Jump to content
The Education Forum

Racism and Academic Achievement

John Simkin

Recommended Posts

Article in the Guardian:

Black schoolboys have been betrayed by the education authorities for almost half a century and are struggling to overcome racism from many of their own teachers, according to a damning new report out today.

Members of an influential education commission say the failure of the schools system and individuals within it to successfully engage with students of African-Caribbean origin has severely hindered them and contributed to massive underachievement.

Last year 70% of African-Caribbean boys in London left school with fewer than five or more GCSEs at the top grades of A*-C or equivalent, while African-Caribbean men are the least likely of any group to have a degree.

During the research, which was commissioned by the London mayor, Ken Livingstone, and conducted over the past year, black boys complained of racism and stereotyping from teachers. They said chances of success were also limited by an archaic curriculum.

Their parents told researchers they felt schools did not welcome their input. Black teachers spoke of discrimination. Only 7.4% of London's teachers are from ethnic minorities and 2.9% are black.

The 285-page report, which represents the most exhaustive study to date of the educational underachievement of black boys, concludes that "the English schooling system has produced dismal academic results for a high percentage of black pupils for the best part of 50 years".

Mr Livingstone, who has called for action to ensure that the number of ethnic minority teachers in the capital rises to least 33%, said: "The composition of the teaching staff, governors and other professionals dealing with the education of our children must change dramatically to fully reflect the diversity of London's children."

His officials have organised the London Schools and the Black Child conference to be addressed by schools minister Stephen Twigg on Saturday.

In the study, conducted under the direction of the mayor's London Development Agency and an advisory board led by MP Diane Abbott, focus groups reached a wide degree of agreement: "The consensus was that low teacher expectations played a major part in the underachievement of African-Caribbean pupils. In addition, inadequate levels of positive teacher attention, unfair behaviour management practices, disproportionately high levels of exclusions and an inappropriate curriculum took their toll."

Pupils were acknowledged to suffer from negative peer pressure and many are said to be disadvantaged by inadequately funded schools with a high turnover of teachers. The insufficient level of involvement by some black parents is also singled out.

The commission also heard evidence of direct discrimination. "Racism manifested itself most harshly in being over looked for answering questions, verbal aggression from teachers and harsher reprimands than for students from other ethnic groups for the same misdemeanour." The report says that relationships between black pupils and white teachers was generally characterised by "conflict and fear". One participant complained: "When it is white boys, it is a 'group' but when it is black boys it is a 'gang'. I think that's wrong."

The commission found that in 2002, black boys started to lag behind from primary school year two. The gap widened every year after that. It plays down the role of social backgrounds because working class boys from other communities outperformed middle class African-Caribbean boys.

In a series of recommendations, the commission calls for intervention on several levels. It urges ministers to give every parent three days a year paid leave so they can play a part in the schooling process. It also says black teachers should benefit from fast-tracking and "golden handshakes".

The commission calls for urgent action to reduce the number of black pupils excluded. Controversially, it suggests that heads should not exclude pupils for a first serious offence unless the catalyst is an incident involving a knife or gun. It calls for clear procedures which would allow pupils to report racism by teachers. But they also call on black parents to play a more proactive role with their children and schools, "regardless of resistance".

Last year the government launched a new package - Aiming High - backed with £10m of extra funding to tackle the problem of African-Caribbean pupils' underachievement in both primary and secondary schools.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education and Skills said: "We recognise that many pupils, particularly from African-Caribbean backgrounds are not achieving their full potential. That is why we are working with parents and community representatives to raise the achievement of minority ethnic pupils."

Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "It is grossly unfair to blame teachers alone for a phenomenon which is more complex than the report appears to make out."

Rampton Revisited, The Educational Experiences and Achievements of Black Boys in London Schools , published by the LDA Education Commission.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There have been several reports, including the one above, that suggests that under achievement in schools is due to some sort of racism by teachers. However, can this really be the case? If racism was a major problem, surely it would have an impact on all black students. Yet some categories of black students (African Asians, Indians, etc.) do better than average.

The article quotes a spokeswoman for the Department for Education and Skills as saying: "We recognise that many pupils, particularly from African-Caribbean backgrounds are not achieving their full potential. That is why we are working with parents and community representatives to raise the achievement of minority ethnic pupils."

While it is true that boys from African-Caribbean backgrounds tend to achieve worst than average results, the same thing cannot be said about African-Caribbean girls who have consistently done better than average. One study in Bristol suggests the reason for this is home background. Research suggests that a single-parent mother provides a good role model for a girl (hardworking, coping, etc.). However, the absence of a father has a negative impact on the boy. He can grow up seeing academic achievement as a feminine trait. One of the reasons why it is so important for fathers to read to their children. This problem has not been helped by the reduction in the number of male primary teachers. (One study suggests the reason for this concerns male fears of being seen as a paedophile).

One sociologist has suggested that black children expect their teachers to be white members of the middle-class and do not see black teachers as “really being black”.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in

Sign In Now
  • Create New...