A quick follow up on this post on a BBC presenter apparently suggesting you can’t be an American and a Muslim, and my complaint.
The BBC have now replied as follows:
Thank you for getting in touch about the US media coverage of the Chapel Hill shootings, from the Phil Williams programme on 12 February 2015. Please accept our apologies for the delay replying whilst we looked into the matter for you.
We have discussed your concerns personally with the programme’s Editor who explains in response that Phil was trying to get to the heart of the social media controversy around the reporting of the event, which maintained that US media coverage would have been greater if this had been a shooting carried out by an American Muslim on white Americans. But in the pressure of the live broadcasting environment, the Editor accepts that Phil inadvertently used phrases that were not as clear as they should have been.
As you rightly point out, the victims were US citizens too, and it was not the intention to give any other impression.
Thank you for pointing this out.
About as close to an apology as I’m going to get, I think. Anyway, civic duty done.
Introduction to part 2
In part 1 of this critical engagement Professor Alexis Jay’s report on Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) in Rotherham, the focus was mainly on the factors which drove the upsurge in CSE in the late 1990s and 2000s, rather than the council’s and other agencies’ response to that upsurge. Clearly, though, the way in which those ‘external’ factors took effect during the period had an effect on the appropriateness, or otherwise, of the response by those agencies.
In part 1, I made two main points in particular about the weaknesses in the Jay report in respect of these factors. Here in part 2, I’ll expand somewhat on the implications of these, and of how the reports interprets them, before moving on to the ‘internal’ institutional dynamics of the agencies response to CSE, and will again suggest that the analysis by Jay is inadequate, and indeed potentially counterproductive at a national level, given her new role as adviser to the public inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse announced in July.
In part 3, I’ll move on to what I think is the biggest conceptual flaw in the Jay report – the failure to grasp what community development actually is – and I’ll finish with an assessment of what does actually need to be done to stop and prevent the growth of CSE (and child abuse more generally), and offer some suggestions on how we might move in that direction. Needless to say, these suggestions won’t involve manadatory reporting, which is at best a distraction, or fabricating evidence so that staff can be disciplined, as the MP for Rotherham is now apparently suggesting. Sadly, Labour has been utterly useless in its response so far, and this is my attempt to help it respond better, before it is too late.
Ethnicity and political correctness
In part 1 I suggested that the report lacked the courage of some of its convictions about the “issue of ethnicity” (as one of the report chapters is entitled), with Jay going to lengths to say that ethnicity cannot possibly be seen as a predictor of child abuse perpetration, before backtracking and accepting that future work to combat CSE may have to confront ‘cultural issues’. I then set out an alternative way of approaching the matter, in a way that not only allows for a ‘race-blind’ approach to tackling CSE, but which is actually more effective because it is race-blind i.e. it is not caught up by extraneous issues of ethnicity, but focuses on the actual material circumstances which are predictive of CSE .
This is important stuff because, if we accept that race-blind intervention to stop and then prevent CSE is not only possible but more effective than ethnicity-focused intervention , much of the criticism, itself based in the report on little more than hearsay, that police, council staff and councillors betrayed children because they weren’t courageous enough to ‘take on political correctness’ – becomes an irrelevance.
Maybe, just maybe, the managers and councillors were correct in their approach. Maybe, just maybe, being politically correct can be correct in terms of lived outcomes as well as votes.
That’s not to say that sending the Home Office researcher off on diversity training course for using the word ‘Asian’ in a report was the correct thing to do; this does sound cack-handed, as it is pretty well impossible to imagine a Home Office researcher into CSE having anything other than a good understanding of diversity issues, and therefore open to a reasonable debate, based on the kind of evidence I produced in part one about circumstance being the overriding predictor, about whether her approach was reasonable. Her mistreatment, though, may have more to do with the dominant masculine managerialism referred to in the Jay report (and which I analyse below) than with the fact that she was right and they were wrong about the fundamentals of the best way to tackle the CSE epidemic.
Maybe it was the other way round. Maybe the managers were right. Maybe she was wrong.
Let”s be blunt, then. Even though the report hedges it is bets – “Recommendation 14 reads: The issue of race should be tackled as an absolute priority if it is a significant factor in the criminal activity of organised child sexual abuse in the Borough)” – this very hedging means that the media and popular reaction to the report has focused on the need to overcome political correctness and focus on ethnicity a way to prevent further abuse.
The Jay report may therefore end up doing children currently being exploited and at risk of exploitation more harm than good.
The perfect storm: external meets internal
Also in part 1, suggested that a key weakness in the Jay report – though this may have more to do with the terms of reference and timescales than Jay and her team’s own capacities – is the failure to assess why the incidence of CSE has risen. My own answer to this question is linked to the argument above about circumstance over ethnicity, and argues that the rise of mobile and social media technology, plus the easy availability of internet porn as a progressively misogynsing factors [link to Us article], creates both the ‘motivation’ and opportunity to develop exploitative techniques. Jay’s relative failure to assess the surge in incidence feeds into the over-emphasis on ethnicity. It also incidentally allows her a route out of commenting properly on the horribly inequitable funding of the council as a whole; while she notes the 33% loss of spending power in Rotherham in comparison with 4.8% in Buckinghamshire (para 12.14) , there is no recommendation as to what might be done about such clear inequity.
But this is just one part the ‘perfect storm’ that hit those principally and statutorily responsible for protecting children – frontline social workers. The other factors which hit children’s social care staff in the crucial period were understaffing – I’m not sure how any council department might be expected to operate with a vacancy rate of 43% (para 12.2) – and the rampant managerialism which took hold of public services delivery in the 1990s and 2000s.
I should be clear what I mean by managerialism, a term not used in the Jay report itself but which I use here to reflect the kind of events she describes (but doe not fully analyse) in her report.. I mean the ideologically-motivated assumption that if public services (indeed services of any kind) are subject to improved management targets and controls, then the quality of that services is bound to improve. This assumption, as Chris Dillow has set out on his blog and in his fine book New Labour and the folly of managerialism is wrong, not least because what may be gained through ‘efficiencies’ is lost through diminished professional/worker autonomy.
This we can see from the Jay report, is precisely what happened in Rotherham in the 2000s. The account at paras 6.21-6.24 about how social worker time was remorselessly squeezed away from both preventative and vital followup work is not just an account of understaffing. When I asked frontline social workers in my area about this section, they actually burst out laughing at the idea that there might not have been downward pressure to increase “throughput” (the beautifully managerial term used by Jay at para. 6.23); of course frontline professionals would deny that they had submitted to such pressures, they told me, as that would make them look unprofessional in the eyes of Jay’s team (and therefore open to disciplinary measures for loss of professional standards), but of course they will have submitted to pressures – how, if there were no such pressures, would have the question of such pressure have arisen in the first place?
Perhaps even more revealingly, Jay covers the role played by Barnardo’s in the removal of professional autonomy, through the introduction of a “numeric scoring system” (para 6.38). Jay detiails how, while managers may claim otherwise in their interviews (again, understandably in the view of possible sanctions), frontline social workers make it quite clear that there was little room for them to exercise professional judgment and override the scoring system where they felt the scoring was underplaying the actual risk at which children found themselves.
Again, I asked experienced children’s social workers, with whom I come into contact for me work, what they thought of these paragraphs in the Jay report (they had not read the report at that stage, so I paraphrased Jay but referred specifically to the Barnardo’s scoring system, which is well-known and in widespread use. These colleagues answered to the effect that the Barnardo’s scoring model is deficient not just because it doesn’t, of itself, allow for professional judgment alongside the scoring, but that professional judgment is actively excluded by the insistence on the need, within the scoring process, for concrete evidence.
The (recent) example I was given of a teenage girl who had been found by police (involved in other crime detection work) on an edge-of-town caravan park, miles from home, and in a place unfamiliar to her family. There was no evidence that she was on that night subject to sexual exploitation and so, despite the putting of two and two together by social workers, the risk assessment as scored downplayed a risk obvious to pretty well everybody involved in the case.
It is not always thus. One of the local authorities that my work connects with had looked at the Barnardo’s mode in the mid-2000s and, because they remained open to some real frontline social worker interaction, had chosen not to go with the ‘best practice’ Barnardo’s model, but instead asked frontline social workers to develop their own model for standardised assessment.
What to make of all this? Well, the first thing to mention is the level of control that Barnado’s, a voluntary sector organisation dominated by a controversial Chief Executive, appear to have had not only over Rotherham but across a swathe of local authorities in England. While a voluntary organisation in legal definition, Barnardo’s size and capacity to undercut smaller organisations and in-house provision, combined with its clever marketing means that it has become something of an untouchable. Even here, where the finger has been pointed at Barnardo’s for the introduction of a scoring model which is demonstrably not ‘best practice’, or even good practice, the (otherwise very good) Rotherham Council response to the Jay report continues to refer to it in these hallowed terms, and to make clear that it use will continue. Here is not the place to delve in detail into the relationship between Barnardo’s (and its arc-rival NCH) and the state, but it is worth stressing that if you are going to act effectively as an arm of the state, then you really need to be held to the same standards as the state. On this occasion, at least, this hasn’t happened.
The second, broader, point to make about this section of the Jay report is that, while Jay set out well the way frontline social worker were subject to managerialist influences to the detriment of their professional judgement , she probably fails to reach the correct conclusions on the basis of these findings. Instead of pointing out how the managerialism which spread across local authorities in the 1990s and 2000s at the expense of professional autonomy – some of this because of contracting out to bodies like Barnardo’s – may have caused the practice failures she uncovers, Jay instead opts for another broad explanatory factor: the aggressive. ‘macho’ culture which dominated the council in the same period. Yet no direct link is apparent between this macho culture and poor practice outcomes for children.
It seems to me that a more indirect explanation is brought forward while an indirect one is ignored, either because it is inconvenient or – I suspect more likely – the idea that managerialism night be a problem lies beyond Professor Jay’s conceptual paradigm of how a local authority should operate. This is not to say that councillor and senior officer misogyny and aggression did played no part in what happened, but it is also possible that this cultural aspect of the council’s failure was fed and watered by the ideological and institutional factors which came into local government from Thatcher onwards, whereby management efficiencies become more important than professional relationships in a way which then fostered ‘black box’-style – I don’t care how the target is met, just meet the target – approaches to management .
Again, this is not just esoteric wondering about the background causes to the Rotherham failures; establishing why the failures happened is essential to ensuring that they don’t happen in future. If the public eqnuiry on which Professor Jay will act as a key adviser and is chaired by a key proponent of privatization, accepts her analysis that macho, male-dominated councils are at the heart of the problem, then the solution will lie in human resources practice to ensure that more women are in top positions and /or that macho practice is trained and developed out of people. If, as I contend we should, the key problem is actually that professional autonomy has been stripped away from professionals (and from professional training), then the answers lie elsewhere. This will be a key battleground in the inquiry process, but at the moment the managerialists hold the higher ground.
That’s enough for part 2. Part 3, covering the key conceptual failure of the Jay report, and recommendations for action on the part of those willing to think and act in the interests of children, as opposed to the need to be seen to be angry, will follow soon.
 There is a straight analogy with the application of English law here. The basic principle is that an offender is prosecuted for an offence, not for the type of offender s/he is, although when assessing the level of offence it is leigtimate to take into account other offences committed to establing an offending pattern. It seems odd therefore, for people interested in ‘British values’ to be arguing that there should be a focus on offender profiling rather than offence profiling when it comes to CSE.
 Another question arises here about the ‘issue of ethnicity”: if CSE were in fact ethnic culture-driven, rather than circumstance-driven, what would we actually do about it? Is Jay actually suggesting that priority should be given to changing culture in some way, over and above measures to intervene tactically in the circumstances which we know actually create CSE opportunities? If so, this would seem to be anti-PC gone maaaad, a desperate attempt to paficy the Islam-correlates-with-rape crowd at the expense of children’s futures?
 It occurs to me that this may seem like too strong a defence of frontline social workers. After all, whatever managerialist influences they were subject to, they are still professionals, with professional standards, so should n’t we have expected them to stand up better to their bosses. The answer to this question is yes, we should, but my argument here (as elsewhere) is that moral condemnation of staff – and their sacking – does nothing about professional competence in the long term; we need to establish why and how professional didn’t feel able to act up to professional standards, and a failure to do so will be a like act of gross political failure (as well as failure in social work training, which i’ll cover in part 3)
Here is not the place to go into loss of professional ethics and standards in detail, other than to say that there is a rich seam of ressearch literature on the subject, for those politically professional enough to engage with it. It’s called, broadly, Implementation Studies, and starts with the seminal work of Michael Lipsky (1980), which details how frontline professionals move, in certain circumstances, from autonomy and advocacy towards alienation and disregard for their clients as whole human beings. It ends, for me at least for now, with this detailed qualitiative study of how even Finnish welfare professionals are subject to managerialism and see their work get worse as a result.
 The best read I know on this post-Thatcher trend, other than Chris Dillow’s book, is Gerry Stoker’s (2004) Transforming Local Governance: From Thatcherism to New Labour. Here’s how he summaries managerialism:
Managerialism……..began in the 1980s and 1990s to take an increasingly strong hold in local government. This ideology saw political leadership as important in setting direction but beyond that a potential source of inefficiency. Politicians should set goals but not dictate the means to achieve them. The key to managerialism is its emphasis on the right of managers to mange against inappropriate interference from politicians or, for that matter, the special pleading of professional groups (p.13, my italics)
The most striking things about the commentary on the ongoing bloodshed in Gaza is the broad failure to ask why the Israeli government/military, backed by a large percentage of the Israeli population, is behaving like this.
Maybe the conflict has gone on so long that few people feel the need to ask this fairly basic question: what are the roots of Israel’s need to kill hundred of defenseless civilians in an act of “self-defence”, when any reasonably rational assessment of the actions suggests these actions a) constitute cold-blooded murder of children and other non-combatants, and b) feed an increasing hostility on the part of the Palestinian (and wider Middle-East) population, this decreasing the long-term chances of peace?
Perhaps the failure to ask that basic question, especially at times like this especially, is because the answer is at so obvious. Or perhaps – much worse for any possible resolution to the conflict in the long-term – it’s been forgotten by outside observers, and internalised by Israelis to such an extent that it is no longer utterable.
But I think the answer bears repeating: the root of the murder of Palestinian children today is simple: the holocaust.
The State of Israel came about because of the holocaust, and the national identity not just of Israeli Jews, but also – until relatively recently – the vast bulk of American Jews, is inextricably linked to it. After an initial period in which those creating the new, deeply militarized Israel built their identity around the Sabra, the very real threat to the new state’s existence in 1967, and the implied/inferred threat of a further genocide, led to very rapid formation a of national identity based on what Daniel Navon calls the “embracing of victimhood” and in consequence a “paradoxical perception of military superiority and existential anxiety” (p.10). Moreover, this national identity became shared not just in Israel but in the United States, to the extent that in many ways to be an American Jew was to be an Israeli living in America.
Ultimately, it is the fear of a new holocaust, however remote it might seem to outside observers but very real and very near in the days leading up to the 1967 war, which created the path-dependent institutions which we see in Israel and America (think Wall Street Journal) today, in which there is no escaping the internalised logic of “self-defence” born of victimhood.
It seems to be that until outside observers start to remember/learn all of this for the first time – perhaps starting by taking American Jewish and Israeli scholarship more seriously than it is “allowed” – then the chances of a long term resolution remain slight, since even the welcome generational shift amongst American Jews away from their parents and grandparents emotional link to Israel and to victimhood (and back towards the kind of relationship being developed in the 1947-67 period) may not have enough weight to counteract 50 years of institutional path dependency.
Of course none of this stops children being killed today, or tomorrow, or next year. But maybe it’s better to promulgate some kind of informed hope for the future, based on some kind of understanding of the past, than it is to simply regard the Israel/Palestine conflict as an elemental hatred between peoples.
The appalling gang rape and murder of a young woman in Delhi has created the usual, and somewhat predictable, divisions in the left commentariat.
On the one hand you have Owen Jones:
But, in the West, Damini’s death has triggered a different response: a sense that this is an Indian-specific problem. “The crime has highlighted the prevalence of sex attacks in India,” says the Daily Telegraph; “India tries to move beyond its rape culture,” says Reuters. Again, it’s comforting to think that this is someone else’s problem, a particular scandal that afflicts a supposedly backward nation. It is an assumption that is as wrong as it is dangerous.
On the other there’s Sunny Hundal:
I despair with well-meaning people who say India’s endemic violence against women doesn’t have cultural roots. Desperate attempt to be PC. The debate will go on into the night. Nothing will be resolved, mostly because both are (only) half-right.
Owen is right to state the obvious – that violence against women remains a massive, under-recognised problem in Western Europe, but Sunny’s argument – that to ‘dilute’ the issue by suggesting that India is no worse than the UK, does a disservice to Indian women – is also reasonable. (Like Sunny, I’ve spent plenty of time in Indian (and Bangladeshi) houses/shanties/huts and support his view that, quite simply, women have a lower status in many households). Sunny’s probably also right to suggest a reluctance to pin the blame on Indian ‘culture’ stems, at least in part, from a wariness on the part of lefties of being taken as making racist assumptions about the cultural norms of brown people.
The problem with Sunny’s argument, though, comes in his essentialist use of the word ‘culture’. For Sunny, culture appears to be a thing, which you have, or you don’t have. Such a conception leads almost inevitably to the conclusion that, if the position of women in India is to be improved, Indians must lose a bit of their culture. That, I suggest, doesn’t lead us very far. Indeed it creates the condition in which the PC-gone-mad lefties like me, and maybe Owen, are tempted to reach for the safety of the ‘violence is everywhere’ argument.
I have a different conception of culture, and one which I think helps us through the current analytical impasse.
For me, culture is the product of a historical process of power struggle. It is dynamic, and consistently evolving in response to those power struggles. The biggest power struggle in the history of modern India was British Imperial rule, and this colonial rule had a very large impact on the position of women in India today. The best analysis of this that I know of is in Varsha Chitnis and Danaya Wright, The Legacy of Colonialism: Law and Women’s Rights in India, 64 Wash. & Lee L. Rev. 1315 (2007), in which the authors argue that the unequal status of women in India today has its roots in the power struggle between
the native elites and the colonialists [which] was fought on the backs of Indian women because it was the alleged degraded position of Indian women and the barbaric actions of Indian men that justified the colonial mission in the first place. This brings into the picture a third group, British feminists, who claimed a moral imperative to reclaim for Indian women the dignity and rights of Western women (p.1318).
As a consequence, argue the authors:
The condition of the Indian woman, particularly within the home, became the battleground on which the contests of power between Indian and British men and between British men and women were fought…… [O]ne of the post-independence legacies of this complex tussle for power is that even secular laws for women today are either protectionist and patriarchal, or else modem Indian women are not in a position to exercise their legal rights in meaningful ways. Victorian notions of womanhood (chastity, innocence, self-effacement, and passiveness) continue to pervade some laws, and certainly the traditional training of lawmakers and judges in the British legal system allows them to bring their often patriarchal understanding of the historical foundations of these laws to bear as precedents and jurisprudential principles, even when the laws are facially egalitarian (p.1319).
Of course, blaming the unequal position of women in India on colonialism doesn’t get us very far in itself. India has been independent for 70 years, and while the effects of colonialism are certainly longlasting and path-dependent, there are of course many other influences. My point is simply that, if people in Britain are to support in any way, shape or form, the liberation of women in India and elsewhere in South Asia, it will be important to engage in any such action not on the basis of judgment about the inadequacy of Indian culture when compared to Western freedoms for women – that would be, after all, neo-colonialism writ large – but on the basis that we’re doing what we can to help Indian women gain the power Britain arguably denied them in the first place.
This is a guest post from Justin Baidoo. He can and should be followed on twitter @justinthelibsoc.
Ed Miliband’s speech on integration was a more nuanced and positive take on immigration than Theresa May’s speech earlier in that week. He had many warm words about identifying with migrants and celebrating Britain’s diversity in typical New Labour fashion. You could see why many Labour policy wonk-types were pleased with it, there was some positive stuff, like offering more English language training for new workers and cracking down on slum-lords. However these were small mercies in a discourse that is framed against the freedom of movement. While it was dressed in less hostile language, the focus of debate still has the migrant as a source of significant social and economic ills.
Most people won’t read or hear Ed Miliband’s speech, but they’ll see the headlines and could surmise that immigrants, if left to their own devices, will eventually ruin Britain. This was deliberate, Labour press officers spun the main message to be that immigrants have to learn English, New Labour was “too soft” on immigration and as a result, segregation has become a serious threat to Britain. Thus Daily Mail readers can be reassured that One Nation Labour will empathise with their xenophobia rather than challenge it.
So while the Labour leader rightly addressed exploitative practices by employers and recruitment companies, he also highlighted four key issues that he believed mass immigration posed, to his vision of One Nation Britain:
1. The indigenous community have well founded anxieties about immigration due to its real negative economic impacts
2. Public service delivery such as healthcare and elderly care, have been hampered due to poor quality of English by foreign workers
3. Communities have become increasingly segregated because migrants will not or cannot integrate
4. One Nation Labour should not repeat the “mistakes” of New Labour on Eastern European migration and a cap may be sensible
These arguments, lauded by Dan Hodges as mature, nuanced, intelligent – and surprisingly right-wing are essentially wrong.
Issue one: This popular economic myth suggests that mass immigration has stunted wages, strained our public services and blocked job opportunities for British born workers. These claims have been intensely scrutinised by Migration Watch, the government’s own Migration Advisory Committee and the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR). The evidence from all these sources shows that these claims are patently false. There is no serious case to answer and is acutely explained by Jonathan Portes here. In short, migrants proportionally use fewer public services and cost less and cost less than the UK born population, disproportionately pay more indirect taxes, and have a negligible effect on low paid workers. The recent Autumn Statement, according to the IFS, costs those on the lowest decile £3.34 per week in comparison to the maximum probable immigration cost of £0.30 per week.
Issue two: Many would argue that quality of care, rather than English proficiency is a key problem within social and health care services. Though there have been a few cases where the ability to speak English has been the key issue, it is a farcical to suggest banning workers based on their language capability will solve this. Already an estimated 150,000 migrant care workers are not even being paid the minimum wage! It is telling that Miliband would rather pontificate on a pensioner’s anecdote on migrant workers accents, than discuss the well-documented issue of care worker exploitation. These are poorly waged hard labour jobs, where a worker can typically be given 15 minutes to wash, dress and feed a person with Alzheimer’s disease. A public discussion is needed on the great and corrosive pressures of the profit motive and bureaucratic drives for efficiency that are heavily placed on nurses and care workers irrespective of if they are British-born or foreign-born. This is the true crisis in patient care rather than grasp of English by the foreign worker.
Issue three: Danny Dorling has wonderfully destroyed this argument. Basically, we are mixing ethnically more than ever. The real segregation is due to economic inequality not language proficiency. There may be an issue, albeit a relatively small one, so why is it addressed solely as the fault of the migrant and portray the settled white communities as helpless victims of segregation? Why don’t we discuss segregation that is caused by fear of the foreigner? The phenomenon, known as “white flight”, shows that white communities actively move away from their new migrant neighbours rather than migrants purposefully creating single ethnic ghettoes out of a desire to exclude themselves. Of course, Ed wouldn’t mention this as telling the truth wouldn’t get him The Sun reader vote.
Issue four: Eastern Europeans helped not hindered Britain, perhaps due to their skin tone and Catholicism no-one suggests that Polish culture is detrimental to Britain. Economically speaking, EasternEastern European migration was good for Britain. During the 2010 general election debates, Gordon Brown opposed the much disputed migrant cap, on the principle that enough migration measures had been made by Labour. Ed Miliband now will consider keeping the mechanism only “if it works”. His aim here is craven positioning in the migration debate; constructing himself as the honest and sensible saviour who will end the racial and cultural segregation that is fragmenting Britain before our very own tear-filled eyes. But this isn’t a debate, this is the acceptance of right-wing propaganda. Instead of the old concrete trope of “they are stealing your jobs and your houses”, it is the now ephemeral affect “they are separating themselves and making you feel alien in your own country”.This is progress from Gordon Brown’s use of the BNP slogan, “British Jobs for British Workers”, so while the BNP can’t endorse this nuanced argument, UKIP happily could.
Britain doesn’t have an immigration problem, it has a problem accepting migrants as human beings. When immigration is publicly debated, it is assumed that the freedom of movement for people is inherently dangerous, migrants are a menace who will destroy “British values” if our politicians are not vigilant. Conversely, the power of Capital to disrupt lives, destroy communities and decimate public services is ignored and unexamined. This is what One Nation Labour is offering and I think it can it fuck right off.
There’s been plenty of coverage of Ed Milband’s speech on ‘cultural integration’ in Tooting today, and I don’t intend to repeat stuff. For the record, I agree that it was an attempt at celebrating cultural diversity, along with some decent enough policy points about protecting migrants from some of the worst excesses of capitalism. I still don’t see how the labour movement can really claim the high ground on how we all live together until it confronts once and for all its shameful institutionally racist past, which helped create the divisions of today, but that’s another post (here’s one I wrote earlier). As it stood, it was on ok speech.
But this bit was strangely strawman-like:
Where there are Home School Agreements, English language learning should be included. Which too often doesn’t happen at the moment. That would ensure that both schools and parents share the responsibility for helping foreign-born children learn how to speak English.
Is Ed Miliband really suggesting that there’s a substantial number of parents out there who are keen to stop their children learning English at school – children who can only be saved from a lifetime of English-free non-integration by making their parents sign a piece of paper which presumably they won’t be able to read anyway? If so, who and where are these people? Because the research I’ve seen about migrant parents’ attitude to their children’s education suggests quite the opposite of what Miliband appears to be suggesting is going on.
For example, Haleh Afshar’s research back in the 1980s found that:
Muslim women in West Yorkshire, like their male counterparts, place an inordinate trust in the ability of the educational system to act as a means of delivering their children from the drudgery of poverty. Although in practice there is not enough evidence to support their optimism, women of all backgrounds, regardless of their own levels of educational achievement, seek to promote their children within the school and further educational systems and are increasingly doing so for their daughters as well as their sons.
And later (2002), Tahir Abbas found in his study of Asian families in Birmingham that, while social class may play a part in attitudes to the importance of education:
In general, both parents and their children are convinced in their enthusiasm for educational achievement, with research continuing to show the importance of parenting to secondary schooling.
If Asian and Muslim communities – arguably the broad group in Britain most demonized as separating themselves off from the ‘mainstream’ – are so keen for their children to participate and succeed in school (for which presumably a grasp of English is necessary), what other groups are out there actively denying their children access to the lingua franca? Is Miliband suggesting that ‘foreign-born’ children are affected by a a whole new set of attitudes from parents which don’t seem to be held by earlier migrants? I just don’t get it.
But perhaps I’m being too pernickety. Perhaps Miliband was merely seeking to point out the importance of newly arrived parents learning English as quickly as possible so that they can help their kids out at school, so that those kids get over the barrier of a late start and catch up as best they can. That would sound much more reasonable.
Oddly, though, the research doesn’t seem to support such a thesis. On the contrary, the research that has been done (in the US) on children of migrant families who learn English while their parents don’t suggests that their role as ‘language brokers’ is a significant factor driving their educational achievement. Dorner et al (2007), for example*, studied “the regularity with which the children of mostly Mexican immigrants in Chicago interpret languages and cultural practices for their families”, and found that:
[S]uch “language brokering” is related to academic outcomes. Using data collected from a subset of children (n=87) longitudinal regression models, which controlled for early school performance, showed that higher levels of language brokering were significantly linked to better scores on fifth- and sixth-grade standardized reading tests………The practice of language brokering that we have identified has not received much attention from educational researchers seeking to boost students’ achievement. And yet it is a literacy and numeracy practice that takes place every day in the homes of immigrant families, and it is one that may have measurable payoffs for children’s school successes across a range of subject areas. While not all language brokering situations may have uniformly positive benefits—and earlier research has demonstrated the trade-offs between cognitive and psychosocial costs and benefits—standardized test score gains may indeed occur for the children of immigrants who accomplish deep and varied brokering tasks.
This, I suggest, is more than an esoteric research point. It suggests that significant numbers of children coming into schools and not just learning English for themselves but using their new language to help their families navigate through their new lives in Britain might, if the proper teaching resources are in place to help, actually be beneficial for educational standards overall, with native-born children carried along in the wake of these growing competencies and life skills. It even provides one partial explanation, dare I say, for the impressive surge in the achievement across London’s very diverse schools (p.18 of report), which, as Chris Cook at the FT has pointed out, is difficult to attribute entirely to improvements within the schools themselves (though this is undoubtedly important).
In short, maybe immigration is making for a cleverer country. Even the Daily Mail might have trouble arguing that that’s a bad thing.
That is not to argue, of course, that we should be actively seeking to deny parents access to English tuition so that their children can grow into even more rounded, talented people than they will be anyway. That would be pretty stupid, given the other advantages that having parents who can communicate freely in their new country will bring.
But it is to point out that, sometimes, this stuff about ‘cultural integration’, and the creation of a problem just so that Ed Miliband can offer the papers a thoroughly New Labour, managerial solution (Home School Agreements for Gawd’s sake), might not actually be a very good idea, and that a wholesale defence and celebration of immigration, in the interests of the (One) Nation, might actually end up being a winner, if Labour has the balls for it.
* For more, see also Halgunseth, L. (2003). Language brokering: Positive developmental outcomes. In M. Coleman & L. Ganong (Eds.), Points and Counterpoints: Controversial relationship and family issues in the 21st century: An anthology (pp. 154-157). Los Angles, CA: Roxbury.