The imperial welfare state? Decolonisation, education and professional interventions on immigrant children in Birmingham, 1948–1971

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This article approaches debates about how the history of the post-1945 English welfare state might be written. It argues that professionals’ interventions on immigrant children can serve as a prism for understanding the crafting of the modern English welfare state. In this sense the article engages with the narrative concerning the resilience of a post-war British history that sees 1945 as a moment of profound rupture symbolised by the demise of Empire, the development of a universal welfare state, and the coming of mass immigration that brought with it social problems whose management presaged a distinctive British multiculturalism. Due to its influential impact on the development of immigrant education policies in England and because of its extensive education archive the article uses the Birmingham Local Education Authority (LEA) as an empirical and historical case. The significant British Nationality Act of 1948 and the Immigration Act of 1971 serve as demarcations of the period treated. The article concludes that the immigrant child and the child’s background were consistently presented as educational problems and as the cause of both poor academic attainment and a more intangible unwillingness to assimilate. In this lens the crafting of the post-war English welfare state was a continuation of an imperial project shoring up imperial boundaries within as the former colonised appeared on English soi


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)453-466
JournalPaedagogica Historica
Issue number5
Early online date8 Jun 2016
Publication statusPublished - 30 Oct 2016


  • Welfare state, intercultural education, professionals, decolonisation, immigrants, state-crafting