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.
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.