Bussing, race and urban space, 1960s–80s
Author: Olivier Esteves

In 1960–62, a large number of white autochthonous parents in Southall became very concerned that the sudden influx of largely non-Anglophone Indian immigrant children in local schools would hold back their children’s education. It was primarily to placate such fears that ‘dispersal’ (or ‘bussing’) was introduced in areas such as Southall and Bradford, as well as to promote the integration of mostly Asian children. It consisted in sending busloads of immigrant children to predominantly white suburban schools, in an effort to ‘spread the burden’. This form of social engineering went on until the early 1980s. This book, by mobilising local and national archival material as well as interviews with formerly bussed pupils in the 1960s and 1970s, reveals the extent to which dispersal was a flawed policy, mostly because thousands of Asian pupils were faced with racist bullying on the playgrounds of Ealing, Bradford, etc. It also investigates the debate around dispersal and the integration of immigrant children, e.g. by analysing the way some Local Education Authorities (Birmingham, London) refused to introduce bussing. It studies the various forms that dispersal took in the dozen or so LEAs where it operated. Finally, it studies local mobilisations against dispersal by ethnic associations and individuals. It provides an analysis of debates around ‘ghetto schools’, ‘integration’, ‘separation’, ‘segregation’ where quite often the US serves as a cognitive map to make sense of the English situation.

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Olivier Esteves
in The “desegregation” of English schools
The introduction of dispersal in Southall
Olivier Esteves

This chapter analyses the local historical background to the introduction of dispersal in Southall, after education secretary Edward Boyle visited Beaconsfield Primary School on 15 October 1963. In 1960–62, the soaring number of Punjabi Asians in the area caused a great deal of discontent among autochthonous whites, who were afraid that the influx of non-Anglophone pupils would hold back their own children’s education. Some of these campaigned against the looming threat of ‘ghetto schools’ through the Southall Residents Association, which was instrumental in bringing about the ministerial visit at the genesis of schooling dispersal. This chapter also gives a detailed account and analysis of the introduction of dispersal locally, which proved difficult since some white parents were averse to the arrival of Asian children in their own children’s schools.

in The “desegregation” of English schools
Setting the national framework for bussing
Olivier Esteves

Devised by a Conservative government, dispersal was finally introduced by a Labour government, under Harold Wilson (1964–70). This chapter analyses the national, broad framework to the introduction of dispersal, via White Papers, government publications and ministerial circulars. It investigates the various structural shortcomings to dispersal, such as the absence of a definition of ‘immigrant children’, the unscientific claim that when a schools had more than 30% immigrant children dispersal should be introduced, the difficulties involved in introducing ethnic statistics of immigrant children in schools, lastly the ministerial racial myopia which failed to anticipate the fact that Asian children would face racial bullying in white schools.

in The “desegregation” of English schools
The introduction of dispersal in Bradford
Olivier Esteves

Like Southall, Bradford was faced in 1960–62 with a sudden influx of Asian immigrants, the great majority of whom hailed from Pakistan. This wave of immigration did cause some early panic, with the outbreak of smallpox in 1962. This chapter studies the introduction of bussing locally, which took place without a real white mobilisation in favour of it. Dispersal in Bradford was a fairly smooth affair compared with Southall. It was hailed by members of the Wilson government as a model type of dispersal, particularly because the city proved efficient at gathering statistics about immigrant children, but archives reveal that, as elsewhere, there were many shortcomings to the operation of dispersal locally, which had a detrimental effect on immigrant children.

in The “desegregation” of English schools
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How London and Birmingham said no to dispersal
Olivier Esteves

In this chapter, the local situations of Birmingham and London are analysed. Although these were the two conurbations accommodating by far the largest number of immigrant children, they were reluctant to introduce dispersal. In Birmingham, some key Labour figures (Denis Howell, Roy Hattersley) campaigned actively in favour of it, and were dissatisfied when the city refused to operate it, afraid as it was of its detrimental effects. There, dispersal was a major bone of contention, until a voluntary type of dispersal was finally decided upon, which proved ineffective against ethnic-minority clustering in schools. In the Inner London Education Authority, dispersal was more massively rejected, mostly owing to a neighbourhood-school-based approach and to the specific resources London enjoyed. Lastly, this chapter studies the debate on the introduction of ‘banding’ in Haringey, which was presented as an IQ-based type of dispersal. This caused a major controversy after Alderman Doulton locally suggested West Indians had lower IQs than autochthonous pupils.

in The “desegregation” of English schools
How the other LEAs fared
Olivier Esteves

This chapter analyses the different forms that dispersal took in the Local Education Authorities that introduced it besides Ealing (Southall) and Bradford. Blackburn presented a specific case in the sense that multiracial neighbourhoods were often situated near voluntary-aided schools, either Anglican or Roman Catholic. The problem was compounded by the activism of the National Front locally. Huddersfield and Halifax presented more ordinary cases, like West Bromwich, although in Huddersfield and West Bromwich the large proportion of (Anglophone) West Indian pupils made dispersal look more like an anomaly. Halifax put an end to bussing only in 1986–87. In Leicester, it was only the sudden influx of Ugandan Asians in 1972–73 which made the local authorities reluctantly introduce dispersal. In Bristol, the form dispersal took was radically different from elsewhere, and barely deserves the name. Lastly, the local situations of Wolverhampton, Walsall, Smethwick, Hounslow, Luton, Croydon and Dewsbury are presented.

in The “desegregation” of English schools
The emergence of resistance to bussing
Olivier Esteves

The 1970s saw a growing challenge of assimilationist policies at the root of dispersal. Despite that, the hurdles to an efficient movement against it were many: the necessity to make a living among Asian immigrants, difficult access to information about dispersal schools, the fact that immigrants faced a bureaucracy which was opaque to them, etc. The Race Relations Board as well as the Ealing Community Relations Council proved instrumental in generating a growing awareness of the problems around and of the discriminatory nature of dispersal. For many Asians, the struggle against dispersal was primarily about equality and the recognition of a common human dignity, as is attested in some testimonies of former militants. In this chapter, the Kogan Report (commissioned by the RRB) is also analysed in depth, as well as the way dispersal illustrated in its last years a form of Welfare roll-back, rather than a policy of immigrant assimilation.

in The “desegregation” of English schools
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The quotidian experience of being bussed
Olivier Esteves

This chapter relies almost wholly on ethnographic fieldwork, i.e. interviews of formerly bussed pupils sharing their recollections some decades later. An analysis is provided of their broad sociological profile and how this may impact their memories of bussing. Then, various pragmatic elements about the bussing routine are studied, as well as the way racism in the dispersal schools was an unchallenged norm. Just as importantly, bussing’s effect was in fact to segregate rather than to integrate children in various kinds of ways. The fieldwork also illustrates sometimes the way individual children or families managed to circumvent certain demands through their seeming compliance and calculated conformity. Lastly, some exceptions to how negative bussing was are studied, as well as the way bussing ‘toughened up’, with hindsight, many of the interviewees themselves.

in The “desegregation” of English schools