Multicultural Britain: Assimilation, Community Cohesion and Discriminatory Policies

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2.2 History of Multicultural Britain


Britain has always been ethnically diverse. As early as C100BC, during Roman rule, African auxiliary soldiers featured in the Roman army protecting Hadrian’s Wall (Dabydeen et al, 2007). Ethnic diversity began to increase in England during the expansion of the British Empire.  This expansion resulted in colonial warfare, including the exploitation, murder and human trafficking of Africans during the transatlantic slave trade from 1562 – 1833 (Williams, 2005; Eddo Lodge, 2017; Gillborn, 2008). The colonised countries under the British Empire were used to substantiate Britain’s power and wealth; the leading nation in comparison to her international counterparts (Paul, 1997).

During the First World War, 15,600 African / African-Caribbean soldiers and over 74,000 Indian soldiers from British Colonies died in the conflict, many serving under the false promise of political reform and freedom from colonial rule in their countries (Eddo-Lodge, 2017). Consequently, the BAME population increased in Britain to around 10,000 under the British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act 1914, which gave Black and Asian colonial migrants the same rights as ‘natural born citizens’ Dabydeen et al, 2007:176). However, this was contradicted by military law that classed all non-whites as ‘aliens’, presenting racialized barriers and restrictions, which caused race fuelled riots against the Black presence in Britain in 1919 (Eddo-Lodge, 2017; Dabydeen et al, 2007; Belchem, 2014; Paul, 2007).

Due to larger economic and political objectives, the decolonisation of the British Empire began post Second World War (Paul, 1997; Belchem, 2014). The British Immigration act was passed in 1948, the same year that 492 Black Caribbeans travelling on the Windrush docked in Essex, England with the aim of restoring post-war Britain (Eddo Lodge, 2017). This was the introduction of ‘mass immigration’, where 1.2 million New Commonwealth citizens of British colonised commonwealth states immigrated to England and Wales between 1948 until the mid-1970’s (Mason, 2003).

The term immigrant was used to define the ‘already settled population as homogenous’ post Second Word War (Mason 2003:16). Whilst some countries were discussing making ‘immigrants’ citizens, Britain was doing the reverse (Paul, 1997). However, these immigrants were essentially colonial migrants with the rights to gain British Citizenship, regardless of where they resided within the empire (Thorns, 2002; Paul, 2007; Dabydeen et al, 2007). Most of the migrants were black and brown, mainly from African and South Asian descent. Due to the ‘unrecognisable’ differences and intersections of different characteristics such as languages, culture and religion, these people of ‘colour’ were labelled as ‘ethnically different’ in comparison to their white counterparts (Mason, 2003). This was the strategy used to preserve white British purity and, as a result, colonial migrants were ignored and excluded from parts of society (Myers, 2016:17). It was considered in the national interest to preserve the ‘British race’ due to the ‘dwindling birth-rate’ post Second World War (Paul, 1997:2). Consequently, multiculturalism became a threat and ethnicity a focus for discrimination and racism (Lumby, 2016). Black and Brown labour were essential to the success of both world wars; however, racism, rejection and persecution was the overarching narrative presented by government and media (Eddo-Lodge, 2017).

In 1962 and 1968 the Commonwealth Immigration act was introduced with the aim of limiting the immigration of Black and Asian colonial migrants into Britain. This coincided with widespread practice in British schools of labelling black children as educationally sub normal in comparison to their white counterparts, leading to the systematic failing of black children within the British Educational system. (Richardson, 2007; Gillborn, 2008)

Migration into the UK has had its trials and tribulations for BAME communities, due to racialized policies designed to contain and preserve the whiteness in host communities (Gillborn, 2008). This presents a problem as the policies designed to ‘contain’ were of the same government that designed the policies to integrate multicultural communities within our schools. This is discussed further in the next section.

2.3 Race and Education Policy


To understand how community cohesion policies were introduced by the government and how they have impacted our school, it is important to understand the history of how government policy discourse has reacted to the change in multicultural demographics post 1970 in the UK, and how it has become progressively obsessed with the social control of BAME communities (Gillborn, 2008).



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Assimilation policies were introduced around the same time as the introduction of major immigration laws in the UK in 1965. Assimilation policies introduced in the UK were the act of denying cultural difference, as it was deemed that Black culture and beliefs were inferior compared to their white counterparts (Lumby, 2007). Consequently, this created a racialized structure of hierarchy that re-enforced white European superiority over migrants from BAME heritages (Paul 2007).

It has been suggested that the assimilation process could have been hindered by migrants unwilling to invest in the country based on their temporary status within it (Demireva, 2011). This might have been accurate for a handful of cases, however, the general attitude from the government and society during this time was to promote assimilation and the eradication of cultural differences (Gillborn, 2008). This has had a direct impact on education as BAME children, in particular, Black Caribbean children were the subject of systematic discrimination and failed by the British Educational system (Richardson, 2007; Gillborn, 2008). Many children of African Caribbean heritage were the labeled ‘educationally subnormal’, and thus were excluded from mainstream schools (Richardson, 2007).



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Integration was assimilation by a new name (Gillborn, 2008:). Educational policies which deemed ‘minorities’ as a problem, remained to serve the main objective of assimilating BAME groups (Gillborn, 2008).  In 1971, the Immigration Act was passed, influenced by racist attitudes in society (Dabydeen, 2007; Finney, 2009).


This resulted in anti-immigration activities, supported by political groups, causing thousands of racial attacks and cases of racial harassment against Black and Asian people (Dabydeen, 2007). Within the school context, the onus was on BAME pupils to integrate with the majority, with little or no intervention and guidance provided on a macro or micro level, as stated by Eric Bolton, the Chief inspector of schools at the time (Gillborn, 2008). Subsequently, BAME students were isolated both within the classroom and wider society.



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Multiculturalism policy programmes were designed as a ‘solution’ to support cultural differences and remove discriminatory barriers for migrants and BAME communities (Fleras, 2009). These were first introduced in the early 1980s and went through many revisions under different political parties; from the introduction of colour-blind policies under Thatcherism to the highlighting of the inequalities associated with BAME learners under the New Labour administration in 2007 (Gillborn, 2008). Post-9/11, there was widespread criticism of policies relating to Multiculturalism, which led to the concept’s demise (Heath, 2014). Flares (2009) discussed that multiculturalism policies were another method of control, a political tool where the “ruling elites, control the ‘unruly ethnics’”. Consequently, it presented tokenistic recognition towards BAME, but ultimately marginalised migrants further with neutral, colour-blind policies (Belchem, 2014).  Whereas, Health’s (2014) study into multiculturalism concluded that ethnoreligious groups made successful claims of ethnic integration during the multiculturalism era, despite the negative rhetoric associated with the policy.


Community Cohesion

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Community cohesion was a political concept that replaced the multiculturalism agenda and entered mainstream national policy (Flint, 2008; Rhamie, 2012). The policy emerged in 2001-02 under the Labour government (Jones, 2013) and made a shift from integration back to assimilating to the host community (Samad 2013). Over the years, the term has been institutionalised in the UK through policy and statutory duties in schools (Jones, 2013:4). The policy was introduced after the racial disturbances in Northern British cities in 2001 (Rhamie, 2012; Alam, 2013; Samad, 2013) and the London bombings in 2005 as a strategy to integrate Muslims into the community (Rhamie, 2012; Samad, 2013:273). However, as discussed by (Jones, 2013), the policy was framed as if the main focus was issues relating to segregation and separation between cultures.

The term community cohesion lacked conceptual clarity (Jones, 2013). Subsequently, there have been many interpretations of the term as the policy has changed over time. To add to the ambiguity of community cohesion, the PREVENT strategy was introduced around the same time. This was a strategy that was focused on counter-terrorism and extremism Samad (2013). This was separate from the community cohesion agenda; however, the agenda targeted the same communities using the same professionals across the two programmes inside and outside of the classroom Samad (2013). This gave community cohesion a negative connotation within BAME communities. Conversely, Mcghee (2006) discusses that the community cohesion strategies, which focused on the improvement of race inequality and integration of new migrants, took precedence over and excluded existing white disadvantaged host communities in England, subsequently causing hostility that negatively impacts community cohesion.

Looking through the lens of the government, the Community Cohesion policy was an attempt to help support people to take individual responsibility to make the right choices and nurture an environment where different cultures interact with each other. It was hoped that this would result in positive inter-cultural relationships and contributions towards society both for individual benefit and the overall social good (Jones, 2013). However, the policy was based on ideology rather than being evidence-based (Flint, 2008).  The ambiguity of the language and terminology interchanging between race and class has resulted in fragmentation, which served to reinforce the hierarchical institutionalised narrative that has prioritised white nationals over BAME communities.


Current situation


Despite the number of immigrants into Britain steadily decreasing every year since 2015, (a reduction of 25,000 immigrants and an increase of 40,000 emigrants (Office for National Statistics, 2017; Finney, 2009), major concerns about immigration remain, creating a new, national fear of the re-emergence of the ‘multiculturalism identity’. This has been used as political rhetoric relating to multiculturalism and controls on immigration have been personified in the latest political campaigns from Conservative and Labour governments (Eddo lodge, 2017). This ‘fear’ was used in Brexit anti-immigration rhetoric from the middle right wing and political parties using statements such as ‘preserving our national identity’ (Eddo Lodge, 2017:119). This public and policy discourse has impacted migrants and BAME children in school, as some teachers have started to raise concerns about students who have failed to assimilate to British culture (Keddie, 2014).


According to Lord Ashcroft (2016) voting polls of how people voted during the EU referendum, 80% of voters who believed that multiculturalism and immigration were a burden to society voted to leave the European Union. Consequently, there has been a 53% increase in race-related hate crime in UK schools (Camden, 2017). This has resulted in BAME learners being more likely to experience racist bullying than their white counterparts (Bain, 2018). With such an increase, a focus on integration and community cohesion is more important than ever.




As discussed by Gillborn (2008), policymakers seem to have amnesia as policies are reincarnated. Policies have been reactionary, influenced by events related to race and integration and there is the likelihood that, as revised policies are reintroduced, there will be a focus on assimilation and integration in reaction to Brexit. Since the 1950s, the government has failed to place equality and diversity at the center of social and educational policy (Gillborn, 2008). This has highlighted a serious issue relating to equality, diversity and community cohesion within schools in the UK and so it is unsurprising that there is a demand for a new dynamic cohesion strategy in schools and communities that better reflects the global community in England.


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Systematic Barriers: Decolonising the Curriculum

Systematic Barriers

Existing research highlights that; curriculum relevance,  lack of diversity in the workforce, lack of aspiration, low expectations, absent fathers, socioeconomic disadvantage, poor housing and institutional racism are the main factors that contribute towards poor attainment that have resulted in a disproportionate exclusion rates for Black children (see Demie, 2019, Gillborn, 2008, Tomilinson, 2008). This article discusses the importance of curriculum relevance and associated barriers.

Curriculum relevance and barriers

The National Curriculum is a framework consisting of a range of subjects and assessment criteria used in primary and secondary schools to enable continuity (DfE,2018). It was introduced during the conservative administration, under Thatcher’s government. It is argued that schools are still influenced by neoliberal discourse which has a negative impact on educational structures (Saltman, 2014). Similarly, Peters (2015: 643) identified that the curriculum is racialised as white was fundamental to the development of capitalism.  Neoliberal approaches to education have resulted in the reduction of a diverse curriculum (Saltman, 2014). This has resulted in a restrictive assessment and framework that does not meet the needs of all learners, especially Black pupils (Lumby, 2016).

The National Curriculum is framed in an Anglocentric perspective where ‘victors’ have written the history and defined the narrative (Richardson, 2007). Textbooks used to support topics within the curriculum are primarily written by white publishing companies such as NCS Pearson and McGraw Hill Education, who have been accused of normalising a white ethnocentric narrative (Saltman, 2014;  Peters, 2015; Gillborn, 2008).

For example, McGraw Hill Education has been recently accused of downplaying slavery by reinventing the narrative that African Slaves were ‘agricultural workers’, implying that they were migrants benefiting from the economy (Dart, 2015).

This caption identifying slaves as “workers” appears in a McGraw-Hill World Geography textbook.

This is an example of the ‘racial erasure’ described by Bain (2018:14) which includes the erasure of white racism within the curriculum by the elimination of non-white contributors and whitewashing atrocity.

Over 61% of secondary schools in England have become acadamised (Local Government Association, 2017), therefore they do not have to follow the National Curriculum. This gives Academies the potential to modernise the curriculum to reflect the global population of the school. This will eventually develop an inclusive ethos of learners understanding a range of different cultures that, in theory, will increase positive relations and community cohesion within the school. With a range of different cultural backgrounds and nationalities in England, it is essential for the curriculum to reflect global society and to relate to the increasing global audience.

The National Curriculum is content driven and is therefore harder to accommodate those from a Black and Glocal Majority (BGM) background (Lumby,2016). However, there have been changes in the National Curriculum as an attempt to reflect the changes in society. These changes are described as ‘tinkering’ by Hayden (2013) – used as ‘bolt-ons’ to the curriculum such as; citizenship (Pike, 2007); British Values agenda (Rhamie, 2012); and the controversial Prevent strategy (Alam, 2013) – all designed for BGM learners to assimilate to British ideals, rather than a dynamic reform to cater for the global community.

Hayden’s (2013), comprehensive review on the international school’s curriculum concluded that International schools could be used as a benchmark for curriculum reform to reflect society and ensuring Global contributors are present in each subject. On a Micro level, Schools could integrate multiple perspectives to topics within the curriculum to make it more inclusive for BGM learners and examine the curriculum to ensure that whiteness is not the norm (by) which everything is measured (Lumby, 2016:117).


Alam, Y. and Husband, C. (2013). Islamophobia, community cohesion and counter-terrorism policies in Britain. Patterns of Prejudice, 47(3), pp.235-252.

Bain, Z. (2018). Is there such a thing as ‘white ignorance’ in British education?. Ethics and Education, 13(1), pp.4-21.

Dart, T (2015). Textbook passage referring to slaves as ‘workers’ prompts outcry. Educational Guardian, 20th August 2018. Retrieved from

Demie, F., 2019. Raising achievement of black Caribbean pupils: good practice for developing leadership capacity and workforce diversity in schools. School Leadership & Management39(1), pp.5-25.

Gillborn, D. (2008) Racism and Education. London: Routledge.

Local Government Association. (2017). Inspection Statistics: Council Maintained Schools & Academies. Available: Last accessed 24th Feb

Lumby, J and Coleman, M (2016) Leading for Equality, Making Schools Fairer. London: Sage.

Peters, M.A. (2015). Why is my curriculum white?. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 47:7, 641-646,

Pike, M.A. (2007). The state and citizenship education in England: a curriculum for subjects or citizens?. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 39(4), pp.471-489.

Rhamie, J., Bhopal, K. and Bhatti, G. (2012). Stick to your own kind: Pupils’ experiences of identity and diversity in secondary schools. British Journal of Educational Studies, 60(2), pp.171-191.

Richardson, B. ed. (2007). Tell it like it is: How our schools fail Black children. Bookmarks.

Saltman, K. (2014). Neoliberalism and Corporate School Reform: “Failure” and “Creative Destruction”. Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies, 36(4), 249–259

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Black History Month: It’s time to change our approach

Catherine Millan delivering a Black History workshop at Oasis Media CityUK

The appalling events at St Winefride’s Catholic primary school , where teachers asked children to dress as slaves as part of a Black History Month celebrations is more evidence that we need a new dynamic approach teaching Black History in our schools.

I am a passionate activist for a balanced global curriculum that is inclusive for all learners. As it currently stands, the Black Global Majority student population has continued to increase annually with an increase from 27.9% to 29.1% between 2016 and 2017, yet the national curriculum still takes a colourblind approach when dealing with global topics and issues (Demie, 2005).

There is a need for curricula that addresses the specific histories and cultures of racially marginalised students as discussed by Chikkatur (2013). Without the contributions of Black and Global Majority citizens, this country would not be the Great Britain as we know it today.  It is up to us to take a stance to introduce Black History and its contributions into our curriculum on a micro, meso and macro level. It is important to make curriculum links with Black and Global Majority inventors, scientists, civilisations etc, as various studies have found that it will help students to raise their aspirations and understand the background and development of our diverse society (King, 2016; Martell, 2014; Richardson, 2007). A good time to introduce this would be during Black History Month.

This year we used the amazing Catherine Millan from the University of Manchester, who delivered a workshop for young people and teachers about Black History Month and why it exists. Catherine has lots of experience in anti-racist work, having previously created a teaching pack with the Anthony Walker Foundation.

You can contact Catherine directly at

Chikkatur, A., 2013. Teaching and learning African American history in a multiracial classroom. Theory & Research in Social Education41(4), pp.514-534.

Demie, F., 2005. Achievement of Black Caribbean pupils: good practice in Lambeth schools. British Educational Research Journal31(4), pp.481-508.

King, L.J., 2016. Teaching black history as a racial literacy project. Race Ethnicity and Education19(6), pp.1303-1318.

Martell, C.C., 2013. Race and histories: Examining culturally relevant teaching in the US history classroom. Theory & Research in Social Education41(1), pp.65-88.

Richardson, B. ed., 2007. Tell it like it is: How our schools fail Black children. Bookmarks.

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