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“Sit down, you haven’t reached that stage yet”, African Caribbean children in Leicester schools 1960‐74, Lorna Chessum.

This article discusses the experiences of some African Caribbean Children within Leicester schools during the 1960s, in connection with the local education authority. The research that is discussed by Chessum is from a collection of interviews of some 25 African Caribbean individuals, who had arrived within Britain between 1940 and 1975. The research was also provided by the local press and the sub-committees of the education committee of Leicester.

By 1991, the census showed that within Leicester there was the largest population of both black, and Asian residents than any other city within the United Kingdom. The city was known for prosperity, as it was home to a large proportion of two-income families, resulting in a high yearly household income. The predominate amount of African Caribbean individuals were working class, however, some that arrived after the war possessed qualifications from the West Indies. 

However, Chessum notes that, even with qualifications, faced discrimination due to their race, which resulted in many struggles finding employment within teaching roles for example. Clifton Robinson’s struggles showed that although he passed two scholarships, one from the RAF, and a second which was a degree in educational psychology, he was turned away from a teaching post that he applied to due to his race. After the employer discovered Robinson’s race, he was told the post had been filled, however, the same position went back up a week later. Robinson did manage however to secure a teaching job within Leicester, at Mellor Street School in 1951. He later became the first Black Headteacher in Britain and became an important figure for education within the city. Robinson after witnessing the ignorance of many white teachers within the city about children from the West Indies conducted a study on the children who attended the school. He later offered up his services to other schools in order to help them accommodate more children, which was taken up on a regular basis. Robinson noted however during his research that children from both white and black nationalities would be seen playing together, and would write within the class of their friendships with one another. Robinson highlighted that it was the parents racist, and discriminative views that tried to pull them apart.

Children were noted as some of the earliest arrivals from the Caribbean during the 1950s and faced a large culture shock upon arrival, many missed their homes, and struggled to understand why they had been sent by family members to the UK. Chessum discusses the importance of the relationship between family structure, and the migration process, where often family identity was the primary loyalty within Barbadian families. However, this method of children care that was often described as “leap-frog” due to the amount of movement, was often classed as inadequate to white families at the time. The migration of children was also linked to the racist view that Black culture was inferior, as well as the low attainment of Caribbean children within Schools.

An example from Editha Drew describes her time at a Girls school within Leicester as being a “terrible time” where she would be seen as a dunce who didn’t know anything, especially compared to the other white children, and where put in classes of age, rather than standard. Another example came from Oscar Frank who detailed that within Barbuda he was at the top of his class, however, within Leicester he was put back four years, not because of his knowledge or skills, but because of where he had come from. 

The Leicester Education Association responded in three distinctively discriminative ways according to Chessum, the first included the titling and rationalising of all Black, and Asian children within the Leicester school system as “immigrants”, which was being used to separate the individuals in a negative manner, away from the rest of society. Secondly, the children were defined as “West Indians” purely in order to monitor their numbers, and keep them low. Lastly, the children were seen as inferior to their white classmates and were treated as such within the classrooms, children were then often left without a school to attend, even in areas of low attendance, their presence was not wanted. Often teachers had gone on to complain over the issues of language barriers and would use this as their reasoning for why many were being left without an education, or for their poor treatment.

 The British government was aware of these problems and wished to persevere British influence within the colonies.  The government’s policy of dispersal was raised in 1963, where it was stated that schools should have no more than 30% of it’s pupils being immigrants. Discussions such as these along with the language struggles that led to further discrimination shows that through the 60s policies were being created to further show the perceived “problems” of immigrant children, and how these problems could be stopped by removing the children, as opposed to attempting to help, educate, and accommodate children from both Black, and Asian communities. There was evidence of Black, Asian, Polish, and other immigrants groups living within Leicester since 1945, and yet throughout the 1960s, nothing had been done to help in the fair education of these minority children.

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