Segments in this Video

Subnormal Scandal (02:38)


In the 1960s and 1970s, thousands of black children were deemed educationally subnormal and were sent to schools for those with low intelligence. Few former students have spoken about the issue.

Immigrant Students (04:57)

The number of educationally subnormal classifications jumped in the 1960s when immigration from the West Indies was at its highest. White parents began complaining about the number of black children in schools. A Department of Education ruling said schools could have no more than 30% immigrant students.

Special Schools (04:05)

Noel Gordon's parents were told to send him to a special school because he had sickle cell anemia. Once there, he realized the other students had learning and mental disabilities. Similar situations happened to thousands of other immigrant and black British children.

Educationally Subnormal Schools (03:20)

Students at ESN schools had varying educational needs. The schools often being called "special schools" confused immigrant parents.

Racism in British Education System (05:51)

Many parents noticed the high number of black students sent to ESN schools. School documents noted that West Indian children had lower IQs than British children. At the time, it was believed intelligence was genetic and determined by race.

IQ Tests (06:16)

The British education system used IQ to determine which students were sent to ESN schools. Newly arrived black Caribbean students scored low, confirming racists theories about intelligence. The tests favored British culture and were more difficult for immigrant children.

Undiagnosed Learning Differences (04:50)

Many black students with dyslexia and other learning differences were sent to ESN schools, where they received less support than white students. If students got support, it was usually too late for them to catch up to their peers.

Treatment of Black Students (05:04)

Many people had low expectations for black students in ESN schools. They saw black students as aggressive and exhibiting bad behavior.

Bernard Coard's Book (07:09)

Parents, teachers, and activists formed a group, and Coard wrote a report and book about racism within the education system. It showed the Education Authority was placing black students in ESN schools for racist reasons.

National Debate of ESN Schools (04:09)

Activists sold Coard's book door-to-door to ensure word got out to black parents. The ESN scandal gained national media attention. The Education Authority initially denied allegations.

Call to Action for Parents (04:51)

Coard's book gave black parents tools on how to assist their children's education and pride in their identity. It created the black supplementary school movement.

Inquest in Racial Problems (05:41)

In the late 1970s, the British education system conducted an inquest into problems facing black students. Ideas around special education changed, and more students were kept in mainstream schools.

Credits: Resistance in a Hostile Environment: Subnormal (00:33)

Credits: Resistance in a Hostile Environment: Subnormal

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Resistance in a Hostile Environment: Subnormal

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In the 1960s, while young black adults were getting to grips with the struggle for black power and a long fightback against police abuse was starting, the majority of West Indian migrants were keeping their heads down. They were working hard and counting on providing better opportunities and education for their children. However, in a white-dominated country, where the politics were becoming increasingly racialized, there was a question of how society, and its teachers, saw these young black children. Before having a chance to develop intellectually, they were labelled as stupid, difficult and disruptive. The paradox is that many of the new migrants to Britain were in fact highly-educated. One of them was Gus John, who arrived from Trinidad as a Dominican novitiate to become a priest. Almost immediately he was contacted by some black parents worried about the schooling of their children. Together with several other educators, John quickly realised that the system was not just inept, but actually rigged against black children. At the same time, celebrity psychologists Hans Eysenck and Arthur Jensen were propounding theories that black people were genetically less intelligent than white people. These theories infiltrated teacher training and found their way into schools. IQ tests were then based on these theories with the odds horrendously stacked against children from the West Indies.

Length: 60 minutes

Item#: BVL276571

ISBN: 978-1-63722-903-3

Copyright date: ©2021

Closed Captioned

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