The early Black Education Movement (BEM) and the Black Supplementary Schools Movement (BSSM) was a form of self-help when faced with a national education system perceived to be prejudiced and inadequate for the needs of black children.

The BEM collection divides into four areas: a campaign against proposals by Haringey Council to 'band' or 'stream' pupils in the Borough's schools; the formation of BEM Associations to debate education issues, particularly the subject of ESN [Educationally Sub-Normal] Schools; the Black Supplementary School Movement (BSSM) and finally a growth in public support and awareness of education issues.

Anti-banding Campaign 1969-1970

Haringey Borough Council adopted the 'Report to the [Haringey] Education Committee on Comprehensive Education' on 31 March 1969 proposing that a system of banding should be implemented across Haringey's comprehensive schools. The official reasoning was to maximise the performance of students through streaming by academic ability. However, people were suspicious of the frequent emphasis placed upon the high proportion of immigrants within the Borough.

A leaked document titled 'Haringey Comprehensive Schools' (Jan 1969) by Alderman Alfred Doulton, subsequently known in the community as 'The Doulton Report', sparked widespread opposition because of the following text:

"On a rough calculation about half the immigrants will be West Indians at 7 of the 11 schools, the significance of this being the general recognition that their I.Q.s work out below their English contemporaries. Thus academic standards will be lower in schools where they form a large group". ('Haringey Comprehensive Schools' Section 5 (c) 13 Jan 1969).

The leaked report explained the reasoning behind the public 'Report to the [Haringey] Education Committee on Comprehensive Education' sent out in March 1969. Such apparent prejudice against black children fed on an existing belief in neglect in the state education system. Public meetings were held across London to encourage debate and organise demonstrations. Particular attention was paid to informing parents about what was happening to their children in schools. The West Indian Standing Conference (WISC) and the North London West Indian Association (NLWIA) led the protests against the banding campaign, acting as an intermediary between the police and the black community.

Sensing unease, the Council delayed the proposals on banding. This gave the protestors the time they needed to circulate copies of the Council reports, draw up leaflets and prepare a response to the Doulton report, refuting every paragraph. A high-profile campaign with good access to the media resulted in the Conservative Council postponing its banding proposals before being defeated in the May 1970 elections.

Black and white photo showing protestors with neck boards and placards calling for a better education for black children. The placard nearest the camera cannot be seen in full, but the slogan is protesting against Haringey Council.
Anti-banding Campaign in Haringey c.1969

Educationally Sub-Normal (ESN) Schools

Parents unfamiliar with the state education system were frequently told that their children would be placed in 'Special Schools'. The belief that this would enhance the education of their children was soon shattered when it became clear that 'Special' translated into 'ESN' or 'Educationally Sub-Normal' schools.

The NLWIA were alarmed by the high proportion of black children in ESN schools, often nick-named 'dustbin' schools and demanded that something be done. Following talks with the Chairman of the Haringey Education Committee in Autumn 1969, the Council conceded that serious errors had been made in the past and that they were rectifying the situation. No mention was made of how best to deal with the children who had already been classified in this way.

The NLWIA declared that a proper investigation of the methods and procedures used in the past and present should take place and that any investigative committee should include psychologists, teachers and other professional experts. Records of children who had been improperly or erroneously classified as Educationally Sub-Normal should be withdrawn and all authorities concerned with these records should be informed of this decision, since those records would follow these children into later life to their detriment.

Information and evidence was gathered at source, with members working undercover in schools, gaining the trust of insiders and observing the way black children were taught and treated by teaching staff. Having discovered that there was a disproportionately high number of black children in local Special schools, the NLWIA made a formal complaint to the Race Relations Board in January 1970 alleging discrimination against black children under the Race Relations Act. The Race Relations Board implied that Haringey Borough Council had breached areas of Section 2 of the Race Relations Act 1968.

The Caribbean Education and Community Workers Association (CECWA)

The Caribbean Education and Community Workers Association (CECWA) became the initiating and co-ordinating body of black education issues and the setting up of independent black supplementary schools. Attention was directed towards curricula, the provision of teachers and teaching materials, finance, the interaction between parents, teachers and students and the BEM's role in building community among black people in the UK.  

Members included Winston Best, Van Rigsby, Bernard and Phyllis Coard (who returned to the West Indies in 1972), John La Rose, Fitzgerald Yaw, Waveney Bushell, Jessica Huntley, Bernard Wiltshire, Jocelyn Barrow and Albert Fortune. Programmes were centred around an Emergency Schools Programme aiming to remove children who had been wrongly placed in ESN schools, the setting up of Black Supplementary Schools (see below), fundraising and publications.

An influential publication by Bernard Coard 'How the West Indian Child is Made Educationally Sub-Normal in the British School System' was published by New Beacon Books on behalf of CECWA on 6 May 1971. The book was considered to be a breakthrough and was distributed widely by members of CECWA and at a more local level by door-to-door publicity and sale within black communities.

John La Rose and three children are seated at a table in a domestic room. The school was run from John La Rose's house. The curtains are drawn over the window, suggesting this is an evening class.
John La Rose teaching children at the George Padmore Black Supplementary School c.1970

Black Supplementary School Movement (BSSM)

The emergence of Black Supplementary Schools was a form of self-help when faced with a national education system perceived to be prejudiced and inadequate for the needs of black children. In several areas of London and in cities such as Birmingham and Huddersfield, black teachers came together to organise supplementary schools.

The supplementary schools were run by volunteer teachers, community activists and parents. The schools were held part time in addition to the state education pupils were receiving, usually taking place in the evenings or on a Saturday. Subjects included Pan African History and Culture, English, Mathematics and Geography. Summer schools and excursions were also included where possible. They also aimed to build the self-esteem of children so that they could stand up against prejudice.

The George Padmore and Albertina Sylvester Black Supplementary Schools were started c.1969 by John La Rose and others in the Finsbury Park area. The George Padmore School, for older children operated for seven years out of 2 Albert Road, three times a week on Monday, Friday and Saturday. The Albertina Sylvester School was for younger children, with classes on a Saturday morning and initially operating out of Albertina Sylvester's house at 57 Victoria Road before moving to 2 Albert Road. Teachers at this time included Roxy Harris and Rachel Roberts. Finance came from members' contributions of £1 per term.  This was not fixed, parents contributed or not as their finances permitted.  

With the emerging struggles and campaigns launched under the Black Parents Movement in 1975 (see archive collection BPM), John La Rose handed over the running of the school to Roxy Harris. In October 1975, a decision was made to merge the George Washington Carver, Pamela Bowen, George Padmore and Albertina Sylvester Black Supplementary Schools in order to maximise use of resources, both teaching and financial. By 1976, the merged schools were looking to obtain permanent premises for the school's work but funding was insufficient. The George Padmore and Albertina Sylvester Supplementary Schools ran jointly for 14 years and the George Padmore Supplementary School continued into the early 1990s.


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