The Black Education Movement

Collection Ref No.:

GB 2904 BEM

Date range:

1965-1988

Description

The material in this collection covers the early period of the Black Education Movement and the Black Supplementary Schools Movement (1968-1975). It represents just part of that Movement, which was and never has been a single organisation. However, it covers some of the major campaigns of the early period of the Black Education Movement that were based in North London, in particular the London Borough of Haringey. These early campaigns should also be seen as the background to, or the initial phase of, the Black Parents Movement (BPM), which ran from 1975 into the mid 1980s (see archive collection 'BPM'). The Black Supplementary School Movement (BSSM) spans both phases, being instigated by the Black Education Movement, but continuing alongside the Black Parents Movement. The majority of Black Supplementary School material is catalogued under the archive collection 'BEM'.

The collection consists of 4 sections:

BEM/1: Banding Proposals, divided into:
BEM/1/1: Haringey Education Committee: Documents on Banding.
BEM/1/2: Anti-banding Campaign.

BEM/2: Black Education Movement Associations, divided into:
BEM/2/1: Foundation of Black Education Movement Associations.
BEM/2/2: The Caribbean Education and Community Workers Association (CECWA).

BEM/3: Black Supplementary Schools, divided into:
BEM/3/1: The George Padmore and Albertina Sylvester Black Supplementary Schools.
BEM/3/2: Provision of Supplementary Education: General.

BEM/4: Public Support and Awareness of Educational Issues, divided into:
BEM/4/1: Campaigns.
BEM/4/2: Education Societies and Projects.
BEM/4/3: Conferences and Meetings on Education.
BEM/4/4: Publications and Booklists.
BEM/4/5: Education in the Community.
BEM/4/6: Background Research on Education.
BEM/4/7: Correspondence.

The collection is largely file based, with a fluid structure. Working files are common, with information gathered from a variety of sources, leading to some duplication between files.

Admin history:

This Black Education Movement collection can be divided into four areas: a campaign against proposals by Haringey Council to 'band' or 'stream' pupils in the Borough's schools; the formation of Black Education Movement Associations to debate education issues, particularly the subject of ESN [Educationally Sub-Normal] Schools; the Black Supplementary School Movement (BSSM); and finally a growth in public support and awareness of education issues.

Anti-banding Campaign 1969-1970:

This was a pivotal campaign in the early period of the Black Education Movement.  It arose with the proposal by the Haringey Education Committee that a system of banding should be implemented across Haringey's Comprehensive Schools. Two reports were central to the campaign.  The 'Report to the [Haringey] Education Committee on Comprehensive Education' (Mar 1969) was adopted by the Education Committee and subsequently by the entire Haringey Borough Council on 31 Mar 1969. The official reasoning given for the report was to ensure that the appropriate education for each individual pupil was provided through streaming by academic ability, the adequate provision of education for the high proportion of immigrants within the Borough, and ensuring standards across the borough were maintained by modifying unsuitable premises, schools of small size and addressing poor administration.

However, this document was preceded by a confidential report titled 'Haringey Comprehensive Schools' by Alderman Alfred Doulton, Headmaster of Highgate School. This document was leaked, and subsequently became known in the community as 'The Doulton Report'.

There was widespread opposition to the banding proposals because of the following passage in this leaked report: 

"On a rough calculation about half the immigrants will be West Indians at 7 of the 11 schools, the significance of this being the general recognition that their I.Q.s work out below their English contemporaries.  Thus academic standards will be lower in schools where they form a large group".  ('Haringey Comprehensive Schools' Section 5 (c) 13 Jan 1969).  See BEM/1/2/5.

The second report 'Haringey Education Committee on Comprehensive Education' (Mar 1969) adopted by the Committee contains implicit rather than explicit comments on the I.Q.s of West Indian children.

Such apparent prejudice against black children fed on an existing belief in neglect in the state education system.  There was widespread opposition to the banding proposals, not just in Haringey but across London, spreading via the media until the campaign achieved national prominence.  Public meetings were held across London, to encourage debate and organise protests and demonstrations.  Particular attention was paid to informing parents about what was happening to their children in schools, with the distribution of leaflets, and invitations to public meetings.

The West Indian Standing Conference (WISC), which had been in existence since 1958 having been founded after the Notting Hill riots, was the major organisation in London speaking out on behalf of West Indians.  The North London West Indian Association (NLWIA), led by its secretary Jeff Crawford, was the largest component of the WISC.  The Education Secretary was Winston Best, and among his achievements was the setting up of the Paul Bogle Youth Club in West Green Road. 

The NLWIA began in 1965 with the aim of encouraging social and cultural activities amongst West Indians in North London.  The association was voluntary, and was not affiliated to any religious or political body.  Membership was open to all nationalities for a small fee.  Free legal advice was offered, as well as guidence on education and careers. The NLWIA also acted as an intermediary between the police and the black community.  Both the WISC and the NLWIA came to lead the protests against the banding campaign.

Within 2 days of seeing the 2 reports issued by Haringey, an urgent meeting was called by the NLWIA.  At that point, the Council, sensing unease in the community, postponed the proposals on banding.  This gave the protestors the time they needed to circulate copies of the Council reports, draw up leaflets, and prepare a response to the Doulton report, refuting every paragraph.  The document prepared was called 'The Real Challenge' and was widely circulated among the black community.  The next meeting called was packed with people from all over London, protesting at the banding proposals.

The NLWIA were able to rely on insiders for help.  Another group working in parallel with the NLWIA were a group of parents, often referred to as the Highgate Radicals, some of whom were Labour party activists and also Councillors in Haringey.  The group were interested in stopping the banding proposals because they were worried about black children coming into Highgate schools.They were not necessarily working in opposition to the West Indian campaign, but they wanted to maintain their schools as white schools.  The parents from Highgate were of benefit to the NLWIA because it was alleged that they were the ones who managed to get hold of all the documents available at that time, including the confidential 'Doulton Report'.  They also had good access to the media, hence the high profile of the Campaign.

As each campaign had different interests, the Highgate Radicals and the NLWIA formed a coalition and campaigned independently, but sought the same outcome, namely the dropping of the banding proposals by the Council.  A successful campaign resulted in the Council ultimately delaying its banding proposals to the point of withdrawing them, and the Conservative Council was then defeated in the elections in May 1970.  The incoming Labour Council dropped the banding proposals.

ESN Schools: 

Prejudice against black children was also present in another alarming development in the school system. Parents arriving from overseas and therefore unfamiliar with the state education system were frequently told that their children would be placed in 'Special Schools'.  The belief that this would enhance the education of their children was soon shattered when it became clear that 'Special' translated into 'ESN' or 'Educationally Sub-Normal' Schools. 

The NLWIA were alarmed by the high proportion of West Indian children in ESN schools, often nick-named 'dustbin' schools, and demanded that something be done to improve this scandalous situation.  Following talks with the Chairman of the Haringey Education Committee in the Autumn of 1969, the Council conceded that serious errors had been made in the past, and that they were rectifying the situation.  No mention was made of how best to deal with the children who had already been classified in this way.

The NLWIA declared that a proper investigation of the methods and procedures used in the past and present should take place, and that any investigative committee should include West Indian psychologists, teachers and other professional experts.  The members believed that the records of children who had been improperly or erroneously classified as Educationally Sub-Normal should be withdrawn, and that all authorities concerned with these records should be properly informed of this decision, since those records would follow these children into later life to their detriment.

Information and evidence was gathered at source, with members working undercover in schools, gaining the trust of insiders, and observing the way black children were taught and treated by teaching staff.  Having discovered that there was a disproportionately high number of black children in local special schools, the NLWIA made a formal complaint to the Race Relations Board in Jan 1970 alleging discrimination against black children under the Race Relations Act.  The Race Relations Board implied that Haringey Borough Council had breached areas of Section 2 of the Race Relations Act 1968 (see BEM 2/2/1/2 - press release 'Immigrant Children in ESN Schools' issued by Race Relations Board, 22 Feb 1971).   There was also indirect pressure from the 'Working Group on Education for the Eradication of Colour Prejudice' already in operation by 1969 (see BEM 4/1/2).  The concern over ESN schools was one of the matters taken up by the Caribbean Education and Community Workers Association (CECWA), which became the co-ordinating body of all black education issues (see below).

CECWA:

Rather than relying solely on the NLWIA and the WISC for support, it was decided that an organisation was needed which was focused specifically on educational issues.  The 'Caribbean Education and Community Workers Association' became the initiating and co-ordinating body of black education issues and the setting up of independent black supplementary schools (see below).  Attention was directed towards curricula, the provision of teachers and teaching materials, finance, the inter-action between parents, teachers and students, and the Black Education Movement's role in building community among black people in the UK.  CECWA had a £2 membership fee.

The Caribbean Education and Community Workers Association or CECWA had its origins in the West Indian Educationists, which became the West Indian Education and Welfare Association  The association was renamed in a document recording the 'Final Session of the West Indian Educationists' (undated, but early 1970) - see BEM/2/2/3/2.  Following this, the name was changed again to the Caribbean Educationists Association or CEA, sometimes recorded as the Caribbean Educationalists Association. Finally the name Caribbean Education and Community Workers Association (CECWA) was chosen.  The Acting Secretary of CECWA for the period c. 1970-1971 is recorded as Fitzgerald John Yaw.  Waveney Bushell was Chairman of CECWA.

A Steering Committee was established for CECWA, holding regular monthly meetings.  Members included Winston Best, Van Rigsby, Bernard and Phyllis Coard, (who returned to the West Indies in 1972), John La Rose, Fitzgerald Yaw, Waveney Bushell, Jessica Huntley, Bernard Wiltshire, Jocelyn Barrow and Albert Fortune.  Programmes were centred around an Emergency Schools Programme, aiming to remove West Indian children who had been wrongly placed in ESN schools, the setting up of Black Supplementary Schools (see below), fundraising and publications. 

A CECWA conference was held on 9 May 1971 where Bernard Coard spoke on 'The Problems of the West Indian Children in the Nation's Schools'.  This was a summary of his influential publication 'How the West Indian Child is Made Educationally Sub-Normal in the British School System', published by New Beacon Books on behalf of CECWA on 6 May 1971.  The book was considered at the time to be a major breakthrough for the cause of education of black children in Britain, sponsored and distributed widely by members of CECWA and at a more local level by door to door publicity and sale within black communities.

A scheme was devised to immediately remove all West Indian children from ESN schools and either set up specialist schools, or return the children to a normal school environment.  After major discussions, it was proposed that all West Indian parents should be contacted and informed of what was happening in their schools.  The work of CECWA was to be promoted as the organisation of the Black Education Movement, and any churches run or supported by black people should be approached for help in setting up supplementary education.  Black teachers were also requested to observe and keep records of all black children sent to ESN schools, or trace children placed in mental hospitals due to apparent emotional disorientation.

A number of reports on education  issues were produced by CECWA.  An Education Survey was also planned.  However, this was never carried out as it was too ambitious a project.

Black Supplementary School Movement (BSSM):

One of the most significant developments in this early period of the Black Education Movement was the emergence of the Black Supplementary School.  This can be seen as a form of self-help when faced with a national education system, perceived to be prejudiced and inadequate for the needs of black children.  In several areas of London, and in cities such as Birmingham and Huddersfield, black teachers came together to organise supplementary schools, several of which were emerging before the start of the anti-banding campaign in Haringey. There was widespread agreement that there was a need for action to counteract the biased and false view that black children were getting of their own history, culture and identity. 

The initial beginnings of the Supplementary School Movement were c. 1965-66.  A big inspirational source in this movement was the Black Power Movement (including the Black Panthers), which challenged the existing basis of knowledge (white racist) and the exclusion of black and African basis of knowledge.  Young idealistic people from this movement often provided the voluntary teaching energy in the early years of the movement. The supplementary schools were run by such volunteers -  teachers, community activists, parents, and others interested in teaching black children the history and culture they failed to receive in the state schools.  The supplementary schools were held part time in addition to the state education the pupils were receiving, usually taking place in the evenings or on a Saturday.  Subjects included Pan African History and Culture, English, Mathematics, and Geography.  Summer schools and excursions were also included where possible.  After the publication of Bernard Coard's book, many more supplementary schools sprung up across the country, including in Manchester, Bradford, and Leeds.

A 'Preliminary Constitution (sic) [Consultation] on Supplementary Black Schools' was held at the Keskidee Centre in North London on 23 Jan 1972 to provide a first general interchange of ideas, examine work and findings in detail, find out how subject matter was being selected and taught in schools, and establish the results that had been achieved during the previous year.

The George Padmore and Albertina Sylvester Black Supplementary Schools were started c. 1969, by John La Rose and others in the Finsbury Park area, although the schools were formally registered in 1973.  There were initially four pupils - two sons of John La Rose, and two of their friends from the Stationers' Company's School.  The George Padmore School operated for 7 years out of 2 Albert Road, three times a week, on Monday, Friday and Saturday.  The George Padmore School was for older children.  The classes were divided into 3 groups: 1) students in their first year at secondary school, 2) students in their second and third years at secondary school, 3) students in their fourth and fifth years at secondary school.  The Albertina Sylvester School was for younger children, attending a class from 11.00am-1.00pm on a Saturday and initially operating out of Albertina Sylvester's house at 57 Victoria Road.  From 1975 the Albertina Sylvester School operated from 2 Albert Road.  Two teachers at this time were Roxy Harris and Rachel Roberts.

Finance came from members' contributions of £1 per term.  This was not fixed, parents contributing or not, as their finances permitted.  The George Padmore and Albertina Sylvester Supplementary Schools would commence within about two weeks of enrolment by pupils for each academic year. The schools were headed by a Management Committee, meeting once a month., plus a Constitution Sub-Committee, and a Fundraising Committee.  General Meetings were also held every month attended by parents and teachers.

With the emerging struggles and campaigns launched under the Black Parents Movement in 1975 (see archive collection BPM), John La Rose handed over the running of the school to Roxy Harris.  The schools were designed not only to teach subjects such as Pan-African history and culture, English, History and Maths, but also to build up the self esteem of each individual child, so that they could stand up against prejudice.

The Black Parents Movement took the innovative step of holding communal meetings for parents, teachers and students.  Some students were uneasy as they did not like talking about school in front of their parents.  Similarly, some parents were initially uncomfortable because they had their own notions of what their children should traditionally have been doing - for example, girls were expected to be at home on a Saturday morning to help with domestic tasks, and not attending a supplementary school class.  However, over time both students and parents came to recognise the benefits of working in solidarity with teachers especially as state schools often rejected the idea of Parent Teachers Associations.

In October 1975, a decision was made to merge the George Washington Carver, Pamela Bowen, George Padmore and Albertina Sylvester Black Supplementary Schools in order to maximise use of resources, both teaching and financial.  By 1976, the merged schools were looking to obtain permanent premises for the school's work, but funding was insufficient. The Methodist Baptist Hall premises had been used by the Dr Adolf King and the George Washington Carver School ["when Dr King left the country, his school was merged with ours"- see BEM 3/1/2/3].

The George Padmore and Albertina Sylvester Supplementary Schools ran jointly for 14 years, and the George Padmore Supplementary School continued into the early 1990s.

Related Material: See individual items.  Material relating to Eric and Jessica Huntley can also be found in 'The Huntley Collections' held at the London Metropolitan Archives, references LMA/4462 (Bogle-L 'Ouverture Press Limited) and LMA/4463 (Huntley, Eric and Jessica: Personal).

Custodial History:

The material in this collection was gifted to the George Padmore Institute by John La Rose.