DIRECTOR STEVE McQueen says having an ‘unfortunate time growing up as a Black child in the British education system’ was the premise for the fifth and final film from Small Axe anthology.
Though the film is set in the early 70’s, there were many parallels with my experience in the education system in the 80’s
Education is the coming of age story of 12-year-old Kingsley (Kenyah Sandy), a boy with a fascination for astronauts and rockets.
When Kingsley is called to the Headmaster’s office for disruptive behaviour in class, he is shocked to discover his transfer to a school for those with “special needs.”
It’s an all too familiar narrative, one that has propelled the Black community in the UK to overcompensate where education is concerned for fear of their children slipping through the academic net.
Executive producer, Tracey Scoffield, explains: “Education is based around a very particular set of circumstances which happened in Haringey, London.
“In 1971, the local education authority decided to act upon a report which said that based on the IQ test, which were commonly run through primary schools at that time, West Indian children were educationally subnormal”.
The report (1969), written by Alfred Doulton, Headmaster of Highgate School, was leaked and subsequently became known in the community as ‘TheDoultonReport’.
There was widespread opposition to the banding proposals because of the following passage in this leaked report: “On a rough calculation about half the immigrants will be West Indians at 7 of the 11 schools, the significance of this being the general recognition that their I.Q.s work out below their English contemporaries.
“Thus, academic standards will be lower in schools where they form a large group.”
Scoffield says: “The reasons they failed those IQ tests were variously to do with the fact that they were not born and brought up in England and didn’t know the culture, along with the fact that English might be their second language.
“Factors like these were not taken into account and a large number of West Indian children were simply bussed out to these educationally sub normal schools.”
McQueen relied on memory, as well as research, in the process of creating Education. Says McQueen: “I had an unfortunate time growing up as a Black child in the British Education system.
“Sadly, I was not alone. Before our research began, I had never heard of the ‘Educationally Subnormal Schools’ that were being formed in the 1970’s in this country.
“As we dug deeper I realised there was a narrative within this neglect.
“I combined my own experience with the source material to tell the story of a young Kingsley.”
He continues: “By coincidence one of the mothers of a child that took part in Small Axe had attended my old school. She had read an article in which I’d said the school had been institutionally racist.
“Because of the racism she’d experienced there she had decided to home school her own children.”
McQueen explains: “Though the film is set in the early 70’s, there were many parallels with my experience in the education system in the 80’s.
“To say much has changed is unfortunately not true.
“With the high percentage of Black boys excluded from schools now, the fact that high numbers of young Black men are involved in knife crime shows the continuing neglect and lack of investment in Black children, particularly boys, in schools today.”
Watch Education here.
Read more about Small Axe here.