Ray Honeyford

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FOR a period in the mid 1980s, Ray Honeyford, who has died aged 77, was the best-known headteacher in the country, as much a hate figure as hero and victim.

His outspoken critique of multiculturalism ended his career in teaching. However, history shows that he was in the vanguard of a movement which would see moderate politicians – both Labour and Tory – willing to question where it leads.

Until January, 1984, Mr Honeyford and his inner-city school, Drummond Middle, attracted little attention beyond its catchment area on the north western edge of Bradford city centre.

That changed when an article he had written appeared in the right-wing Salisbury Review, thrusting him into the heart of an acrimonious conflict, with accusations of racism and a torrent of abuse. His health undermined, he took early retirement.

In September, 2000, Drummond Middle School closed, to re-open as the Iqra Community Primary School.

He had been headmaster there for four years when he wrote his fateful article – moved to do so by the problems he was encountering in a school where more than 90 per cent of the pupils were Asian.

Many things disturbed him, including the local educational authority allowing his pupils to be taken out of school for months at a time to visit Pakistan and be steeped in its culture. He objected to the encouragement of linguistic diversity, meaning British-born Asian children were taught in Urdu, as though that were a fitting introduction to life in England.

Mr Honeyford had come to feel passionately about these things, and the tone of his article reflected that passion.

He wrote that the term “racism”– flung at anyone daring to raise issues relating to immigration – had become the modern equivalent of the Inquisition’s “heretic” and the McCarthy-ites “commie”, ruling out a rational debate.

The article proved him right.

He received death threats, and furious picketing outside his school meant he could only get to work with police protection.

The then mayor of Bradford, Mohammed Ajeeb, called for his dismissal, and he was suspended in April, 1985, to be reinstated five months later after an appeal to the High Court.

His health and that of his wife were being affected, however, and in December he accepted a financial settlement and retired, but that was by no means the end of the Honeyford saga.

Raymond Honeyford was born in Manchester, one of 11 children – six dying in childbirth – their father an unskilled labourer who had been wounded fighting in the First World War and was often unable to work. The home had no books and no inside lavatory.

Failing his 11-plus, the future headteacher went to Manchester Technical School, staying until he was 15 when he got an office job to support his family. But ambitious, he went to evening classes to train as a teacher, and later took an MA in linguistics at Lancaster University.

He taught in various secondary schools in the Manchester area, and was appointed headmaster of Drummond Middle School in 1981.

After leaving Drummond, he took up journalism and gave talks, served for three years on Bury council as a Conservative, and was on the education panel of the Centre for Policy Studies where he won respect for his integrity, passion and the fearlessness he had shown by sticking his head above the parapet when others in the teaching profession willingly supported the most extreme demands of multiculturalism, or were cowered into doing so.

Mr Honeyford is survived by his second wife, Angela, whom he married in 1982, and by two sons of his first marriage.