Gus John responds to Teresa May’s ‘Windrush’ invitation

Gus John arrived in the UK in August 1964, aged 19, to study for the priesthood. But almost from the moment he arrived, he became involved in what was to become his life’s calling – education, youth work and the struggle for social justice and human rights for embattled communities as an activist and an academic.


Ta to

Open Letter to Prime Minister Theresa May

Dear Prime Minister

 Re:   Invitation to a reception for the 70th anniversary of Windrush at 10 Downing Street

It was with both surprise and utter bemusement that I received your invitation to the above.

We in this country have become used to foreign heads of state and leaders of movements being made international pariahs and being refused entry to the UK.   Robert Mugabe, Muammar Gaddafi, Louis Farrakhan, among others.   In my book, Prime Minister, the policies of your government, the incitement to racial hatred that they undoubtedly represent and the denial of fundamental human rights and the right to life itself to citizens of the Windrush generation who devoted all of their adult years to the development of Britain are enough to make you no less a pariah in the eyes of the Commonwealth and of the freedom-loving world than those whom your government over time has sought to ostracise.


In July 2013, with you as Home Secretary,  your government’s own vans were running around London boroughs with a large ‘immigrant’ population and displaying huge billboards targeted at ‘illegal’ immigrants and telling them to ‘Go Home or Face Arrest’.  What is worse is that your government lied not just to ‘illegal immigrants’ whom it wished to flush out, but to the public whom it wished to impress with its ‘zero tolerance’ stance on illegal immigration: ‘106 Arrests Last Week In Your Area’.  It turns out that 106 was the total number of arrests across the 6 pilot boroughs in which the vans had operated over a period of two days.  Arrests, not prosecutions or deportations. In your attempts to create ‘a hostile environment’ for ‘illegal’ immigrants, you placed 4 generations of Windrush arrivants and their descendants in the sight of any would be defender of white Britain and its borders, including racists and neo-fascists who felt they had a patriotic duty to help prevent Britain from being ‘swamped’ by any means necessary, including murder and mayhem.

On 16 June 2016, Jo Cox MP was brutally murdered in a street in her constituency of Batley & Spen in West Yorkshire by the white supremacist, Thomas Mair.  Cox was unequivocal in her support for refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants escaping armed conflict, genocide and hunger and risking their lives in rickety boats to cross the Mediterranean into Europe.  She was doing this in a country where the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) was focusing the two main parliamentary parties on the anger of the white British population at their failure to control immigration and reclaim ‘Little England’ from the clutches and the legal strictures of the European Union, its Schengen Treaty, free movement of labour and human rights protocols.

Despite that horrific murder and all it said about Britain and its relentless conflation of immigration and race, the British electorate voted by a narrow margin to leave the European Union and ‘claim our country back’.  What is worse, both as Home Secretary and as the post-Cameron Prime Minister, you redoubled your efforts to create a ‘hostile environment’ for immigrants, condemning long retired workers of the Windrush generation to uncertainty, misery, physical hardship and denial of the same life saving health services for which they had paid throughout their working lives.

It may well be, Prime Minister, that you would have the good grace to take the opportunity to tell your invited guests how sorry you are for your part in all of that brutal, inhumane and racist treatment of former colonised Africans who have and had no interest other than to serve this nation and do their best by their communities and families.  But, one of the uglier manifestations of whiteness in this society is an unassailable sense of in-your-face entitlement.  I do not believe that you are entitled to the magnanimity of those misguided folk who might well be happy to receive your invitation and to attend your Windrush anniversary celebration.  As far as I am concerned, I stand with those who suffered detention, deportation and mental ill health, some of whom even now face an earlier death as a result of being denied access to health services on account of your ‘hostile environment’ regime.

It would be a shameful betrayal to them all to accept your invitation and join you in Downing Street to mark the arrival of the Windrush 70 years ago and the contribution to British society of those whom it brought and their descendants.

Invite me again, please, when you meet with civil society to discuss the findings and recommendations of the Royal Commission on Reparations for African Enslavement which you would no doubt waste no more time in establishing on the back of your government’s Windrush scandal.

Yours, with sadness

 Professor Gus John

Equality and Human Rights Campaigner

Also see Gus John’s powerful critique of the Windrush Project itself.


70th Anniversary of Windrush 1948

Youth Work Cuts, Bits & Pieces and a touch of Christmas Cheer


Head done in, as usual, so simply sending seasonal greetings to all our readers and supporters- Ta to Justin Wyllie for photo

It’s always difficult to know what and how much to post across the holidays period, particularly the Christmas and New Year festive season. Thus this will be the last post of 2017 and inevitably a mix of gloom and hope, of contradiction and tension. It does contain links to articles/reports and blogs that you might read over a warming drink on a dark winter’s night in Macclesfield or indeed a cooling beverage on the beach in Mozambique.

CYPN reports that Youth service cuts ‘deeper than predicted’Spending on youth services by local authorities last year fell by £42m more than initially predicted, government figures have revealed. Statistics published by the Department for Education show that total expenditure by local authorities on youth services in 2016/17 came to £447.5m. This is £41.99m less than the £489.5m councils had told the DfE they were intending to spend and a 15.2 per cent cut on actual spending in 2015/16 of £527.9m.Separate figures published in September for predicted, as opposed to actual, spending show that funding is set to fall further, with councils saying they intend to spend £415.8m on youth services in 2017/18.

I think some IDYW followers were involved in CIRCUIT, a national programme for 15– 25 year-olds, led by Tate and funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. From 2013-17, ten galleries worked in partnership with youth organisations, aiming to create opportunities for a more diverse range of young people to engage with art in galleries and to steer their own learning. Circuit highlighted the importance of the arts and youth sectors working as allies to champion positive change for young people. A number of reports are now available at

The latest Youth & Policy article sees Gus John composing ‘a searing critique of policy in relation to youth violence – Youth Work and Apprehending Youth Violence. Gus focuses in particular on black young people and calls for a renewed role for youth work and education’. As he notes in the piece Gus trained as a youth worker in the late 1960s and was a practitioner and youth service manager for twenty years before becoming a director of education and leisure services. Significantly, he was one of only two directors of education / chief education officers who had attained that position through a youth work / social education route. See also Fifty Years of Struggle: Gus John at 70 and Reflections on the 1981 Moss Side ‘Riots’ : Gus John.

Mention of the National Citizen Service raises the hackles amongst many of our readers. Nevertheless, Graeme Tiffany, philosophical as ever, attended a recent seminar, ‘Next steps for the National Citizen Service and priorities for Character Education in England’. His incisive reflection on the experience is contained in his thoughts on meaning and value and observations such as ‘I remember Sheffield University’s Emeritus Professor of Philosophy of Education, Wilf Carr once asking me: “why do we always ask what education is for, and never what education is?” This is fertile territory, and I suspect Wilf would have acknowledged the progress we made in our attempts to answer his question. Indeed, given the testimony of many at the conference, it seems reasonable to argue that education is implicitly about drawing out character, and particularly that related to good (and democratic) citizenship, perhaps even that it is implicitly philosophical too’.

There’s a lot more going on, but coverage will wait until the New Year. What’s the rush, even if we’re always rushing.


To close I recommend for your enjoyment James Ballantyne’s ‘Albermarleys were dead to begin with…’ A Youthwork Christmas carol in which Justine ‘Scrooge’ Greening is visited by Lady Albemarle, the NCS, followed by Jeffs and Smith, the outcome being that to this reader’s delight Tiny Tony Taylor didn’t die and grew up to be a youth worker.




School Exclusion : Denying Rights, Destroying Lives – Ruskin Conference

Ta to the

Ta to the

Ruskin College Conference – School Exclusion: Denying Rights, Destroying Lives

To be held at Ruskin College from 11.00am-6.30pm on Thursday 28th May.

The conference will address the disturbing number of schools around the country that are systematically denying parents their rights to challenge the mistreatment of their children, particularly their permanent exclusion from school. Speakers include Professor Gus John (CEN), Dr Christy Kulz (Goldsmith UoL) and Rachel Knowles (Just for Kids Law). Booking information from

Fifty Years of Struggle: Gus John at 70

gus john

Prof. Gus John arrived in the UK in August 1964, aged 19, to study for the priesthood. But almost from the moment he arrived he became involved in what was to become his life’s calling – education, youth work and the struggle for social justice and human rights for embattled communities as an activist and an academic.

Help us celebrate his birthday and his lifetime achievements in March 2015.

This two-part programme is a celebration of 50 years’ campaigning for the rights and education entitlement of all children, for racial equality and social justice and against unlawful discrimination in all its manifestations.

Event 1 – Wednesday 11 March 2015

Perspectives on political, academic and cultural engagement

Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, Holborn, London WC1R 4RL

Ali Hussein – film maker and cultural activist
Ian Macdonald QC – human rights, immigration and criminal lawyer
Makeda Coaston – cultural activist, organizer and facilitator
Professor David Gillborn – Centre for Research on Race and Education
Dr Paul Warmington – CRRE, University of Birmingham
Paulette Douglas – parent advocate, Communities Empowerment Network
Andrew Johnson – former director, Equality and Discrimination Centre
Moderator: Aisha Phoenix

Free, but must register at

Event 2 – Saturday 14 March 2015 (2pm)
Documentary film, followed by:
Guardian columnist, Gary Younge, in conversation with Gus John

British Film Institute, South Bank, London SE1 9GY

£6.50 (Tickets from the BFI box office).

In addition see his blog at

Latest posts:

Denying children’s rights by stealth

Why I am not Charlie

A Muddy Mess : British Values, Extremism and Education

british values

The tragic events of recent weeks across the globe have once again fuelled the problematic rhetoric of values, be they British or Western, rendered simple a grasp of what extremism is and intensified the debate about the role of education in engaging with these issues.

In this context we are drawing your attention to a number of questioning blogs, which have seen the light in the last few months.

The first two of these are the work of Gus John, the prominent educationalist and activist, whose roots in youth work go back to the late 1960’s.

Although the first, Patriotism in Black and White, refers to the Rochester tweet of Emily Thornbeer, it retains all its pertinence. Particularly, given the coming election, it challenges the Labour Party’s understanding of class.

What Ed Miliband should understand is that his view of Labour’s traditional heartland, the working class, does not consist of whites only, with or without white vans.

Even as he seeks to placate the white working class, the British African and Asian working class could justifiably resent his failure to acknowledge that they experience painfully the flags which the Far Right elements of that patriotic section of Labour’s supporters have a right to fly. In the hands of that section of the white working class, the Union Flag and the St George’s flag have replaced the famous black shirts and brown shirts that once represented the ugliest face of the ‘Keep Britain White’ and Christian brigade.

The danger in the Labour Party allowing UKIP to set the agenda on immigration and then running around to woo the electorate away from them is that Miliband and his Party get engulfed in the same racist discourse and end up projecting a ‘white Britain’ mindset.

In the second, After Trojan Horse : Ofsted on the gallop, in a sweeping and incisive critique he exposes the bankruptcy of Ofsted and the dangers inherent in the ‘Prevent’ agenda, not only for teachers, but for all educators.

The fact remains that that protection of our nation that the government seeks to guarantee through its ‘prevent’ and safeguarding agenda is not afforded to all citizens and some citizens are not placed under surveillance or made subject to indiscriminate police stops and searches on account of the ‘terror’ they unleash upon sections of their own community. They therefore feel emboldened to sow fear, cause mayhem and engage in racist attacks and (sometimes) murders, while proudly and defiantly carrying the Union and St George’s Flags, in the full knowledge that the police and the state have never seen their predecessors, including the National Front, Column 88 and the BNP as ‘terrorists’, or as a threat to the nation and its security.

As an educator, I consider these legitimate matters for building and delivering curriculum, in order, especially, to encourage school (and college) students of all ethnicities to examine what this means for them all as they forge an identity as young British people, what the role of schooling and education should be in relation to it all and how they can work together to make sure that they, collectively, are building a future with the hallmark of racial justice and human rights, rather than one of chaos, racial conflict and the lack of a guarantee of state protection for all citizens.

In ‘Charlie Hebdo,Ofsted and British Values: time to pause for thought’ Graeme Tiffany, Vice-Chair of the Federation for Detached Youth Work, expresses similar concerns, arguing that engaging with the meaning of values demands process not instruction. He quotes Jacqueline Baxter’s concern about ‘new values police’.

“the apparent appropriation of values by the state is a worrying trend. More worrying still is how Ofsted is being used to police these values. It also risks transforming schools from being trusted institutions at the heart of their communities into organisations undermined by suspicion, doubt and a panopticon-like scrutiny. This is more likely to give rise to the very activities that both government and inspectorate are so eager to expunge. To avoid this we need a public debate about the human values that form the core of our society. Until this happens, the grey area around these “British values” is open to mis-interpretation, political manipulation and false assumptions. That may well cause repercussions which could fundamentally undermine our system of education.”

Finally, in Exploring Extremism, Elizabeth Harding of the North-West Regional Youth Work Unit worries about the extent to which youth workers are responding to the dilemmas posed by the ‘Prevent’ agenda and the notion of ‘British’ values.

More than ever, young people need the opportunity to explore ideas, to learn about each other and to be challenged, and supported, to question. The world’s changed so much in those intervening five years; not least the infrastructure of youth services. It’s shrunk and is disappearing. Who’s providing the challenge, who’s bringing young people together to learn about each other’s cultures and religions?

I do hope someone will let me know that there IS great work going on out there. I suspect there is, but there’s no co-ordination and no learning from each other.



Reflections on the 1981 Moss Side 'Riots' : Gus John

Further to our linking to Gus John’s recent Open Letter to Cameron, the independent newspaper, Manchester Mule, has published in two parts a revealing interview with Gus, within which he reflects on the significance of the Moss Side uprising of 1981,  a violent eruption of protest.

Violent eruption of protest : part one

Violent eruption of protest : part two

Drawing on his direct involvement in the Moss Side Defence Committee of the time it is a sweeping and powerful analysis.  In a remarkable moment of prescience the interview by Andy Bowman was undertaken just a week before the recent riots in England.

In his concluding thoughts he is scathing about the educational system as a whole and the illusory notion of a shared concensus about the society, within which we live.

What can reflections on the disturbances tell us in the present? For people who are looking at problems of racism and police violence

Let me preface my answer by saying, I believe the greatest disservice the state does to its population is through the crappy schooling system we have. When you consider that there is such an emphasis on high level exam results, as if that’s the only mark of schools’ effectiveness, the debate about schooling is always about providing labour for the market, Britain’s economic competitiveness, and the extent to which schools and universities are churning people out.

It has nothing to do with giving people the tools to take control of their own lives, equipping people to act collectively to bring about change, and it is certainly nothing to do with understanding the evolution of British social history, such that we can as a society learn from our advances and defeats. That kind of discourse is seen as a throwback to the days of ‘red-led’ protests of the past for lefties. The assumption is that it is not necessary to think in terms of class or the individual up against the state, and that we should be counting our blessings. Meanwhile, stratification within society becomes more entrenched. Those who are poor are not just disenfranchised by lacking wages through which they can live dignified lives; they are also denied the tools by which they can organise in defence of their lives.

People fall prey to an opaque sameness, an assumed consensus in terms of the values we commonly share. Which allows clowns like Cameron to talk about the ‘Big Society’.

It is very important that we understand what led to 1981, and what gives rise to the peaks and troughs as far as the emergence of neo-fascist organisations are concerned. I would not be surprised if in the coming period as European economies begin falling in on themselves you have another upsurge of pan-European fascism.

Views from the Media and Blogosphere : Part Two

The post-riot analysis and argument continues to flow with a number of contributions focusing on youth work itself.

Rachel Williams in the Guardian interviews young people on the streets of Kings Lynn in Norfolk.

Teens are left to their own devices as council axes all youth services

On his blog there is a thought-provoking piece from Paul Perkins, CEO of the Winch project in Camden, which asks,

How did youth work contribute to the riots?

I can’t say I’m convinced by the assertion that occupying ‘the grey middle, which common sense tells us will always yield a more holistic truth than can be found at the extremes.’ Leave my extremist perspective aside Paul poses some tough dilemmas, immediately recognisable by those involved in our Campaign.

But it seems that youth work, somewhere along the way, lost its soul. As supply outstripped demand for serious youth work jobs, hundreds of short-term, part-time, state-led initiatives sprung up all over the place. Youth workers were a dime a dozen, and a sort of lowest-common-denominator youth work emerged. Perhaps the discipline simply struggled to move forward, to understand itself outside radical Leftism when society and policy changed. New Labour policies and the subjugation of youthwork to state surveillance and economic unit production activities (a question which was hotly debated in the 1980s and before) further confused a professionally naive workforce intent on securing funding and maintaining activities regardless of cost. Mixed in with the political cocktail of quick-fix solutions and sexy numbers, many parts of the sector has seen a near-complete loss of professional integrity over the past ten years. Let me be clear: this is not a dig at one government. I have no doubt that youth work would have been seen and utilised in the same way regardless of the colour of government. This is about the hard place which youth workers occupy, between the hardest-to-reach young people and a wider society impatient for peace.

Let me give an example. Most youth workers understand that, whilst there must always remain a drive to improve effectiveness and efficiency, the nuts and bolts of our trade are fairly common sense. Long-term relationships beat short-term relationships. Young-person-centred conversations beat funder-stipulated-conversations. Community-based initiatives trump centralised or super-centre initiatives. And this is in relation to impact: to making the difference which whether you’re a neighbour, a funder, a councillor or a youthworker, we all agree on.

But we have not maintained these working practices. There is pressure to bring young people in through the door (even if they’d rather meet outside). There is pressure to record their behavioural changes (with their token endorsements). There is pressure to gain them ‘qualifications’, whether or not these are meaningful in the employment market or are what they really want to do. And this has led to incentivisation, increasingly coercive approaches to engaging young people and undermining the core values of informal education which lead to an individual voluntarily, responsibly and productively choosing to engage with mainstream society and to be bound by its (mutually beneficial) social norms. To paraphrase, youth work has increasingly been guilty of encouraging young people to engage for what they can get, rather than investing in the best ways to inspire personal growth and civic responsibility.

I’ve only just discovered this Open Letter to the Prime Minister written by Gus John, which begins,

I write as someone whose contribution for more than four decades to the struggle for quality schooling and education for all and for racial equality and social justice is a matter of public record.  I write as a former youth and community worker, community development officer and director of education and leisure services whose work has been predominantly in urban settings.  I am a social analyst and professor of education.  I am interim chair of Parents and Students Empowerment, an offshoot of the Communities Empowerment Network which for the last twelve years has been providing advice, guidance and advocacy in respect of the one thousand (1,000) school exclusion cases on average we deal with each year.

It is a powerful and comprehensive critique, which deserves all our attention. As to whether David Cameron will give it the time of day, I won’t hold my breath.