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Retrospective: The Swann Report (1985), Education for All, twenty five years on

The Swann Report (1985), titled ‘Education for All’, was the first major government
report to look at issues affecting the educational attainment of ethnic minority pupils. The
report urged for ‘Education for All’, a new approach where a multicultural curriculum is
offered to reflect the multiracial nature of British society. Though the Swann
Committee’s recommendations received little support from then education minister Sir
Keith Joseph, the report has been pivotal in sparking discussion and debates on
multiracial issues. Twenty five years after the Swann Report, huge progress has been
made, though some of the recommendations are still relevant to us now.

The report was published in a time of considerable social unrest among ethnic minority
communities in the UK; the riots of the early 1980s were sparked largely by racial
tensions. In Brixton, on 10 April 1981, police officers were trying to assist a young black
man who had been severely stabbed. But rumours spread that the police were arresting
the injured man rather than taking him to the hospital. Tension quickly escalated the next
day when a black man was arrested during Operation Swamp. The riot lasted for three
days, resulting in more than 300 injuries and damage estimated at £7.5m. Similar riots
erupted in inner city areas such as Tottenham, Small Heath and Toxteth. Lord Scarman
was appointed to lead an inquiry into the Brixton riots, and its findings blamed racial
disadvantage and discrimination for one of the worse outbreaks of disorder in the UK.

The Swann Report (1985): Education for All

The term, ‘education for all’ rather than ‘multicultural education’ was used to avoid
focusing explicitly on race or culture, but rather to emphasise the importance of education
for every child, regardless of ethnicity. Contrary to 1960s and 1970s education policies,
where assimilation and integration were the solution for the educational problem, the
Swann Report urged a new approach in the educational system to respond to “the
changed and changing nature of British Society” – i.e. a multiracial and culturally diverse

The report argued that education had to combat racism and attack inherited myths and
stereotypes while multiracial understanding had to permeate all aspects of a school’s
work. Only in this way, the committee argued, could schools offer anything approaching
equality of opportunity for all pupils.

• The underachievement of ethnic minority children

The report concluded that the underachievement of ethnic minority students was
substantially the result of racial prejudice and discrimination on the part of society at
large, especially in the areas of employment and housing, which had an indirect influence
on children. Also underachievement was due, in large measure, to prejudice and
discrimination bearing directly on children.

Since the report was published in 1985, many strides have been made in providing all
children, irrespective of race, colour or ethnic origin, with a good education. The level of
attainment by black and minority ethnic (BME) students has generally been improving;
Chinese students are the highest achievers in GCSE results with 88 per cent of them
scoring at least five C grades, though black students are still struggling with only 66.8 per
cent of them achieving the same according to the DCSF’s latest GCSE statistics, 3 per
cent less than the average.

In 2002, the Race Relations Amendment Act 2000 (RRAA) came into force, making it a
legal duty for all public institutions, including schools, to have policies in place to
promote race equality. Under the act, all maintained schools must have a race equality
policy and must act upon it, taking steps to narrow the gap between the levels of
attainment of different ethnic groups.

With the aim of tackling racism and promoting multiracial understanding, citizenship was
introduced as a school subject by the Government in 2002, involving every student,
rather than certain ethnic groups. One focus is Britain’s diversity, giving students
opportunities to think about what it means to be British, and to live in a multicultural
society. Also the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), established under the
Education Act 1997 to develop and regulate the national curriculum, assessments in
schools and qualifications, deals with many race, religion and multicultural issues.

In 2006, Ofsted published ‘the race and equality scheme’ to ensure that school
inspections assess the effectiveness of equality policies for people from different racial
and cultural backgrounds. Ofsted also launched the new school inspection framework in
September 2009 obliging inspectors to place greater emphasis on the achievement of
different groups of pupils, as well as overall achievement. As Ofsted chair Zenna Atkins
mentions in her interview (pg X), closing gaps for underachieving groups and raising
standards for all learners has become a very important part of the way in which schools
are inspected.

Runnymede has been working towards ethnic diversity in the school curriculum as well.
In 2003, we updated the 1993 publication, Equality Assurance in School, taking into
account changes to education and race legislation. The new publication, Complementing
Teachers: A practical guide to promoting race equality in schools offers teaching
practitioners practical guidance on the promotion of race equality and cultural diversity
within classrooms.

The Real Histories Directory (RHD), another Runnymede project, is an online resource
aimed specifically at teachers in order to help them promote a successful multi-ethnic
Britain. The website encourages cultural diversity across the UK. The directory includes
information on culturally diverse toys and games, dual language bookshops, museums,
libraries, performance artists and organisations providing resources on citizenship, race
equality and human rights in the UK.

Meanwhile, Achieving Race Equality in Schools is a professional development course for

teachers provided by Runnymede since 2003. Through a range of exercises, it offers
teachers an opportunity to develop their skills in promoting race equality and cultural
diversity in school settings.
• Language and language teaching
Learning English came as a priority in language learning for all pupils. The Swann
committee recommended that English as a second language needs should be met within
school settings rather than in language centres or separate units. The report also
concluded that minority languages should be part of modern language curriculum of
secondary schools.

• Religion and the role of the school

Establishing separate religious schools was not welcomed by the Swann committee as
this approach would fail to tackle many of the communities’ concerns and might
exacerbate the very feelings of exclusion and separateness. Here, the need for all pupils
to share a common educational experience is emphasised again by the report.

The 2008 Runnymede report, Right to divide? Faith schools and community cohesion,
debated and discussed the role of faith schools and their impact on community cohesion.
It recommended that faith schools in England must become schools for all children in
order to encourage interaction between pupils from different ethnic and/or faith

This report sparked a renewed discussion on faith schools among religious leaders and
teaching practitioners as well as in national newspapers, including the Telegraph, the
Guardian, and the Times. In November 2009, approximately one year after the report was
published, an educational conference on faith schools was organised by St. George’s
House under the title of Faith Schools: Freedom of Choice or Recipe for Division,
focusing on religious and social areas as well as their impact on staff and pupils. This
conference brought together leading scholars, policy makers and journalists, both
supporters and critics, evaluating recent research and arguments both for and against faith
schools’ contribution to community cohesion.

• Teacher education and the employment of ethnic minority teachers

Teachers should be trained to teach in a multicultural context, whether teaching in a
multiracial school or not, advised the committee. The under-representation of ethnic
minority teachers was also a great concern for the committee, as there was no statistical
data on the ethnic origins of teachers and student teachers at the time the report was

According to the most recent statistics by the Department of Children, Schools and
Families, the proportion of BME teachers in 2008/09 was 6.0 per cent compared to 2.7
per cent in 2004. Worth noting is the proportion of BME teachers in the Inner London
region which at 23 per cent was the highest.

However, twenty five years on there remain areas where improvements could be made.
A gap still exists for pupils from different racial groups. Educational authority needs to
not only recruit more BME teachers but also ensure that they are represented at senior
management levels.
For more on Runnymede education publications, see:
 School Governors and Race Equality in 21st Century Schools, Nicola Rollock,
published Perspectives Paper (2009),
 Race Equality Interventions in Predominantly White Schools