‘Bussing’ and the racist segregation of our schools

The Conservative government and the local white population in Southall, west London, feared that their children’s education was being held back by the rapid influx of immigrants. The government feared development of ‘immigrant schools’ or ‘ghetto schools’ as they had read in the papers about violent riots in America. The education secretary, Edward Boyle MP visited Beaconsfield Primary School in Southall on October 15th, 1963. It was this visit that that led to a policy of school dispersal. White parents were hostile to the arrival of Asian children in their own children’s schools. Speaking in the House of Commons two months after his visit to Southall, Boyle told MPs: ‘I must regretfully tell the House that one school must be regarded now as irretrievably an “immigrant school”. The important thing to do is to prevent this happening elsewhere.’ It was to forestall such development that “bussing” was put in motion, for better and very often for worse.

The Department of Education decided that schools should have no more than 30% of immigrant children to make sure that quota was not broken the government decided that spreading the concentration of black and Asian children around different schools. Two local authorities with high ethnic minority population – Ealing and Bradford – decided to introduce bussing. Immigrant children were to be ‘bussed’ out of their local area to go to school. (See BBC report on ‘bussing’ – here)

From 1964, the Labour government continued with the racist ‘bussing’ policy as it was a vote winner, it also decided to send or disperse immigrant pupils to white schools in the guise of an effort to address their linguistic deficiency as well as to integrate them more broadly, that is, to adopt the English way of life. Children were segregated from other classes instead of mixing with other children.

By 1965, there was a population of almost a million immigrants living in Britain. Racism and prejudice were part of daily life for minorities. By now, 11 local authorities nationwide adopted government recommendations to disperse, it became known as ‘bussing’, with many travelling for miles to their schools. Children were being treated differently because of their colour.

Bussing of ethnic minority children was one policy to make life difficult for immigrants; housing and access to council services were also being denied. As Asian and Black communities expanded, houses were being occupied by two or sometimes three families because the council would not provide adequate accommodation and most white families would not take immigrant lodgers. The Southall Residents Association, comprising white members only, were now inviting the British National Party or National Front to their meetings. On meetings, there were always clashes where racists would attack Asians or Blacks and the police turned a blind eye.

Immigrant children were isolated and put in ‘Special Classes’ and playgrounds became battlegrounds of an unfair war – the mainly white children versus the few immigrant children. Immigrant children huddled in a small group fearing for their safety. It was pure tribalism: taunts, fights, name-calling became the norm. Headteachers and teachers would further add to this abuse by caning immigrant children, calling in school inspectors, writing bad reports and even giving detention thereby missing the school bus home. The busses were labelled: ‘Paki busses’.

Many teachers at the time took the view that there was no place for immigrant children in society other than most menial manual labour. They would advise their pupils to abandon any notion of becoming a doctor or a lawyer or whatever because there was no way those children would be able to achieve those sorts of things.

In 1967, the National Front showed solidarity with the white residents of Southall would attend Southall Residents Association meetings and march through Southall Broadway. They would start at the bridge, near the Hambrough Tavern public house, and head towards the town hall. Asian families were fearful because some National Front protestors would be attacked  if they happened to be walking or standing in the Broadway and their shops had bricks thrown into the windows. The police stood by.

‘Bussing’ meant travelling was exhausting for the immigrant children. Parents had to collect their children from schools that were far away if they fell ill and most parents did not have cars. Parents complained about the racist bullying that their children had to suffer in majority white schools. Complaints were ignored, not investigated, or else the child was made out to be the problem.

On 2nd October 1974, Muhamad Shakil Malik, was bottled to death on Greenford Broadway, Ealing. He was murdered in a fight between youths’ gangs, just before boarding the bus way home. The racist policy was eventually stopped in Ealing and ‘bussing’ on the grounds of ethnicity alone was ruled illegal in the UK in 1975.

‘Bussing’ proved a failure. One reason was that dispersed, isolated and unwelcome Asian youths faced racist bullying in schools from two to ten miles away from their local area. For Asian families, it brought back many bad memories of British colonial rule and confirmed that somehow, they were regarded as lesser breeds without legal protection (bussing white children to the multiracial inner cities never happened). Racist bullying was the norm in dispersal schools. It was blatant racist abuse on young children.

Furthermore, Black children were labelled as ‘educationally subnormal‘ by the state and wrongly sent to schools for children deemed to have low intelligence. Many of these children were born British. West Indian children were perceived as being volatile, boisterous, extrovert, aggressive, troublesome, family problems and creating discipline problems – generalisations that were severely damaging their lives. Parents stayed quiet; but many were concerned that there was a problem with the British Education system. Intelligence Quotient (IQ) tests were one of the key methods used to determine which children were sent to schools for the educationally subnormal. Whilst IQ tests were supposed to represent the true intelligence of a child, they failed those from different cultures.

I am a child of the 1960s – and like many others suffered racist abuse. I have sought to raise awareness of the deeply damaging ‘bussing’ policy at a local level. Both the Conservative and Labour governments were actively involved in this child abuse and I believe that they are deliberately ignoring their racist past.

  • Author: Gurpal Virdi

Gurpal was the first Asian from Hounslow to join the Metropolitan police and spent 30 years in the force before leaving claiming institutional racism

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