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Young people against racism in 1980s London schools

By Erika Delbecque, on 9 January 2023

This post was written by Dr Shirin Hirsch, who was one of the 2022 UCL RIC Visiting Fellows.

Bengali lives are at risk whilst they are at Morpeth – we are punched, kicked and spat on. Enough is enough.

On a Monday morning in January 1986 one hundred Bengali students walked out of their secondary school in Bethnal Green, Tower Hamlets. That weekend they had drawn up a poster calling on all children to strike with them until their demands were met. In Oxford House just off Bethnal Green Road they set up an anti-racist alternative school. Three days later, the students returned to Morpeth with the school management agreeing to their demands. The strike was partially won. Young people, in taking action on their own behalf, had forced a change in the school.

Just over a decade later, I attended the same school. Bengali students were now a large part of the student intake and the school had new management. There were brief institutional histories given on dark days when fascists had attempted to organise and build their ranks inside the school. Then a new head teacher was brought in and it was said that he had transformed the school, later knighted for his efforts. But nowhere in these official histories were the actions of the students themselves remembered. Years later, when I stumbled upon a news report covering the strike, I was full of questions. Why did the students walk out of their school? Was the action connected to other strikes? What impact did the strike have on the school? And why had the students been forgotten for so long? I wanted to dig into the history of my old school, from a year before I was born, to try and find out more about where I was from and how young people had transformed their environment.

There are many challenges in researching the resistance of young people. For one thing, their lives are often remembered in words, documents or collections owned by adults. What is seen as ‘significant’ by older people might be different to young people’s views and experiences. Protests by young people are often against powerful institutions or people who can make decisions about what is and isn’t recorded. This was certainly the case in the Morpeth school strike, with the school management inviting ILEA press officers to the school to ensure the story was tightly controlled. Thames TV entered the school on the day the students returned from their strike but they were only able to interview selected staff and not students. That does not mean young people’s actions have been entirely erased. The local press did report on the Morpeth strike and documents from the strike were kept by a member of ILEA, which have since been donated to Tower Hamlets Archive.

1980s leaflet about the Campaign Against Racism in Schools

Rally against racism in schools. Papers of Ken Jones KJ/4/1, UCL Special Collections, IOE Library and Archives, London.

Morpeth was not the only school where young people were struggling against racism. For my UCL Special Collections fellowship here, I have been spending time with two collections: the Marina Foster (MF) and Ken Jones (KJ) papers. Marina Foster was a Black teacher who had left South Africa as a refugee in the 1960s and in London became an advisory teacher at the ILEA for many years, focusing on multi-ethnic education and tackling institutional racism. Ken Jones was from the 1970s until 1990 a teacher in London secondary schools and active in the politics of education and in issues of curriculum, pedagogy and trade unionism. Both collections illuminate the debates, policies and projects on multicultural and anti-racist education taking place in London schools. There are documents that show imaginative ways of creating an anti-racist classroom, with teacher organisations like Campaign against racism in education (CARE) All London Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (ALCARF) as well as documents from ILEA (Inner London Education Authority).

The collections also illuminate the serious racism that existed in London schools. Daneford school, nearby to Morpeth, in Tower Hamlets, was the most publicised example of this and there are a number of documents on this in UCL special collections. The Guardian reported in 1986 that three quarters of the students at Daneford were of Asian origin and there had been a spate of racist attacks inside the school. The school gates were plastered with National Front stickers and posters, and a 12 year old Bangladeshi student had been viscously attacked with a razor blade by four white students. Another time, twenty white young people at a football match ‘spilled over into the school’ shouting viscous racist abuse. One teacher, Norma Hundleby, told the press: ‘Boys were coming out of all the classrooms to join them. It was totally out of control.’ Kumar Murshid, Chairperson of Campaign against racism in schools (CARS) explained that only ‘the dedication of the anti-racist teachers and pupils who have organised themselves against these attacks’ had helped to ease the tensions at Daneford. The racism, alongside the resistance, would receive national attention following the arrest of Daneford teachers and a school student who were protesting outside the Tower Hamlets ILEA office over the refusal of ILEA to take serious action against racism at Daneford school.

The reports at both Daneford and Morpeth schools challenged a version of schooling which saw young people as passive objects, who should simply ‘do what they are told’. Sajid, 18 years old, summed up the feeling when he explained to the press in 1986:

If we can’t go to school peacefully and study in safety, then we have to fight back. We have as much right as any white kid to go to school.

Front cover of the first issue of Black Parents Special, 1985

Black Parents Special no 1 (1985). Papers of Marina Foster MF/8/39, UCL Special Collections, IOE Library and Archives, London.

The voices of young people are sometimes hard to hear within these collections, but that does not mean they are completely silenced. In the Marina Foster collection there is a ‘Black Youth Annual Penmanship Awards’ with records of Black children’s writings from 1981, with essays on ‘What is means to be Black and British’ and ‘Being without Employment in Britain today’. The winning essay questioned the very nature of the school system, the student directly asking ‘does it prepare me or help me tackle the blatant and insidious forms of racism that, I am afraid to say, I will invariably encounter?’ The frustration at the school system, as well as wider society, was powerfully expressed by many of these young Black authors.

Front cover of a publication by John Gus from the Black Parents Movement, entitled The Black Working Class Movement in Education and Schooling.

Gus, John (1986). The Black Working Class Movement in Education and Schooling. Papers of Marina Foster MF/8/63, UCL Special Collections, IOE Library and Archives, London.

The resistance at Morpeth secondary school in 1986 emerged out of this context and was not an isolated act. The Miners’ Strike had ended in March the previous year, a bitter defeat not just for the miners but for the whole of the labour movement. The year following the strike the numbers of days lost to strike action in Britain was at its lowest since 1967. However, school student strikes were not included in these figures. In April 1985 there was a national school student strike in response to the government’s attempts to make the Youth Training Scheme compulsorily for 16-17 year olds and to take unemployment benefits away from any young people refusing to participate. Alongside these strikes, the British government were openly attacking ‘hard left education authorities and extremist teachers’, as Thatcher put it. Parents were also resisting, and the Black Parents Movement, born in the 1970s, had begun to win serious changes in the schools. In 1981 and 1985 uprisings involving young people against the police had taken place in inner cities across England. Meanwhile teachers in 1985-6 entered disputes over cuts to schools and pay agreements. Gus John, a key activist and founder of the Black Parents Movement, in a speech he gave to teachers in 1986 which was later published as a pamphlet (M/8/63), explained:

The struggles waged by the black community outside of school and in relation to what was going on inside the school, gave school students the confidence to exercise their own power within the school. The school became for them the site of struggle against racism and against the treatment they were subjected to because of their class.

That relationship between students, community groups, teachers and wider political shifts is what I am interested in further exploring. This fellowship has given me the resources and time to piece together archival material and to explore these topics. I now hope to speak to some of the participants themselves. I am gradually trying to recover the resistance of young people against racism so as to remember and learn from their struggles.

“We Are Not Alone”: Legacies of Eugenics in Education and Society

By Nazlin Bhimani, on 17 October 2022

This post has been co-authored with Professor Marius Turda.

The IOE Library has on display a shortened version of the exhibition “We Are Not Alone”: Legacies of Eugenics which was first shown at the Weiner Holocaust Library in 2021 and which is now at the Royal College of Psychiatrists. The exhibition was curated by Professor Turda (Oxford Brookes University) with some content from UCL Special Collections (Galton Laboratory Collection and the IOE Library’s History of Education Collection) as well as content from the LSE’s Library. Following the opening of the exhibition, the Weiner Library hosted a Roundtable Discussion where all who worked on the exhibition shared our research. Both Indy Bhullar, Curator for Economics and Social Policy at the LSE Library, and I were subsequently invited by Subhadra Das (previously Curator of Science Collections at UCL Culture and now an independent scholar) to publish this research as short stories for the Wellcome Collection. The following provides some background on eugenics and the resources that are currently on display at the IOE Library.

The title of the exhibition, “We are Not Alone” is inspired by a widely circulated Nazi eugenic poster from the mid-1930s. After the introduction of the 1933 ‘Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring’, Nazi propagandists claimed that their eugenic programme of forced sterilisation was in no way different to provisions already existing in the penal legislation of countries such as the USA and Sweden, and which was about to be introduced in other European countries such as Britain, Hungary, and Poland. ‘We are not alone’, they said, hoping to garner international support for their plans to eliminate ‘defectives’ from society and to ‘purify the race’.

Eugenics was a global movement. The exhibition highlights this aspect, providing historical examples from Britain, USA, Italy, Sweden, and Romania, whilst recognising that eugenics programmes targeting individuals with mental disabilities and ethnic minorities were not stopped after 1945. They continued during the post-World War II period in countries as diverse as the USA, Scandinavia, Japan, Czechoslovakia, and Peru. The exhibition aims, therefore, to offer a historically informed account of our eugenic past, present, and future, balancing various elements of continuity and discontinuity, of idiosyncrasy and similarity between eugenic movements across the world.

The internationalisation of eugenics reflected a general appreciation in many parts of the world that science was the sufficient and necessary foundation for the long-awaited renewal of the human race. As a self-styled scientific theory of human betterment and planned breeding, eugenics was based on the principle that people who were deemed socially and biologically ‘unworthy’ of reproduction should be excluded. In the name of future generations, eugenicists dissolved aspects of the private sphere, scrutinising, and working to curtail reproductive, individual, gender, religious and indigenous rights. The boundary between the private and public spheres was blurred by the idea of public responsibility for the nation and the race, which came to dominate both. In the twentieth century, the state and the society at large increasingly adopted a eugenic worldview, even though none of it was based on proven scientific arguments. Instead, eugenics relied on speculations about social norms, cultural, ethnic and gender differences, and racial worth. Ideas of economic and social productivity also flowed readily from eugenic arguments, and eugenicists argued that if an individual was found to be socially ‘unfit’, it was appropriate for them to be ‘weeded out’. ‘Unfit’ had become a label for those members of society who were deemed ‘pathological’, ‘criminal’, ‘asocial’, ‘foreign’ and ‘undesired’.

Eugenicists claimed to act in the name of future generations by ensuring the continuity of people who were believed to be ‘hereditarily healthy’. Some eugenicists highlighted the primacy of heredity in shaping character and behaviour, while others insisted equally on the role of education and the environment. Not surprisingly, they also disagreed over which eugenic measures were deemed practical and efficient, and which ones should be rejected on ethical, scientific and religious grounds. In Britain, for instance, the Eugenics Society set up a committee to draft a sterilisation bill in 1929, chaired by the society’s president, Bernard Mallet. Two years later Major Archibald Church (1886–1954), a Labour MP and member of the Eugenics Society, introduced a sterilisation bill in the House of Commons, but it was rejected. One of his Labour colleagues, physician Hyacinth Morgan (1885-1956) rebuked the bill sharply: ‘Some when inebriated see beetles; the eugenist intoxicated, sees defectives’. In 1932, another sterilisation committee was established under the chairman of the Board of Control, Lawrence Brock (1879-1949). But these efforts led nowhere, as no sterilisation bill was introduced in Parliament again.

The exhibition presents us with the opportunity to review how assumptions and attitudes rooted in eugenic principles became entrenched in British education. From the beginning, eugenics appealed to educationalists, school reformers and feminists who advocated teaching the nation’s children and the youth ‘sound morals’ alongside physical education and modern ideas of hygiene. These were considered prerequisites for maintaining a healthy body and mind, and in society’s advancement towards a eugenic future. Educationalists such as the co-founder of the London School of Economics, Sidney Webb (who was instrumental in the establishment of the London Day Training College –now the IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society), was a key supporter of eugenics. Other examples include heads of colleges such as Margaret Tuke, Principal of Bedford College and J. J. Findlay of Owen’s College, Manchester, the London County Council’s Schools Inspector, W. H. Winch, and the educational psychologist Cyril Burt.

The cases display the intelligence tests or IQ tests from the Psychology and Human Development (PHD) Collection at the IOE. These tests were adapted by Cyril Burt from the IQ tests developed in Paris by Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon at the turn of the twentieth century. Burt’s ‘mental footrule’ was used to rate the intelligence of a child and his evaluation of mental deficiencies influenced the outcome of the 1924  Hadow report on psychological testing and the  1929 Wood Report of the Mental Deficiency Committee and the Board of Education. The latter recommended the reclassification of children considered to be ‘mentally defective’ . Also on display are publications by the experimental psychologist, H. R. Hamley and director T. Percy Nunn on The Education of Backward Children: and, Juvenile Delinquency in England and Wales as well as A Textbook of Hygiene for Training Colleges by Margaret Avery, Vice Principal of Warrington Teacher Training College.

Image of the title page of Margaret Avery's textbook 'Hygiene'

Besides focusing on biological hygiene, Avery devotes an entire chapter on eugenics. This chapter provides examples of how eugenic thinking persists in the present day and is consistent with recent statements made by some politicians currently in power. For example, Avery states that while there are many ‘causes of pauperism’, one of them is that the working classes simply ‘lack…”grit”‘(p. 310)–a message that is not dissimilar to the one recently expressed by the (now previous) prime minister in relation to ‘British workers being the worst idlers in the world’. In relation to immigrants, Avery states: ‘We should welcome the right type of immigrant and discourage the wrong type’ and ‘we… receive the off-scourings of other countries, and these are racially very undesirable’ (p. 320). Once again, this mirrors the views of the present government on refugees and immigrants. Avery ends her chapter by stating that Christianity is on the side of the eugenicists because it, ‘more than any other power, has given us a sense of the infinite value of human life, and the eugenicist is trying to prevent the wreckage of human life’ (p. 323). While the Church has spoken out against these messages in Britain, the story is far from different in the United States (see Witnessing Whiteness by Kristopher Norris). Avery’s book continued to be published in several editions until 1951. It was the recommended textbook for the Board of Education’s teachers’ examination in hygiene. Undoubtedly, it will have influenced the thinking of generations of teachers and their students.

Although the true impact of eugenics will never be known, its legacies continue to penetrate deeply and widely into the fabric of our society. Continuing education and engagement with eugenics, as well as its public condemnation, are essential components of our efforts to comprehend a hidden and ominous past, while also pursuing a fair and just society.

RIC Visiting Fellows appointed

By Erika Delbecque, on 3 October 2022

UCL Special Collections and the UCL Research Institute for Collections are delighted to announce that we have appointed two inaugural RIC Visiting Fellows. The Fellowship programme is an opportunity for external researchers to visit UCL for up to six weeks to conduct research on a topic centred on our holdings of archives, rare books, and records.

A photograph of Dr Shirin Hirsch

Dr Shirin Hirsch

Dr Shirin Hirsch will be working on a project called Young people against racism: School-student strikes and 1980s London Schools. She will be using the Ken Jones and the Marina Foster archives to explore the active role of school-students in the construction of anti-racist policy and practice in 1980s London schools.

Dr Hirsch, a Senior Lecturer in History based jointly at Manchester Metropolitan University and the People’s History Museum, is a specialist in histories of race and resistance in Modern Britain. She is in the early stages of writing a book on anti-racism in post-war British history with a focus on resistance from below, which her research at UCL Special Collections will support.

Focusing on items from the Graves Library collection, Dr Yelda Nasifoglu will study the circulation of mathematical works in Britain up to c.1700 for her project entitled Reading and Collecting Mathematics in Early Modern Britain. She will examine early modern book catalogues and individual copies from our collection to gain more insight into the mathematical book trade of this period.

Dr Nasifoglu is an historian of early modern mathematics and architecture, and an Associate Member of the Faculty of History, University of Oxford. She obtained her Ph.D. from McGill University for her dissertation entitled ‘Robert Hooke’s Praxes: Reading, Drawing, Building’, in which she studied shared practices in the scientific and architectural work of the 17th-century virtuoso Robert Hooke (1635–1703).

The Fellows will be visiting UCL in October and November of this year. During this period, they will participate in the programme of workshops, talks and lectures run by the RIC and UCL Special Collections. The events will be advertised on the RIC website and the UCL Special Collections Twitter feed.

Liberating the Collections 2022: A Volunteer’s Experience of Searching UCL Special Collections

By Erika Delbecque, on 23 August 2022

This guest blog post was written by Jane McChrystal , who spent five months volunteering at UCL Special Collections as part of the Liberating the Collections project.

In March I was presented with an exciting opportunity – discovering the work of women authors published before 1750, held by UCL Library’s Special Collections. I’d been invited to join a team of volunteers for the library’s Liberating the Collections project, by Head of Rare books, Erika Delbecque. Next, Erika convened an online meeting to introduce volunteers to each other and some members of the library team. During the meeting the librarians showed us how to identify works catalogued in the Special Collections using the Explore service, knowledge which could then be applied to the pursuit of the individual projects Erika had assigned.

There were some initial qualms- what if there weren’t any works by women authors pre 1750 in UCL’s collections, or I couldn’t work out how to find them? Luckily, my supervisor, Jo Baines, Academic Liaison Librarian / Archivist, was at hand to reassure me that there were, as I’d hoped, many different ways of approaching the collections to find relevant texts, so it was fine, at this stage to try out a variety of search methods and see what worked.

Initially, I set out in quite a random fashion. I didn’t make much headway, but I was able familiarise myself with Explore and become more confident about finding my way round the collections. And then, Covid struck in April, leaving me quite foggy for a number of weeks.

Once the fog lifted, something had become clear, I needed a system. A simple idea occurred to me. How about approaching my searches with a list of women authors who lived between the 14th and 18th centuries? In this instance, Wikipedia was my friend and it helped me to compile a list of 353 authors. I then selected some who looked the most promising and noted the subjects they addressed, and the literary forms they employed, such as poetry, meditations or drama. Consequently, I was able to match the authors with the collections they were most likely to be found in and the carry out a simple author search in the catalogue of the relevant collections.

The title page of
Letters of the Right Honourable Lady M-y W–y M–e by
Mary Wortley Montagu (Dublin : Printed for P. Wilson, J. Hoey, Junior, and J. Potts, 1763). [SSEES Library, Rare Books Room, KMisc51]

The Rotton and Strong Room collections yielded eleven works by Aphra Behn, a good result, but not too surprising, as she was about the only seventeenth-century woman author I was already familiar with. Today, she is remembered chiefly for a novel, Oroonoko, the tale of a doomed affair between Oroonoko, an African prince and his love, Imoinda, set largely in Surinam played out against the background of a slaves’ revolt, and later adapted into a more successful play.

Before my search, though, I wasn’t aware of her four other dramas and poetry, mainly composed of paeons of praise to various illustrious individuals and members of royalty. I really knew very little about this literary form, but as I went ahead with further searches, I came to realise how popular it was, which makes sense when you consider the important role of patrons in literary life at the time.

And then I came across a gem in the Rotton collection, a collection of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s letters to various eminent men in England, concerning her travels in Europe, Africa and Asia with her husband, a British ambassador, which lists the name “Mary Astell” among its contributors.

Mary Astell (1666-1731), sometimes referred to as England’s first feminist, was the author of A Serious Proposal to the Ladies for the Advancement of their True and Greatest Interest, a Lockean philosopher and the founder of a charity school for girls in Chelsea.

She also belonged to a circle of scholarly women in Chelsea, which included Lady Mary Chudleigh, Elizabeth Thomas and Elizabeth Elstob and Wortley Montagu. Each lived in quite different circumstances, ranging from the wealthy, aristocratic Wortley Montagu to Astell.

Astell was a single woman, whose family had fallen on hard times and, as such, had no prospect of marriage to a social equal. She survived on the patronage of women, like those in the circle, who shared her interests in feminism, the oppressive nature of marital relations and the importance of a good education for girls and women.

I returned to the catalogue in search of their names and found four other works by Montagu in the Rotton Collection, largely made up of more letters about her experiences in the different countries she lived in. It is fortunate that these letters were preserved in the eminent men’s libraries and published after their estates were distributed. These texts were then picked up by collectors who donated them to UCL Library.

So, what next?  On 24th August I look forward to sharing my discoveries at a meeting of UCL Library’s Rare Books Club, where participants will have a chance to take a look at some of the texts I found and learn about the work of two fascinating women authors previously buried in the Special Collections, together with the stories of some other important women in their orbit.

All in all, these experiences of taking part in Liberating the Collections have lived up to every expectation I set out with and beyond. Working with Jo as my supervisor has been one of the most enjoyable of them and, thanks to her knowledge, flexible approach and supportive attitude, I found a path to these heroines.

‘Very coarse articles’ – celebrating UCL’s institutional archive

By Colin Penman, on 8 February 2022

February 11 is generally accepted as UCL’s ‘birthday’, the date in 1826 of our founding instrument, the Deed of Settlement. This document establishes a society, called ‘The Proprietors of the University of London’, to set up an Institution with the object of ‘affording to young Men … adequate opportunities for obtaining Literary and Scientific Education at a moderate expence’. That’s exactly what our founders did, disregarding a very snooty letter to The Times on 2 November 1825, which suggested ‘There should be something of a prohibitive duty in the way of expense, to prevent the admission of very coarse articles’.

UCLCA/1, Deed of Settlement

This is an image of the first page of the Deed of Settlement, held in the UCL institutional archive, which I manage. This archive is of course just one part of Special Collections, but I want to use this anniversary to bang our drum or blow our trumpet (or both).

When those who know us think of our Special Collections, they may not think first of the archives of UCL itself: after all, we have other, flagship collections which rightly claim a lot of scholarly and popular attention. But I’d argue that our own archive is not only worthy of some of that attention, it’s vital to UCL’s understanding of itself, and the way we present ourselves to the world.

For a start, it can be a useful corrective to the stories we tell about UCL. For example, for a long time you could read on our website and social media that UCL was ‘the first university in England to admit women on equal terms with men’. You rarely see that claim now, because it simply isn’t true. It’s a lot more interesting than that, and you can trace the complex truth in the College archive through items like the College Calendars, which tell us:

College Collection A 3.2, p. 2

That is, if you were a prospective student in the second half of the 19th century and happened to be a woman (and not connected to a man at the top of the institution), you needed the approval of the Lady Superintendent of Women Students. Similarly, a look at plans of the Wilkins building from this time shows separate spaces for women, with the Union Society (men only) on the left, and women’s space on the right, in the South Wing:

College Collection A 3.2

and the archives of the Women’s Union Society (WUS) attest to a separation of male and female students that lasted right up to 1946.

The archive is also increasingly used as a resource in UCL’s teaching. This term we are taking part in the Institute of Education’s Worlds of UCL module, which uses the history of UCL and the Institute to explore topics in the history of education. Last week, students were using items from the archive – specifically a blazer, medals and magazines – to think about student culture and identity, and how these have evolved over time.

Last term, we contributed to the Bartlett School’s Architecture & Historic Urban Environments MA module on Surveying and Recording of Cities, using our building plans, like this, one of Thomas Hayter Lewis’s plans for the South Wing of the Wilkins Building,

UCLCA PLANS D5

as well as a remarkable document with the prosaic title of ‘Analysis of Plans’. It was the Bartlett’s Dr Amy Spencer, who has just completed her PhD on UCL’s architectural history, who pointed out the significance of this item, slightly unnoticed in our vast collection of College Correspondence. It is in fact a comparison of the bids received (around the time of the Deed of Settlement, in early 1826) for the building for the new university. Due to its significance, and to make it safer to handle and display, we decided to ask our wonderful conservators to stabilise it for the future. Now it has a new enclosure of its own, and will be stored flat, instead of being folded four times:

UCLCA/CORR/1167/15

These are just a few examples of how we’re getting the archive out there, and developing it for the future. Much more cataloguing is needed, and we’re working on that, but we also have a wealth of digitised material which is so vital in research and teaching support, particularly throughout Covid lockdowns, when nobody could access the collections physically. For this, we have to thank our Special Collections digital curation colleagues, and UCL Educational Media Services.

Meanwhile, the archive is being developed in innovative ways. Although we occasionally accept donations from people formerly connected with UCL, the vast majority of the archive consists of the administrative records that you would expect to find in any large educational establishment – minutes, correspondence, registers and so on. These are vital to our understanding of the story of UCL. But with the records of individuals, we can include voices that are missing from that story. If you were a student or staff member at the Slade School, for example, there’s still time to send something to Slade 150: Letters to the Archive. And the Generation UCL project will make a more wide-ranging contribution as a record of recent student life in London.

After all, our 200th birthday is only four years away!

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