An Ethnographic Study into the educational experiences of the Mancunian Children of the Windrush Generation

Academic Leads: Dr Ornette D Clennon with Linford Sweeney


Our 36 month study will aim to uncover the cultural disconnect between the educational hopes and aspirations of the first generation of Windrush immigrants and their contemporary descendants. Although closing the gap, Black Caribbean (Race Disparity Audit classification) young people are still being registered as both performing under the national average for attainment and registering higher than average rates of school absenteeism and exclusion in distinct contrast to their Black African counterparts (Cabinet Office, 2017). This is despite community efforts to address these educational disparities through the setting up of community education hubs, also known as supplementary schools (Ramalingam & Griffith, 2015). The West Indian Organisations Coordinating Committee (WIOCC), established in 1964 is home to Manchester’s oldest supplementary school. WIOCC’s historical aims centre on the cultural and educational development of the children of the Windrush in Manchester. It is due to this history of over fifty years of educational activism in Manchester that many more supplementary schools have emerged. This is why we feel that there is a need to uncover and explore the changing historical and cultural role of education in our Mancunian African Caribbean communities.

Context and rationale

Building on the work of Bryan (2010) and Mckenley (2001) who both explore the educational memories and recollections of first generation Windrushers, we would particularly like to pick up on Mckenley’s (2001) contention that there is a lost or silenced African Caribbean voice that has been unable to successfully articulate the experiences of the UK educational system from its viewpoint. Despite the Swann (1985) and the Rampton (1981) reports detailing the then worries about “West Indian” educational underperformance, Mckenly suggests that educational answers for the apparent disparities were left unexplored in favour of a racial pathologisation of “West Indian” culture and its young people (especially the boys). Mckenly suggests that the voices of the “West Indian” communities were officially ignored or silenced in the debates about education at the time. However, we know that “West Indian” communities did indeed attempt to voice their concerns about the educational system through the establishment of their supplementary schools up and down the country (Andrews, 2013). However, these schools were resolutely kept outside of the margins of the educational establishment, which in effect re-enforced the practice of silencing their voices (in establishment arenas). Gillborne (1990:2) usefully characterises this as, “Black people’s issues [were] excluded from the Academy because of research and funding priorities, thereby creating a vacuum of facts led by stereotypes”.

With the prevailing view of cultural assimilation (Mirza, 2010; Clennon, 2014) where the establishment used its institutional gatekeepers to enforce a cultural adoption of a synthetic notion of Britishness (Clennon, 2017), the Caribbean cultures that the Windrush generations brought with them were gradually excised from their cultural memories. No clearer was this to be seen, than within the education establishment where a “culture of low expectations” propagated by its gatekeepers began to replace the original educational aspirations of the first Windrushers (Clennon, 2014:9). This study aims to find pathways of cultural memory within Manchester’s African Caribbean communities that can begin to reconstruct and redress this process of transformation that has occurred in its communities’ educational aspirations.


We are inspired by Bryan’s (2010) use of autoethnography to ‘dig deeper into the memories, excavate rich details, bring them onto conscious examination tables to sort, label, interconnect, and contextualize them in the socio-cultural environment’ (Chang, 2008, 51). Therefore, we will also use an ethnographical approach that will borrow from the ‘central voice’ perspective of Critical Race Theory (Taylor, 2009) to explore the following questions:

Research Questions

  1. What were their experiences of the Caribbean system of education before coming to the UK
  2. How did educational aspirations upon arrival into the UK match up to the then educational realities of expected cultural assimilation?
  3. What community support systems were in place that enabled the then recent immigrants to cope with the ‘culture shock’?
  4. Were experiences of the ‘culture shock’, gendered?
  5. What were their perceptions of their children’s re-evaluation of education in their daily lives?

We will keep you updated about our progress here.