Ray Honeyford: Headmaster who sparked controversy with an attack on multiculturalism

 

Ray Honeyford, the head teacher of a Bradford inner-city school, sparked national controversy in 1984 when he questioned multiculturalism in schools.

He was abused, suspended, reinstated and eventually hounded out of education. Headmaster at Drummond Middle School for four years, where more than 90 per cent of pupils were Asian, the mild-mannered and popular Honeyford devoted his career to the education of disadvantaged children, a background he knew well and one reason why he had such a passion for education as a force for social mobility. It was a measure of his success that the school was heavily oversubscribed, with the greatest demand for places coming from Muslim parents.

However, in January 1984, Honeyford wrote an article for the right-wing Salisbury Review in which he criticised multiculturalism, the doctrine that had held sway in state education since the 1970s. Ethnic-minority children were encouraged to cling on to their cultures, customs, even languages, while the concept of a shared British identity was treated with contempt. Honeyford thought this approach deeply damaging, and his article turned him into a figure both of hatred and hero-worship.

He argued that there was "a growing number of Asians whose aim is to preserve the values and attitudes of the Indian subcontinent within a framework of British social and political privilege, i.e. to produce Asian ghettos". He also criticised "an influential group of black intellectuals of aggressive disposition, who know little of the British traditions of understatement, civilised discourse and respect for reason".

He was particularly keen that all children should be taught English as their first language from a young age, writing, "Those of us working in Asian areas are encouraged, officially, to 'celebrate linguistic diversity', i.e. applaud the rapidly mounting linguistic confusion in those growing number of inner-city schools in which British-born Asian children begin their mastery of English by being taught in Urdu."

Honeyford also cast doubt on whether his pupils were best served by the local educational authority allowing such practices as the withdrawal of children from school for months at a time in order to go "home" to Pakistan on the grounds that this was appropriate to the children's native culture.

Anticipating that he might be accused of racism, he added, "It is the icon word of those committed to the race game. And they apply it with the same sort of mindless zeal as the inquisitors voiced 'heretic' or Senator McCarthy spat out 'Commie'."

Initially, the article went unnoticed, but it was then picked up by the national press. Bradford's then Labour Mayor, Mohammed Ajeeb, called for Honeyford's dismissal for demonstrating "prejudice against certain sections of our community". Following death threats, picket lines and torrents of abuse, Honeyford was given police protection to and from school. Pupils were given badges proclaiming "Hate Your Headmaster" along with a "Pupils' Charter" advocating open disobedience. Although supported by some within the Asian community, Honeyford found himself mostly alone, as many feared reprisals for openly supporting him.

In April 1985 he was suspended, then reinstated in September after an appeal to the High Court. This proved short-lived as some parents formed an action group, organising demonstrations and keeping their children away from school. That December Honeyford agreed to early retirement and a lump sum of £160,000.

The outcome left him bemused and angered, though he gained some small satisfaction in 2004 when Trevor Phillips, head of the Commission for Racial Equality, asserted that children needed to be given "a core of Britishness". Multiculturalism, he argued, suggested "separateness". He warned that "some districts are on their way to becoming fully fledged ghettos – black holes into which no one goes without fear or trepidation."

In words reminiscent of Honeyford's, albeit more delicately put, Phillips said that Britain "is sleep-walking into segregation ... For instance, I hate the way this country has lost Shakespeare. That sort of thing is bad for immigrants." The irony was not lost on Honeyford, who wrote in the Daily Mail, "He is lauded for his wisdom. I was sacked for my alleged racism." Some have argued that Honeyford was equally justified in his warning about Muslim separatism, which has dramatically increased since his article, as seen in the growth of Muslim faith schools and the informal official acceptance of sharia courts.

Born in Manchester in 1934, Raymond Honeyford was one of 11 children, six of whom died in childhood, in an Anglo-Irish working-class family. His father, a labourer, was wounded in the First World War and worked only intermittently thereafter. The Honeyfords lived in a terraced house with an outside toilet and no hot water.

Having failed his 11+, Honeyford attended Manchester Technical School until the age of 15, when he left for an office job in order to to support his family. He attended night school to train as a teacher and later completed an MA in Linguistics at Lancaster University. He went on to teach at a number of secondary schools in the Manchester area before becoming headmaster of Drummond Middle School in 1981.

Following his dismissal, with his career and reputation in ruins, Honeyford never returned to teaching. He dabbled in political journalism and gave talks, and served on the education panel of the Centre for Policy Studies, where he won respect for his integrity and passion; he also served for three years as a Conservative councillor in Bury.

Raymond Honeyford, teacher: born Manchester 24 February 1934; married firstly (marriage dissolved, two sons), 1982 Angela; died Bury 5 February 2012.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Casual Visitor Experience Assistants

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: To work within the Visitor Experience Departm...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitm...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Services & Office / Accounts Administrator

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This online retailer of electronic acces...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitm...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy