Obituary - Ray Honeyford - 1934-2012

9th March 2012 at 00:00

Before the Honeyford Affair, Ray Honeyford was simply the mild-mannered head of a Bradford middle school.

The scandal that would bear his name broke in 1984, when he published an article claiming that multiculturalism was adversely affecting pupils' education. Immediately he became a hero to the political right, the embodiment of evil to the left. Parents picketed his school; death threats followed. His teaching career was over.

Raymond Honeyford was born in Manchester in February 1934, the son of a wounded war veteran. Ray, his parents and his 10 siblings, six of whom died in childhood, lived in a terraced house with no inside toilet and no books.

Having failed his 11-plus, Ray left school at 15. Working in an office during the day, he trained as a teacher in the evening. Later, he took an MA in linguistics at Lancaster University.

His career, at a succession of Manchester secondaries, was devoted to disadvantaged pupils: education, he believed, could transform their lives, as it had transformed his own. In 1981 he was appointed head of Drummond Middle School in Bradford, where more than 90 per cent of the pupils were Asian.

His first brush with controversy came a year later, when he wrote an article for TES. In it, he attacked the policy of multiculturalism, which encouraged pupils to retain their heritage culture and language, even at the expense of a shared British identity.

Two years later, he published a piece in The Salisbury Review. In language that, at very best, was injudicious - "the hysterical political temperament of the Indian subcontinent" - he condemned political correctness as effective censorship.

"Decent people are not only afraid of voicing certain thoughts, they are uncertain even of their right to think those thoughts," he wrote. Then he accused Pakistani families of taking children out of school during term time and claimed that Muslim parents barred their daughters from drama and dance, "imposing a purdah mentality in schools".

Parents gathered in picket lines outside Drummond school; there were death threats. Pupils wore badges reading "Hate your headmaster". Some parents supported him, but they did so silently, for fear of reprisals.

He was suspended in April 1985. After a successful appeal to the High Court, he was reinstated in September. But parents responded by keeping their children away from school. And so, in December, he agreed to take early retirement, eased with a generous payout. He did not return to teaching. Instead he served on the education panel of the right-leaning Centre for Policy Studies and as a Conservative councillor in Bury.

He continued to maintain that he had only wanted the best for disadvantaged pupils. In 2004, he found mild vindication in the Commission for Racial Equality's recommendation that children should be given "a core of Britishness".

Ray Honeyford died on 5 February. He is survived by two sons from his first marriage and by his second wife, Angela.

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