Subnormal: A British Scandal Q&A with Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen talks about Subnormal: A British Scandal, a BBC One documentary about why black children in the 1960s and 1970s were disproportionately sent to schools for the so called ‘educationally subnormal’.

Examining one of the biggest scandals in the history of British education, Subnormal reveals how black children in the 1960s & 70s were disproportionately sent to schools for the so-called ‘educationally subnormal’. This gripping documentary tells the story of how black parents, teachers and activists banded together to expose the injustice and force the education system to change. It explores the controversial debates on race and intelligence that led to the scandal and the devastating impact it had on the children affected. The film discusses the IQ testing that took place and shows why it was heavily biased against black migrant children.

Subnormal also describes the events surrounding a leaked school report which revealed the or misconception of teachers that black children have lower IQs than their English contemporaries. The explicit racism of the report galvanised the community into action and led to the publication of Bernard Coard’s seminal book How The West Indian Child is Made Educationally Sub-normal in the British School System. Featuring first-hand interviews with key participants in these events, the film charts the ensuing media storm and the persistence of black parents and organisers which ultimately led to The Race Relations Act being amended to prevent racial bias in education.

Though these special schools were eventually phased out, this documentary also features several ESN students who talk for the first time about their education and what it is like to live in the shadow of an ‘Educationally Subnormal’ label.

Drawing on a rich array of personal testimony, documents and archive footage, the film captures this high-stakes battle between black parents and the British education system to drive fair and equal treatment for black children in today’s society.

 

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