Burnage: Race Related Murder of a School Boy

The findings of the Macdonald Inquiry into the death of 13 year old Ahmed Iqbal Ullah, after being stabbed by a fellow pupil at Burnage High School on Wednesday 17 September 1986, were published in 1989 with the title ‘The Burnage Report: Murder in the Playground: Report of the Macdonald Inquiry into Racism and Racial Violence in Manchester Schools’ (see Further Reading). This chapter refers to summaries from that report, but primarily aims to focus on the impact of the events on Manchester City Council and its implementation of new policies. A culture of violence in the school and racial tensions were the precursors of the attack, but how the incident was handled inflamed racial tensions more and had repercussions for a long time after. In 2016 it will be 30 years since this tragic death. To mark this anniversary the Education Trust established in his memory are building an archive that reflects on and commemorates Ahmed’s death and legacy.
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Murder of Ahmed Iqbal Ullah
Policies to Address Racism
Prior Racial Tensions at Burnage High School
New Management Team in 1982
Governors’ Sub-committee
Events Leading to the Murder
The Immediate Response
The Council’s Response
The Macdonald Inquiry
Racial Tensions Escalated at the School
Inquiry Findings
Going Public
The Legacy in Ahmed Iqbal Ullah’s Memory


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Editor’s Comments

The editing has involved adding sub-headings, minor typographical and layout amendments.


[1] Ian Macdonald was the QC appointed by the Council to conduct an inquiry into the events leading up to the murder. His book Murder in the Playground: the Burnage Report was published in 1989.

[2] The previous chair (Val Dunn) had only served two years of a four-year term of office, but the Labour Group leadership had recognised that she found the job difficult (and the Poundswick experience had taken its toll), so an additional Deputy Leader position was created for her, which was more of a political and PR role.

[3] Aged 15-16 years old.

[4] Throughout this chapter ‘the LEA’ is referred to. This is Manchester City Council in its role as Local Education Authority.

[5] Section 11 was the short-hand term for teachers employed under the provisions of the 1966 Local Government Act, which provided additional funding for schools with substantial numbers of pupils from the Commonwealth. But, there was no transparency in how the money was allocated. In Manchester it provided 75% of the salaries of highly paid officers. By 1985, actual staff working with ethnic minority pupils were identified and had job descriptions, although they were still employed by the schools rather than the LEA. Burnage had had 5 or 6 Section 11 staff – one of the biggest teams in the city. In 1990, a centrally managed service was created which employed the staff paid with Section 11 money and this ensured that schools used the Section 11 money properly.

[6] The lower school building accommodated pupils aged 11 to 13, with the upper school building for pupils aged 14 to 18.

[7] National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers and National Union of Teachers

[8] The five were – A Johnson (chair of governors and former pupil at the school), Ben Glaizner (deputy chair), Diana Kealey (a new governor who was later to be chair), Audrey Jones (Liberal councillor) and J Marshall.

[9] Ray Honeyford had been a headmaster in Bradford and attacked what he saw as the misplaced use of multiculturalism in schools and ‘political correctness’ in the form of scrutiny of textbook material.

[10] The courts did later rule that all were at fault in not waiting for the verdict of the trial before setting up the inquiry. According to John Nicholson, the Bangladeshi community opposed the appointment of Ian Macdonald, perhaps because of his known left-wing views.

[11] Marilyn was one of the nine Labour councillors to lose their seats in the local elections in May 1987 (see chapter 11).

[12] The committee members were Mrs Fatima Ullah (Ahmed’s mother), Selina Ullah (his sister), Pushpa Jhingan, Rob Raikes, Cllr Chris Morris, and Joe Flynn.

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Further Reading

4 Responses

  1. Garry Lavin says:

    It’s all inaccurate. It was not a racial attack it was a discipline issue. The murderer was part of a multi racial gang at the school whose behaviour was questionable.
    The behaviour of the perpetrator of the murder was an example of how the standards of discipline deteriorated in the school around that time.
    The new art and design block at the lower school had been maintained to the highest standards prior to that time and the pupils respected that.
    After a number of staff moved on, the murderer was found to be guilty of burning down the block.

    To the dismay of many staff, he was allowed back in to school by the management. In effect, his wrong doing had no consequence……but many staff had identified him as a possible source of friction.

    The headmaster had been warned about the deterioration of behaviour around the school and possible catastrophic consequence, many months before the murder.

    The death of the pupil was a result of the rise of general aggressive behaviour around the school.

    • karencropper says:

      Thanks for your input, Garry. It sounds like you were present at the time. A member of staff maybe? Or were you a pupil? You may have realised that this is my mum’s account and she is no longer around to ask about it or defend it, so I welcome other people’s input. She wrote it from the point of view of the City Council and the Education Committee and the effect this incident had on them and their policies. She also reports on the findings of the Inquiry. As is often the case when serious things happen, the actual facts and causes can be lost and the situation hijacked by different factions for their own agendas or interpretted through different filters. My reading of this chapter is that the person who committed the murder was a boy who was out of control and involved in other incidents prior to this murder. After the event, because it was an Asian boy murdered by a white boy, that fanned the flames of any racial tensions that were aleady present. So there are two issues. First, whether the murder could have been prevented if the behaviour deterioration you describe could have been turned around or the boy who committed the murder had been disciplined more appropriately. And second, if things had been handled better after the murder, whether the subsequent incidents could have been avoided. We can’t undo the past, but hopefully by recording it, we can learn and not repeat the same mistakes.

  2. Anthony says:

    I was at Burnage when this happened; I was in the 5th year. Extortion, racism and bullying were daily occurrences at Burnage, it was a horrible place. For the rest of the year after the stabbing we had police patrolling the school, at break times all the Asian kids would be down 1 end of the school field with all the whites down the other end. The black kids would be in the middle trying to stir up trouble. The teachers were woefully educated about how to deal with racism, in class kids of color would wind up the teachers, then when the teacher had a go at the pupil, the kid cried RACISM, when confronted with an accusation of racism the teachers would fold. Lessons became pointless as teachers tried and failed to deal with the situation. I hated that place and couldn’t wait to leave.

    • karencropper says:

      Thanks for your comment, Anthony. It sounds awful. I’ve always believed that idea that school days are the happiest of your life is a myth. I hope that the atmosphere in schools is no longer like this, but I fear, like across the country, there are still a mass of complex tensions. How has that experience at school shaped your adult life?

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