Black education

Wales’ first black headteacher, Betty Campbell

This month is Black History Month and we have a very special person to thank for this. Someone with intelligence, humanity, determination and the power to inspire! Betty Campbell (Rachel Elizabeth Johnson) was born in Wales in 1934, the daughter of a Barbadian mother and Jamaican father, she was described as a force to be reckoned with. She inspired a whole community to embrace each other regardless of status, race or ability, and is being deemed a “Hidden Heroine”. A statue sculpted by Eve Shepahard, has been unveiled in Wales! The first ever statue of a real Welsh woman, and the first Black woman to be immortalised in this manner, after being chosen by the very community she served.

Let’s learn and celebrate her life together, and the contributions she has made that are sure to extend her lifetime, especially as she has now been immortalised as a statue.

“We were a good example to the rest of the world, how you can live together regardless of where you come from or the colour of your skin” – Betty Campbell

Betty was born and raised in a town called Tiger Bay in Wales, now known as Butetown. Arguably the first multi-cultural community in the UK. Betty’s father sadly passed away when she was 8 years old after his ship was hit by a torpedo during the Second World War. Betty’s mother raised her to embrace her culture, and instilled in her a self-confidence to prove others wrong when they doubted her abilities.

Despite being top of her class at school, winning a scholarship, and being the first of 6 women to study to become teachers (when the institution were allowing women to train with them), and raising 4 children with her husband (one of which had special needs), people always doubted her on the basis of her social status and race.

Betty always dreamed of becoming a teacher, and after she shared her vision with her head teacher at Lady Margaret she was informed “Oh my dear, the problems would be insurmountable” on the basis of her race. Being Black and being a Black woman meant she was forever the target of microaggressions, unconscious bias and being discredited.

Being told this, by a person in authority upset Betty, but although she felt disappointment by this comment, her determination to make her dreams come true simply strengthened! She said:

 “it made me more determined; I was going to be a teacher by hook or by crook”.

And that she did! Not only did she become a teacher, she also became Wales’s first Black Head Teacher, her school became a template for multi-culturalism, she became a member of the Home Office’s race advisory committee and a member of the Commission for Racial Equality.

Betty was invited to be part of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation Commission on Education, which published a number of research papers on education. In 1993, it published the book “Learning to Succeed” where practice examples from Mount Stuart Primary School (Betty’s School) were cited.

She was a board member of BBC Wales in the 1980s, and was made an honorary fellow of Cardiff Metropolitan University. In 2003, she was awarded an MBE for services to education and community life, and in 2015 she received a lifetime achievement award from Unison Cymru’s Black Members’ group, for her contribution to Black history and Welsh education.

“I was determined that I was going to become one of those people and enhance the black spirit, black culture as much as I could.”

Betty changed the curriculum to include Slavery, Black History and the system of Apartheid in South Africa. Betty paved the way as she knew the importance of representation and our history. There is still work to be done, in ensuring that our full histories are shared in schools. Eve Shepahard, a celebrated sculptor who is responsible for the beautiful statue of Betty said that:

“We’re still financially benefitting from that horrendous slave trade. I think we need to remember who’s back this wealth came off, and by erasing it I think we’re losing the ability to say, ‘We got it wrong. We got it royally wrong. And we need to sit with our mistakes now’”

Black History Month is fundamentally essential for us to know, and the work of people like Michelle Codrington-Rogers, a citizenship teacher in Oxford who was the first black national president of the NASUWT, goes further, campaigning for more. She told members it was not just about black history, “it’s about the whole curriculum”. She said every subject had a responsibility to change the narrative that black people only have a history of enslavement and colonisation.

Michelle said “We built the pyramids, developed modern numbers, built universities. Our ancestors were philosophers, scientists, military strategists, authors, writers, activists and so much more,” she said. “We have a responsibility to be inclusive for all of our students and this starts with us ensuring that there is black visibility for our children and young people. Not just black children, but all children. It is crucial to recognise that black history is all of our history.”


Full article on Betty’s life