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