The Sewell Report

2021 and another report on racism. Following on Black Lives Matter and the inequalities laid bare for all to see by Covid 19 and once more a disproportionate proportion of the burden on the Black community, particularly those working at the front line, in hospitals, in the care services. This latest report requested by the Government, seeks to put a lid on those saying that inequalities could and should be avoided if attention was paid to institutional practice and particularly discriminatory practices and procedures that have found there way into ways of thinking and doing things principally as a result of the colonial experience which is clearly in evidence all around us. The evidence is strikingly clear to those whose families have been on the receiving end of exploitation and degradation and continue to be in the hands of our institutions: the deaths of George Floyd in the U.S. and Belly Majinga in the U.K., the Victoria station ticket worker who contracted Covid 19 after being spat at on while on duty both of whom should have been protected by institutions they came into contact with: the police and rail services in these cases. 

To add insult to injury it has been reported that some of those named in the Government’s Sewell Report hadn’t been aware of the final document’s content. It has in fact been rewritten by unknown people at no 10 Downing Street. 

The attitude of the leading institutions in the country are not new as the following article written by a member of both Rampton and Swann committees testifies. It seems to have been forgotten that neither report was implemented. In the case of Swann the Secretary of State for Education, Sir Keith Joseph, requested Lord Swann to send his summary of the report to all schools which were left to purchase their own if they wanted the full report. Recommendations have never been implemented to this day. Next year the Welsh Government intends to implement its own. So what will the Westminster Government do? Don’t hold your breath!


Bernard Coard (a Grenadian academic and teacher living in the UK in the 70s) became alarmed by his experiences of how the British ESN schools (schools for those considered to be educationally sub-normal) operated and were populated.  This prompted him to publish his book HOW THE WEST INDIAN CHILD IS MADE EDUCATIONALLY SUBNORMAL IN THE BRITISH SCHOOL SYSTEM.  It is no longer accepted to use the term “West Indian”, hence, here from, the term “black is substituted.

What Coard found was that 4 out of 5 children in ESN schools were black.  Often, these children found their way to ESN schools with the support and acquiescence of their parents because their children’s teachers told them that their children would be sent to “special” schools.  “Special” is a term known to black people as something very good and beneficial.  Incidentally, in spite of the fact that political involvement in Grenada eventually landed Coard a death sentence which was later commuted to life imprisonment, Coard has maintained a strong interest in this aspect of British education from his prison cell. His current view is that what is needed to bring educational justice to all children alike is:  “quality education for all: that is one that is not dependent on the parental income/wealth or social status and connections of school children, does not have schools providing vastly different standards of education and does not have a two-tiered system, or multi-tiered system of education, providing differential education for the children of different classes, genders and ethnicities”.

Though, at the time, Coard’s disclosure was the most significant in stirring black parents into action, he was not alone in identifying the educational obstacles and educational state of affairs for black children.

Throughout the education system generally, black children were encouraged to take CSE as opposed to the then GCE examinations.  The latter, of course was for high flyers (usually white children) whilst the former was of much less worth for children’s life chances.  Studies, after studies, showed the damning effects of these practices on black children’s performance in schools.  A Brent LEA study in 1963 raised alarm about black children performance in reading , arithmetic and spelling; Vernon 1965; Little’s studies 1966 and 1968 and a Redbridge study in 1978 all, similarly reflected major concerns about black children’s performance compared with white children in British schools.  It was in this climate of concern that the Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration in 1977 produced its Report on ‘The West Indian Community’.  The Report highlighted the widespread concern about the poor performance of [black] children in schools.  The Committee, therefore, recommended that the Government, as a matter of urgency, should institute “a high level independent inquiry into the causes of the underachievement of children of West Indian origin in maintained schools and the remedial action required”.  The James Callaghan Labour Government with the Honourable Shirley Williams as Secretary Of State for Education, at the time, responded to the Select Committee’s recommendation positively but widened it to include all ethnic minorities whilst giving more urgent attention to children of West Indian origin.  Hence, this was the birth of the Rampton and, subsequently,  Swann Inquiries which reported in 1981 and 1985 respectively.  Carlton Duncan, one of our members served on both Inquiries.

This was the remit given to Anthony Rampton (Chairman) and his colleagues:

“Recognising the contribution of schools in preparing all pupils for life in a society which is both multi-racial and culturally diverse, the Committee is required to:

review in relation to schools the educational needs and attainments of children from ethnic minority groups taking account, as necessary, of factors outside the formal educational system relevant to school performance, including influences in early childhood and prospects for school leavers;

consider the potential value of instituting arrangements for keeping under review the educational performance of different ethnic minority groups, what those arrangements might be;

consider the most effective use of resources for these purposes; and to make recommendations.

In carrying out its programme of work, the Committee is to give early and particular attention to the educational needs and attainments of pupils of West Indian origin and to make interim recommendations as soon as possible on action which might be taken in the interest of this group”.

There was a change of Government in 1979 which produced two other Secretaries of State (Mark Carlisle and Sir Keith Joseph) during the life time of the Rampton and Swann Inquiries.

On the Rampton Inquiry, there were 4 Afro Caribbean members; 5 Asian members and 13 Caucasians making a total of 22 members.  For the Swann Inquiry, membership changed on account of resignations and co-options. By and large, the bulk of the original membership lasted the full duration of the five year inquiry.

The Rampton Interim Report (West Indian children in our schools – Cmnd 8273, HMSO 1979) was based on considerable researched evidence, gathered information from parents, pupils teachers at all ranks, LEAs and community interested officials and others from all walks of life.  Following the ensuing deliberations of the evidential material so gathered, we were able to report our findings with recommendations in June 1981.  The evidence, findings and recommendation are far too voluminous for reproduction here.  Consequently, the reader is referred to chapters 1, 2 and 4 severally of the Interim Report for the details.  What these chapters will reveal is that the most prominent issue in our findings was racism (other issues included: the inadequacy of pre-school provision; linguistic difficulties of West Indian children; the inappropriateness of the school curriculum and the examination system, teachers’ low expectation of West Indian pupils’ a loss of trust and a lack of understanding between home and school, discrimination in employment, and by extension, poor housing and health issues, the state of race relations generally particularly with the police, the absence of black role models in high places).  These other issues are themselves pregnant with racist practices: but let the Report speak:

“In seeking to identify the factors which lead so many West Indian children to underachieve in our schools, many causes, both within the education system and outside it, were suggested by by those who gave evidence to us.  That which was most forcefully and frequently put forward by West Indians themselves was racism, both within schools and in society”. Page 11 of the Report, chap. 2, Para 1.

Did all this sound the bells of the impact of corona virus (COVID-19) upon the black communities; was Black Lives Matter clearly in the making?

This Report, then. was the first ever Government official document to identify racism as a problem for black people and their children.  This did not auger well for Anthony Rampton who was politely removed from the Chairmanship of the Committee and replaced by Lord Swann – a man who self-confessed to be ignorant of the issues upon which he is now called to give leadership.  

“The then Secretary of State’s invitation to me to take on the Chairmanship of the Committee came as a considerable surprise, i had been a scientist, the Principal of an ancient Scottish University and Chairman of the BBC, but I had little knowledge of the needs of Britain’s ethnic minority citizens…..”.

So, following on from the Interim Report, the Inquiry would now be the Swann Inquiry and ultimately, The Swann Report (Education for All) Cmnd 9453, HMSO, 1985.

Right from the start, it became obvious that part of Lord Swann’s role was to remove racism as an issue, more over the main issue, from the final Report.  11 members resigned from this Committee.  Their replacements plus co-opted others ensured a viable Committee to the end.  None of the Afro-Caribbean members resigned.  They needed to see this through and they all did.  Even against the background of Lord Swann picking them off one by one to dine at his up-market home, it didn’t work.  They found their own survival methods and techniques to stay together in the light of the clear evidence of racism.  Lord Swann was definitely not able to get the final Report to ignore the evidence.  But he was not to be out done.  Unknown to the membership of the Committee, Lord Swann prepared his own summary of the Report and ensured that it would find its way gratuitously into every school in the land.  The Report, itself, carried a price tag of £24.  In Lord Swann’s summary of nearly 7,000 words, he never managed to utter the word ‘racism’ once, except where he was quoting Professor Bhikhu Parekh (a member of the Committee) who had mentioned the word three times in the passage Lord Swann was quoting.  Because the evidence which were collected from the people who mattered so clearly embodied racism, and because both the Interim and the final Reports openly dealt with the racism issue, Lord Swann had difficulties in shutting out that matter.  It will be noted that throughout his summary, he sought refuge euphemistically in the terms “prejudice and discrimination.  ‘Education For All’ is a volume of 807 pages with a price tag of £24.  Clearly, it cannot be reproduced here.  The reader is besieged to reach for this entire Report rather than rely on the more readily accessible but misleading summary produced by Lord Swann behind the backs of the members of the Committee.

The damage which was done by the release of the summary has left us still grappling with issues that could have been laid to rest had the recommendations of the two Reports been implemented.  Some members of the Committee, including our member, Carlton Duncan, foresaw this happening.  Six members of the Committee, including Carlton Duncan, dissented from the wider Committee’s decision on the then popular call for separate schools which would alleviate many of the educational ills affecting ethnic minorities. (See page 515 of the main Report – Education For All)  The main reason why the Committee took a different view from that of the six dissenters was based on the assumption that the Reports’ findings and recommendations would be implemented and thus removing the pressures for separate schools.  Well, to date, the Reports have been largely shelved in dusty places.  And although the answers to the vast array of problematic issues flagged up by COVID-19, Black Lives Matter and, more recently, Meghan and Harry are already known and documented, the arguments, void of action, still rage on indefinitely.

Note: Sir Keith Joseph requested summary report of Swann to be issued to all schools. If they wanted the full report they were left to purchase it themselves: the debate is here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.