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Campaigner, Writer, Trainer, Management, Consultant & Director - Working for Equality

Race and Racism

  • Slavery
  • Colonialism
  • Imperialism
  • Market capitalism
  • Nationalism and fascism


Moving beyond the concept of Intercultural Learning in the UK

  1. The relationships between people of different cultures in the United Kingdom can best be understood against a backdrop of slavery, colonisation and the expansion (historically) and development of the British Empire. The history of the UK is characterised by the forced and voluntary movement of people from various parts of the world. This has ranged from the three-way movement of people from African to colonies in the Caribbean and onto the UK, to the recent movement of Asians from east African in the 1960s and the current movement to the UK of asylum seekers from various parts of the world.
  2. This movement has thrown up a range of issues to do with identity, citizenship, tolerance, understanding, political and legal rights and responsibilities as the United Kingdom, and England in particular, has developed into one of the most culturally diverse corners of the world.
  3. Whilst there is clear and recently strengthened legislation in the form of the Race Relations Amendment Act 2000 (RRAA 2000) which places specificand general duties on accountable bodies such as the police and local government to promote good relations between people from different cultures, there is still considerable debate in relation to approaches to concepts such as intercultural learning, multi-culturalism and anti-racism and how such approaches might better prepare us to live in an equal, safe and respectful way in the United Kingdom.

Intercultural Learning

  1. The term intercultural learning is not one that is used in any singularly understood way in the UK, rather it is used in a descriptive manner for a wide range of purposes. Having said this, as a concept, intercultural learning does have much in common with a term that is more commonly understood in the UK, that of ‘multiculturalism’.
  2. Typically inter-cultural education is used to describe initiatives, partnerships and projects that seek to enable participants to gain a better understanding of other cultures. There is also an academic basis to intercultural learning that, typically, seeks to enable students to understand the traditions, values and customs of people from other cultures in order for them to gain insights and, for example, be better prepared as teachers of people from other cultures.
  3. Bradford University currently offers a course module on intercultural learning in community regeneration. There is a specific reason and philosophy behind the development of this course. In July 2001 Bradford and Oldham in Yorkshire in England experienced significant civil disturbances which have been the subject of a number of government sponsored reports (Cantle Report 2001, Ousely report 2001 – reference these).

    This movement was part of the transatlantic slave trade from the mid 1600s until the abolition of the slave trade in 1808 – the ideology used to justify the slave trade continues to have an impact on race relations in the UK in the 21st century – White et al, ‘Slavery: An Introduction to the African Holocaust (1997)

  4. These disturbances were set against a backdrop of racism and intolerance with large Asian communities protesting against unfair treatment in terms of access to funds and opportunities from Local Government, and direct racism experienced from right wing groups such as the British National Party.
  5. The thinking behind intercultural learning in community regeneration is that a better understanding of, in this instance Bangladeshi and Pakistani culture, will lead to greater levels of tolerance and understanding and prevent further civil unrest in the future as, in this case Asians, are treated with greater levels of respect. Such an analysis is, as with multicultural education, too simplistic particularly in its failure to analyse the reasons for racism and intolerance and in its assumption that greater levels of understanding of cultural differences invariably leads to harmonious relations.
  6. Within the context of the UK intercultural learning is also promoted in a very practical way, so that students or tourists might engage in some form of intercultural learning prior to a trip abroad. This is a common element of language student course and of youth exchange projects.
  7. As with other European and American countries business institutions in the UK also practice intercultural learning because it is good for business to understand the standards, values and traditions of people from other cultures. Getting below the surface is of particular importance in this instance if marketing strategies are to have their intended impact whilst at the same time being cost effective.
  8. Finally, intercultural-learning tends to be used in the UK in situations where partnerships are formed that are made up of people from a variety of cultures. Typically such people come together to form, say a working group on post 16 education, they bring their culture, traditions and perspective to their discussion and so view it in a range of ways. Though the focus of the working group is not inter-cultural education, but rather post 16 learning, in the process of discussion people will doubtlessly learn about the cultures and perspectives of their colleagues and come to their own conclusions about them.

Multi-cultural education

  1. Multi-cultural education is probably about the nearest approach to teaching and learning that the UK has to inter-cultural learning. This concept should be understood against the backdrop of the UK’s post second world war economic recovery, and in particular to the arrival in the UK of British citizens from various Caribbean islands and various Asian and African countries from the late 1940s onwards.
  2. Liberal educationists embraced multi-cultural education in the early 1970s as a direct response to more conservative educational practices in schools that sought to de-emphasise the importance of cultural diversity within the context of the classroom. Educational theory and policy in the 1950s and 1960s was about maintaining the integrity of the dominant culture in the UK at the expense of the assimilation of all others. Jamaican, Trinidadian and Barbadian cultures were, for example, seen as being deficient, inappropriate and unhelpful to the educational development of the black child within the context of the British school.
  3. The whole-scale educational failure of young people from the Caribbean during this time forced educationists to explore other approaches to teaching and learning. Multi-cultural education was proposed and practiced by liberal educationists who understood the importance of building ‘bridges of relevance’ between schools and, in this case, black communities.
  4. Typically, as with intercultural-learning, multi-cultural learning is descriptive. It does provide people from minority cultures with a modicum of pride and makes school relevant and it does engender in others a measure of respect and understanding, but it falls short of a critical analysis of the current state of play of human relationships.
  5. Characteristically at its most basic multi-cultural education is descriptive, consensual and non-challenging resting on notions of harmony and peaceful co-existence. At its worse it advocates tolerance only and reaffirms for learners some of the negative stereotypes that they have of other cultures. A school might, for example, introduce traditional African dancers into the curriculum, but without either preparatory or follow up work or context. At its best multi-cultural education enables learners to raise important questions such as ‘why did people come here from Jamaica’, ‘where do they live and work’, ‘what’s been their experience?’
  6. In educational contexts multicultural learning has developed through a critique of assimilationists models of education which attempt to impose mono-cultural models of teaching and learning (in this case Eurocentric) in culturally diverse situations, like classrooms. There has also been criticism of the celebratory form that multicultural learning often takes, emphasising art, cultural and religious festivals – this has been described as the ‘sari, steel band and samosa syndrome’ An anti-racist critique of multicultural learning argues that such emphasis dwells on peripheral aspects of education while failing to recognise the significance of racism which operates through discriminatory practices within educational institutions and in the wider society.

Anti-racist education

  1. Anti racist education challenges what Austrian colleagues (NILE project 2003) have called ‘tame educational principles’ which fail to acknowledge that there is no absolute correlation between understanding, or knowing about another culture and valuing it. There are countless example from world history which demonstrate that understanding the culture, history and traditions of someone from another culture can be used to capture and enslave as with Europeans and Africans during the transatlantic slave trade, and to imprison and eliminate as with the German and Jewish experience during the holocaust from the 1930s up until the end of the second world war.
  2. The purpose of antiracist education is to develop within each student, teacher, and learner the abilities, knowledge, and skills needed to be contributing and responsible participants in society. This commitment enables all education service providers (and providers of training and support services) to provide dynamic, purposeful, and inviting places where the learning of the student is the primary focus. In embracing antiracist education, education service providers commit themselves to positive and equitable outcomes in all education programs and services for all students.
  3. Within the context of say a community education service, a school or adult education college an anti-racist approach to learning and service provision would comprise of the following elements:

    • A teaching force that is reflective of the community and one that demonstrates a commitment to equality
    • A written, and well-understood code of behaviour that addresses all forms of discrimination
    • Regular reviews of anti-racist policies and procedures with the active involvement of students, parents (if school-based), community, and staff
    • Regular activities that relate to cultural diversity
    • Mechanisms to encourage participation in extracurricular activities that broaden staff and student views in relation to cultural diversity
    • A confident and well trained staff that challenges all forms of racism and discrimination
  4. Good community relations are essential to good, effective and successful service delivery. A good anti-racist service would be one that had relations with community groups that were characterised by:

    • A good learning environment that encourages participation from members of various communities.
    • Community involvement and consultation in relation to service provision.
    • Support for community-based initiatives that seek to challenge racism.
    • Access to translation and interpretation for parents whose first language is not English.
  5. Central to an anti-racist approach to education is the way in which the curriculum is presented to learners and the extent to which it is inclusive. Anti-racist practitioners will ask them selves the following questions in relation to the services they provide:

    • Do learning materials reflect in a positive way the racial, cultural, and faith diversity of the community.
    • Are learning materials used in which people of different races, gender, and ages are seen in non-stereotypical settings, occupations, and activities?
    • Do I recognize and deal with racial and cultural biases with students?
    • Do I make extra help available and accessible to all students?
    • Do I encourage students to learn, understand, and respect each other’s language, culture, faith, gender, and ideas?

Moving beyond anti-racist education?

Many educationists in the UK feel threatened by the notion of anti-racist education. There are several reasons for this; firstly more traditional teachers find the notion of anti-racist education too critical in its challenging nature (this can be problematic given the inherently conservative nature of teaching, particularly in schools) Secondly, teachers often feel uncomfortable in closely exploring their own perceptions and views of people from other cultures (and this is something that an anti-racist approach often involves) and finally it is not always clear to teachers how to make the jump from being part of the problem to being part of the solution in relation to challenging racism.

Challenging racism and promoting cultural diversity

  1. Many practitioners believe that multi-cultural education at its best is by definition anti-racist (June Henfry University of Liverpool 1990), this is because an exploration of other cultures and histories often provides a good lead into a more critical analysis of experiences. The answer to the question of why are black people in Britain for example can lead to a detailed discussion and consideration of British colonisation and imperialism. (as noted above).
  2. Latterly discussions on equality within education in Britain have begun to look at the notion of challenging racism on the one hand whilst promoting cultural diversity on the other and in so doing effectively exploring two sides of the same coin, anti-racism on the one hand and multiculturalism on the other. This approach provides educationalists with the opportunity of describing and exploring cultural diversity whilst challenging some of their own assumptions and practices at the same time.

The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry

  1. The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, also known as the Macphearson Report was produced in 1999. The report followed a campaign that had been run by the family and friends of a young man called Stephen Lawrence that was murdered at a bus stop in London in 1993, his only crime was in being black in an a racist and intolerant society.

  2. The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry exposed racism within the British police force who failed to act appropriately in order to apprehend Steven’s murderers and who allowed their own bias and stereotyped view of black people to hinder their investigation. The subsequent report that produced contained 70 recommendations, mostly relating to the British police, but all having implications for accountable bodies such as local government, schools, colleges, universities and the criminal prosecution services.

  3. Two things within the inquiry are relevant to this report, firstly the definition given of institutional racism and secondly the recommendations in the report that have a specific bearing on education.

Institutional racism

  1. An important element of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry was the new definition that it gave to the UK of institutional racism. This was a significant development on previous definitions and has had a significant impact on how educational service providers’ work with black communities and colleagues. The special significance of the definition in the inquiry is in its emphasis on how institutions operate and the role of unwittingly racism and how it adversely impacts upon black people. Within an education context White (2000) ‘Education and Lifelong learning Services and Promoting Equality’ explains how institutional racism operates.

    In the education system there are laws, customs and practices that systematically reflect and reproduce inequalities. If racist consequences accrue due to these laws, customs and practices a school, college or adult education service is racist whether teachers have racist intentions or not. Educational establishments may systematically treat pupils and students differently with respect to race. The differential treatment lies in some sense within the ethos of the service rather than simply with teachers. This differential treatment is institutionalised in the way that the education service operates.

  2. OFSTED, Office for Standards in Education and ALI, Adult Learning Inspectorate are the ‘watchdog’ bodies that inspect education services in the UK (England and Wales). Inspections of education services are carried out on a compulsory and statutory basis. Failure to pass certain aspects of these inspections could result in services being closed down, management committees and governing bodies being changed and funding being withdrawn.

  3. With regard to education, the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry made a number of recommendations which over the last four years have had far reaching implications for the ways in which schools, and more recently adult education services operate. The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry recommended that:

    • Consideration be given to the amendment of the national curriculum aimed at valuing cultural diversity and preventing racism, in order to better reflect the needs of a diverse society
    • That Local Education Authorities and school governors have the duty to create and implement strategies in their schools to prevent and address racism. Such strategies would include: recording racist incidents and the number of exclusions
    • That OFSTED inspections include the examination and implementation of such strategies (and that inspectors are trained in issues such as anti-racist education)

Legal requirements

With regard to anti-racist education, there are certain legal requirements that are incumbent upon schools, Local Education Authorities and so-called accountable bodies. Most of these duties are closely related to section 71 of the 1976 Race Relations Act that imposes upon Local Authorities the responsibility of promoting good relations between people of different cultures. The 2000 Race Relations Amendment Act (RRAA) clarifies and strengthens this duty.

Responsibilities under the 2000 RRAA can be summarised thus:

  • Every body or other person specified in Schedule 1A or of a description falling within that Schedule shall, in carrying out its functions, have due regard to the need to
    • Eliminate unlawful racial discrimination
    • Promote equality of opportunity and good relations between persons of different racial groups

Those covered under the scope of the act include the governing bodies of:

  • Educational establishments maintained by local education authorities
  • Institutions within the further education sector (within the meaning of section 91(3) of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992) or
  • Institutions within the higher education sector (within the meaning of section 91(5) of the Act of 1992)
  • Ministers of the Crown and government departments
  • Local Authorities


To summarise, approaches have moved, over the last 50 years or so, away from a model of education that seeks to assimilate minority or competing cultures into the dominant culture – the school being the dominant state ideological apparatus has been both the promoter of conservative and reactionary approaches to education as well as the champion of more liberal and equalitarian approaches.

Changes in approach have, in the 1970s and 1980s, been as a direct result of liberal educationist and community-based theorists and campaigners exposing the inherent inequalities in education, expressed through the educational underachievement of certain groups.

More recently in the 1990s and the 21st century the role of education in forming and challenging attitudes has been highlighted, as with the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry. Finally, the government has acknowledged (through legislation in the form of the 2000 RRAA) the importance of education providers taking a proactive approach to challenging racism and promoting cultural diversity.

Further reading:

Community Education and Neighbourhood Renewal – Jane Thompson, NIACE 2001
Spreading The Word – Reaching Out to New Learners – Veronica McGivney – NIACE 2001
Managing Community Projects For Change – Jan Eldred –NIACE 2001
Engaging Black Learners in Adult and Community Education. Lenford White –NIACE 2001
The Learning Curve – Developing Skills and Knowledge for Neighbourhood Renewal. Neighbourhood Renewal Unit October 2002
A New Commitment to Neighbourhood Renewal – National Strategy Action Plan. Neighbourhood Renewal Unit 2001
The Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain – The Parekh Report 2000
The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry – HMSO 1999
Raising the Attainment of Minority Ethnic Pupils – OFSTED 1999
Alyson Malach - Colour Blind: A Practical Guide To Teaching Black Adult Learners, NIACE – NIACE 2000
The Cantle Report – (Into Bradford Disturbances) Home Office – 2001
The Herman Ouseley Report Community Pride Not Prejudice – Home Office 2001
In service Training – Education and Lifelong Learning Services – Lenford White 2001

Useful Websites: - Commission For Racial - Race For Opportunity - Communities Online - Regeneration UK - Liberty website - Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations - The Runnymede Trust - Teacher World - National Institute for Adult and Continuing Education (NIACE) - Online Resources (Homebeats) - Local Government Association - Learning and Skills Council