Names not numbers

Guest Blog by Mr Naveed Khan February 18, 2021

Education is powerful. It transforms lives. Getting it ‘right’ is key especially for the most disadvantaged. Deprivation should not determine destination (sadly, it does). As a former free school meal child, I’ve observed this first hand. 

This is my first post on my new blog. The aim of the blog will be to codify the success I have had in leading school improvement with a focus on raising outcomes. I will draw on my reading of research, articles and books, which have formulated my thinking and underpinned decision making. I plan to share how I have implemented strategies which have resulted in measurable impact. This includes working as part of team to transform a school from Special Measures (December 2016) to Good (March, 2018) within 15 months. This was followed by securing the best ever GCSE results in the school’s history in Summer 2019.

From the outset, I would like to state, there will be ‘no silver bullets’, no magic formulas and no jazz hand initiatives. That said, I will discuss strategies that are incredibly simple and if implemented successfully, do work. 

I have three tips which have been fundamental in my journey of driving school improvement and raising outcomes. 

1. Keep it simple, make it work

Improving outcomes is not glamorous. It relies on meticulous planning, focusing on the tiny details and using data effectively to ask the right questions. Rather than hundreds of initiatives, focus on a few in detail and make them work. This leads me onto tip 2. 

2. The power of three

Over the years, I have seen teachers working incredibly hard with little to no impact. Often, I have found, one of the underlying reasons for this is that there are multiple initiatives going on, all at the same time, with staff pulled in different directions with little clarity. This results in the age old saying, Jack of all trades, master of none.

Many have said this before, and I completely agree, focus on a maximum of three strategies in an academic year. These three strategies should be rooted in research that is known to have impact. The strategies should be understood by all and implemented gradually overtime (meticulous planning). Quality assurance activities should focus on these initiatives and CPD planning should be informed by the findings from monitoring. 

3. Names not numbers

Leading on outcomes, I have often seen the focus on percentages. Pages and pages of data with every subgroup possible. Again, here, I suggest you focus on up to three subgroups (where are the attainment and progress gaps in your school – they may overlap; for example: White British, more able disadvantaged boys). Behind every number is a child, and that’s what the focus should be on.

Of course, published performance headlines matter, but that is the end result. Building up to this point, every child should be discussed across every subject. This led me to launch the names behind the numbers campaign in September 2017. Students were discussed at a teacher level, department level, and whole school level. This resulted in every child being known, valued and understood. The impact, the best GCSE results in the school’s history in summer 2019 including Maths and Science being in line with or above national at Grade 4+, 5+ and 7+. Both these subjects were judged inadequate in December 2016.

I am going to develop my three main tips into individual blogs. Which one do you think I should focus on first?

Thank you
Naveed 

I am a Vice Principal in a secondary school in a London Borough. By choice I have focused my teaching career on empowering students from areas of social and educational disadvantage. I firmly believe education can be a route to delivering social justice and transforming lives.

My school has been on a transformational journey improving from Special Measures (December 2016) to Good (March 2018). Subsequently, the following year, the school achieved its best ever GCSE results in Summer 2019. I am driven by social justice as a result have focused my teaching career working in schools in areas of social and educational disadvantage. Over the course of my career, I have developed a vast amount of knowledge, skills and experiences in school improvement and raising outcomes. I am an aspiring headteacher

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Posted byMr N KhanFebruary 18, 2021Posted inUncategorized

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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

My holiday afternoon with Dr Martin Glynn and Dr Jo Shah

The following are my notes of a conversation between Jo and Martin. I recommend you listen for yourself.

Introduction

I am glad I am alive, and I am glad I am of some use.

I am 63 now (so me coming from a culture where age is respected and means wisdom I am very pleased).

I am the original black nerd, from a street background. Grew up in a house with a library and radio was my theatre (I am jealous). Telling stories at 16.

Just don’t tell him he can’t do something. Remember Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver.

The journey

This person comes up and tells me he was a producer for Radio 4: have you ever written a radio play? That’s how I got my first radio commission.

Then someone asked me to write for TV, for Casualty. Then he read a book. Offered to write a script for it.

Then he did an adaptation of Mark Twain. It got accepted.

Then into criminology in academia, via work in prison. This was after a realisation that the real stories of men (especially Black men) were not making into the public consciousness. It made me angry. Masters (without a first degree) and then a PhD. I was an artist before.

I aspired to get into Broadway and West End.

Transformative narrative, from an entertainment narrative.

Race is not for the swift but for those who can endure.

“You are not going to come into your own until you are in your 50s and 60s. The life before is an apprenticeship”. Thank you Martin; I am just getting started.

What makes people to stop offending?

Do black men have a voice outside of the criminal justice system and mental health? To understand black men is to understand me.

My children are the ages as Trayvone Martin and Stephen Lawrence. I am because we are, and we are because I am.

Navigating the (white space) of the academy

It’s like being in a prison. The only difference is the job titles of those in charge. They operate with sensitivity, but you are still on a plantation. You look outside from the university; into the field which is the community.

I always wanted to create counter-narratives. I still do. So Critical Race Theory and intersectionality were a logical place to be.

I am not an artist or an academic; I am a storyteller. My doctorate enables me to tell my stories; so, they’re not thrown into the bin.

Academia; it’s just buildings.

When I hear someone complain about a photocopier, I want to say to them: you’re lucky; you have a photocopier.

Someone said to me: how come you are an academic; you sound too rough.

I realised I was surrounded by people speaking properly.

The oppressive nature of white spaces such as the academy.

If I come to work too early, people may think I am a cleaner. A saying from the 1960s: I might be a toilet cleaner but at least I am not black.

Decolonisation requires resources.

Interest convergence. The institution is now interested. The only change is that which is wholesale; anything else is just tinkering.

A lot of us have forgotten who the enemy is.

Where do I position myself? What resources do I have? What tools do I need?

I am not cut out for university. If 6 Black people are sitting together in the cafeteria, people think it’s a new Black Lives Matter movement. But if 6 white people are sitting together: “they’re having a discussion”.

For six or seven hours we think we are equal. But the moment I get out on the street and I get stopped by the police…

His favourite place in the library is not the classroom but the library.

God did not put me on earth to go to university, but he put me in spaces to get experience. He put me in university to show people what it’s like outside. University can give you the tools to transform the community. It’s a place to strengthen my brain capacity.

Funny stories

How dare you talk about Romeo and Juliet to illustrate gang warfare!

Was it because I was black!

Reflections on the life so far and what next?

Ask him a question. He says, “do you want me to give you an educated response?” It’s been very disappointing.

My mum said: always have something to fall back on. Nothing lasts forever. So, I can do lots of things.

Successes and learning

The biggest success has been failure; to talk about failure. I’ve failed more often than I’ve succeeded. The students want to know how I overcame failure.

I always want to connect with students as humans. So, I share ‘me’ along with my content.

In traditional societies it was the elders and story tellers who passed on the wisdom. There is not enough story telling in university.

In my contract it talks about attainment but not about the competencies I have brought to the academy.

In my lessons I say: your experience matters. Let’s talk about it. Let’s weave it into the learning.

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. 

How to differentiate in race without being divisive?

I have worked in equalities for over four decades. In the 1970s and 1980s race meant all of us because we considered ourselves Black. When Dummett published her book ‘A Portrait of English Racism’ or Humphrey and John published ‘Because they’re Black’ we knew they were talking about all of us. 

Later, we came to focus on specific ethnic groups within the ‘Black’ category such as educational underachievement of Caribbean children (Coard, Rampton). From 1991 onwards we discovered that the Asian achievement had problems within it because Pakistani and Bangladeshis were under-achieving. Slowly, we began to realise that this was not just in education but generally too; these two communities were found to be much more disadvantaged within the Asian category.

My own work has focused on Black (as a political term), Asian, White working class, the disadvantaged and now Pakistani children’s education (and the community more generally).

We know our communities have differences and similarities in heritage, context and outcome. There are times when the overall category of BAME (like the Black of old) is sufficient as is Asian or ethnic minorities but there are times we need to look at the specific communities (Black, Pakistani, Bangladeshi) and their access to opportunities and power. When doing the latter I often feel a bit of guilt, in case I am seen to have something against the other minority communities which I don’t. 

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.

Our colourblind education system

So, last week I spent an hour with a Birmingham teacher. I was teaching her about multicultural education, from the first government policy in 1965 onwards, via Coard, Rampton, Swann, to today. I had not prepared anything so it was a case of talking about things in my head, that I had talked or written about over too many years. She lapped it up. She was hungry for every word. She was generous in her response. 

Part of me was pleased to be valued by a younger professional in My Hometown, thinking that long after I am gone she would be educating. The other part of me was angry (righteous anger) that, after she had been through teacher training and now had taught in schools for a few years she did not know the basics of multicultural education. Is race equality/education the only area where we do not build on the previous foundations and leave the subsequent generations ignorant through our colourblind policies. 

I recall a very senior educationalist (director of education of a multiacademy trust) asking me to explain to her what I meant by ‘under representation’ when I had asked whether their teachers reflected the ethnic minorities in their school. And the forever increasing number of schools who do not even have a working policy on race let alone an action plan.

Is the British countryside (still) a ‘white space’?

For many years now, especially since we moved to the countryside, we have been fans of Countryfile. Everything stops on Sunday evenings. I am even found giving the programme my full attention, without getting side-tracked with gadgets. The programme has become even more attractive since its presenting team have become more diverse.

I was pleased the programme invited Dwayne Fields to report on the current situation on race. The message of the programme was:

that minorities “can feel unwelcome in the countryside”

“think they don’t belong in the countryside”

being black in a rural area is an isolating experience

One interviewee referred to “People saying they liked the good old days when you could be racist, and you didn’t have to be PC.”

The programme has attracted criticism for drawing attention to racism in the countryside. Dan Wootton questioning the use of ‘white (his emphasis) environment’. He brought on Calvin Robertson who was “baffled” with the programme. He questioned the label ‘BAME’: “we are all British”. He spoke of the “PC brigade” and “woke people” saying racism was everywhere. “Racism isn’t everywhere”.  

The Spectator said: Countryfile is wrong about racism and the countryside.

Spiked also criticised the BBC for its response to the Black Lives Matter movement:

The BBC has made a special effort to put race front and centre in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. It has promised to spend £100million on ‘diverse’ programming. It has commissioned op-eds by activists to promote BLM talking points. 

It said so widespread was the BBC’s BLM activism that “it has started to crop up in the unlikeliest of places. Now even BBC One’s Countryfile is taking on ‘systemic’ racism. I wonder why they used the word ‘even’ in this respect and why is Countryfile an unlikeliest place for addressing racism in the countryside.

Most of the criticism was decontextualized and ahistorical. It took little account of the wider and historical context of the issue of race in relation to our rural areas.

A bit of background

First a little about me.

I had a happy childhood, in Kashmir. It was a simple world, no roads, no electricity, no running water. We walked everywhere. Our days began and ended with the rising and setting of the sun.

We made up games and created our own amusement. We ‘sailed’ boats. We played with stones and pebbles. We ‘raced cars’. We played marbles, gulli danda, sat khutar…

We went on walks with our friends. We appreciated the space around us; it changed with the seasons. We helped with jobs such as looking after the animals and gathering kindling for the fires on which our meals were cooked.

We sat and listened to our elders’ conversation (we spoke when we were spoken to). We followed our elders do their jobs such as ploughing the field. We helped when we could.

All this changed when I was about 12. My parents sent me to England, to live with an older sister. So, the green and pleasant countryside went out and, in its place, the urban environment arrived. Inner city Birmingham, to be precise. Houses and other buildings; factories; people everywhere. Living next door to the gas works was a million miles from where I had spent my early years.

Life carried on. Slowly, I began to discover that not far from my urban environment was another world. Just like my birthplace; green and pleasant though very different. It was what has been described as ‘white space’. I stuck out because of my colour. People stared at me; not directly but stared, nevertheless. It was that ‘second look’ which made it clear that people had registered my difference.

I stuck with it. Over the 50 years of being here, I have made the British countryside my own. Wales, Scotland, and many places in England; I become alive whenever I am out and about. It takes me back to Kashmir. One year an Asian friend and I hitchhiked to Cornwall and back (that’s what you did in your teens in the 1970s). So, now I was not in the company of white people (which makes visible minorities safer in the eyes of the wider world) but another Asian.

Every now and then I have wondered whether we would ever be able to actually live in a rural area. In such situations ethnic minorities are never far from wondering whether one would be accepted; would one’s children be safe at school; whether one would be able to make friends with one’s neighbours. Or if one suffered abuse would there be an organisation to turn to or race-aware local people who would come to one’s aid. Or small yet significant matters whether one would need to anglicise one’s name or be frequently asked the ‘where are you really from?’ question.   

Keep them in Birmingham      

Then one’s personal questions are given weight by official reports. It is made clear that there are plenty of spaces in the rural parts of our nation where people are of the ‘Keep them in Birmingham’ mindset. This was a report from the then Commission for Racial Equality was published quite recently (in 1992). It stated the following examples of racism:

trainee was black, and the following day he was asked to leave, since his colour ‘might affect the trade’.

black woman who had just started work as a chambermaid was dismissed because members of a coach party staying there expressed virulent dislike at the idea of having a black chambermaid attending to their rooms’ and the management did not want to risk alienating regular customers and losing valuable trade. A tribunal in Truro awarded her £1,500 in compensation.

Another black woman who was sacked from her job in a hotel because of the racial prejudice of a guest now works in a school where prejudiced parents are said to be reluctant to allow her to have anything to do with their children.

A hairdressing salon which takes hairdressing students on placement from a college of further education refused to have black students, ‘because our clients don’t like it’; the college was prepared to accept this on the grounds that we must use this hairdresser for our placements’.

And in a seaside resort where there are many overseas students, there have been several reports of bus drivers deliberately driving past a bus stop where black students were the only people waiting even though there were empty seats on the bus.

That was then. Maybe things have changed. If they have then this needs to be communicated to the minorities who have decided to ‘stay in Birmingham’. The ‘stay away from the countryside’ message might have been passed onto younger people and may still be influencing people’s decisions. And if they haven’t changed then….

Then in 2004 the Head of the same CRE, Trevor Phillips, said low numbers of black and Asian people in the countryside was a form of ‘passive apartheid ‘and that the countryside was seen as a ‘no-go area for ethnic minorities’. He pointed out that many in the ethnic minority communities felt they did not belong outside towns and cities. “But I think what we are seeing is a gradual drift towards a difficult situation in which people from ethnic minorities feel uncomfortable.”

Then, in that same year we had the publication of a book  – ‘Rural Racism’ (Neil Chakraborti and Jon Garland).  This pointed out that people of colour were now found in almost all parts of England, Scotland and Wales and the numbers were increasing.

It is now a simple empirical fact that you can be ‘visibly different’ and yet still from Worcestershire, the Highlands of Scotland, the Welsh valleys or wherever.

They also pointed out that, were it not for racism, there would be even more ethnic minorities moving to the countryside. It maybe stating the obvious but people from these communities “enjoy living in the countryside for the same reasons as their white counterparts – the love of rural terrain, the availability of country pursuits and the emotional tranquillity that comes from living in a peaceful natural environment.”

The book’s authors believed that “there is a real need to think about how best to respond to rural racism and how policy can meet the needs of individuals and families with diverse backgrounds”. They pointed out:

a range of covert and overt processes of racism through which minority ethnic people are made to feel ‘othered’ in rural environments.

subjectively defined ‘low-level’, or less tangible, types of racism that tend to be particularly common features of areas with low minority ethnic populations.

racism can often be marginalised by rural agencies in deference to other problems that show up more readily in official crime figures

introducing elements of diversity, multiculturalism and anti-racism into the classroom is a further challenge to those working in the field, particularly in the rural context where schools may have very few minority ethnic pupils and familiarity with ‘other’ cultures may be extremely low

Crucially, the authors pointed to the complexity of the problem:

rural racism is not a simple phenomenon: changing cultural norms, attitudes, geographical landscapes and political agendas will all impact upon the way in which different forms of racism manifest themselves in different forms of rural space, and indeed upon the way in which such behaviour is interpreted and challenged.

Since then (2009), in an article titled ‘is the countryside racist?’ Sathnam Sanghera pointed out that racial prejudice was certainly a factor that led to ethnic minorities feeling uncomfortable in the country:

all my Asian and black friends have stories of being stared at, country pubs falling silent on entry, and strangers asking if they can “feel” their hair.

And thinking about my numerous trips to the country, there are all sorts of things I do consciously and unconsciously to avoid such reactions: I’ll never enter a pub with a Union Jack or St George’s Cross flying outside, for instance; will invariably stay in places I know to be popular with other Londoners; and will usually travel with someone white. Sanghera makes a distinction between ignorance and “racism” and asks us to remember “that people in the country aren’t just hostile to ethnic minorities – they’re hostile to all outsiders.” He also reminds us that the lack of ethnic engagement may be a question of class rather than race; a large family can make the visit prohibitively expensive.

Rural racism is very real

The other rurally focussed programme is Farming Today on Radio 4. This has had two recent items on race. On 13 June it discussed the problems of ethnic minorities working in the farming industry. People spoke of suffering overt and covert racism, such as racist jokes. When asked whether the victim had reported any of it, he said “to report it you’d be reporting it all the time”. In any case he said there was no one to report such problems to. He asked the agriculture industry to not be complicit in the problem. “It should take action to address the problem”.

On 20 June, the programme asked: How welcome are black or Asian families in rural Britain? It reported on one family taking taxis because they were unsafe travelling while black. The family reported “experiencing racism all the time – once a week racism, such as being called the N word”. When asked whether the situation had got better, the response was in the negative. “It’s better but not because there is less racism but because I am better dealing with it”.

Professor Neil Chakraborti was interviewed. He was one of the authors of the book ‘Rural Racism’,  referred to earlier. He said the demographics had changed; there were now more minorities living in rural areas, but the environment was still not welcoming enough. Like Sanghera above, he spoke of people’s unfamiliarity with difference. He called on all different institutions- police, health education – to play their part.

There are some good signs of change. Countryfile interviewed the writer Julian Glover who had authored a report. He said both the two main political parties had supported the report and had agreed to act.

To Pashto or not?

Recently I realised I am not just bilingual but multilingual. I grew up speaking Pahari, then I learnt Urdu. Later, upon arriving in the UK as a teenager, I learnt English. I still speak the first and the third, read the second and third but write only in the third.

Having experienced the British education, first as a student and then as an educationalist, I can say it is a monolingual system, with a sole focus on English. Moreover, it is a monolingualising system.

It talks about valuing bilingualism, but its approach is not additive but subtractive. So, children enter school speaking their mother tongue. By the time they leave they usually only speak English. Their teachers, explicitly or implicitly, will have told them ‘only English matters’. The wider society also sends a clear message to people, especially if they are from migrant communities, that their mother tongue is worthless.

Fortunately, I continued to read and speak my mother tongues and have managed to keep them alive. They are a central part of my identity. Whenever I have the opportunity, I encourage people to become or at least stay bilingual.

So, it was very interesting and encouraging to see a discussion amongst the members of the Pashtun Community, on the Facebook page of the Pashtun Trust (5.7.20). So, my thanks to everyone who has contributed to the discussion. I hope it will encourage others to have similar discussion.

The discussion began with the key question:

Is it important to teach your children to read and write Pashto? Why?

In response there were several extremely helpful contributions:

Because the language will die out

It’s important, but unfortunately even speaking it is dying out

It’s deliberately being wiped; the national language (of Pakistan) takes precedence

People said the language was dying out: “half of us brits can’t speak the language never mind read and write it”. We should be teaching our kids Pashto! The language (of lions) will die out if we don’t.

People thought speaking the language was “more important than to read and write it”.

One said when their family went to Pakistan they realised what a mistake it had been not teaching Pashto to the children when they were young. Another said: “Stur sari shu…they don’t want to learn it now”. Another said he has tried but the children find the language funny and don’t take it seriously.

One contributor commented that it was beneficial to speak the language even if one could not read or write it. “I suppose if you’re Welsh it would still be beneficial to learn Welsh even if it’s just to keep the language going. It’s part of who you are, who your parents are.” Another contributor pointed out that speaking in different languages was an asset, a message that should come from the education system but sadly does not. This has the support from academic research:

Bilingualism is a cognitive, social, and economic asset for all people, and schools can play a significant role in helping students develop full academic bilingualism.

Others have also argued that bilingualism is indeed an asset.

One comment reminded us that learning about Pashtun history, heritage, values, principles, and religion took precedent over the language. Also, that, within a European context, other languages were dominant and were replacing Pashto.

Ethnic Retention

This is a term coined by academics to refer to immigrants or people of colour “embracing the characteristics of their original culture, such as language, value priorities, daily routines, social networks and ethnic identity”.

There was discussion about how one’s language was interlinked with one’s overall identity:

it is who you are… losing your language is the first stage of losing your culture.. lose your culture; well then you are lost…

In all reality l don’t think the next generation will be as much Pashtun as they will be British.

The role of parents and grandparents was crucial:

My parents and grandparents would insist on us speaking Pashto at home and that’s how we learned and preserved it. With this next generation, you have to make the effort to speak it with them and encourage it and if they make mistakes, help them but don’t take the mick otherwise that will make them go back into their shell. I do it with my own, I have half Irish nieces and nephew who are learning it, so it just requires effort and consistency.

People raised the importance of teaching, which in their view was essential to keeping a language alive. One person suggested how to keep the language alive: by practising it i.e. writing, reading, and socialising and speaking with others. Internet resources such as Youtube were recommended.

I follow Kristie Prada, who has experience of bringing up her children bilingually. She provides sound advice.

My thanks to the members of the Pashtun community. I hope their discussion and work will continue. I hope to continue to learn from them and others who may follow their example.