Death of former head teacher Ray Honeyford sparks schooling debate

Ray Honeyford

Ray Honeyford

First published in Bradford

The death of former Bradford head teacher Ray Honeyford at the age of 77 has prompted reflections on what, if anything, Bradford learned as a result of a race row 28 years ago.

The long-running Honeyford Affair, which was partly resolved in late 1984 with the head of inner-city Drummond Road Middle school taking early retirement, was sparked off by an article he wrote criticising the impact of Bradford Council’s race relation policy on education.

He warned that unless English and Western culture were reinforced at an early age, ethnic minority children would compete at a disadvantage in the jobs market, which in turn would generate resentment.

Sanctions imposed on Honeyford to discourage him from voicing his opinions ensured that the issue turned into, for many, one of freedom of speech.

Former Labour councillor, race relations spokesman and Britain’s first Asian Lord Mayor, Mohammed Ajeeb, has mixed feelings about the legacy of the Honeyford Affair.

Speaking last night, he said: “I was on the governing body of Drummond Middle School the year before I became Lord Mayor.

“I don’t think anybody objected to his criticism of kids not speaking English and not integrating; it was the way he said it that was objectionable.

“Politics have changed, we are no longer talking about these issues. But I have a very strong feeling about schooling.

“There has been change, but not enough. The language issue is not as acute as it was 26 years ago, but the problem of integrating kids at school still needs to be addressed.”

John Tempest started his city-centre soup run charity for the homeless at the time the Honeyford Affair, as it became known, was at its height.

He said: “Bradford is still paying the price of the policies that were taken up in the mid-1980s when people shouted him down. I think positions have become more entrenched.

“If people simply do not accept that they need to learn the language, then they won’t. But if you go to another country and don’t speak the language you are not going to progress – you are giving yourself a higher mountain to climb.”

In 1984, when the Honeyford Affair erupted, Graham Mahony was appointed Bradford Council’s chief race relations officer.

He saw at first hand the implementation of multicultural race awareness policies that included compulsory race training courses for head teachers.

He said: “On reflection, Honeyford had some valid points that should have been discussed, but because of the way he expressed them the opposite happened.

“The debate was suppressed and didn’t surface again until the riots (in 1995 and 2001).

“The policy of multiculturalism was a worthwhile approach, but as an end in itself it is an impossible dream. Separatism is a situation we are seeing developing at the moment, but not across all ethnic minorities.

“There is a cultural clash of which religion is a part but not the dominant factor. It’s the one most played upon because it is most easily identified.”

The Riot Commission Report of 1996 and the Ouseley Report of 2001 both emphasised that Bradford had become deeply divided, lacked vision and leadership and was segregated along Muslim and non-Muslim lines.

Since then cross-cultural initiatives involving many organisations including Bradford Cathedral and the Council for Mosques have taken place.

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