The large exodus of Afro-Caribbean peoples to the United Kingdom took place between 1948 and 1971. As a result of the war’s casualties, more Caribbean residents were encouraged to migrate to British-ruled countries. The Windrush generation was born as a result of this. The 1971 Immigration Act allowed members of the Windrush generation to remain in the United Kingdom indefinitely.
Descendants were allowed to emigrate to the United Kingdom as long as they obtained a work permit and could establish that a parent or grandparent was born in the country. There was no record of how many people arrived and settled.
However, many of these Caribbean individuals who relocated to the UK had their children branded as “educationally subnormal” in the 1960s and 1970s. They were wrongfully removed from normal education and transferred to “special schools” or “dustbin schools,” which were designed for children with poor intelligence.
According to a recent BBC documentary titled “Subnormal: A British Scandal,” Black children were four times more likely than White children to be assigned to special schools.
“That school was hell,” recalled Noel Gordon, who was transferred to an “educationally subnormal” (ESN) boarding school after being misdiagnosed with learning difficulties due to health issues.
“I spent ten years there, and when I left at 16, I couldn’t even obtain a job because I couldn’t spell or fill out a job application,” he said about the special school, where he was also subjected to bigotry and never taught a curriculum.
According to the BBC program, the phrase “educationally subnormal” came from the 1944 Education Act and was used to describe those with “low intellectual aptitude.” According to education crusader Prof Gus John, who came to the UK from Grenada in 1964 and immediately began looking into the subject of ESN schools, the word made pupils feel inferior.
“Students attending ESN schools would not continue their education at a college or university level. They might get a job as a laborer if they were lucky. “The phrase paralyzed me and suffocated any sense of self-assurance or ambition,” John explained.
Even though many victims, like Gordon, have already moved on with their lives, acquiring a career, a home, and a family, they claim that the trauma of attending ESN schools will never be forgotten. In general, Black children were regarded as less intelligent than White children, owing to statistics indicating that Black children’s scholastic achievement was poorer on average than that of their White counterparts.
Based on the findings of IQ tests, Black children were labeled as intellectually inferior to White children. Many Black Caribbean kids were transferred to ESN schools using IQ tests, which were acclaimed as objective in gauging intelligence across cultures. However, the video claimed that the tests utilized to evaluate these Black pupils were culturally prejudiced.
According to the Guardian, “children did exercises that entailed identifying domestic objects such as a tap, even though a tap might be better known as a pipe in other Caribbean countries.”
Many of them were still dealing with the trauma of migration and struggling to adapt in their new surroundings as recently arrived Caribbean children. According to the documentary, they were also becoming accustomed to new learning approaches.
The documentary maker, Lyttanya Shannon, was quoted by the Guardian as saying, “In the Caribbean, instructors are venerated — you speak when you’re spoken to.” “I believe there were a lot of cultural misconceptions and assumptions that if a child was quiet in the school, it meant they couldn’t participate.”
All of these impediments were clearly neglected by the British educational system, which mistaken the learning challenges of Black Caribbean students for learning disorders. “The educational system fueled and legitimized the notion that Black Caribbean children were less clever than other kids. This was one of the main reasons why so many of them ended up in ESN schools. “There was a lot of racism,” John remarked.
Parents in the Caribbean first believed that sending their children to “special schools” would help them enhance their children’s education. However, when parents discovered that their children were having difficulty with the fundamentals of reading and writing, they began to protest through various organizations.
The Black Education Movement, for example, stepped up its efforts for changes in the British education system when Grenadan writer and teacher Bernard Coard published a book exposing the institutional racism Caribbean children experienced in the UK.
In 1971, Coard, an ESN teacher, published the book “How the West Indian Child is Made Educationally Subnormal in the British School System.” He said that ESN schools were being used as a “dumping ground” for Black youngsters. In 1975, anti-racist “supplementary schools” for Black children were formed mostly by Black parents as a result of his efforts.
Black children learned curriculum subjects and black history from their parents, often known as Saturday schools. These classes not only boosted their self-esteem but also prepared them for the workforce. The term “educationally subnormal” was deleted as a defining category in the 1981 Education Act, thanks to increased advocacy.
Experts claim that racial justice is still a problem in Britain’s educational system today. “Black Caribbean children continue to face higher rates of exclusion than white youngsters,” Shannon stated. “I’m aware that Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller populations do as well. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that you can still see those characteristics today if you look at the history of the Caribbean story over here and its link with education.”