Racism ‘May Harm Black Pupils’ Education’

Racist attitudes by teachers may be condemning black schoolchildren to an inferior education, according to a Government backed study. Black Caribbean pupils are more likely to be expelled from school and less likely to be put in the top set compared to white British children, it said.

Staff may be guilty of “unintentional racism” by stereotyping black children as badly-behaved – and underestimating their academic ability, according to the controversial report.

The conclusions follow comments last year by Peter Wanless, a top civil servant in the Department for Children, Schools and Families, that the high rate of exclusions among black pupils was down to “largely unwitting, but systematic racial discrimination” in schools.

According to the study by Warwick University, black Caribbean pupils are more than twice as likely to be identified as having behavioural, emotional or social problems than white pupils. Twice as many black pupils are also expelled from school. It said that – after accounting for other factors, such as social class and parental education – pupils from black Caribbean families are significantly less likely to be entered for more demanding exams.

Three white children are often put in the top set for every two black pupils, it said. “Unintentional racism stems from long-standing social conditioning involving negative images of black people which stereotype them as threatening,” said the report.

“Such conditioning is reinforced by the media portrayal of black ‘street culture’. It encourages school staff to expect black pupils to be worse behaved, more disaffected and less motivated. However, it is perhaps most likely that both sets of factors are involved and feed off each other in a vicious cycle of amplification.”

In a study commissioned by the Government, Steve Strand, from Warwick’s Centre for Educational Development Appraisal and Research, analysed previously-published data to find out why certain ethnic groups do worse than others at school. Black schoolchildren are closing the gap between white pupils, but still lag far behind.

Last year, around 42 per cent of black Caribbean students and 48 per cent of black African students gained five or more good GCSEs compared to 64 per cent nationally. Every year, 1,000 black pupils are permanently excluded from school and 30,000 more
are suspended. By contrast, black children are five times less likely to be officially registered as “gifted or talented”.

Schools have responsibilities under the Race Relations Act 2000 that requires public bodies to eliminate unlawful racial discrimination. But the report found that teachers “perceive” black pupils as more challenging, prompted pupils themselves to “become demotivated and try less hard”.

It said: “There is research evidence that pupil behaviour, or teachers’ perceptions of pupil behaviour, can have a distorting influence on their judgements of academic ability. If the behaviour of black Caribbean pupils is more challenging, or even if it is simply that teachers perceive their behaviour as more problematic, there may be a tendency to underestimate the academic ability of these pupils.”

The study also raised concerns over the influence of white parents. It said they were less likely to help out at their child’s school, pay for a private tutor or encourage them to go to university than other racial groups. The disclosure comes amid increasing concern over the performance of white boys. According to official figures, almost half of all children leaving school without any good GCSEs are now white British males.

Dr Strand said just 77 per cent of white parents wanted their children to stay on after the age of 16, compared to 98 per cent of black African families, 95 per cent of Indians and 92 per cent of black Caribbeans. Only 11 per cent white British parents pay for private tutors against almost 25 per cent of Indian families. A further quarter of white parents admit to arguing with their children more than once a week – by far the highest of any ethnic group.