The role of school students in shaping anti-racist schooling in 1980s England

David Swanson (Senior Lecturer in Education, The University of Manchester), Shirin Hirsch (Senior Lecturer in History, Manchester Metropolitan University)

Wyke Manor letter

This project explores the active role of schoolchildren in opposing racism in English schools in the 1980s, and the relation of those struggles to the construction of anti-racist policy and practice in schools, through investigation of the important collections of the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah RACE Centre.

Britain was a very polarised society in the 1980s, and educational policy on race was also much contested. Multi-cultural education was under attack first from those, including the government, who wanted to revert to a purely integrationist approach, but also from those who said it did not go far enough, and that explicitly anti-racist education was necessary. This project aims to recover the hidden history of cases in Manchester, Bradford and London, where the agency of school students themselves played a key role in this contested context, at times remoulding both the schools in which they attended, and the wider educational system beyond.

This history is highly relevant to the present day, where school student agency has resurfaced on a mass scale. This is most visible expressed through the Friday For Futures school student strikes in relation to environmental issues, but also over racism, with recent events at Pimlico Academy. Uncovering such marginalised history also aligns closely with the desire for a diverse curriculum, a desire strengthened by the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, and seen locally with the Diverse Curriculum Charter, supported by The University of Manchester, among others.

A key aspect of the project will involve working closely with schoolteachers from Manchester, Bradford and London to lay the basis for the future development of resources and lesson materials for use in the classroom.