Swann (1985)

1985 Swann Report (text)

The Swann Report (1985)
Education for All

Report of the Committee of Enquiry into the Education of Children from Ethnic Minority Groups

London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office 1985
Crown copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen's Printer for Scotland.

Background notes

Historical context

In its 1977 report on The West Indian Community, the Commons Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration had highlighted widespread concerns about the poor performance of West Indian children in schools and had recommended that the government should institute a high level and independent inquiry into the causes of this underachievement.

As a result, in March 1979 Labour education secretary Shirley Williams established the Committee of Inquiry into the Education of Children from Ethnic Minority Groups.

Its terms of reference, which related only to England, were to:

review in relation to schools the educational needs and attainments of children from ethnic minority groups taking account, as necessary, of factors outside the formal education system relevant to school performance, including influences in early childhood and prospects for school leavers;
consider the potential value of instituting arrangements for keeping under review the educational performance of different ethnic minority groups, and what those arrangements might be;
consider the most effective use of resources for these purposes; and to make recommendations (1981 Rampton Report page 1).
The committee was asked to give 'early and particular attention to the educational needs and attainments of pupils of West Indian origin and to make interim recommendations as soon as possible on action which might be taken in the interests of this group' (1981 Rampton Report page 1).

The Committee complied, and under the chairmanship of Anthony Rampton, published its interim report West Indian Children in our Schools in 1981. It concluded that the main problems were low teacher expectations and racial prejudice among white teachers and society as a whole.

It was not a popular message. The media rubbished the report even before it was published, and Mark Carlisle, education secretary in Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government, sacked Rampton and appointed Michael (Lord) Swann (pictured) in his place.

Swann (1920-1990) was a biologist whose main interest was in cell physiology. He served eight years as Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh and was chairman of the BBC from 1973 to 1980. In 1979 he was appointed Chancellor of the University of York.

A total of thirty members served on the committee. Their report was submitted to Conservative education secretary Keith Joseph in March 1985.

Summary of the report's main recommendations

The Committee's main conclusions and recommendations were set out in Part V. The following are some of the key points:

  • this report is concerned primarily to change behaviour and attitudes;
  • the fundamental change that is necessary is the recognition that the problem facing the education system is not how to educate children of ethnic minorities, but how to educate all children;
  • Britain is a multiracial and multicultural society and all pupils must be enabled to understand what this means;
  • education has to be something more than the reinforcement of the beliefs, values and identity which each child brings to school - it must combat racism and attack inherited myths and stereotypes;
  • multicultural understanding must permeate all aspects of a school's work - it is not a separate topic that can be welded on to existing practices;
  • we are in favour of a non denominational and undogmatic approach to religious education;
  • we do not believe that a situation in which groups of children are taught exclusively by teachers of the same ethnic group is desirable from the point of view of the children, the minority community or society as a whole;
  • the under-representation of ethnic minorities in the teaching profession is a matter of great concern;
  • the most important potential source of ethnic minority teachers in the future is the ethnic minority pupils currently in school. Careers teachers and careers officers, with the strong support of DES and HMI, should encourage ethnic minority youngsters to consider the possibility of entering teaching.

The report online

Swann was a major report. Its 851 pages contain 16 chapters, 5 appendices and 40 or so tables (but no alphabetical subject index). There is also introductory material and a section containing the main conclusions and recommendations. Many of the chapters include annexes. The report is presented here in its entirety in a single web page.

Many of the subheadings in the report were printed in the left-hand margin. I have moved these into the body of the text. In a handful of cases this has meant dividing a paragraph in two.

The larger tables are shown as images (as are a handful of mathematical formulæ which are beyond my ability to render in HTML).

The printed version of the report contained dozens - if not hundreds - of spelling mistakes (including 'Hucklebury Finn'!) and wrongly-placed commas and speech marks. I have corrected those I noticed.

Anything added by way of explanation is shown [in square brackets].

The above notes were prepared by Derek Gillard and uploaded on 16 December 2007; they were revised on 20 November 2012.