History Debunked Attacks Racially Segregated Schools, Demolishes Free School System

Here’s another video from another Conservative youtuber, Simon Webb. Webb’s channel, History Debunked, specialises in attacking various myths and pseudo-history being pushed as authentic Black history. In this video he attacks the call from supporters of Critical Race Theory that there should be separate schools for Black pupils, and particularly for boys. He has seen for himself how such schools actually lead to worse academic performance and behaviour in such a school in Tottenham in Haringey. But some of the reasons for its failure – management by parents, instead of qualified teaching staff – are also a major problem for the Thatcherite free school project, which was intended to allow parents to break out of the state education system.

Webb begins by quoting a passage describing how one Black activist, Derek Ball, urged Blacks to abandon their demands for integrated schooling during the Civil Rights struggle, and instead concentrate on building good, all-Black schools to boost Black educational achievement. The argument for these is that, despite attending the same schools as Whites and Asians, Blacks, and particularly Black boys, still fall behind because of the lack of suitable role-models.

Webb describes how the Seventh Day Adventists in Haringey in 1980 set up their own, all-Black school as part of this ideology. Staff at the school, John Loughborough, were good, moral, upstanding people. Unfortunately, they had a problem recruiting proper teaching staff, so they were being taught by the friends and relatives of the people who founded it, who wanted a job. Webb states he noticed how the academic achievement and basic behaviour of the children of friends, who sent their kids there, progressively decline. Their interest in and performance in vital subjects like maths and physics declined. At the same time, their interests narrowed to Black music, culture and politics. The teaching staff were unable to keep discipline, and so their behaviour became worse, instead of better. By the 1990s, when Haringey closed it down, it was the worse school in the borough.

Webb states that he has heard similar stories from across the Pond, and there are also similar stories about Muslim and Orthodox Jewish schools in this country. In the case of the Orthodox Jewish school, the educational curriculum was extremely narrow, so that its former pupils were left unprepared for life in wider British society. The same is true of the Muslim schools, while many of the pupils at the former John Loughborough school have a chip on their shoulder about how poor their schooling was, and its inability to prepare them for mainstream British society. He states that the problem with schools is that their management requires a very specific set of skills, which most parents don’t have. He states that in all the similar schools of which he knows, Black, Muslim, Orthodox Jewish, there are similar problems – a narrow curriculum, safeguarding issues and poor discipline.

The demand for racially segregated schools to benefit Blacks goes back several decades. I can remember the idea being debated in the 1990s. Round about the time Bristol City Museum was setting up its ‘A Respectable Trade’ exhibition about the city’s role in the slave trade, a women wrote into the local paper, then the Bristol Evening Post, calling for such schools. There were similar moves before then. After the riots in the St. Paul’s area in 1981/2, the council sent into schools various teams and advisors to teach the children not to be racist. This included the school at which my mother taught. This was accepted by staff and parents, though I do remember that the headmaster at the time refusing to allow the same anti-racist educators to take Black children out of the school to have special lessons on their Black identity, or something like that, as he was firmly against any kind of segregation.

I also recall Thatcher’s attempt to break up the state education system. As well as the City Academies, which were so terrible she and her education secretary, Norman Fowler, were actually winding up before Blair later relaunched them as academies when he came into power, she also announced she was passing legislation for free schools outside Local Education Authority Control. No longer would parents have to tolerate sub-standard education as the hands of evil lefty teachers and local councils. No! Parents would now have the power to break free and found their own schools, run how they wished. Which would undoubtedly do well due to market forces. All absolutely tripe, of course. Teaching really is a skilled profession, which not everyone can do. But right-wing governments like those of the Tories and Blair have been able to use it as a political football and partially privatise it by playing on the general belief that ordinary people know how to teach and manage a class better than the professionals. I remember back in the 1980s how the right-wing press, including the Bristol Evening Post, was constantly attacking teachers with scare stories about Communist teachers indoctrinating children. Thatcher herself, in one of her wretched speeches, was scathing about ‘anti-racist mathematics’, while her lapdog paper, the Scum, ran the story about children in Brent or Lambeth being taught to sing ‘Ba Ba Green Sheep’ because the original nursery rhyme, ‘Ba Ba Black Sheep’, was supposedly racist.

And the concerns about the narrowness of the curriculum in some of the free schools and academies run by religious organisations are perfectly justified. A few years ago there were concerns about the Muslim schools up north, with allegations that they were being run very strictly in accordance with traditional Islamic practice. The sexes were segregated, discipline harsh, and the curriculum narrowly religious. There have been allegations since that this wasn’t the case, and such concerns were the result of Islamophobia. The Christian schools set up by a the evangelical Christian head of a haulage company have also been criticised for their severe and humiliating discipline, as well as teaching Creationism as science. As for Orthodox Jewish schools, the French academic, Alfred Kepel, in his book about the rise of religious fundamentalism, The Revenge of God, describes one such school in Paris where the only secular subject was maths.

I am certainly not against faith-based schools. Both Mike and I went to an Anglican church school and got a Christian education. But the school also strongly condemned sectarian and racial prejudice, and did take children to other, non-Christian places of worship, like the local mosque, as a way of teaching them about those faiths.

Nevertheless, the very narrow focus of some religious or racial organisations in the education they wish to provide should be of concern. Whatever their faith or none, children need and deserve a broad education which promotes their personal achievement and growth and prepares them for wider British society rather than isolating them in self-imposed ghettoes. And they also need to be taught by properly qualified, experienced and skilled staff, rather than ordinary people, who wrongly think they can teach thanks to decades of being told so by the right-wing press.

The free schools and academies may not provide this, and in many cases they certainly don’t. But they make profits for the academy chains and support the Tory ideology of attacking the state provision of education.

I’ve no doubt that racially segregated education is a failure, regardless of whether it is intended to benefit Blacks or other ethnic minorities. So are the free schools and academies generally.

All of them should be wound up, and schooling returned to the state and control of local authorities.

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