Unlike today, the English educational system was very little centralized back in the 1960s [1]. After the 1965 circular issued by the Department of Education and Science (circular 7/65) which promoted the implementation of dispersal in areas which had more than 30% of immigrant children, Local Education Authorities were quite free to interpret “dispersal” how they saw fit, but also to introduce dispersal or not. As it turned out, the four LEAs with the largest number of immigrant children -the Inner London Education Authority, Birmingham, Brent, Haringey- refrained from doing so, with a degree of ambiguity as regards Birmingham. But what is key in terms of archival sources available is how the Department of Education and Science never really carried out a national enquiry into the bussing system. Pamela Fox, a D.E.S civil servant, candidly said in 1976 that “ We have never made a survey to find out how many districts were dispersing or how many children were involved” [2].

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The Guardian, 11. 02. 1967 : Photo of Grove School, Handsworth (Bir.). Despite the local furore against a potential coloured take-over in certain schools, bussing was never introduced in the city of Birmingham.

The upshot of all this is clear. It is well-neigh impossible to tell with any degree of certainty how many LEAs dispersed, as well as when dispersal began and ended in LEAs which operated it. In Southall, bussing lasted from 1963 to 1981, in Bradford from 1964 to 1980. Beyond this it is all guesswork, since in LEAs where bussing was low-key local archives are very sparse and local newspapers quite often don’t cover it, unless some controversy is sparked by it. Just as worryingly, most studies of dispersal, which generally take up a few pages, prudently baulk at giving an exhaustive list of dispersing LEAs, often referring to the two notorious cases (Ealing, Bradford) next to convenient words or phrases like “including” or “among others”. A compilation of all the available sources looked into for this book suggests that between 1964 and 1981, 12 LEAs opted for dispersal in order to desegregate some schools with a large intake of immigrant children (30% quite often). These are, in alphabetical order : Blackburn, Bradford, Bristol, Ealing (Southall), Halifax, Hounslow, Huddersfield, Leicester, Luton, Walsall, West Bromwich, Wolverhampton. Embarrassingly, even some details in this list might be proven wrong. Dispersal took many different forms, especially in places like Bristol or Leicester, which are not, unlike Bradford and Ealing, at the heart of this study. It is also important to keep in mind that one single word could easily cover distinct realities.

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As is implicit in this title to a 1973 Inner London Education Authority report, London never envisaged the introduction of bussing, stressing instead the necessity for neighbourhood schools, and the need for all pupils to be treated equally.

[1] On the growing centralisation of the system and its connection with racial issues, see Sally Tomlinson, Race and Education, Policy and Politics in Britain, Maidenhead, Open University Press, 2008.

[2] See art.cit., p. 196.