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John Simkin

All Black Teaching Groups?

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Last year 35.7% of black Caribbean pupils in England scored at least five C grades at GCSE, compared with a national average of 51.9%. Trevor Phillips, the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, will tonight suggest in a TV programme a new way to deal with the underachievement of black boys. Phillips is going to argue that black boys should be taught in separate classes from their white counterparts.

In the 1960s educationalists argued that the reason why working-class children underachieved was because so many were segregated from middle-class children at the age of 11. Some sociologists suggested, in my view rightly, this underachievement was due to these children being “labelled” as failures. Their solution to this was comprehensive education and mixed ability teaching.

I would have thought that Phillips’ idea will be counterproductive. It will label these boys as “underachievers” and reinforce stereotypical views on the academic abilities of ethnic minorities.

Phillips has got this idea from a project being carried out in St. Louis. Apparently black boys have been taken out from mainstream classes and taught in small groups. It has been reported that this has resulted in improved academic results. Phillips does not appear to have considered the fact that the reason for this is the small groups rather than the all black classes.

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I wouldn't like to see this kind of separation. I used to teach German to boys and girls of Afro-Caribbean origin in HE. The girls - like most girls who study foreign languages - were hard workers and generally did well. The boys tended to slip back a bit - but boys in general often perform less well than girls in foreign language classes. One of the problems that we did identify, however, was our assumption that all children of Afro-Caribbean origin (1st and 2nd generation) had adequately mastered standard English. While this was generally true of the girls, the boys habitually used Afro-Caribbean dialects - street cred, I guess. Once we began to sort out their English it became easier to sort out their German too.

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