Tate condemned for 'new racism'

27th June 1997 at 01:00
SCAA's chief executive is under fire for his defence of Britishness, reports Rifat Malik.

The Government's senior curriculum adviser has been accused of "new racism" in a bitter attack by an education researcher.

Dr Nicholas Tate was criticised by Dr David Gillborn of London University for upholding "Thatcherite" education policies and a school culture which was obsessed with "Britishness". This leads to teaching about Britain's heritage, its culture, language, and way of life that sidelines the ethnic minorities, said Dr Gillborn.

Prime Minister Tony Blair and his predecessor John Major were also condemned for their use of such language, which, Dr Gillborn said, sanitised British history and particularly the colonial past. In an article published in an educational journal, Dr Gillborn argued that this is a form of "cultural restorationism" - a sophisticated form of racism.

Dr Gillborn, reader in the sociology of education at London's Institute of Education, argued that "colour-blind" education policies have combined with market forces in schools. The result has been to foster inequalities, because they ignore the varying needs of children in different ethnic groups.

Dr Gillborn's contribution to the British Educational Research Journal focused on Dr Tate, chief executive of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, and his views on the importance of British culture. "Tate believes the way to fight racism is to teach about Britain, an approach that has been popular in the past 10 to 15 years," wrote Dr Gillborn.

"Thatcher's infamous statement about Britain being 'swamped' by immigrants upholds that Britain is white and unified. Tate asserts this view, but finds it difficult to define what the key values of our common culture are - but it's some middle-class, comfortable notion of Englishness which excludes minorities and the working classes."

As well promoting a unifying common culture that is both "bigoted and elitist", Dr Tate's perceived impatience with political correctness and liberal educationists is compared with "IQists" or genetic supremacists such as Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray.

In their book The Bell Curve, Herrnstein and Murray complain of "egalitarian tyrannies" and liberal conspiracies, and offer a genetic explanation for social and educational inequalities.

Dr Tate is extremely unhappy about the article, pointing out that in a speech this week at the National Youth Agency Conference he stressed the need to re-engage all young people and promote inclusiveness. "It is a long time since I have read such a piece of pretentious, jargon-ridden nonsense. The way to tackle racism, is to get across the idea that we are all - I repeat all - part of a common national project," said Dr Tate.

But Dr Gillborn is unrepentant."Tate has been the clearest in peddling a certain view of the nation," he said. "He's very influential and his appointment to the latest quango (the Qualifications and Curriculum Agency, to start this autumn) means his influence will carry on. Tate presents the classic contemporary voice of new racism and cultural restorationism. He makes a virtue of using boldest terms, but I would call it the crudest terms."

Dr Gillborn has specialised in race education, and the inequality of opportunity in secondary schooling. Last year he published a report, with Professor Caroline Gipps, for the Office for Standards in Education on ethnic under-achievement.

The new Labour administration also came under fire from Dr Gillborn. "While I accept that Labour is absolutely serious about social justice, unlike the Tories, it is still adopting a colour-blind stance. Blair talks about the nation, standards, league tables, and is treating everyone the same - ignoring disadvantages. He has been captured by the language that currently dominates education thinking."

"Racism and reform: new ethnicitiesold inequalities", British Educational Research Journal, June 1997 Volume 23 Number 3

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