neglected nor their culture threatened.

And yet, throughout its existence it is exactly these guarantees that the majority Bengali group had to seek. “When they were not granted Bengali sub-nationalism gathered momentum until ultimately it became a national movement for the creation of a separate state”.

My most recent reading matter about the Bangladeshi community has included the works of Aftab Rahman and Mashkura Begum. Since then I have read two more books (and a few other bits of information); the first of these was ‘Tony – the life of Tozammel Huq MBE’. ‘The making of Bangladesh as I saw it’ is the second book I read, by Muhammed Idrish. The author provides a first-hand perspective on his birthplace.

I learnt from these books that the seeds for Bangladesh were sown at least as long ago as 1948. According to Huq, “In February 1948 an announcement was made that Urdu was to become the official language of Pakistan”. The decision was embedded in 1952 when the Prime Minister Khawaja Nazimuddin declared that “Urdu would be established as the sole official language of Pakistan. He went onto suggest that regional languages, if written at all, should use the Persian script to maintain compatibility with Urdu and emphasise the Islamic spirit of Pakistan”. The Bengali script is not Persian-based but derived from Brahmi.

We learn from Huq that politically conscious people across East Pakistan listened to this decree with horror and outrage: “the suggestion that Bengali should be reduced to a regional patios written in an alien script was just too much for any true Bengali to bear”. They planned a demonstration to be held on 21 February 1952.

Language martyrs, the birth of the International Mother Language Day

While all public protests were banned the Dhaka demonstration on 21 February went ahead. There was a stand-off between the demonstrators and the large number of police. Shots were fired which led to the killing of several of the student protestors. This tragic incident was a major turning point in the birth of Bangladesh. From that day onwards it was not a matter of if but when the citizens would achieve independence from their current oppressors. Four years later Bengali did get recognition as the official language of East Pakistan.

Idrish tells us:

On 21 February 1952, police opened fire with live ammunition on unarmed student protestors outside Dhaka university, killing five students. it outraged the whole of the Bengali population of the country.

Huq was 12 years of age at the time of the language demonstration. It was to prove formative for him and he would go onto play a key role in response. 21 February became established as the Language Martyrs Day.

In 1988 Huq was appointed Ambassador of Bangladesh to France and concurrently as Ambassador to Spain and Ambassador and Permanent Delegate to UNESCO. Federico Mayor, Director General of UNESCO 1987-1999, in his Introduction to Huq’s book says the following:

Tony played a crucial and significant role with regard to UNESCO’s proclamation of 21 February as an international Mother Language Day. The proposal was sent to UNESCO at its headquarters in Paris in late summer 1999 by the Government of Bangladesh…. Tony had already talked to me about it and briefed me about the history and significance of 21st February 1952. He requested my support to which I agreed.    

UNESCO wanted to delay the adoption of 21 February but “on the strength of Tony’s argument” “relented” and “agreed to revive the proposal” and “unanimously passed the resolution in November 1999 “.

Language was not the only issue. It was obvious that all of the development efforts of the government were centred on West Pakistan even though the East wing contained more than half of the country’s total population.

New capital? West Pakistan. Major infrastructure projects? West Pakistan. Industrial development? West Pakistan. Head offices of the banks and financial houses? West Pakistan. If a new era was dawning it was certainly not promising much for East Pakistan.

Huq was active in student politics. This led him to attend a conference in Canada where he made a speech which was seen as sharply critical of the Pakistan government, headed by Ayub Khan. He was advised to not return home for fear of arrest. This he did by enrolling as a PhD student. However, after eighteen months he was persuaded to move to London, in 1963, where he enrolled at the Inner Temple, to study for the Bar.

Circumstances led for Huq to end up in Birmingham where he began working as a teacher in Balsall Heath, eventually to be the Headteacher at Ladypool School, in the late 1970s. This was when I first encountered him; I was a youth and community worker and had organised the Asian Studies. We learn that Huq married his wife Sheila, a school colleague, in Solihull on 26 October 1968.

Back in East Pakistan in November 1970 a cyclone had hit the area, causing almost half a million deaths and a million more became homeless. We learn from Idrish:

The Pakistan government was very slow in organising rescue and relief operations. For the first three days they even denied that anything serious had happened.

We heard that more than 200 relief planes landed in Dhaka airport from many countries of the world; only one of them was from West Pakistan.

I saw unburied dead bodies scattered around, some floating on the water. We had to divide ourselves into two groups: one group to orgnaise food for the living and the other to bury the dead. The bodies floating on the water were rotten and yellow in colour. The corpses washed ashore were so rotten and decomposed that we had to douse them with paraffin and burn them.

This neglect by the government was to inflame the independence movement.

Soon after an election was held which led to more than half of the seats being won by the Awami League, led by Sheikh Mujib, a colleague of Huq. According to Idrish:

The Awami League (led by Mujib) won 151 seats. This gave them an outright majority in a 300 seat Assembly.

Yahya Khan (the president of Pakistan) came to Dhaka soon afterwards, met Sheikh Mujib and told reporters that Sheikh Mujib would be the next Prime Minister. 

In West Pakistan the People’s Party led by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto won 81 seats.

Bhutto demanded power sharing. Sheikh Mujib refused.

In Birmingham and elsewhere in the UK, Huq played his full part in the Bangladesh struggle for independence.

Every weekday morning at 7 am he would be standing at the gate of one of the factories, Wilmot Breedon or BSA, talking to East Pakistani workers as they emerged from the night shift and collecting the small sums they were able to afford, five shillings here, ten shillings there. At 8.30 am he would report for duty at the school. then, after a full day of teaching, he would return to the factory gates to catch the workers as they poured out at the end of the day shift.

Idrish played a frontline role in the struggle for the new nation. He and his friends were a part of the home-made guerrilla movement:

A few rifles for our training were supplied by the police department. There was no ammunition; there was no shooting practice. Most of us carried replica wooden rifles, made by ourselves and painted black to give them an authentic look.

We learnt about various tactics in guerilla warfare. We were taught how to crawl on our knees and elbows holding a rifle parallel to the ground. … In the absence of the real thing we used dried mud balls as grenades.

We started imagining ourselves as Viet Cong guerillas fighting the Americans. We imagined ourselves in the army of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. We were the heroes in our own imagination.

  How the birth of Bangladesh was announced in these words:

‘At 16.31 hours Indian standard time, General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi, commander of the Pakistan Eastern Command, surrendered to General Jagjit Singh Aurora, the general officer commanding of the Indian Eastern command at Ramna Race Course in Dacca. All fighting has ceased. Dacca (Dhaka) is now the free capital of a free country. We hail the people of Bangladesh in their hour of triumph. All nations who value the human spirit will recognise it as a significant milestone in man’s quest for liberty…….’.

Idrish tells us that a new country was born.

We were free. The hundred or so people who gathered round the radio burst into impromptu chants. People were chanting:

‘Victory to Bengal, victory to the freedom fighters.’

‘Joy Bangla, Joy Mukti Bahini.’ 

‘My country is Bangladesh, your country is Bangladesh.’

‘Amar Desh,Tomar Desh, Bangladesh, Bangladesh.’ 

People hugged each other and marched through the country paths in darkness. There was an outpouring of emotion and people were crying tears of joy. All-India radio played:-

‘A million salutes to you, whose name is Bangladesh’

‘Lakho se Salaam, Bangladesh Zisco Nam.’ “

Idrish tells the story in these words:

….. When I reached the Nazneen Cabinet firm, I saw a group of young boys sitting in front of the shop commonly known as the Inspector’s shop, which belonged to retired food inspector Muhammad Abdul Bari. They were holding rifles in their hands but their heads were lowered. They were in a very dishevelled state.

I recognised one of them, a student of Rajendra College. They were Freedom Fighters and they had just entered the town. They were part of the Mukti Bahini unit which fought battles the week before with the Pakistani army at Karimpur Bridge, on the Jessore road, where some of their comrades had fallen. One of the fallen comrades was Meshbauddin Noufel, son of the shop’s owner. They had come to see Noufel’s parents who lived in their house behind the shop. I knew Noufel, a student of Rajendra College, a polite and intelligent boy. I felt sad.

I stood there for a while to pay my respects to them. I had a chat with them. Tears came to my eyes when one of them said, ‘Today everybody is happy but we are sad.’ I could say nothing in reply; there was no reply.

Uncomfortable questions

An indication of my interest in Bangladesh is the various material that I have gathered over the years. In a democracy it is the norm that the political party that wins the most seats forms the government. This had not happened when it came to the Awami League led by Sheikh Mujib who had won 160 of the 300 seats for the National Assembly. 81 of the seats were won by the Pakistan People’s Party (led by Bhutto in West Pakistan).

In his article – who broke up Pakistan? The Nation from London 19-25 May 2007 – Aqeel Daanish spoke of the phrase “idhar hum udhar tum” (us here, you there), which was referenced to Bhutto who had won most seats in West Pakistan and Mujib had won the most seats in East Pakistan. So, Bhutto was effectively saying two majority parties would rule in the different wings of Pakistan, in other words a break up of the country. The writer also points out that right from day one East Pakistan was treated as alien and its population (majority of the nation) were ruled by the Western wing (the minority).

For Syed Munawar Hasan (The Nation 17.12.2005)

“dismemberment of Pakistan is to date the worst disaster of our national history. Its route cause was the sense of deprivation among Bengalis caused by dictatorial policies of the rulers from Pakistan. However, the refusal to accept the results of 1970 elections proved to be the last nail in the coffin”.

He also confirmed the ‘idhar hum, udhar tum’ intention of Bhutto.

Ahmad Faruqi (The Nation 11-17 December 2009) wrote an article on the dismemberment of Pakistan and creation of Bangladesh; the title says it all: ‘The darkest December’. The longstanding cause of this for him went back to the early days after Pakistan had come into existence.

Since the two wings did not share a common language, it made no sense to impose a single language on them. Imposing Urdu, a minority language spoken in the west, made even less sense. But that was precisely what was done in 1952. Deadly language riots ensued in the east.

He goes onto point out that in the years that followed the Bengalis felt like they had traded one colonial master for another. This was the same point Choudhury had made:

The Bengalis found a new ruling group set over them in place of the former British officials.

It is pleasing to see that some in the Pakistani civic society have continued to ask questions about the separation of East and West Pakistan. Recently, it was asked: why was Sheikh Mujib not invited to form the government when he had won the most number of seat? This was by the journalist Tanveer Zaman Khan. The answer is obvious: Because he was from East Pakistan. It was inconceivable for the West Pakistani dominated government including and especially for the largest political party Pakistan People’s Party led by Zualfiqar Ali Bhutto. According to Tanveer Zaman Khan, for the previous three decades the Western wing had exploited East Pakistan’s resources- rice, tea and patsun (white jute). Any resources in the western wing were treated as belonging to the provinces but the resources of the eastern wing were seen as belonging to the Centre (meaning the West). Choudhury confirmed this:

East Pakistan earned most of the country’s foreign exchange by the export of jute; yet most of the foreign exchange was spent on the industrialization of West Pakistan.

Idrish provides an example of Bengali exclusion. He mentioned that in 1971 he was watching a cricket match between an international team and the Pakistan national team (who for the first and only time had included one single Bengali player).

I end this review note with two quotes, from Idrish. The first of Joan Baez singing the song of Bangladesh:

When the sun sinks in the west

Die a million people of Bangladesh

The American poet and activist Allen Ginsberg visited the refugee camps in Kolkata and wrote his famous poem September on Jessore Road:

Millions of fathers in rain

Millions of mothers in pain

Millions of brothers in woe

Millions of sisters nowhere to go

Happy belated 52nd birthday anniversary to the nation of Bangladesh. May its people, home and abroad, forever go on prospering.

The Multicultural education context in Birmingham that Tim Brighouse inherited and enhanced (a continued model!)

Tim (as everyone called him; it would have been inappropriate to call him Mr Brighouse) left Birmingham around the time I joined the Council as a Schools Advisor. So, what little I know of him I learnt afterwards, including now. During my PhD research I learnt about his extensive work on race and education and which is included in my 2019 book – British Pakistani boys, education and the role of religion- in the land of the Trojan Horse’.

It is necessary to provide a bit of background to what Tim inherited in Birmingham education in terms of multicultural education.

The city’s education department was one of the early responders to needs of immigrant children as recorded in Rose et al: Colour and Citizenship (1969). The authority was also the first to acknowledge the plural nature of society by issuing guidance on the teaching of world religions (Does it do as it says? Learning for living. 15:4 125-126). Later, by the 1980s, in place was the Multicultural Support Service which was where my teaching career had begun in 1983. Building on this, the incoming Labour administration, in the 1984, had made clear its commitment to a multicultural and anti-racist education:

Curriculum must reflect the diversity of cultures in our society and must positively counter racism 

Multi-cultural curriculum must apply to all subjects, all age groups and all schools and colleges

In-service training for teachers with particular emphasis on training in racism awareness

Greater recruitment of ethnic minority teachers.

The Multicultural Support Service contained within it a number of units. One of these was the Multicultural Development Unit which had 34 experienced teachers who were strategically placed in primary and secondary schools. Apart from teaching, their job was to assist in the whole process of moving towards an education that better meets the needs of all pupils in a multicultural city. Another was the Afro-Caribbean Teaching Unit, made up of 7 experienced teachers. There were also the Community Languages Unit and an English as a second language unit which I had joined upon training as a teacher. The above service produced the Multicultural Review. Each issue carried articles including some written by practising Birmingham teachers. Edited by David Ruddell, the journal was circulated to all schools, free of charge. 

At the time, Birmingham City Council had in place a 20% target for recruitment of ethnic minority employees. In 1993, the year Tim arrived, the Education Department had reported achieving well in excess of the target, at 33%; 29% in 1992.

There is a story about Tim’s arrival in Birmingham and his absence from his office for a week or more. He was out and about visiting schools across the local authority. This personal approach was to mark his ten years in the city; he was clearly not an office-based  bureaucrat.

He says thank you, when it’s merited, whether he sees something worthwhile himself or it is reported to him by his advisers. He has sent out 5,000, maybe even as many as 10,000 thank you notes in the last nine years. He won’t have talk about his leadership being all inspiration. “It’s 1% inspiration and 99% hard work and attention to detail and trying to get systems right,” he says.

Sir Tim Brighouse was an extraordinary man who embraced so many paradoxes, perhaps that is why he was so extraordinary. He was understated and humble, yet had significant influence at the top levels as well as local ones. He was all about school improvement at a system level and yet always remained the champion of teachers and students, never losing his connection with, or love of, the classroom. He was incredibly intelligent and insightful and yet never used that over people nor ever used it to make others feel inferior, he had a way of elevating others.

He advocated for a similar approach in others. In his book ‘How Successful Headteachers Survive and Thrive’ Tim suggested that Heads should greet children and teachers as they enter school. They should go on a daily walk, talking to kitchen staff and cleaners as well as teachers, and sometimes follow a pupil through a day’s lessons. They should say “we”, not “I”. And they should spend two hours a week doing “acts of unexpected kindness”rememberingbirthdays and writing appreciative notes.

In another of his books ‘Essential pieces – the jigsaw of a successful school’, Tim advocated leading and managing at different levels, ensuring that everyone plays their part. In addition, he made a case for creating a fit environment – visually, aurally, behaviourally and in a way that encourages learning – and involving and connecting with parents and the community. 

During his nine-year tenure, the authority was at the forefront of developments in antiracist multicultural education. In 2003, Warren and Gillborn, who had been commissioned by Birmingham City Council and Birmingham Race Action Partnership, in their report Race Equality and Education in Birmingham stated how well the city was doing and reminded us that others often followed its example: 

Birmingham Local Authority has established an enviable reputation as an urban authority that takes seriously both an overall agenda to ‘raise standards’ and a commitment to greater equity and social inclusion.

Birmingham has been identified nationally as a leading authority in the field of race equality: consequently our findings have significance beyond the city itself.  

The Local Authority was well known for the publication of resources on race and education. One such document was Together we can stop bullying – guidance for schools and other education services on challenging bullying and racial harassment. I particularly recall that document because I was asked to help revise the Section 5: Guidelines for reporting, recording and monitoring racial incidents, in the light of the Macpherson Report. Another resource was We also Served – testimonies of the contribution made in two World Wars by the peoples of the Indian Sub-Continent, Africa and the Caribbean.

Later, in an interview with Gillborn et al, Tim recalled his work as Chief Education Officer in Birmingham, emphasising that by the early 1990s the local authority had access to detailed data on performance by ethnicity and gender:  

The period where I went to Birmingham – so that’s ’93 – by that time, in Birmingham …we had rich data about how well different groups were performing. Now nationally we hadn’t and I distinctly remember when I was in Birmingham saying, ‘Hey, come on, I’ve got a problem with African Caribbean boys’ – and girls – but particularly boys and particularly poor boys …Incidentally when I [went] to a school and ask[ed], ‘How are African-Caribbean boys doing in your school’ – and I knew the answer – the leadership of the school were surprised that I was asking the question and [they] clearly hadn’t thought about it. …So I think that the driver to get interested in all the issues from about that period on was because by the time I left Birmingham, then all that data was available.

Tim explained to the researchers that the data had given the local authority the leverage to open up questions about racial inequality that many individual schools had not yet begun to acknowledge. This provided the basis for the establishment of groups; one for African Caribbean achievement and another one for Pakistani and Bangladeshi pupils. The groups were responsible for monitoring the experience and attainment of the target group of pupils and for recommending improvements and initiatives designed to raise achievement. These groups were radical in many ways, especially so because they provided a platform for Black and Asian community activists to bring their ideas to headteachers and local authority policymakers as well as holding the bureaucrats to account. 

There were numerous initiatives that resulted from this approach and these achievement groups, including work with Black and Asian parents, mentoring schemes targeted at ethnic minority students who were underachieving and regular reports being published which provided the city much useful data. Above all else, in a city where the phrase ‘dictatorship of the bureaucrats’ had been coined (Newton in his book Second City Politics) it was during Tim’s time that such culture of accountability in education became a norm, including and especially for ethnic minorities who were previously kept at a distance from education centres of power and decision-making.  

Probably the best document that summarises the race equality work in Birmingham Education during that period was the submission to the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Public Policy Review Panel Birmingham:

  • The Chief Education Officer has measurable specific ‘targets’ for improvement for underachieving groups
  • The Education Service is integrating the Macpherson recommendations into its ongoing programme to enhance minority ethnic achievement, promote cultural diversity and combat racism.
  • Grant-aiding of 111 community supplementary schools so to recognise the significance of minority cultures and languages and their relationship with educational achievement
  • Minority Ethnic Recruitment to Initial Teacher Training scheme which had enabled 66 people to gain qualified teaching status, with a further 20 in the process.

Tim had led by example in this respect and pretty much everything he asked others to do. An illustration of this was when Tim attended, as the Chief Education Officer, a meeting with the African Caribbean community. He referred to it as a ‘baptism of fire’:

The hall was full of 300 or so people from the African-Caribbean community. All were angry. All felt let down by the education system. Most were in despair. It was difficult not to be defensive and almost impossible to persuade them that I would or could contribute anything.

Birmingham also had a number of innovations which were aimed at all children but which had a particular benefit for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. One example of this was the ‘guarantees’. The primary school guarantee promised improvements in school budgets. It promised that the local authority would try to improve its services to schools and to listen to expertise in school improvements. It promised to follow through on targets for literacy and numeracy. Also, every child was to have the opportunity to take part in a public performance and go on a residential field trip; every child was to have whatever they were good at in the expressive arts identified; every child would be part of a group producing a book or multimedia project that would tell a story for a younger age group; all would take part in a collective environmental inquiry. Meanwhile, the Secondary Guarantee promised that:

Throughout their total 11-16 school life pupils should have been encouraged to celebrate the City’s wide range of cultures and religions, and have been taught to promote racial and sexual harmony, tolerance and injustice (sic; of course they meant justice).

The authority was inspected by Ofsted in 2002 the report from which stated:

Birmingham local education authority is one of a very small number of EAs which stand as an example to all authorities of what can be done, even in the most demanding urban environments.

The LEA’s work to combat racism is described as very good with a number of different initiatives to raise achievement of minority ethnic groups also highlighted.

Soon after receiving a glowing endorsement from Ofsted Tim decided to leave Birmingham. There was much that was different now compared with the situation in 1993 when he had first arrived.

Since Mr Brighouse’s appointment in 1993 results in the city have improved year on year at all levels and at a faster rate than national averages. In Birmingham in 2001 41.4% of pupils achieved 5 or more A to C grades at GCSE compared to 33% in 1996. At key stage 2 in 2001 71% achieved level 4 or above in English compared to 46% in 1996, 67% in maths compared to 44% and 85% in science compared to 48%.

‘Tim’s contribution to Birmingham is almost immeasurable. He took an under performing service and made it a service with an international reputation for urban education. He leaves the department in amazingly good shape with a superb collection of head teachers, advisors and support staff. We are committed to continuing improvement and will not be complacent.’

I had little chance for contact with Tim, especially in person. One time he came to one of our staff gatherings. My highlight from that event were the few minutes I spent with him in the dinner queue. I said to him: I sometimes wonder whether I should work full time as a schools advisor. He said it wasn’t about being full time in one job or part time in a couple; it was the total impact you made that mattered. Suffice it to say I carried on portfolio working until I was made redundant when Birmingham dismantled its education advisory services.

We could see the progress that had been made in race equality during Tim’s time by looking at another comment from Ofsted the year after Tim left; – thematic inspection on combatting racism:

We found the schools we visited to be very outward-facing institutions – acting to mainstream race equality and ask how they could provide better education opportunities for children (and parents).

We were impressed by the schools’ engagement activities with parents. That work enabled support on attainment (such as mentoring) and progress to be effectively communicated; offered parents access to extra-curricular activities; and built parental confidence in the positive nature of school/pupil relationships.  

In 1996, Tim had written the following words (at the end of his chapter: Urban Deserts or Fine Cities? in the 1996 book by Barber and Dann: Raising Educational Standards in the Inner Cities) which give us a clue how things were done back then:

Birmingham is fortunate: there is one common factor of agreement and determination. We are going to capitalize on our teachers and the hopes of all our parents for the next generation. Together we are applying the lessons of research and we are backed by formidable political will.

Champion of Muslim children

In one of his interviews Tim talked of the need to understand race as a permanent social issue (‘I don’t believe racism will ever be cracked at all. I don’t …it’s something you’ve just got to keep returning to’). He was particularly critical, therefore, of what he perceived as the government’s failure to address issues such as Islamophobia and a general failure to maintain a focus on equalities in education. 

During his time, Birmingham Education had produced a number of resources that had their focus on Muslim children, the largest pupil religious group in the city’s schools:

  • Understanding your Muslim pupils – for new teachers to Birmingham
  • Muslim music and culture in the curriculum
  • Improving participation of Muslim girls in physical education and school sport

Birmingham had been one of the first local authorities to publish guidance for education of Muslim children: Revised guidelines on meeting the religious and cultural needs of Muslim pupils, published jointly by the City of Birmingham Education Department and the local Muslim Liaison Committee. The working group that produced the guidelines was established in 1984. The resulting document, while focused on Muslim children, was seen to have wider implications.

It should be seen as an instrument that guides our provision and response to the needs of other religious minorities, since the principles of tolerance, respect, and recognition of cultural and religious groups are universally applicable.

The wider context for the guidelines was the local authority’s document: Education for our multicultural society: equality assurance—the authority’s policy. The aim of this policy was to promote equality and justice through the establishment of a multi-cultural and anti-racist perspective in the city’s schools, as follows:

  • preparing all pupils for a life in a multi-cultural society and building upon the strengths of cultural diversity.
  • providing for the particular needs of children having regard to their ethnic, cultural, and historical background
  • being aware of, and countering, racism and the discriminatory practises that give rise to it.

Tim, in his role as the Chief Education Officer, endorsed the guidelines in these words:

I am delighted to know that the Muslim Liaison Committee has produced these guidelines. I would recommend schools consider the guidelines for meeting the needs of their Muslim pupils and make good use of them.

The guidelines focused on a number of areas, including collective worship, prayer facilities, religious festivals, school meals, sex education, dress and uniforms, showering and changing, swimming, and a range of other curriculum areas such as music, dance, and drama. Tim was to repeat his commitment to the education of Muslim children in British society. In his role as the then Chief Advisor for London Schools and Visiting Professor at the Institute of Education, he was the guest of honour at the launch of national guidance for Muslim education by the Muslim Council for Britain (further details in the blog written at my encouragement). This stated:

It is essential that positive account be taken of the faith dimension of Muslim pupils in education and schooling. The faith of Muslim pupils should be seen as an asset to constructively addressing many of the issues that young people face today.

Tim said:

I think it is a hugely important day, not merely for the Muslim community in this country but for our society as a whole, that you have done this. I think it is a superb document, and I thank you for it. I think it is a splendid first draft, and even if you never got to a second draft, it would still be a terrific document that we have.

Every school in this country needs to have this, and I appeal to the teachers’ unions in this country to give their full backing to this document; they would ensure that the teachers have a better opportunity of unlocking the minds of everybody in this country if they took it seriously.

I could tell you that 500 schools in Birmingham would welcome this document, and that’s in Birmingham alone. And I can tell you that another 3,000 schools in London would welcome this document. I read it cover to cover. I think it’s a fantastic document.

We need documents such as this from all faith positions, and I hope people from different faiths will read this document and make sure that the schooling system has references to this point. i.e., that they can use in their schools.

Tim mentioned the Chartered London Teachers Conference to be held the following week, which he was going to chair. With reference to the conference delegates, he went on to say that the document was…

…based on the premise and assumption that to teach in an urban area, particularly London, which has many faiths, many religions, and many races, there is a requirement on all teachers to have greater knowledge, greater skill, and greater expertise to do the basic job of a teacher, which is to unlock the mind and open the heart of our children in our schooling.

Next week, I am going to draw this document to the attention of the conference, and I am going to ask them to campaign with me to make sure that documents like this are prepared from different religious points of view. So, they have the best chance of unlocking the minds of all our future citizens.

Speaking about the choice and determination of this society and this country, Tim said,

The choices are: are we really determined? We are going to a place that is proud to be a society where people of many different faiths, coming from many different races, and speaking many different languages live together in harmony, peace, and respect for each other. I think it is a contribution precisely to that determination for our future.

He added,

I would ask anybody to read this document and say which part of it they don’t agree with. I started by saying that I am not a person of religious faith. I have read that document, and there is nothing in it to which I would not assent. It is something, I think, all educated people should take seriously.

Then  later during the Trojan Horse affair Tim was to intervene, alongside a number of educationalists; all of whom with deep knowledge of Birmingham. They expressed concern about Ofsted’s role and failure to be impartial and independent. This included a letter. In their view those conducting the inspections had been poorly prepared and had a pre-set agenda that called into question Ofsted’s claim to be objective and professional. They pointed out that it was:

beyond belief that schools which were judged less than a year ago to be ‘outstanding’ are now widely reported as ‘inadequate’, despite having the same curriculum, the same students, the same leadership and the same governing body.

For Tim, a major contributory factor in the Trojan Horse affair was the broken system of school governance which had contributed to the situation in Birmingham. He pointed out that in his experience it is quite normal for school governors to misbehave. However, when they do so, usually their colleagues remind them of the respective roles of governors and school professionals. If they still continue with their agenda the local authority would step in, as had happened on a few occasions during his time as the chief education officer. The local authority would work with all the stakeholders to sensitively find a way forward that was the best for the interest of the children and the wider school community.

As senior officers, with the help of local councillors and the Cabinet Member concerned, we would spend many evenings in schools, community venues and Balti houses seeking better understanding of the way forward with both governors and community members on the one hand and head-teachers on the other.

Tim laid the blame for Trojan Horse at the Department for Education. He reminded us that five of the six schools which were labelled as inadequate were academies. More specifically, he singled out the then Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, for his failure to use his powers to investigate what was going on in the schools in question, by sending in officials to governing body meetings. For Brighouse, such central control of education meant that communities such as Birmingham were being “treated as a colonial outpost of London”.

My colleague from Birmingham Education, Gilroy Brown, who knew Tim much more than I, has said the following words:

The passing of Prof Tim Brighouse is a great loss to us all and will be felt acutely by those of us who served in Birmingham from mid-90s to early 2000s. He was a breath of fresh air that swept through our city at a time when many of us School leaders felt we needed inspiration and clarity regarding our role as educators .

The terms inspirational, charismatic and catalyst for change aptly describe his character and the difference he made to the educational landscape of Birmingham.

He often challenged leaders to see themselves as the driving force for change and improvement and encouraged teachers to believe that they could change the world. We all believed we could “improve on our previous best “ and improve educational outcomes for our children and there were no barriers that we couldn’t overcome.

He believed there was something unique about every school and therefore endeavoured to visit all of them. The focus was always about the difference we can make in the lives our children, empowering them and making sure that no one is overlooked or forgotten ( the invisible child).

My last communication was earlier this year; with its priceless Tim typo. I met Tim at the launch of Colin Diamond’s edited collection The Birmingham Book, for which I had written a chapter. At the time, along with Professor Tahir Abbas, I was editing our book Ethnicity, Religion, and Muslim Education in a Changing World: Navigating Contemporary Perspectives on Multicultural Schooling in the UK. I asked Tim whether he would consider writing an Afterword. Sadly he declined the invitation.  

Around the time I needed to have a difficult conversation with Tim (and his co-writer Mick Waters). How to do so was the challenge! So, I took the direct approach.

Me: I thought it was a shame that you and Mick, in your recent book ‘About our Schools’ did not talk about the multicultural work done in Birmingham, especially during your time there.  

Tim: I agree …. we found ourselves wanting to make a long book even longer and it left that major hole…you are right to be crtical!! (sic).

I’m just glad that I was able to put my views to him while he was still with us in person. Though in many ways he will always be with us, in our thoughts and in our hearts. He made our (education) world a little better and built foundations for us to build upon. May God bless him, his memory and legacy and comfort his nearest and dearest. Karamat 

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.   

“I’ve got this”, I heard God say to me (about a new phone deal)

One morning in August 2022 I was at my desk doing something or other. The phone rang. Sometimes I ignore such calls from unknown numbers. But this time I decided to answer. I was polite as usual. I was being offered a mobile phone contract. I explained I was currently paying about £10 for a pay-as-you-go per month contract, having come to the end of my previous contract. Of course, I could have continued with the current arrangement. It was a case of ‘it’s not broken’ so I didn’t need to fix it. But clearly I wasn’t thinking.

After a minute or so of the initial sale conversation, I was passed to a colleague who then began to talk me through the phone contract. He went into some detail. After a few minutes I began to get impatient. I just wanted to get back to whatever I had been doing before the call. It was also time to go for my coffee break. During this period of impatience, I probably stopped listening to what I was being told. I do remember agreeing to pay just over £10 per month for a three-year contract. I quickly signed a contract and went for my coffee break.

About a month later, out of the blue, I received £70 into our bank account. I did not understand where this had come from or why. In investigating this I was told by the phone company, OneCom, that this amount was a refund towards my monthly bill, which would be about £80. When I expressed confusion about this it was explained that there was ‘discount’ ‘investment’ of £70 which I would receive for the first 17 months. This raised a question in my mind: what about after 17 months? (as this was a 36 month contract). When I queried the whole arrangement with an agent of the company they extended the ‘discount’ to 24 months.

I explained the full episode to my wife and business partner. I was expecting her to say how stupid I had been or worse. But all she managed was to say words to the effect of “ah well, no one has died”.  Very true.  

I began to think: what about the last 12 months? A couple of months later it was explained in an email that after 24 months I will have the option of entering a further 36 months contract, with a new discount I presume. However, if I did not wish to enter into a new contract then my discount would end, leaving me to pay an additional £70 per month for the remaining 12 months. In an email, a representative of OneCom stated that “I fully appreciate our discount is not the norm”. This made me think: if it is not normal then surely they should have explained the whole think in a more explicit way instead of not even mentioning the word ‘discount’ before I signed the contract, especially as it was going to lead me to pay the additional £70 per month for 12 months. Had they explained the discount arrangement I would not have signed the contract.

So, how am I feeling about all this? Frustrated, angry, stupid, bit of an idiot…. The word depression may be too strong but I was definitely low. I so wanted to turn the clock back so I could undo the whole business. I did not need a new contract. I was fine as I was. But, as they say, ‘it was water under the bridge’. I had signed on the dotted line. I was stuck. For a £10 a month contract I was either stuck with the company for life (by signing a new contract every 24 months) or having to pay an extra £70 per month for the final 12 months; a total of £840.

I live in the present normally. But this was ruining that by taking me into the future. I kept thinking about what would happen after 18 months or 24 months. Do I want to wait till then or do I terminate the contract now? Of course if I took the latter option I would have to pay them even more money, for early cancellation.

Throughout these three or four months I constantly emailed the company. Back and forth. Always polite exchanges, with their customer services people and the secretary of the CEO, who I had tracked down and linked up on LinkedIn. 

How I felt was made worse by me reading horror stories on the internet from other customers with OneCom. So, now I am thinking (isn’t hindsight wonderful): why didn’t I look up the company before I signed the contract!

The frustration and the feeling low (pretty low, for a person who is normally glass half-full) continued. It was all-consuming. I would think about it all my waking hours, especially those moments in the middle of the night when I was trying to go back to sleep.

Of course, as a man of faith I was praying all the time, for God to intervene, to do something, do anything to help. Was he listening to what I was saying?  Along the way I was able to describe the whole episode to the two guys from our church with whom I meet every fortnight to share what is going on in our lives and pray for each other. I remember saying how stupid I felt. To this I was told by one of the men: don’t say that; you are not stupid.  

Then, one day I heard God speak to me; very clearly, as clear as I am about sitting here now writing this blog…. I had just finished my hospital chaplaincy ward round and was sitting there in the waiting room so I could have my Covid jab. At the time, like most days I was having another very LOW moment. Just then I audibly heard a voice which I took to be from God, saying: I’ve got this. So, now God was saying he had heard me, he knew what was going on and he will sort it. Did that help? A little. But I still wanted to go back in time to not make (the stupid) mistake.

I considered writing to the BBC Watchdog. I contacted Citizens Advice. I considered writing the full story and name and shame the company…. I tried my best to persuade OneCom, their CEO, his secretary, their customers service….. I considered writing to my Member of Parliament.

I then decided to complain to OfCom. But it turned out that OneCom were not within their jurisdiction but had their own Complaints System. This did not give me much hope. I didn’t think this would be a system that would give me a fair hearing. Still I tried them. I wrote the full story. They considered whether I had a case for them to take on. They did think I had a case and that they would take it up on my behalf.

My main case was that because the ‘discount’ and its likely end at 24 months had not been made clear to me when I first signed the contract, I wished to terminate the contract, without having to pay any termination charges. Alternatively, I was happy to continue with the contract if the £70 discount was extended to the full 36 months of the full duration of the contract. I also explained to the Adjudicator that I had signed the contract in good faith, based on the phone sales conversation, but without reading the small print of the contract which did explain the ‘discount’. In summary, I was of the view that it was a 36 month contract and I would pay just over £10 per month. Simple.

I waited for the decision by the Adjudicator. They took a few weeks before reaching their decision. I expected bad news. So, I began to prepare for it. Occasionally I would remind myself of what God had promised. It helped a little, to get me through my days.

The Adjudicator decided in my favour. They instructed the company to terminate my contract, after making sure that, over the 8 months duration of the contract I only pay £10.70 per month. I was owed over a £100 which I was pleased to have refunded.

There was a bonus! The month following the resolution of my case, I received my normal £70 discount. I wrote to the company to inform them of this, expecting they would expect a refund. They didn’t. Instead they wrote to me to say I could keep the money. But then the same happened the month after. Again I wrote to them to inform them of this discount money. I did not hear from them. So, I ended up benefiting from £140. By this time I had a new phone contract with a different company which was below £10 a month. Moreover, my OneCom contract had come free membership of Amazon Prime. I have tried to cancel this but have not been able to. So, I continue to have this free membership and probably will have it for 36 months.

In conclusion…

The episode has renewed my faith in our systems, such as, adjudication.

I have learnt that next time someone phones me to sell me something I shall be less trusting and less quick to enter into a contract.

And, maybe, next time God says, “I’ve got this”, I will be more trusting.  

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.

Beyond representation

In the 1990s I was an established equality practitioner and the term diversity had just been coined. My livelihood depended on my work; family to feed, mortgage and bills to pay and the like. As a paid-up member of the Labour Party, there was a time when I wondered if the Tory Party came calling for advice whether I would sell my expertise to them. This was when they had selected a Black candidate for the blue seat of Cheltenham.

Taylor was the son of Jamaican Christian immigrants, settled in Birmingham. His father was a professional cricketer and coach for Warwickshire and his mother was a nurse. Taylor attended Moseley Grammar School where he was head boy and later attended Keele University where he studied English Literature and law, followed by Inns of Court School of Law in London. So, the right material for a future Tory Member of Parliament! This was not to be. The safe seat was lost to the Liberal Democrats, for the simple reason the electorate could not stomach a Black candidate.

I remember thinking at the time that if the Tories sorted their racism they would do well given the many potential candidates like Taylor amongst the ethnic minorities. That was then. The Tories did manage to get there, without my advice. In fact, alongside the women-only shortlists which brought many women into Parliament for the Labour Party benches, the conscious way the Tories set out to bring in ethnic minorities to arrive at their current position offers an example of good equalities recruitment practice. So, you would think that those of us who campaign for ethnic minority representation would be pleased. Whether we are or not depends on our politics. What the exercise has told us is that representation is not the only thing matters. We are (and should be) also concerned with what the representatives do once they get there. We are even learning that some ethnic minority Tories are even worse than White because of their use of their own ethnicity as a weapon to bring in even nastier policies.

The problem is not just in Parliament. After years of campaigning when I recently reported that a particular education board in Birmingham was no longer 100 percent White because of its three ethnic minority candidates someone raised the point: let’s hope they are the right ethnic minorities.

Well before the highly ethnically diverse Tory leadership list, the education campaigner Rosemary Campbell-Stephens advised us to go ‘beyond representation’ (in the Colin Diamond Birmingham Book 2022). In her view representation alone was not enough. We should also ask: leadership for what purpose and in whose interest?

  • Does having a more diverse leadership in itself change anything?
  • What difference does it make if the training and the professional socialisation that Black and other Global Majority educators receive, the institutional culture of which they become a part and the systems and processes they operate are identical to their white counterparts?

Representation matters but is never sufficient on its own. We have to look beyond to assess the behaviour of the representatives and the positive difference they make to addressing inequalities. To quote Lord Simon Wolley, we need “principled, all community serving politicians who won’t pander to prejudice to elevate themselves” ; “ethical leadership, not just ethnicity”.

Positive Action across the City is a must

  • Extracts from the book Dear Birmingham (2013) by Dr Karamat Iqbal

“In 1986, Birmingham City Council, a major West Midlands employer, with 50,000 full and part-time workers, decided as part of its positive action programme, that its aim would be to recruit 20% of new staff from ethnic minority communities” (Employment Report, Commission for Racial Equality, 1987). In launching the programme Councillor Bill Gray said:

“What we are saying is that from now on, regardless of other considerations, 20 per cent of recruiting must come from ethnic minorities. We are going to monitor recruitment and managers will have to explain if they have not recruited 20 per cent. It is no good just talking of being committed to an equal opportunities process- we have to demonstrate that we mean what we say.”  Bill Gray 

Then, in 2001, the Birmingham Stephen Lawrence Commission Report said:

“The institutions should take steps to ensure that they address the current under-representation of minority ethnic people in their employment. All institutions should establish workforce targets based on the current minority ethnic population of the city…You can performance manage so many things, why can’t you performance manage race?” Lawrence Commission

“If public services are to be effective in responding to more diverse needs, then a pre-requisite is to ensure that their workforce profiles are truly reflective of (the) diversity.” Lawrence Commission

Others have agreed with the approach:

“Reflective workforces are seen as effective workforces and if you are going to provide culturally competent and sensitive services then you need staff who can connect with the communities that they serve”– BRAP

John Solomos and Les Back, in their book about the City (Race, Politics and Social Change, 1995), pointed out that Birmingham has been very successful with regard to writing policies and presenting an image of itself as an authority that is in the forefront of developing race equality policies. However, it has not been as good at making sure that race equality initiatives are embraced at all levels within the organisation. The authors quote a Black officer saying: “We have created a façade that race relations have been strengthened. We go all around Europe, host conferences blowing Birmingham’s trumpet but the reality of the situation is very different…” (p191).

But, it would appear that it is not all window-dressing. There is much good practice from the past that we can learn from. I thought this Birmingham political leader, quoted in Solomos and Back, summed up my thinking on positive action:

“..If you have a history of under-representation you’ve got to do something at some point to catch up, but I am against the dropping of standards. I think what you’ve got to do is remove any other and illegitimate obstacles, personal racism of a superior within a department or something of that sort, overt discrimination. Remove that so that people can compete fairly. What I wouldn’t do is remove competition.” 

“It is very well making policy pronouncements, but you have to take it much further than this. It is just not enough to have fine pieces of paper… In employment, for example, you need to take a whole view…. If you recruit ten black people and ten years later they are in the same position, that’s not equality” Black Officer

As a policy response, we could do worse than refer to the 1984 manifesto commitment of Birmingham Labour Party. As pointed out in Solomos and Back, it committed the incoming administration to seek to achieve “proportionate employment of ethnic minorities.. at all levels.” It committed the Council to take Positive Action to ensure that there is equality of opportunity for ethnic minorities in all its initiatives. As a result, the City Council successfully pursued a target of twenty per cent ethnic minority employees, under the leadership of Bill Gray who is quoted above.

 Following this, there was writing of equal opportunities criteria into the performance contracts of senior managers. The Chief Officers of service departments made regular reports to the Personnel and Equal opportunities Committee (though this resulted in some “embarrassed and heated exchanges with members, it worked”). The “situation had been transformed radically.” By 1993, the ethnic minority presence in the City’s workforce had reached 15.4%, with a “number of departments approaching the target 20 per cent minority employment and some have completely transformed their ethnic composition.”     

City-wide programme

The earlier rules about Positive Action – in place since the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Race Relations Act 1976 – have now been changed. In the past, it was limited to training or encouragement such as mentoring schemes for ethnic minority or women staff where they were under-represented at certain levels within an organisation or needed additional training provision.

Under the recent Equality Act 2010, it is now legal to recruit or promote a candidate (say a Pakistani) who is of equal merit to another candidate. However, before this can be done the employer has to reasonably think that Pakistanis are under-represented in the workforce and they suffer from a disadvantage due to being a Pakistani. For example, a service for teenagers has no employees who are Pakistani, despite being located in an area of high Pakistani population. When a vacancy arises, there are two candidates who are equally qualified for the job and the employer has to find a way to choose one of them. One candidate is Pakistani and the other candidate is not. Under the current law, it would be legal to offer the job to the Pakistani and the other candidate would not be able to make a claim of unlawful racial discrimination.

In my view, the new Positive Action rules offer us as a city a way forward. However, I would not suggest that a few organisations take such an approach in isolation from each other. Thinking of our city as one big business, Birmingham Plc, which is faced with across-the-board under-representation of ethnic minorities (more of some than others) I would like to propose a wholesale programme of Positive Action, properly resourced and co-ordinated and with one clear focus: to improve the situation in employment and service provision.

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.