Ethnic Minority Education in the 1940's

My historical outline of Ethnic Minority policy in Britain begins in the 1940s when Education saw a Biblical phase based in non-denominational Christianity.   In 1944 an Education Act was passed that aimed to create structure to the post-war British Education system.   Conservative politician Rab Butler as minister of Education championed the progression of this Act which affected Education in four main ways.  

Firstly, it increased the role and powers of ministers of Education. Under the 1944 Act, the Minister was charged with a positive duty to promote education and to “secure the effective execution by local authorities, under his control and direction” of the national policy for education.   Secondly, the administration of education was itself re-shaped. 169 of the 315 local education authorities that existed before 1944 were abolished on April 1, 1945, leaving the local administration of all forms of public education in the hands of 146 county councils and county borough councils. Thirdly, the Act re-structured the school system, raising the age of school leavers to 15   Previously, publicly funded schools and colleges were either “elementary” or “higher”.   

The 44 Education Act organized schools “in three progressive stages to be known as primary education, secondary education, and further education.”  Finally, Butler brought about a compromise between schools maintained by councils and denominational schools. The essence of this “dual control” system, which still exists, was that nearly all church (denominational) schools chose either to become “controlled” or “aided”. Controlled schools were entirely funded by the local council, whereas the governors or managers of aided schools remained responsible for capital expenditure on the fabric of the buildings, which they continued to own, and had increased rights over staffing and the curriculum (see Religious Schools).[1]


Ethnic Minority Education in the 1950's

The 1950’s saw a growing resistance to immigration among the white population.   In the latter part of 1958, a series of attacks by white youths culminated in riots in Nottingham, and then in Notting Hill in London.   Calls for an end to immigration reached new levels, as it was presumed by the government that the best way to handle ‘the colour’ problems was to limit the number of ‘coloured people’ allowed into the country.[1]  This decade then saw the development of an assimilation model in which no more than 30% Ethnic Minorities were allowed in any one class or school.  It was assumed that once they had mastered the language traditions and values of the UK, immigrants would be absorbed into white society without further conflict.[2]   The idea of dispersal and ‘bussing’ is evident from DES circular 7/65, which stated that,

'It is inevitable that, as the proportion of immigrant children in a school or class increases, the problems will become more difficult to solve, and the chances of assimilation more remote. How far any given proportion of immigrant children can be absorbed with benefit to both sides depends on, among other of immigrant children who are proficient in English; the dividing line cannot be precisely defined. Experience suggests, however, that ... up to a fifth of immigrant children in any group fit in with reasonable ease, but that, if the proportion goes over about one third either in the school as a whole or in anyone class, serious strains arise. It is therefore desirable that the catchment areas of schools should, wherever possible, be arranged to avoid undue concentrations of immigrant children. Where this proves impracticable simply because the school serves an area which is occupied largely by immigrants, every effort should be made to disperse the immigrant children round a greater number of schools and to meet such problems of transport as may arise.' [3]

The circular concluded that every effort should be made to disperse the immigrant children round a greater number of schools, thus institutionalising the notion of ethnic minority pupils as a problem.[4]   As Farrukh Dondy (1982) noted, ‘bussing’ ethnic minority children from their own communities into white areas increased pupils vulnerability to racial harassment, including physical attacks leading to at least one death.[5]

[1] Gillborn, David, (1990), p.144.

[2] Gillborn, David, (1990), p.144.

[3] DES Circular 7/65, as quoted in The Swann Report (1985) Education for all Report of the Committee of Enquiry into the Education of Children from Ethnic Minority Groups Chairman: Lord Swann

[4] Gillborn, David, p.145.

[5] Gillborn, David, p.146.

Ethnic Minority Education in the 1960's

The 1960’s saw a model of integration, aiming for tolerance.  Roy Jenkins (Home Labour Secretary 1966) said that integration was,

‘not a flattening process of assimilation, but equal opportunity, accompanied by cultural diversity, in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance.’

Yet unfortunately, much of this was ill prepared, and re-enforced crude stereotypes of ethnic minorities, leading to ethnic minorities being viewed at best strange and exotic and at worst primitive.[1]

[1] Gillborn, David, (1990) p.146.

Ethnic Minority Education in the 1960's

In the 1970’s the second generation of ethnic minority groups emerged, creating problems within the British Education system.  Black studies courses were designed and implemented in some schools, which aimed to solve blacks ‘poor image’.  But such methods targeted the victims of the system instead of the system itself.   Denis Lawton in 1975 stated that the school curriculum ‘is essentially a selection from the culture of a society, yet it is questionable whether the UK has a single culture.’   The Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) was set up in the 70’s under the Race Relations Act of 1976. The Race Relations Act 1976 states that it is unlawful for an employer to treat or fail to prevent the treatment of workers less favourably because of their colour, race, nationality or ethnic or national origins.   It identifies two types of racial discrimination – Direct and Indirect.   Under the 1976 Act, segregation victimisation and racial harrassment are unlawful.   The Commission for Racial Equality had three main aims; to work towards the elimination of racial discrimination and promote equality of opportunity, to encourage good relations between people from different ethnic backgrounds and to monitor the way that the Race Relations Act is working and suggest ways to improve.

The committee of enquiry - set up in 1979 as a result of pressure from minority communities.  The committee sought to identify the principles of an education which would meet the needs of all pupils.   If education is to prepare pupils for life in the late twentieth century, an appreciation of ethnic diversity would be an essential concern.   Therefore the Swann committee reaffirmed the need to help pupils understand the value of ethnic diversity and constantly to ensure that syllabuses and teaching materials do not carry ethnocentric messages of ‘white’ superiority.


Ethnic Minority Education in the 1980's

The Swann Report and Education Reform Act 1988

In the early 1980’s, approaches to ethnic minorities in education reflected the cutting edge of ideas regarding the status of ethnicity in British society.   The Swann Report of 1985, officially called Education for All, was a government report advocating a multicultural education system for all schools, regardless of institutions, age-range, class, location and ethnicity for pupils and staff.  The report provided clear data on ethnicity and educational attainment, discovering that racism had a causal effect on educational experiences of black children in the UK.[1]   Multiculturalism then emerged as a complex concept, with many critics, and an ambiguous relationship with globalisation.  

The Swann report of 1985 locates Religious Education in a pluralistic society.   Instead of equating ‘Britishness’ with Christianity, the Swann report encouraged the development of non-Christian areas, but not predominantly white areas. In contrast to the 1944 ERA, the Swann Report ditched the daily act of worship, reemphasising the phenomenological approach.   The teaching of the curriculum offered to all pupils, regardless of school, must be permeated with a genuinely pluralistic perspective.[2]   The Swann Report recommends evaluating the curriculum on the basis of six principles.   Firstly, the variety of social, cultural and ethnic groups and a perspective of the world should be evident in visuals, stories, conversations and information.  Secondly, people from social, cultural and ethnic groups should be presented as individuals with every human attribute.  Thirdly, cultures should not be empathetically described in their own terms and not judged against some notion of ‘ethnocentric’[3] or ‘eurocentric’[4] culture.   Fourthly, the curriculum should include accurate information on racial and cultural differences and similarities.   Fifthly, all children should be encouraged to see the cultural diversity of our society in a positive light.   Finally, the issue of racism, at both individual and institutional level, should be considered openly and efforts made to counter it.[5]

The Education Reform Act of 1988 reaffirmed and sought to clarify clauses relating to Religious Education in the 1944 Act, returning the debate to Religious Education in particular.[6]   This is demonstrated through the returning need for an act of collective worship.

[1] Griffiths and Hope (2000) Access to Sociology: Stratification and Differentiation, p.

[2] Gillborn, David, (1990) p. 160.

[3] Ethnocentrism is the tendency to evaluate other ethnic groups from the standpoint of ones own ethnic group and experience.

[4] Eurocentrism is the tendency to evaluate other ethnic groups from European ethnic group and experiences.

[5] Mason, 73

[6] Parsons, G., There and Back Again?  Religion and the 1944 and 1988 Education Acts, p. 163