Still European

Many years ago, as a family we drove to Italy where we had a great holiday. On the way there and back we passed through France, Germany and Switzerland. Following the freedom we had experienced in our travels, I recall saying on our return that “we left home as Brits and came back as Europeans”. My citizenship has not changed, in spite of what our country decided last week.

Below is my post from Facebook, from the day before the vote. It was sad that not more of my fellow citizens agreed with me.

Our European marriage is not over yet!
In the 1970s I lived in Small Heath, in the East of Birmingham. Whenever I had the time and could afford the bus fare I used to take a trip to Coventry. I loved sitting in the new cathedral. I also walked around the ruins of the old one, learning a bit about how it had been bombed by the Germans.

Then, one day I remember hearing that Tangerine Dream had performed in the cathedral, which I thought as odd since they were German. It taught me something about forgiveness and reconciliation. (Later, this was helped by a talk from the South African anti-racist activist, Revd Basil Manning at Woodbrook Christian College, Selly Oak. He explained that it was not enough to say sorry; one had to do sorry).

Life carried on.

It was not until the film Saving Private Ryan came out that I understood something about World War II. That year the Poppy meant something.

This morning, while doing my Hospital Chaplaincy round, a patient asked me how I was going to vote. I told him I had all along been a Remain supporter. He said “me too”. He then began to tell me about WWII. He explained how we had obliterated Dresden, killing some 70,000 people, when we didn’t need to.

So for me the fact that we belong to the same community as the Germans (and many others) means a lot. I have said that maybe one day India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, (free) Kashmir…would similarly come together.

The European Community may not be perfect. But its the best we’ve got. Its a longterm relationship which has somethings that need working on but that is not reason enough for a divorce.

Let us stay together.

‘Excellence in Education’ Lecture at University of Warwick 12 October 2016

Over the past six years, Karamat has been undertaking doctoral research into ‘Education of British Pakistani boys and the place of religion’. He conducted his research in three state secondary schools in Birmingham. He will share some of his key findings and invite education practitioners and policy makers to consider appropriate responses. He will also refer to his previous research into education of white working class children, where one of his reports was used as the main text for a Parliamentary debate, in 2009.

In Birmingham, Pakistani children are near to becoming the largest pupil ethnic group. Karamat asks whether the city can afford to have over one thousand of them, mainly boys, leave school each year without the benchmark qualifications. Is it time to rethink what we mean by education and ask whether there are more efficient ways for young people to spend their time, especially out of school?


Karamat’s work in education has spanned both pre and post-16 education sectors. Over a period of nearly 40 years, his roles have included: youth worker, school teacher, Community Relations Officer (Education), Principal Lecturer and Local Authority Schools Adviser. For 13 years, he worked at a Community College in the role of Deputy Director of Equal Rights and Opportunities Management Unit. Here, he worked at a strategic level, with teams and departments, in the delivery of educational opportunities for diverse students and community groups.

During his time a Local Authority Adviser with Birmingham, Karamat had responsibility for a number of portfolios – equalities, underachievement, remodelling the workforce and health and well-being of staff. Since 2000, Karamat has worked as a consultant-practitioner in education and equalities, where he delivered a number of prestigious assignments with private and public sector organisations. This included providing ‘expert’ support and undertaking equality evaluation of projects for the Department for Education.

In his work, Karamat draws on his own education journey. He came to the UK as a teenager. He left school at 16, with very few qualifications. However, during the next 40 years, he has been able to more than make up for this, having achieved a Bachelor of Education, a Masters in Social Sciences and numerous qualifications, ranging from management to theology.

Pakistani boys’ education in Birmingham schools

Pakistani children make-up a quarter of Birmingham’s age 5-16? school population and will soon become its largest ethnic group. A large number of these students leave the local schools each year without achieving the benchmark qualifications of 5 or more GCSE grades A*-C or equivalent. You are fudging the issue here. You need to grasp the nettle that proportionately Pakistani pupils do not appear to underachieve greatly, quote ther %5AC for them and for White British, but say your the concern is because of the large numbers of students.

The issue of ethnic minority underachievement in England has been acknowledged since the 1970s (Swann 1985). However, much of the focus has been on Black Caribbean children (Gillborn 2008; Strand, 2012). Consequently, information about the particular achievement of Pakistani pupils continues to be sparse (Gillborn and Gipps 1996, Hamashita 2007). Not strictly true, all national data is broken down by full ethnic group – maybe the focus on their attainment has been less though.

Using a mixed-methods approach, my research was conducted in three diverse Birmingham state secondary schools called community, academy and grammar (NB you need to state this to link with the figure onteachers you quote later). The study explored Pakistani student and parental attitudes to education. Also investigated were importance of religion and meaning of education. Data were gathered about teacher understanding of the heritage of Pakistani boys as well as the make-up of the teaching workforce.

Findings showed that education was highly valued by parents and the boys. Amongst the 40 boys and their parents interviewed, there were over one hundred references to the word ‘respect’; respect for education and school teachers. Religion was equally considered as important. To be educated meant achieving good grades in national qualifications and to have become a fully rounded human being, based on the multi-dimensional concept of education within Islam, which includes knowledge (ilm), development (tarbiyya) and Islamic ethics (tadib) (Yasin and Jani, 2013). The teachers interviewed were found to have ‘tabloid knowledge’ (Bloom, 2011) of Pakistani heritage and the pupils’ religion. Consequently, the boys’ school and home lives could be considered ‘separate worlds’ (Coles, 2004). A related issue was the serious shortage of Pakistani teachers in the schools investigated – Community, 8%; Academy, 3.8% and Grammar 0.6% respectively.

The boys spent much of their time after school learning the Quran and about Islam, something many had done throughout their school lives. This took them away from completing their homework and participation in extra-curricular activities. The latter also meant the boys were not able to spend informal time in the company of their non-Pakistani peers, with clear implications for community cohesion. Many of the boys, especially those from poorer families, also reported not having anyone to turn to for help with their homework.

The policy implications of the research are clear (well they are not actually “clear”N they are very arguable and contested – many would say it is not the duty of a secular education system to provide religious instruction for any faith group), especially for areas such as Birmingham. There was considerable support amongst the boys for what they learnt at the mosques to be taught at school. Parents similarly supported this idea and suggested that one way to accommodate this would be through an extended school day (Cummings, 2007). This could also be a way also to provide the boys with appropriately supervised opportunities for completing their homework, with time to spare for ‘downtime’ activities.

There is a need to reduce the time the boys devoted to Islamic religious instruction, by delivering the content more effectively and efficiently and through increased accommodation of Pakistani and Muslim heritage within the school curriculum. The time thus freed could be used for completing homework and participating in extracurricular activities. The schools need to employ more Pakistani teachers and to equip their staff with knowledge of Pakistani and Islamic heritage in order to help bridge the school and home lives of the boys.

Bloom, A. 2011. The teachers with a tabloid grasp of Islam. Times Educational Supplement. 16 September.
Coles, M. 2004. Education and Islam: a new strategic approach. Race Equality Teaching.
Cummings, C. et al. 2007. Evaluation of the full Service extended Schools Initiative. London. DCSF.
Gillborn, D. & Gipps, C. 1996. Recent research on the achievements of ethnic minority pupils London. Ofsted.
Gillborn, D. 2008. Racism and education – coincidence or conspiracy? London. Routledge.
Hamashita, M. 2007. Ethnic Minorities in Britain: The Educational Performance of Pakistani Muslims Journal of History for the Public (4) 77-94
Strand, S. (2012). The White British-Black Caribbean achievement gap: Tests, tiers and teacher expectations. British Educational Research Journal, 38, (1), 75-101.
Swann Report. 1985. Education for all. London. HMSO.
Yasin, R.F, Jani, M.S.2013. Islamic Education: The philosophy, aim and main features. International Journal of Education and Research. 1 (10)

Transformative accommodation in education for Muslims

In the light of my doctoral research into ‘Education of Pakistani boys in Birmingham and the place of religion’, I have been considering the key question: so what now? I have been reminded of the following extract from the Swann Report: Education for All (DFES 1985), which was groundbreaking but sadly ignored by the system:

“2.11 Throughout this report we have argued for all pupils to share a common educational experience which prepares them for life in a truly pluralist society. We have stressed that, to achieve this aim, all schools, both multi-racial schools and those with few or no ethnic minority pupils, will need to reappraise their curricular provision and the attitudes and assumptions which underlie their work, in order to challenge and indeed overcome the ‘barriers’, whether physical or psychological, which at present exist between the majority and minority communities in our society. We firmly believe that if the message of this report is accepted by schools and the changes in perspective and emphasis which we have advocated – particularly in relation to religious education, ‘pastoral’ concerns and language needs – are realised, then this will go a considerable way towards meeting the concerns of many ethnic minority parents about their children’s education and that many of the particular concerns which have led sections of the Asian community to call for the establishment of their own schools would also be allayed. If schools were seen by parents to be offering a more broadly-based curriculum, which reflected the multi-racial, multilingual and multi-faith nature of Britain today we feel this would counter many of the anxieties which have been expressed. If ethnic minority parents were able to exercise some direct influence themselves over policy development and decision making, through greater involvement in governing bodies, this would also, we feel, enhance their confidence in existing schools. Similarly if teachers showed themselves willing to cooperate in a positive way with community-based activities and to respond sensitively to pastoral concerns and to take effective action to tackle all manifestations of racism, whether overt or covert, we believe that much of the mistrust and frustration which lies behind arguments for an alternative to existing schools would be overcome.”

Positive Action; unfair or a case of righting the wrongs

Imagine you are the best person for a job or some other opportunity which brings with it benefits. Yet you are told that another person ends up being selected, not because they are necessarily better than you but purely on the grounds of their race or gender. Surely, according to the merit principle this is highly unfair!

While to you as the person who is losing out, it is a case of one individual competing against another, what is actually happening is that both you and your successful competitor are being treated as members of a social group. Furthermore, on the face of it, the situation concerns the here and now but looked again in its historical context, it becomes clear that the past is being used to influence the present.

Obama favours women journalists over men

At his final 2014 White House press conference, the US President made a deliberate decision to call only female reporters for questions. I guess the male journalists present thought this to be very unfair. Surely, everyone should be given an ‘equal’ chance to grill the President! But then we find out that the reporters selected on this occasion were those who had never had such an opportunity to ask Obama questions since his election two years ago (and they happened to be all women).

A Pakistani-responsive education service (to address some of the pre-conditions for Trojan Horse!)


Anyone interested in multicultural and equality issues will not have missed the popular press driven discussion of education in Birmingham, labelled as the Trojan Horse affair. Many words have been written on the controversy, including a few helpful ones. Here is some historical, educational and policy background.

(A version of this was published in Race Equality Teaching spring 2014.)


The press release from the Bishop of Birmingham,[1] on behalf of the city’s faith leaders, has stated: “We are profoundly concerned that some of the public media have distorted the discussion on what has become known as ‘Operation Trojan Horse’, demonising sections of the community in a completely unacceptable way.”

MG Khan, a trusted colleague who has contributed a great deal to education in the city, is a member of the governing body of one of the schools implicated in the affair, Saltley. For him Trojan Horse “is being used to destabilise governing bodies in Muslim majority schools in Birmingham by galvanising Ofsted into snap inspections that would find these governing bodies unfit for governance, caricaturing them as driven by ideology rather than student needs.” [2] Like MG, I also take a wider view of the situation.

Christine Quinn, Executive Head at Ninestiles School, has been quoted as saying that some of the demands made by Muslim parents “were entirely reasonable, and based on the premise that Pakistani Muslim children had previously been very poorly served by the city’s schools.”[3]  For those of us committed to the provision of good multicultural education the challenge is clear and clearly stated: to consider those ‘reasonable’ issues which Quinn has spoken of and respond appropriately.


The personal and the professional

Given that much of the post-war development of race relations in Birmingham is also the story of my family and community, I would like to draw on both personal and professional perspectives, what has been referred to as ‘autobiographical sociology [4].

During the 1950s my father and many other men in our community had come to Birmingham in search of work. At the time they had little intention to stay here permanently. So we as children were left behind with our mothers. Later when the situation changed, due in part to the enactment of the first racist immigration legislation in 1962, families also began to arrive. This was when I came, in 1970, moving into the same house where my father had lived.

Coming as a teenager meant that I was able to experience the school system. When I arrived, according to the educational practice of the time, I was bussed off to one of the two immigrant Reception Centres in the city. After two terms there, I was able to transfer to the school in our neighbourhood. These were difficult times for us minority young people. We faced a great deal of hostility in the schools and where we lived. My first day at school began with a very tall white boy lifting little me up off my feet, pushing me against the wall and saying “we don’t want any more Pakis, do we”. He put me down and then turned to his mates who cheered him. The few Pakistani boys in the class just watched. Since those days, I have fulfilled a number of roles in the city, as employee of the City Council. A few years after leaving school, I was employed as a Youth Worker. Later, I began my teaching career in the local schools and most recently, I spent ten years as a Schools Adviser.

With the benefit of research, I have been able to learn that education policy makers and practitioners in the days I arrived were still working out what to do with us immigrants. It had only been a few years before when the first education policy had been developed by government [5]. It was this that had made bussing of immigrant children legal, based as it happens on the advice of the Birmingham MP, Denis Howell. He proudly described his role in his autobiography[6]. More broadly, the city had also played a central role in creating a hostile environment for racial minorities. Birmingham Immigration Control Association had been the main instigator of the 1962 legislation, mentioned above. Within education, it had only been a few years since the following teacher recruitment advertisement had been placed, as highlighted by Professor Sir Tim Brighouse [7] . It gives us a clue as to the thinking of the time:

Birmingham children are white and they’re black

Immigrants come, we can’t send them back

Really we’d like to but now they’re here

Millions who multiply year after year

It’s our job to teach them to live just like us

Nicely and soberly without any fuss

God knows how we’ll do it, we’d all like to try

Have you desire to give help and try

And teach in our schools? We’ll see you get paid

May we please employ you to give us your aid?


Fortunately, things then changed for the better. Around the late 1970s, like a number of other authorities, Birmingham began to put in place multicultural education policies and employ suitable staff to help implement them. With hindsight, we could refer to this period as the heyday of education in the city. There is much that we can learn from the developments of the time.

By the early 1980s, Birmingham had in place numerous staff whose job it was to help implement general multicultural education as well as focus on the particular needs of pupil groups. As pointed out by Maurice Coles in an earlier edition of this journal [8], education practice of the time was guided by a comprehensive 35-page policy statement which “committed the Education Department to delivering entitlements through the establishment of a strong multicultural/antiracist/equal opportunity perspective in all its institutions.”  This had three clear aims:

  • To be aware of and to counter racism and the discriminatory practices to which it gives rise
  • To be aware of and to provide for the particular needs of pupils having regard for their ‘racial’, ethnic, cultural, historical, linguistic and religious backgrounds
  • To prepare all (original emboldening) pupils for life in our multicultural society and build upon the strengths of cultural diversity. “There is racial inequality in Britain because in the main white people exclusively control most positions of management, government, influence and power; black people are disproportionately represented in menial work or have no work at all.”

Sadly, in the decade that followed, we saw, both locally and nationally, a slow move towards the colour-blind period in education. For example, soon after its publication, the Swann Report [9] , one of the most comprehensive documents on multicultural education, was shelved leading to a de-emphasis of multicultural education. What was started during the Conservative era, was continued unabated under New Labour. In Birmingham, by the time the above-sighted article by Coles was published, a difference-blind approach had arrived which encouraged and facilitated across the board improvements. In a report commissioned by the authority [10], it was acknowledged that the city had been accepted “nationally as a leading authority in the field of race equality..” which had “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” and that it was “often seen as a model for how others should respond to these issues”. But then much of the race-specific work was dismantled. The report pointed out that the new “[s]school improvement and effectiveness does not necessarily embody a meaningful concern with race equality. Research elsewhere (and Birmingham’s own recent statistics) suggest that pursuing ‘effectiveness’ without a conscious and explicit focus on race equality will not narrow the ‘equality gap’”. The report also drew attention to an ‘implementation gap’. While the authority had made a “bold and important commitment to closing the existing ‘equality gap’, its schools are equally dominated by national initiatives and professional concerns.” The report’s authors pointed out that by following a national agenda, schools “promoted ‘improvement’ strategies that are known to detrimentally affect minority ethnic pupils”.

The document drew attention to racial injustice in the city. It pointed out that “the practices, procedures and customs which determine the allocation of resources do discriminate, directly or indirectly, in favour of the white majority and against minority groups.”

The authority had emphasised that the policy was equally necessary for all-White schools as it was for those which had a multi-racial population. It explained the concepts of racism and White privilege and pointed out that:


Lack of focus on Pakistani underachievement

In the ‘standards’ era that followed, for many years to come we were to see a focus on the needs of underachieving groups. However, in reality much of the attention was focussed on the needs of Black Caribbean children, both nationally and in Birmingham. The Swann Report had claimed that Asian children were achieving as well as the white ethnic group. It would be many years before it was recognised that within the overall ‘Asian’ category, groups such as Pakistani were under achieving.

According to David Gillborn “ remains true that a great deal of social science research on race and education in the UK focuses explicitly on Black (African Caribbean) groups”[11] . A similar point was made in a government-commissioned report [12].  “Over the years there has been almost no research regarding the position of Muslim pupils in the education system. Nor has there been much research concerning the dominant cultural groups that make up the Muslim communities, like Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage pupils”. The report pointed out that no attempt had been made to map the curriculum against criteria designed to reflect the experiences of these pupils nor any curriculum development work concerned with their needs.

The problem was replicated at the local Birmingham level. Although the Pakistani community had attempted to draw attention to the underachievement of its young people [13], the belief amongst the City Council was that, in due course, “Pakistani pupils will soon show rapid improvement as generational factors work through” [14]. Sadly, for large numbers of young people concerned, the prediction is yet to come true.


Attainment gap not closing

Over the years, Pakistani pupils have continued to make improvements in the benchmark A-C grades at GCSE. In Birmingham while only 32 per cent of them achieved these grades in 2006, the percentage had gone up to 56 per cent in 2012. However, it is necessary to point out here that while they made improvements so had other pupils from higher achieving groups such as Indian or White so the gap between them continued. Another factor worth bearing in mind is the growth in actual numbers of Pakistani young people in Birmingham schools. In 1995, there were 27,123 of them in Birmingham schools, 16.7 per cent of the overall school population. By 2011, the number had gone up to 42,558 – 24.5 per cent overall. Due to this growth, even though Pakistani pupils have improved on their A-C grades a similar number are still leaving school without these grades.

Table 1 makes it clear that, in 2006, 68 per cent of Pakistani pupils had left school without 5 A-C grades. In terms of actual numbers this meant 1377 pupils, making it 19 per cent of the total thus leaving without these qualifications. By 2012, the situation had improved. There were only 44 per cent, or 1133 in number, of Pakistani pupils not achieving the grades. However, they made up a higher percentage, 23 per cent of the overall pupils leaving without these qualifications.

Table 1: Percentage of pupils ‘Not Achieving 5A*-C (incl. English& maths)’ 2006-2012

2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 Total
LA 7388(59%) 7384(58%) 6996(55%) 6428(52%) 5566(45%) 5110(42%) 4934(40%) 43806
Pakistani 1377(68%) 1353(64%) 1351(60%) 1450(58%) 1194(48%) 1152(46%) 1133(44%) 9010
Pakistani (%Not Achieving 5A*-C (incl. English& maths) 19 18 19 23 21 23 23 21

Source: Birmingham City Council, ‘Report to the Children and Education Overview and Scrutiny Committee/Cabinet’, 26 January 2011 (Table 7c), 27 February 2013 (Table 7d).

One explanation of the continuing problem of Pakistani under-achievement could be how targets are set in schools. Of the three types of targets[15], listed below, only the first, inclusive, approach is said to help underachieving groups.

inclusive targets: the lower a group currently attained, the higher its improvement target. Consequently, if the targets were realised then the inequalities of attainment between white pupils and ethnic minority ethnic groups would be reduced. For the authors, “ this is in line with the dominant approach to equal opportunities issues in previous work on ‘underachievement’; in much equal opportunity legislation; and in our analyses of attainment inequalities.”

common improvement targets: here, regardless of each group’s current position, the same target was set for them. Although, on the face of it, this seemed a fair way of setting a target but, according to the authors, it showed a very limited understanding of social justice.

increase inequalities targets:   here, higher targets were set for higher achieving students with the result that, if the targets were achieved as set, it would cause “Pakistani and African Caribbean pupils [to] fall further behind their white peers.”

For a brief period, Birmingham Local Authority did advise its schools to set differentiated and inclusive targets, i.e., the lower a pupil group attained, the higher its improvement target. It is not clear whether any of its schools currently pursue such a policy.


A Muslim majority city!

According to the Department of Work and Pensions[16], Birmingham will become the first Muslim-majority city in Europe. We can see evidence of this in the local schools. In 2011, Muslim pupils were the largest religious group, more than all the Christian denominations put together. At a general city level, according to the most recent census, the two wards which had the greatest number of religious electors were predominantly Pakistani.

It has been known for some time that for Pakistani pupils their religion is of greater importance than it is for other groups. This has now been confirmed through my doctoral research conducted in city’s state schools. In response to the statement: ‘My religion is very important in my life’ Muslim pupils indicated the greatest agreement: Pakistanis at 88.8 per cent and Bangladeshis at 87 per cent. Indian pupils were only slightly behind, at 85.7 per cent. A very small minority, 28 per cent, of the White-British agreed with the statement.

For the Pakistani pupils their religion was not just about believing and activities; it had a clear impact on their schooling. It taught them to be better students, to respect teachers and respect learning. More generally, many of them reported that their parents at home and teachers at the mosques they attended after school had taught them to respect elders in general. I was able to triangulate this through my interviews with the Pakistani parents. The interviewees, boys and their parents, made over one hundred references to the word ‘respect’, with the majority referring to teachers and education.  The following quotes were typical of the responses:

The same level of respect, for teachers, for mosque, for parents; that’s the way I have been brought up. It’s all the same. You’ve got to respect your elders no matter what; you can’t be rude to them. You’ve just got to show them a lot of respect. My mum and my dad have always told me that you’ve got to respect whoever is older than you, you’ve got to show them respect. I’ve always been told: respect your elders. I respect my teachers a lot. Pupil

Just to show respect and have manners. ..(Respect) for your elders. For people your own age as well; don’t act as if you are bigger than them, don’t act arrogant, brash… Treat them as how you’d want to be treated. Pupil

It is also worth pointing out here that for the parents, being educated was more than achieving the benchmark 5 A*-C qualifications. They considered that both the religious and secular – deen and dunya – were essential to the purpose of education and what being ‘educated’ meant. They saw it of equal importance that their children were taught to be good human beings, with good manners and morals, something that is often neglected in our target-driven school system.

“(Education) also includes knowing about his religion; he needs to know what Islam is, read his prayers, the fundamentals of Islam; it would make him a good human being as well. (Religion is) very, very important for us. In the way that, he needs it so to be a good human being. To understand his religion, religion is very, very important. Parent


Culturally responsive pedagogy

The Bullock Report, A Language for Life, had famously said:

‘No child should be expected to cast off the language and culture of the home as he crosses the school threshold, nor to live and act as though school and home represent two separate and different cultures which have to be kept firmly apart.’


In my view this is often the experience of Pakistani children in our schools. Compared to, say, their white middle class peers, they are likely to face the greatest ‘discontinuity’ and ‘incongruence’, given the distance between their worlds within school and their wider lives. With very few exceptions, language is one area where such a problem can occur. Much of our education system is predicated on the philosophy of the ‘subtractive bilingualism’ of the 1960s where there is little recognition or respect, let alone reinforcement, for the children’s heritage languages. Taking an autobiographical approach, I have elaborated on this subject elsewhere[17].

Diane Abbott, MP, was recently reported as saying that Black children were being harmed by the colour-blind education system [18]. The same could be said for Pakistanis. The following statement from Angela Overington, Improving Pupil Performance Division, makes clear the government policy in this respect [19]:

In attempting to narrow (the) attainment gaps, the previous Government developed a number of centrally-driven, targeted interventions for Black and minority ethnic pupils – including one aimed specifically at raising the attainment of Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Somali and Turkish Heritage pupils. . 

The current Government’s approach to tackling inequality, as set out in the Equality Strategy, moves away from treating people as groups or ‘equality strands’ in need of special treatment. Instead, the Government intends to act as a catalyst for change by developing frameworks that will help create fairness and opportunities for everyone (my emphasis). 

According to Geneva Gay [20], culturally responsive teaching is one which uses the cultural characteristics, experiences, and perspectives of ethnically diverse students as conduits for teaching them more effectively. This is based on the assumption that when academic knowledge and skills are situated within the lived experiences and frames of reference of students, they are more personally meaningful, have higher interest appeal, and are learned more easily and thoroughly. For Gay, the essential elements of such teaching involved the teachers developing a knowledge base about cultural diversity, being caring, communicating with ethnically diverse students, and responding to ethnic diversity in the delivery of the teaching. I believe that, given the demographics, it is highly necessary to develop within Birmingham a Pakistani (Muslim) responsive pedagogy, which alongside other areas indicated in this article also accommodates religion and linguistic diversity. This will be elaborated in the conclusion of my doctoral research [21].

The imperative of teachers having knowledge about cultural diversity in order to effectively meet the needs of diverse students was also stated by the Swann Report. It outlined what mainstream teachers needed to do in order to do a ‘good’ job in diverse contexts:

“ It is a teacher’s responsibility to know and understand the children he teaches to the best of his ability – in particular to know and understand those social and cultural elements of an individual child’s upbringing and experience which contribute to the formation of his distinctive personality, and to accept and to value these distinctive characteristics, so that his understanding of them informs the content and method of his teaching of each child”.

The task of equipping for diversity has been seen to be even more important for white teachers as they may have little awareness or understanding of minority communities and of racism. It has also been pointed out that schools cannot teach children well if teachers lack an understanding of their students’ cultures and lives, and if they lack meaningful relationships with their families. Research has shown that teachers are not well prepared to teach diverse students whose cultural values are different from their own, and that many White teachers hold negative stereotypical views about minority ethnic children and have little knowledge of cultural diversity. [22]

According to my own research, a quarter of Pakistani pupils disagreed with the statement ‘Teachers deal fairly with incidents involving religious abuse’ while thirty seven per cent of them disagreed with the statement ‘Teachers deal fairly with racist incidents’. Even more worryingly, over forty per cent of them disagreed with the statement ‘Teachers in my school treat all pupils fairly’.

In 2010, in my role as Local Authority Adviser, I produced a report on occurrence, reporting and addressing racist incidents. According to the policy at the time, schools were asked to make a return, to the local authority, on their racist incidents. The returns were aggregated and a report was produced. When making the return schools completed the ‘action’ column to say they had taken action. What action had been taken or its appropriateness was rarely made clear. The process seemed ‘hit and miss’. A number of the schools made nil returns while similar schools nearby made returns to say a large number of racist incidents had occurred. It was never clear why some schools had racist incidents more than while others had less than expected. Some schools treated such incidents as an equalities matter while for others it was an issue of safeguarding.

According to Sarah Pearce [23], reluctance to engage with the meaning and consequences of racism is common in English schools. She pointed out that many white teachers are unwilling to engage with issues of race. This reluctance stemmed from an acute sense of the complexity and personal threat involved in race talk. For her, arguably the best place to equip teachers on this matter was during their initial training. However, she goes onto point out that since, in England, from September 2013, individual schools bear most of the responsibility for student teachers’ learning, it seems unlikely that such intensive work will be carried out as part of school based training. She called for more and better support for teachers in the early stages of their careers. “As more responsibility for early teacher development falls to schools in England, that support needs to be planned in the context of school life. Providing a ‘learning space’ in which new teachers can think, talk and thereby make sense of, their experiences beyond their initial training phase may be one effective approach.”

Funds of knowledge and the role of teachers

It has been pointed out that the knowledge children bring to school, drawn from personal and cultural experiences, is central to their learning. Luis Moll and colleagues [24] defined this as ‘funds of knowledge’ – “historically accumulated and culturally developed bodies of knowledge and skills essential for household or individual functioning and wellbeing”.  The job of good teachers is, therefore, to build bridges between the students’ pre-existing knowledge and experiences and the new material they need to acquire.  To do so, it requires the teacher to be socio-culturally conscious, so as to understand that people’s ways of thinking, behaving, and being are deeply influenced by such factors as race/ ethnicity, social class, and language; without this insight, teachers are unable to cross the socio-cultural boundaries that separate too many of them from their students. It also necessitates the teachers’ affirming views of students from diverse backgrounds, seeing resources for learning in all students rather than viewing differences as problems to be overcome. According to Villegas and Lucas [25], such teachers see all students, including those from ethnic minority communities “as learners who already know a great deal and who have experiences, concepts, and languages that can be built on and expanded to help them learn even more. They see their role as adding to rather than replacing what students bring to learning. They are convinced that all students, not just those from the dominant group, are capable learners who bring a wealth of knowledge and experiences to school”.

It is well known that schools have a duty to make sure that the needs of all pupils and not just the majority are catered for. This means equipping staff to understand pupils’ backgrounds and finding space to celebrate and cater for every pupil. However, it is questionable whether teachers in our schools are equipped to deliver a culturally responsive education which builds on students’ funds of knowledge, especially when it comes to the education of Pakistani children. The Teacher Training Agency issued guidelines in 2000, asserting that every trainee teacher needed to understand how to prepare all pupils to play a part in culturally diverse society. This was followed by the publication of professional standards for qualified teacher status making clear that teachers must have an understanding of pupils’ backgrounds and take account of it in the planning and delivery of teaching. However, according to Klein [26], by 2003, the agency’s own research had found that 65 per cent of newly qualified teachers felt that their training had not prepared them to teach in culturally diverse schools. “Most training institutions deal with equality in a day, or just one session, or not at all.” It is known that schools cannot teach children well if teachers lack an understanding of their students’ cultures and lives, and if they lack meaningful relationships with their families [27].

The Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) Teacher Standards that were introduced in 2007 specifically addressed equality and inclusion. The document spoke of the importance of “responding to learners’ diverse needs and overcoming potential barriers to learning and assessment”, and the need to make sure that trainee teachers “are confident that they can reflect these values, aims and purposes in their lesson planning and teaching” and are able to “take practical account of diversity and promote equality and inclusion in their teaching” including in the choice of resources. It was incumbent on initial teacher training providers “to ensure they train teachers who are committed to promoting the development and well-being of children and young people and know how to take account of diversity and promote equality and inclusion in their teaching.”

Sadly, what little reference there was to equality and inclusion has now disappeared. The new Teachers’ Standards introduced in September 2012 omit specific references to race equality, diversity and inclusion. [28] It is quite likely that these changes will be seen by providers as an indicator of government priorities and will lead to a further de-emphasis of these areas.

In a special issue of the journal ‘Race, Ethnicity and Education’ [29], this matter was explored, with depressing conclusions. One article pointed out that nearly two-thirds of trainee teachers felt unprepared to teach pupils from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds. Another writer pointed out that the “omissions related to race, ethnicity and culture in the Teachers’ Standards in England and wider teacher education curricula have left teachers and student teachers unsure and lacking in confidence about how to talk about race and ethnicity never mind how to understand their position as teachers to tackle the inequalities that schools as public institutions may perpetuate.”

A diverse and representative workforce

It is generally accepted that the number of teachers from the different ethnic backgrounds should be similar to that of the backgrounds of the pupils. According to the government “the school workforce should reflect the diversity of the school population.” [30] The Swann Report similarly pointed out the desirability for the staffing of the education service to reflect the make-up of the population. In their view this would help to provide greater employment equality. The ethnic minority teachers would be a source of cultural expertise within schools, who would help to challenge institutional and individual racism and contribute towards meeting the particular needs of ethnic minority pupils; acting as role models for them. Such staff would also provide reassurance for ethnic minority parents that their needs would be understood. For the Swann Report, such diversity would help to counter “the inherent incongruity of “all white” teaching staffs, often living well away from the catchment areas of their schools”. They were of the view that, when recruiting teachers, candidates’ particular ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious background should be seen as a part of the job specification. In recognising that much of a teacher’s influence on the pupils was indirect – who they are rather than just what they do – they argued that “an education which seeks to prepare all pupils for life in a pluralist society can surely best be provided by a teaching force which is itself pluralist in character”.

The importance of a teaching workforce that reflects the diverse make-up of pupils was to continue to be government policy. In 2007, the Training and Development Agency for Schools pointed out that the “teaching force should be representative of society as a whole and providers should review how their recruitment practice positively promotes equality of access to ITT for underrepresented groups”. [31] This is based on the understanding that for ethnic minority pupils, teachers from their own background were more in a position than are White teachers to integrate their realities of background and culture, while, at the same time, acknowledging, validating, and affirming their identities. In addition to being a teacher and role model, such teachers routinely assume the roles of surrogate parents, mentors, motivators, counsellors, and disciplinarians [32].

Alistair Ross also made a case for diversity in the teaching workforce. For him, learning is a formative activity conducted through a variety of processes, both explicit and very visible and subtle and invisible. The process of learning conveys a wealth of meanings to young people. Therefore, who fulfils the role of teacher is an important part of the process. For him, teachers as a profession must have the capacity to reflect the full spectrum of cultural and social traditions and systems in their collective professional practice and the presence of ethnic minority teachers is essential in challenging racism.  According to Ross, while all teachers would be concerned with challenging racism, “some of the subtleties of racist practice and behaviour may be more obvious or more capable of recognition, by teachers who have themselves some direct experience of having suffered from racist behaviours themselves”.

As to the actual diversity within the teaching workforce, there continues to be an underrepresentation of ethnic minorities, especially of Pakistanis, when the percentage of teachers is compared with that of the pupils. According to the Department for Education, in November 2012, there were 899,000 full-time equivalent school employees, out of which 93.3 per cent were White and 0.8 per cent Pakistani. According to the Department for Education[33], at the same time, out of a total pupil population of 6,661,255, 78 per cent of the pupils were White and 3.8 per cent of Pakistani heritage. In Birmingham, in 2003, Pakistani staff were between one to two percent of the teaching workforce, against a pupil population of 19 per cent at the time [34]. The situation urgently requires a Positive Action strategy within the framework of the equality legislation.


Birmingham has often had the reputation of being a role model local authority, especially in matters of race relations and multicultural education. It has the potential for doing so again, even in the current context where schools have been ‘freed’ from its democratic control. However, the education system will need to acknowledge the implications of the demographics where Muslims are the largest religious group amongst the pupils and where Pakistanis are soon to become the largest pupil ethnic group.

In the Birmingham policy statement, referred to above, in spelling out racial equality, it was stated:

“It follows there will be racial equality in education when black people are proportionately involved in teaching and administration at all levels, in higher and further education and in streams, sets, classes and schools leading to higher and further education.”

Lee Jasper had once said: “if you have a school that’s 90 or 80 per cent of one ethnicity or another, then it’s quite proper to expect the teaching staff and governors to reflect that local community” [35]. The Birmingham Stephen Lawrence Commission had stated that “there should be a clear expectation that each governing body is representative of the ethnic composition in the school”.  According to my research (Iqbal 2013), the city would need to recruit an additional 1000 Pakistani governors in order to bring it in proportion to the pupil make-up from the community.

Operation Trojan Horse has created a very nasty atmosphere in Birmingham. Its main casualties have been logic and natural justice such as ‘innocent until proven guilty’. A backdrop to this has been a lack of trust, accountability and democracy which have resulted from the ever reducing role of the LEA – a process which began with the Education Reform Act 1988 and has been almost concluded by the Coalition government.

I was speaking to an atheist Pakistani chair of governor of a Birmingham school with a 100 per cent Muslim pupil population and where the headship is vacant. They are afraid that if they appoint a Muslim head, it would add to the outcry. Referring to a comment MG Khan had made, surely the outcry should be if such an appointment was not made.

The press release from the Bishop of Birmingham, sighted above, has reminded us that “like any parents, Muslims in the city want the very best education for their children so that they can participate fully in British society”. The President of the Birmingham branch of the National Union of Teachers has similarly stated that “All parents, whether they be Christian, Jewish, Muslim or not religious want a good education for their children in an environment that respects their culture whilst preparing them to be part of multi-cultural Britain” [36]. My research has confirmed this categorically as far as the Pakistani community is concerned. It now remains for education practitioners and policy makers to respond accordingly.


The new Chief Executive of Birmingham City Council, Mark Rogers, gave an interview to Paul Dale, a Blogger for Chamberlain Files, on the subject of Trojan Horse. “During his interview Mr Rogers did not use the words ‘Muslim’ or ‘Islam’, preferring instead to talk about Birmingham’s “new communities”. He later referred to people wanting to create “an educational environment conforming to the prevailing culture and customs in the countries they come from” [37].

There used to be a practice in the Birmingham City Council that new employees participated in an Induction programme, with input on Equalities. If such practice is still current and includes senior posts like his, then this would be one opportunity to point out to Mr Rogers that Muslims have been a part of Birmingham for a very long time indeed. Having already helped Britain to win many of the key battles during both the world wars, they played a central role in the post-war rebuilding of our nation. All of the Pakistani pupils I interviewed had been born here and in some cases their parents too. So, the Pakistanis are not a ‘new’ community, having been a part of the city’s landscape in large numbers for at least half a century.

Mr Rogers has a background in education. I would venture to give him some reading homework. This would include Danielle Joly’s ‘Britannia’s Crescent: Making a place for Muslims in British Society’ [38]. She had made the point, that “Muslims cannot be overlooked in Birmingham in 1986.” The statement could be equally made in 2014. Another publication would be Makhdoom Ahmad Chishti’s ‘Lok Virsa- exploring the Muslim heritage’. At the start of the book, it is stated: “Since the nineteen century there has been a Muslim presence in Britain.” Mr Chisti is a member of the Council’s Equalities Division. The Birmingham Stephen Lawrence Commission report, much of whose recommendations are still relevant would also be on the list as would be my own ‘Dear Birmingham- a conversation with My Hometown’, which provides current information on exclusion of the Pakistani community.

Karamat Iqbal is a practitioner in equalities and education.



[1] Urquhart, D. 2014. ‘Leaders of faith communities call for social cohesion and responsible journalism’       4 April. Downloaded 24.4.2014

[2] Khan, MG. 2014.‘The so-called “Trojan Horse” document is being used to destabilise Muslim-majority schools’ Downloaded 24.4.2014

[3] Pidd, P. 2014. “Invention or not, tactics in alleged Birmingham school plot are familiar”; The Guardian 14 March.

[4] Friedman, N. 1990. Autobiographical Sociology. The American Sociologist.

[5] Department of Education and Science. 1965. The Education of Immigrants. Circular 7/65.

[6] Howell, D. 1990. Made in Birmingham. Macdonald Queen Anne Press.

[7] Brighouse, T. 2008. Hope has to be the new Black. Times Educational Supplement. 16 October. (In a review of Ian Grosvenor: Assimilating Identities. Racism and Educational Policy in Post 1945 Britain. Lawrence & Wishart)

[8] Coles, M. 1997. Race equality and school improvement: some aspects of the Birmingham experience. Multicultural Teaching.

[9] Swann Report. 1985. Education for All. Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.

[10] Warren, S and Gillborn, D. 2003. Race equality and education in Birmingham. Birmingham City Council and Birmingham Race Action Partnership.

[11] Gillborn, D. 2008. Racism and Education: Coincidence or Conspiracy. Routledge.

[12] Coles, M and others. 2004. Curriculum Reflecting Experiences of African Caribbean and Muslim pupils. Department for Education and Skills.

[13] Anwar, M. 1996. British Pakistanis. Pakistan Forum and Birmingham City Council.

[14] Birmingham Stephen Lawrence Commission: 2001. Challenges for the Future. Birmingham City Council.

[15] Gillborn, D and Mirza, H. 2000. Educational inequality. Middlesex University.

[16] Tackey, ND and others. 2006. Barriers to employment for Pakistanis and Bangladeshis in Britain. Department of Work and Pensions.

[17] Iqbal, K. 2014. My mother tongue and other languages. Downloaded 25.4.2014

[18] Abbott, D. 2014. Colour blind govt ignoring black children’s education. The Voice 10 March. Downloaded 25.4.2014.

[19] Overington, A. 2012. Email response to request for information on education of Pakistani children; Case Reference 2012/0007010.

[20] Gay, G. 2002. Preparing for Culturally Responsive Teaching. Journal of Teacher Education. 53: 106

[21] Iqbal, K. 2014. Pakistani boys’ education- in and out of school (working title). PhD Dissertation, Warwick University.

[22] Bhopal, K and Rhamie, J. 2013. Initial teacher training: understanding ‘race’, diversity and inclusion. Race Ethnicity and Education. 7 November.

[23] Pearce, S. 2013. Dealing with racist incidents: what do beginning teachers learn from schools? Race Ethnicity and Education. 7 November.

[24] Moll, L and others. 1992. Funds of knowledge for teaching: Using a qualitative approach to connect homes and classrooms. Theory into Practice. 31: 2

[25] Villegas, AM and Lucas, T: 2002. Preparing Culturally responsive teachers: Rethinking the Curriculum. Journal of Teacher Education. 53:20.

[26] Klein, G. 2005. When will they ever learn? In Brian Richardson: Tell it like it is. Bookmarks Publications and Trentham Books.

[27] Warren, M. 2005. Communities and Schools: A New View of Urban Education Reform. Harvard Educational Review. 75:2

[28] Department for Education. 2011. Teachers’ Standards- guidance for school leaders, school staff and governing bodies.

[29] Lander, V. 2013. Special Issue Race Ethnicity and Education: Initial teacher education: developments, dilemmas and challenges. 7 November.  

[30] Department for Education and Skills. 2003. Aiming High: Raising the Achievement of Minority Ethnic Pupils.

[31] Training and Development Agency for Schools. 2007. Guidance to accompany the Professional Standards for Qualified Teacher Status and Requirements for Initial Teacher Training.

[32] Minor, L and others. 2002. Preservice Teachers’ Educational Beliefs and Their perceptions of Characteristics of Effective teachers. The Journal of Educational Research 96:2

[33]Department for Education. 2012. Full-time equivalent (FTE) teachers, teaching assistants and other support staff in publicly funded schools by sector and grade or post.


[34] Iqbal, K. 2013. Dear Birmingham. Xlibris.

[35] Jasper, L quoted in Nasar Meer and Tariq Modood: The political and policy response to migration related diversity in Britain’s education system. EMILIE paper Downloaded 24.4.2014.

[36] Morgan, D. 2014. Stop the racist witch hunt in Birmingham schools Downloaded 24.4.2014

[37] Dale, P. 2014. Mark Rogers’ bold bid to be a new type of chief executive for Birmingham. Downloaded 24.4.2014

[38] Downloaded 24.4.2014.

The Daily Telegraph’s “blueprint for Islamisation of state schools” was actually a “guidance” document supported by Professor Sir Tim Brighouse

I have stayed well out of the media-driven ‘Operation Trojan Horse’ ‘debate’ being conducted about education in Birmingham. The only exception has been to write an article for the next issue of Race Equality Teaching, which I did upon receiving an invitation from the journal’s editors. Even then I make only a passing reference to the goings-on, based on the saying: ‘keep quiet until you have something useful to say’.

 I have extensively researched this area of education, given my doctoral research into education of Pakistani boys in Birmingham. Amongst the many hundreds (probably thousands by now) of documents I have consulted, have been reports and papers produced by Muslim education experts.

 Reading the front-page of the Daily Telegraph, I was perplexed to read a reference to a ‘blueprint’ which had been produced by Mr Tahir Alam in 2007. Thinking that my research had not gone far or deep enough, I investigated. I needn’t have worried.

 The document in question was: ‘Towards Greater Understanding- Meeting the needs of Muslim pupils in state schools’. It was published by the Muslim Council of Britain.

 The document was launched in front of many respected education policy makers and practitioners. Alongside Tahir Alam, amongst the attendees was Professor Sir Tim Brighouse. Just so that we are clear about this “Blueprint for Islamisation of state schools“, this is what he had said when commending the guidance to educationalists:

 “I would ask anybody to read this document and to say, well which is the bit of this document that you don’t agree with? I started by saying that I am not a person of faith, a religious faith. I have read that document and agree with almost all of it, there is nothing in it to which I would not assent. It is something that I think all educators should take seriously… I think it is a superb document and I thank you for it… Every school in the country needs to have this and I appeal to the Teachers’ Unions in this country to give their full backing to this document. They will ensure that their teachers have a better opportunity of unlocking the talent of everybody in this country, if they take it seriously.”

 It is worth pointing out here that at the time of its publication, the document was the subject of fair amount of mis-reporting, which was ably summarised by Robin Richardson, in the very same Race Equality Teaching.

 Acknowledging that “faith is extraordinarily important in many people’s lives” Professor Brighouse had said at the launch:

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

 He went on:

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

 The National Association of Head Teachers discussed the above document at its meeting of the Race and Cultural Diversity Committee on 15 March 2007, as follows:

 “The Chair reported on the Launch of “Towards Greater Understanding: meeting the needs of Muslim Pupils in State Schools” and reflected on the expressions of support from Tim Brighouse that this reference document provided a challenge to all faiths to provide helpful support for schools.  It was noted that there had been a lot of press coverage, with some misrepresentation; a communication had subsequently been received at headquarters.  A long and energetic discussion followed.”

 To provide some background, Birmingham was one of the first education authorities to agree a syllabus, in 1975, on multi-faith Religious Education. It continued to be a pioneer when it published, in 1988, ‘Guidelines on Meeting the Religious and Cultural Needs of Muslim Pupils’.

 In his role as the Chief Education Officer of Birmingham, Tim Brighouse (as he was then) had said the following in introducing the guidelines:

 “I am delighted to know that the Muslim Liaison Committee (MLC) in Birmingham has produced this revised booklet ‘Guidelines on Meeting the Religious and Cultural Needs of Muslim Pupils’ which they intend to circulate to schools. I believe it will certainly be useful both for general information and help while planning programmes of study.

 It was good to see that the revised booklet includes many more suggestions and recommendations. These should help to enhance the status of Muslim pupils through clear and better understanding of their social values both in teaching and learning. It may well help to raise their profile in schools within the realm of Education Reform Acts 1988 and 1991.

 I would recommend schools to consider these guidelines for meeting the needs of their Muslim pupils and make good use of them.”

 Meanwhile, the ‘debate’ surrounding Trojan Horse continues, with now four investigations on the way.



Stratford to Birmingham – Sponsored Canal Walk 17 May 2014

You are invited to come on a walk and help to raise funds for Karam, the charity set up to improve education of children in Kashmir.

Each walker is expected to contribute £10, plus any money you are able to raise through sponsorship.


The plan is to meet and park at Queensbridge School, Queensbridge Road, Birmingham 13, at 8am.

We will travel to Stratford in the minibus (and cars if necessary) and then walk, along the canal, back to Birmingham.

There will be an opportunity to stop on the way; for rest and refreshment.

You can do as much of the 20 mile walk as you would like. We can pick you up along the way, as necessary, and transport you back to Queensbridge. Or if your car is parked in Stratford, you can turn back on the walk when you’ve had enough.

Justice and equality in a great city: Book Review `Dear Birmingham` by Karamat Iqbal

NOTE: This review, by Robin Richardson, was first published on the website Left Central, 27 June 2013.

‘Dear Birmingham,’ writes Karamat Iqbal, ‘thank you for being my home for the past forty plus years. Thank you also for welcoming my father and others in our family and community during the fifties. You as a city welcomed them, us, because you needed their labour and they came willingly because they needed jobs. As we have learnt, it has benefited the city in many ways. It has certainly benefited our community, both here and back in Pakistan. I grew up in a brick house, the first in our village, thanks to the money earned in Birmingham.’


Iqbal’s book is an extended thank-you letter, almost an extended love letter. It is not, however, just one long outpouring of gratitude and affection. The city which he holds dear can be disappointing and deplorable, a hell-hole as well as a haven, a place of negligence and neglect as well as a nest, woeful as well as wonderful. Iqbal loves his fellow citizens of all backgrounds. But also he wants change, and wants it radically, deeply, urgently. He wants and seeks justice and equality, and wants them for all communities in Birmingham – not only the newer communities which have settled there in the last sixty years but also those whose ancestors settled in the city rather earlier.


The story of Iqbal’s life in Birmingham has much in common with that of thousands of other British Pakistani people in the city, and in many other cities and towns in Britain as well, particularly in the midlands and the north. His father was a near contemporary of the young men who landed at Tilbury from the SS Windrush in June 1948. His journey and adventure, however, were from the east not the west. He and his friends lived in all-male households desperately working night shifts in the industries which flourished, to quote lines from a Birmingham school song, ‘where the iron heart of England throbs beneath its sombre robe’. The wages and conditions on offer to them were not acceptable to those who had been settled in Birmingham for rather longer, and they met Paki-bashing and Keep Britain White campaigns on the streets; and from the local public sector they met exclusion, neglect and rejection. (Though Birmingham did eventually get round to appointing a ‘Liaison Officer for Coloured People’.) Their children, in due course, were not properly catered for in the city’s schools. They are the heroes, those early pioneers, in the background of this book. The book would not have been possible without their struggle, resolution, solidarity with each other, survival.


By the 1980s things were beginning to change, at least at the level of policy discourse and documentation. In Birmingham’s education system, for example, there were multicultural and antiracist projects led by the late David Ruddell and Birmingham was one of the first authorities to take seriously, or begin to take seriously, the concerns and requirements of its Muslim citizens. In the 1990s and after 2000 there were many fine and warm words spoken by the city’s leaders and managers about the need to treat all people equally. Targets were set for creating greater diversity in the workforces of public bodies – the police, health service, schools and colleges, public administration, and so on. The warm words brought a glow when they were first uttered and proclaimed. They look now, Iqbal shows, hollow and even hypocritical in the extreme, for people of Pakistani heritage continue to be excluded from the city’s public life. Iqbal painfully juxtaposes the warm words of policy-makers with the stark data he has painstakingly collected for this book through a series of Freedom of Information requests.


The book as a whole is addressed to all Iqbal’s fellow citizens – white as well as black and South Asian – and is concerned with the public good generally, not just with the good of, for example, Pakistanis. It is offered as a contribution to reflection and conversation, not as a manifesto. The political giant inspiring it is Mohammed Ali Jinnah. The intellectual giant is Edward Said. The author also pays tribute to political philosophers such as Bhikhu Parekh and Tariq Modood.


There are four sections. The first tells the author’s personal story and interweaves it with the story of Pakistani Birmingham. The second provides population statistics and employment data in the public sector. The third and longest discusses the underlying issues that need to be addressed. It is not just a question of treating people equally, the author argues, but also of recognising the distinctive concerns and values of different communities, and their distinctive experiences of racism. The fourth proposes challenging principles and action points for making dear Birmingham a better – or rather, an even better – great place.


Review of Dear Birmingham: a conversation with my hometown by Karamat Iqbal, Xlibris Corporation:, 2013, ISBN 978-14836-1278-2, 228 pp, £13.99

Character and resilience are essential to becoming educated (but so is their religious education for Pakistani children!)

The all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on Social Mobility has published a report (Paterson, Tyler and Lexmond 2014) which has placed the development of character and resilience centre stage for young people’s education.

They set out to answer a number of questions. Why do some talented children grow up to fulfil their ambitions and become leaders in any number of fields, while others never realise their full potential? What can be done to help more people succeed in life?  How do we create a UK in which a person’s life chances are determined by their talent, not the circumstances of their birth? In conclusion their “research findings all point to the same conclusion: “character counts.” Experts from across the board pointed out to them: “whatever qualifications you might have, where you are on the character scale will have a big impact on what you can achieve in life”.

The report has drawn attention to the current realities within our education system where education is often seen as synonymous with achievement of benchmark grades at GCSE. For the APPG, if the education system also focussed, on what they refer to as ‘’soft skills’, it would enable young people to leave school and university much better equipped.

The report has recommended that Ofsted should factor ‘extra’-curricular activities more explicitly into the inspection framework and the participation in such activities should become a formal aspect of teachers’ contracts of employment.

Possibility of funding

The Education Secretary Michael Gove said in a speech recently:

“As top heads and teachers already know, sports clubs, orchestras and choirs, school plays, cadets, debating competitions all help to build character and instil grit, to give children’s talents an opportunity to grow and to allow them to discover new talents they never knew they had” .

Although much of what is in the report has been known already, it is to be welcome that the current government has decided to devote its attention to this essential aspect of learning.

The previous government had also prioritised this matter, in a ten year strategy document (DCSF 2007). It was acknowledged that how young people spent their leisure time really mattered. Like the current report, it acknowledged that “improved social and emotional skills are essential to building young people’s resilience and allowing them to fulfil their potential.” Ofsted (2008) have also stressed the importance of education outside the classroom. For them, when planned and implemented well, such activities can contribute significantly to raising standards and improving pupils’ personal, social and emotional development.

Unlike before, this time there appears to be likelihood of funding being provided. It is not clear, however, whether this will be in the form of new money or an extension to the Pupil Premium. However it is done, one thing is for sure that little will change without financial support being made available. It is well known that it is the children from poorer backgrounds who often do not participate in extra-curricular activities and miss out on its valuable educational benefits.

Sutton et al (2007) pointed out how well-off children had a longer learning day. Whereas the poorer children had few opportunities to benefit form out of school activities, the wealthier children often began their learning day well before school and finished long after the formal school day ended. Lareau (2003), provided many examples of middle class parents who supplemented their children’s education through paid-for activities as well as through the many conversations they had with them and taught them knowledge, skills or particular way of seeing the world.  Evans (2007) made a similar point about middle class children whose whole lives were filled with structured activities oriented towards learning valuable skills in art, music, sport and drama and so on. Wikeley et al (2007) researched into extra-curricular activities and its benefits for young people in their formal education and later in life. They pointed out that such activities enabled young people to gain specialist knowledge; develop self control and confidence; learn about learning and greater agency. One of my earlier publications (Iqbal 2013) was devoted to developing resilience and self-efficacy and covered some similar ground.

The implications for Pakistani pupils

While the AAPG’s report applies just as much to Pakistani children – my current focus – in order to implement its recommendations, account will need to be taken of their Islamic religious education including the learning of the Quran. This has been the conclusion I reached based on my doctoral research into their education. The research was conducted in three Birmingham state schools, including one Grammar School. Their population ranged from almost all-Muslim to very few Muslim pupils. Research involved interviews with Year 11 Pakistani boys, their parents and teachers. A questionnaire was completed by over 200 Year 11 young people from all ethnic groups. Local authority reports and documents were also consulted, going back more than ten years.

It is worth pointing out here that a quarter of Birmingham’s pupils are already of Pakistani heritage and will, in the foreseeable future, become its largest pupil ethnic group. Since 2011, Muslims have been the largest religious group in local schools. Data from Birmingham Local Authority has shown that each year over 1000 Pakistani pupils leave local schools without the benchmark qualifications. Therefore, these issues are a matter of mainstream concern.

Key findings from my doctoral research 

For the Pakistani children, the research showed:

  • Parents and the children value secular education and the opportunities it can provide.
  • Children are taught respect for education, by their parents and mosque teachers
  • Their religion was more important for Pakistani pupils than all other ethnic groups
  • Ever since the Pakistani families and children arrived in the UK in the 1960s, parents have seen it as an obligatory duty, farz, to educate their young as Muslims. My research has shown that for many parents and their children this has been the norm throughout the past 50 plus years and continues to be so now. All the young people interviewed were either currently attending religious classes at a mosque or had done so until recently. Many of them started such activities while they were at primary school.
  • Some children also struggled to complete their homework, either because of a lack of time or because they did not have appropriate help from parents.


In the context of the APPG report, for Pakistani children to take part in extra-curricular activities, it would require integration of such activities with their participation in Islamic religious classes, including learning the Quran.  This could be arranged by ‘bringing the mosque into the school’. The children already have a long learning day; they come to school and then spend many hours at a mosque. Instead of doing that, they could have an ‘extended’ day at the school, say, 8am to 6pm. They could devote some of the time to their Islamic education and some to extra-curricular activities.

Although, a few of the parents I spoke to about this expressed support for the idea, the policy would require wider consultation with the Pakistani community. It will also require the full involvement of imams and other religious leaders. They could be employed within the education system which would be an excellent way to integrate what the children do in their two, often disparate, worlds; each with its own distinct philosophy and approach.

Such an approach to broader education would mean that children are taught, more efficiently and effectively, what parents value. It would also mean they would have time to take part in extra-curricular activities. More critically, it could provide the children opportunities to do their homework, in a place where they have access to teachers and other resources.

The APPG report has recommend that there should be a respected, official ‘School Leaving Certificate’ that reflects a child’s achievement across a broad range of activities rather than just exam outcomes. For the Pakistani children, this could also include their achievements in Islamic education and learning of the Quran.

Greater opportunities for Pakistani children to participate in extra-curricular activities would also be good for community cohesion. It would enable them to spend social and informal time with children from other backgrounds, currently something they have little time or opportunity for.



DCSF. 2007. Aiming high for young people: a ten year strategy for positive activities

 Evans, G. 2007. Educational failure and working class White children in Britain:  Palgrave

Iqbal, K. 2013. Working-class underachievement: developing resilience and self-efficacy: Amazon Kindle.

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