A recent documentary shines a light on how thousands of Black children were unjustly consigned to ‘educationally subnormal’ schools
It only took 40 years for a TV programme to be made about a disgraceful period in the history of education in Britain that has had long-lasting effects on thousands of people in the Black community. Director Steve McQueen, who dramatised the episode in Small Axe, and Lyttanya Shannon, who directed a recent documentary, Subnormal: A British Scandal (for which I was interviewed), have done a much-needed service in bringing this dismal period of “education” to general attention.
Following Bernard Coard’s publication How the West Indian Child is Made Educationally Sub-Normal in the British School System (1971), I followed a group of children who had been referred from their local authority schools into ESN – educationally subnormal – schools. The justification for their removal was sometimes learning problems, but more often it was “behavioural”. The overt racism of the 1970s and ignorance on the part of many teachers and local authority administrators led to an overrepresentation of Black children in these institutions.