A champion of racial and social justice

23rd February 1996 at 00:00
Barry Troyna. Born: September 6, 1951. Died: February 9, 1996

Barry Troyna's short but distinguished contribution to the sociology of education was as uncharacteristic of a conventional academic career as were his origins in a street-corner tobacconists in Hackney, London.

Like most other bright lads on the block he graduated to Tottenham Grammar School - only a gentle roar from the magic Spurs ground just down the road. The passion for Spurs lasted his lifetime and determined the unique decor of his university teaching room.

In the long, debilitating illness of his last years a major highlight was an invitation to the ground and a meeting with the squad - a visit, sadly, he could not achieve. However, Spurs were not forgotten. At his funeral a few days ago his coffin was decorated by a floral replica of the club's badge that was almost as large as Barry himself.

In the late 1960s Barry Troyna went to Nottingham College of Education and then taught at the Dukeries comprehensive. But academe beckoned and he quickly obtained a postgraduate award for the centre for mass communications research at Leicester University. The quality of his work on reggae and Rastafari in the lives of African Caribbean boys in Britain did not go unnoticed.

His early shine was not short-lived. Further successful projects at Leicester where he worked with James Halloran, a leading role in the ethnic relations research unit at Aston and Warwick under John Rex, a readership at the then Sunderland Polytechnic with James Lynch and a triumphant return to Warwick followed rapidly. All this was accompanied by a stream of books on ethnic relations in school and community. One, Anti Racism, Culture and Social Justice was published only six months before his death and two more are still in press. His editorships progressed similarly, first with the National Association for Multicultural Education Journal, then the European Journal of Intercultural Studies and finally the prestigious editorship of the British Education Research Journal.

Just three months before his death Warwick University rushed to recognise Barry Troyna's work by awarding him a personal professorship. To the delight of Barry and all his colleagues the vice-chancellor of Warwick, Sir Brian Follett, at once took the news to his hospital bedside.

With his warmth, and perceptiveness Barry's colleagues and students enjoyed a unique and intensive learning experience. In particular they learned the fundamental message of sociology - the new and more perceptive analysis of familiar human relationships.

Before his illness, Barry Troyna found the close personal relationship that had eluded him previously. The quality and depth of his relationship and subsequent marriage to Sally Marchant was unmistakeable to all who knew him and all rejoiced with him.

In the dark months that quickly followed, Sally, herself a full-time senior teacher, not only enhanced the quality of Barry's life but enabled him to continue to make a contribution to study that could almost certainly not have occurred without her.

In paying tribute to Barry, the academic world knows that the extra time delivered by her has lessened the loss and enhanced the stockpile of his achievement.

* Barry Troyna's death, after a long and courageous fight against cancer, has deeply saddened his many friends and colleagues, both for the personal loss, and the loss of an educational researcher who had achieved international recognition and authority.

In defiance of the derision of multicultural and antiracist education by the Government, he demonstrated that although the 1988 Education Reform Act had curtailed advances made in the area, there was still room for schools to develop racial equality initiatives and work for social justice in the incorporation of all children in an improved education system.

Barry was determined that discussions of race, social justice and education would be situated in mainstream education and not silenced by politicians.

He knew, as the teachers and others who supported his work knew, that good teaching and learning can only take place in an atmosphere of open discussion, understanding and tolerance of diversity.

He was himself the most tolerant of men and blessed with a marvellous sense of humour which constantly cheered all those who worked with him. Many would say that it also served Barry well as a life-long supporter of Tottenham Hotspur.

Professor John Eggleston is director of the Institute of Education, Warwick University. Professors Sally Tomlinson, Roger Slee, and David Halpin work in the department of education studies at Goldsmiths' College, London.

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