What if Jim Callaghan had won the 1979 election? – education and society in multi-ethnic Britain, an essay in subjunctive history

Image © Allan Warren

Robin Richardson

‘Thinking about what might have happened,’ says a character in The History Boys by Alan Bennett, ‘alerts you to the consequences of what did.’ Another character replies: ‘It’s subjunctive history … The subjunctive is the mood you use when something might or might not have happened, when it’s imagined.’

‘We told Rampton,’ reflected and rejoiced people of African-Caribbean heritage in Britain in 1981, ‘and Rampton told the world.’ Anthony Rampton’s report, West Indian Children in our Schools, had been warmly welcomed by the prime minister, James Callaghan, and by the secretary of state for education, Shirley Williams. The report’s essential message was that England’s education system was institutionally racist. Day by day in schools, it declared, a perfect storm of customs and policies worked against the interests of Black people and to the advantage and benefit of white people. This was an uncomfortable message for Mr Callaghan, who had not said anything remotely similar in his celebrated Ruskin speech in 1976. But his positive response to the Rampton report, supported and reinforced by Mrs Williams, laid the foundations for one of the most exciting and sustained  revolutions in education and society that these islands have ever seen.

Rampton’s document was the interim report of a committee of inquiry set up by Mrs Williams in 1979. Her decision to create the committee had been informed by a report published in 1977 by the House of Commons select committee on race relations and immigration; by the damning claim in 1969 by E J B Rose (co-founder of the Runnymede Trust) in his magisterial Colour and Citizenship that African-Caribbean children  were ‘a source of bafflement, embarrassment and despair in the education system’, and that they ‘often presented problems which the average teacher was not equipped to understand, let alone to overcome’; and by a seminal essay published in 1971 by a young teacher in London named Bernard Coard, who had been born in Grenada. Read more of this post

Parliament Channel: Harold Wilson Night (Conference Speech)

LeftCentral Review

© Image The Prime Minister`s Office photostream

The BBC Parliament channel, dedicated last Thursday evening to Harold Wilson, a set of programmes which included a broadcast of Wilson`s final 1975 Conference speech as Prime Minister. The speech with its valedictory tone is worth watching for reasons summed up by Ben Pimlott as Wilson appears to forecast the tough times ahead for the Labour movement. Pimlott reminds us that by 1975 the Party was on the cusp of tearing itself apart, in the early stages of an existential crisis. Wilson`s speech is delivered in a perfunctory manner to a morose audience, a conference of beleaguered looking delegates. If only they knew what was around the political corner, perhaps then they would have been grateful for the deliverance of Labour`s 1974 manifesto. A programme which if not socialist, was certainly socially responsible, in the speech Wilson describing the 1974 manifesto as promoting a fairer, more democratic and socially just society, an agenda transforming Labour into the natural Party of government.  In the turbulent years ahead Labour would struggle to hold on to its position as the main party of opposition due to the threat posed by the newly formed SDP. It was interesting to hear Shirley Williams defend the Wilson legacy with such vigour last Thursday. One wonders what her `Orange Book` Liberal colleagues thought of her performance? Read more of this post

Reflections from the decades interview with Robin Richardson

Robin Richardson interview with Sharon Duncan 

Robin Richardson

Robin Richardson speaking at Cross Border Human Rights Education Conference Belfast

Robin Richardson was the first director of the World Studies Project, 1973–79, set up by the One World Trust in London. He then became an adviser for multicultural education in local government (1979–1985) and the chief inspector for education in a London borough (1985–1990). From 1991 onwards he was director of the Runnymede Trust, a think-tank specialising in issues of race equality and cultural diversity.

Since 1996 Robin has been an independent consultant. His publications over the years include Learning for Change in World Society (1976), Daring to be a Teacher (1990) and Holding Together: equalities, difference and cohesion (2009). His most recent books are Pointing the Finger: Islam and Muslims in the British media (2011), co-edited with Julian Petley, and Changing Life Changes: projects and endeavours in schools (2012).

There is information about Robin’s recent and current work at http://www.insted.co.uk. He is interviewed here on behalf of the International Association for Intercultural Education (IAIE) by Sharon Duncan.

Sharon Duncan: Before we begin, I would like to thank you on behalf of the IAIE membership for agreeing to do this interview. As someone who continues to have an important influence on radical educators in the UK and further afield, this interview will provide intercultural educators with a privileged opportunity to reflect on issues that are central to our world vision. I would like to start, however, by asking you about your formative years; where you grew up, your family, your schooling and whether it is possible to identify a key experience or person (a turning point) that might have influenced the educational path for social justice you were to follow later in life.

Robin Richardson: I was born in 1936 in Birmingham. My father at that time was a bank clerk, and we lived in the small flat above the branch where he served each day behind the counter. He and my mother lived modestly and frugally, but they certainly weren’t poor and they spent money on private education for their three children, of whom I was the eldest, until the age of 11. My father had been a keen sportsman in his youth – rugby, cricket, swimming, boxing, tennis – and throughout my teenage years he was the men’s singles champion at a local tennis club. My mother, for her part, was the ladies champion at a church badminton club.

They were prudish in their attitudes to sex and related matters, and socially conservative in most of their opinions, and voted Conservative in all elections. The principal intellectual influence on them was Charles Dickens. My father had a complete set of Dickens’s novels and would often take down a volume and read a passage aloud to his children for their entertainment and moral instruction. Alas, the children were not as appreciative as they should have been, and this is one of the regrets I have about my childhood, looking back. Another regret is that I didn’t inherit any of my father’s sporting prowess. Read more of this post

Would you trust Michael Gove with your child?

Image

Image © Regional Cabinet

Mathew Hulbert

Other than national security and health, there is nothing more important than the education of our people.

It is the area of policy with which I care most about.

Why?

Because, at its best, a good education can open up a whole world of opportunities.

It can be the great leveller.

It can enable young people who, in terms of their background, have not had many chances or opportunities to shine and show that they are just as capable of great achievements as those born with rather more privilege, sometimes even more so.

That was the laudable aim of comprehensive education, when it was created under the excellent leadership of Shirley Williams (then Labour Secretary of State for Education, now, of course, a leading Liberal Democrat Peer).

So, why is this Government seemingly in favour of turning this all on its head?

Can that possibly be a good thing?

Is the future of our education system now only in the hands of the right-wing ideologue Michael Gove?

And where is the Lib Dem influence in it all?

Read more of this post

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