The latest film about the George Padmore Institute (GPI) archive collections looks at the Black Education Movement. Renowned scholar and activist Professor Gus John talks about the history of the movement, its impact and the importance of the GPI archive.
The Black Education Movement (BEM) (1965-1988) campaigned to secure improvements in the education of black children who faced a prejudiced and inadequate national system. The movement also organised the setting up of supplementary schools, investigated Educationally Sub-Normal (ESN) schooling and formed BEM Associations to debate education issues.
A major part of the BEM collection at the George Padmore Institute (GPI) includes materials relating to the Anti-Banding Campaign 1969-1970. Haringey Council in north London proposed to ‘band’ school children by academic ability, with the purpose of maximising the performance of students. However, people became suspicious of the negative emphasis placed on the number of black children within the borough. When a report, ‘Haringey Comprehensive Schools’ (January 1969) – dubbed the Doulton report after the author – was leaked, it sparked widespread opposition to its prejudiced claim that academic standards were lower in schools where the majority of children were black.
Public meetings were held across London and demonstrations against the plans led to the Council delaying its proposals on banding. The protests continued, however, and with each of the claims in the Doulton report decisively refuted, the Conservative Council postponed its banding proposals. In the May 1970 elections, the Conservative council was defeated.
Professor Augustine ‘Gus’ John is a renowned scholar and activist. He was born in Grenada and has lived mainly in the UK since 1964. He has carried out notable work in the fields of education policy; the role of schooling and education in promoting social justice; school improvement; management and international development.
John was a member of the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination (CARD) in the mid to late 1960s and a member of the Council of the Institute of Race Relations in the early 1970s. He was Assistant Education Officer and Head of Community Education in the Inner London Education Authority, and in 1989 became the first African Director of Education in Britain.
In 1997, he was appointed adviser to former British Home Secretary, Jack Straw, on race and social inclusion, and worked on the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000. In 1999, he co-founded the Communities Empowerment Network (CEN), a charitable organisation providing advocacy and representation for excluded school students and their parents/carers. Between 2001 and 2003 he conducted a national review for the Crown Prosecution Service of prosecutors’ decision making at the case review stage, examining for any evidence of bias on the axis of gender and of race and wrote the report Race for Justice. Between 2003 and 2007, he evaluated the Race Equality Policy & Action Plan of every University/Higher Education Institute in England, Scotland and Wales for their respective funding councils. From 2012 to 2014, he carried out a comparative case review for the Solicitors Regulation Authority, examining reasons for disproportionality in the number of black solicitors and heads of small firms that are intervened or/and struck off by that regulator. Currently, Professor John serves as an Expert Witness in the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Tribunal and the Special Immigration Appeals Tribunal.
Since 2006, Gus John has been a member of the African Union's Technical Committee of Experts. He has advised member states in Africa and the Caribbean on meeting the Sustainable Development Goals related to education and youth.
In 2016, he was named as one of the 30 most influential African diaspora leaders globally. In 2020, he was listed as one of 100 Great Black Britons.
Professor John has recently advised upon and provided analysis for the Steve McQueen documentary films Subnormal and Uprising.
Part of the Reaching New Generations project funded by Arts Council England