The 2011 Wolfe Report on Vocational Education

The 2011 Review of Vocational Education, also known as the 2011 Wolf Report noted a number of strengths and limitations of Vocational Education in England and Wales in 2011, before going on to make almost 30 recommendations.

This is an important report because it set the scene for a possible major (if very gradual) restructuring of the delivery of vocational education in England and Wales.

The strengths of Vocational Education in 2011

  • Some vocational courses taught important and valuable labour market skills to a very high standard, skills which couldn’t be met through academic courses.
  • Some Vocational courses offered a direct route to higher level study – hundreds of thousands of students had benefited from these.
  • Some prestigious apprenticeships were massively over-subscribed, and thus very popular (in high demand)
  • Good vocational programmes are respected, valuable and an important part of our, and any other country’s, educational provision.

The limitations of Vocational Education in 2011

Too many vocational students were pursuing sub-standard vocational pathways:

  • Many 16 to 17 year olds were moving in and out of education and short-term
    employment.
  • Between a quarter and a third of post-16 vocational students were doing vocational qualifications with little labour market value.
  • At least 350,000 students were getting little to no benefit from the post-16 education system.
  • The report saw English and Maths GCSE (at grades A*-C) as fundamental to young people’s future prospects, yet less than 50% of students had achieved both by the age of 16.
  • The system then steered that 50% of Maths and English failures into ‘inferior’ vocational qualifications.

Recommendations based on the above report

The report made 27 recommendations, including:

  • Schools should have more freedom to offer vocational qualifications for pupils aged 14-16
  • Students who fail their GCSEs in English and Maths at age 16 should be required to redo them as part of their post 16 study.
  • There needs to be a set of general standards for all post 16 vocational programmes
  • Post-16 students shouldn’t be able to pursue a purely occupation based training course, there should be some kind of academic study in there.
  • The bottom quintile of achieving students should pursue post-16 education which focus on employability and ‘core skills’.
  • Employers who provided apprenticeships should be paid.
  • Generally there needs to be better links and standardisation between colleges and employers in the provision of training.
  • If students don’t use up their ‘education allowance by the age of 19’ they should be given a credit to use later on in life.

Some of the recommendations were quite wooly!

The 2015 review of Progress

If you’re interested you can read this here!

Sources

The 2011 Wolfe Report

Heidi Safia Mirza: Young Female and Black

Young Female and Black is a research study of 198 young women and men who attended two comprehensive schools in London in the late 1980s. The main focus of the study is on 62 black women. The book was published in 1992.

Mirza used a variety of research methods, but this is primarily an example of a qualitative research study using observations and interviews with both pupils and parents. 

The myth of Underachievement 

Mirza argued that there was evidence of racism from some teachers, and that some of the girls felt that teachers had low expectations of them, she argues that these negative labels did not have a negative impact on the girls’ self-esteem.

When asked who they most admired, almost 50% of the girls said themselves, and the black girls in the study achieved better exam results than black boys and white girls in the school, both of which criticise the labelling theory of underachievement.

Types of Teacher

Overt Racists

These teachers were ‘overtly racist’. One of them even used the term ‘wog’ when talking to one of the black girls. The girls tried to avoid these teachers as far as possible and strongly rejected their negative opinions of black people.

The Christians

These teachers had a ‘colour blind’ attitude to ethnic differences. Their attitude was less harmful than that of the overt racists, but did create some problems. For example, they opposed the setting up multi-ethnic working parties because they didn’t believe there was a problem with racism in the school.

The crusaders

These were the teachers who tried to actively develop anti racist teaching strategies in their classrooms, however this could backfire. For example one teacher introduced a role play about a truanting pupil and her social worker, designed to reflect the experience of black pupils. However none of the girls in the class has ever played truant or had a social worker.

The liberal chauvenists

These teachers genuinely wanted to help black students, but their help was often patronizing and counter-productive. For example some teachers insisted black girls did less subjects because they felt they could not cope with a more demanding work load, because of issues like their parents not being able to cope at home.

This later point seems very similar to what Gilborn and Youdell found with banding and streaming!

Despite this, this group of teachers was well respected by the all students and were generally useful in helping identifying the needs of black girls.

Ineffective Teachers and Alternative Strategies

Most of the teachers were genuinley concerned with helping the black girls achieve a decent education, however, most failed to so and negative labelling made if difficult for the girls to realise their full potential.

Despite this, the girls were committed to academic success, but felt it necessary to avoid asking for help from most teachers, which was detrimental to their success.

Conclusions

This is an interesting study that criticises the labelling theory of educational acheivement – the girls did not accept their negative labels from their teachers and had positive self-esteem.

However, the end result was that still failed to reach their full potential because their only coping strategy amidst overt racism and negative labelling was to avoid teachers as far as possible and effectively study by themselves, meaning they were still disadvantaged in education.

Adapted from Harlambos and Holborn (2013) Sociology Themes and Perspectives, edition 8.

Vocational Education in Britain Today

Vocational eduacation in Britain today is complex – involving a range or qualifications from GCSEs, BTECs, City and Guids, T levels and higher degree level qualifications and a range of providers – from schools to apprenticeships provided mainly by employers

The Vocational Education landscape in Britain today is very complex: there are number of different types and levels of vocational qualifications, and over 130 different awarding bodies.

This complexity is because there are several different institutions involved with delivering vocational education and awarding qualifications – from schools to employers in many different sectors.

The UK Skills System: An Introduction by The British Council provides a useful overview of the UK’s Technical, Vocational Education and Training (TVET) sector.

  • Schools – who provide 14-16 Vocational Qualifications
  • Further Education Colleges – who mainly provide 16-19 vocational qualifications such as BTECs and City and Guilds qualifications.
  • Universities – who provide Degree level Higher Technical Qualifications (some FE colleges will also provide these)
  • Employers – who provide a range of different apprenticeships
  • Private training providers – who will provide a range of any post-16 qualification.

The report notes that today there are flexible pathways available to learners so that they may move between academic, vocational/professional and apprenticeship routes.

14-16 Vocational GCSEs

These don’t seem to be very popular. This report notes that only 33000 students started a vocational GCSE compared to 565000 who started maths, in 2016-17

16-19 Vocational qualifications

The main types of 16-19 vocational qualifications are either level 2 or level 3 BTECs and City and Guilds qualifications. You can explore the later by visiting the City and Guilds web site, which also has information about apprenticeships.

T-Levels

These are new technical A-levels to be introduced from September 2020 – they are two year courses designed to be the equivalent of 3 A Levels.

They involve at least 45 days of work experience and have been designed to provide students with a direct pathway into skilled employment

They are available in a number of different subject/ employment areas including:

  • accounting
  • catering
  • education and childcare
  • on-site construction
  • media, broadcast and production.

Apprenticeships

In 2018-19 there were almost 750 000 people in Apprenticeships, with the numbers of apprenticeship starts in recent years falling from 500 000 a year to 350 000 a year today.

This House of Commons Briefing Paper on Apprenticeship Statistics is a useful place to explore this further.

Criticisms of Vocational Education today

The RSA notes the following problems:

  • There has been a lack of a clear, long term vision and strategy about what direction vocational education should take.
  • There has been insufficient funding, not helped by funding cuts to the post-16 sector since 2010.
  • There’s been poor employer engagement in training provision.
  • There is a fragmented system of delivery – with some students getting very high quality vocational education, but too many getting sub-standard training.
  • The majority of parents still hold academic qualifications in more esteem than vocational qualifications

Another recent report from 2018 which compares vocational education in Britain with that in France and Germany notes that:

  • The British education system values academic qualifications more and focuses its resources on nurturing the academically most able, vocational education is seen as inferior and gets relatively less funding.
  • Funding for vocational education ‘stop-gap’ or ‘reactionary’ – the government funds vocational opportunities in local areas where industry is in decline, to deal with unemployment, rather than pro-actively funding vocational courses.
  • The standards of British vocational courses are generally lower than in France or Germany
  • The diversity of choice is lower than in France or Germany.
  • These have tended to treat issues of ethnicity and underachievement together with poverty and educational achievement.

Gilborn and Youdell – Rationing Education

This study demonstrates how marketisation polices and racialised banding and streaming disadvantage black students in education.

Gilborn and Youdell (2000, 2001) studied two London Comprehensive schools (which they called Taylor and Clough) over two years, focussing on Key Stage 4 (ages 14-16) and GCSE results.

They used a mixed methods approach using classroom observation, interviews and the analysis of secondary documents.

Black students underachieving compared to white students

Gilborn and Youdell noted that in both schools, white students where achieving twice as many good passes (A-C) as white students.

Differential educational achievement by ethnicity was even starker when they compared those achieving a grade C or above in Maths, English and Science Subjects. In Clough school, 18% of white students achieved this, but only 4% of black students. In Taylor school, 37% of students managed it, but 0% of black students!!!

GCSE Tiers and and Educational Triage

Gilborn and Youdell believe that the introduction of tiers at GCSE was the main underlying reason for the ethnic differences in achievement outlined above.

Different GCSE tiers meant that students sat different papers based on their perceived ability – higher ability students got harder papers, which would allow them the opportunity to achieve an A, while lower ability students sat an easier exam paper, where the maximum grade they could achieve was a C.

14-16 education in both schools was organised through banding and streaming: students were put in the top bands if teachers believed they had the ability to sit the higher tier, more difficult exam paper, but restricted to the lower bands if it was thought their maximum potential was a C grade.

Gilborn and Youdell further argued that the schools operate a ‘triage’ system based on the perceived ability of the students.

Triage is a military-medical term which describes how medical treatment for wounded soldiers is rationed:

  1. Those who need urgent treatment to survive are prioritized
  2. Those with less urgent, non life threatening needs are dealt with later
  3. Hopeless cases are left to die

Educational Triage works along similar lines, with schools rationing education based on the perceived chances of a student gaining five good (A-C) GCSEs.

  1. Borderline students who could get 5 good GCSEs but need help to do so are prioritized.
  2. More able students who will probably get 5 good GCSEs anyway are dealt with as necessary
  3. Hopeless cases are written off.

Racialised Expectations

Gilborn and Youdell believed that teachers were not intentionally racist, in fact most of them were committed to equality of opportunity.

However, they also found that teachers tended to have lower expectations of black students compared to white students, which resulted in them being put in the lower sets, and written off as having no hope of ever achieving five good GCSE grades.

In Clough School for example, 29% of white students but 38% of black students where written off into the lower sets.

One of the reasons for lower expectations was because teachers often believed black students had a harder home life with higher poverty levels and high rates of absent fathers, making studying at home difficult, hence they often judged that black students would be less able to cope with the higher levels of work demanded of being put into higher tiers.

Gilborn and Youdell also found that teachers expected to have more discipline problems with black students and that ‘control and punishment’ should be given a higher priority than ‘academic concerns’.

When interviewed the black students themselves felt discriminated against tended to believe that their entry into low sets and lower tiered papers was not warranted based on their academic performance.

However, if black students questioned their low predicted grades or why they were in a lower set this would be seen as a challenge or a threat to authority rather than a legitimate councern.

Conclusions/ evaluations and relevance to A-level sociology

This is a useful study to show how the macro (marketisation policy) and micro (teacher labelling ) aspects of education work together to disadvantage black students.

However, given the current trends in educational achievement, with black Caribbean students catching up with white students, I wonder how relevant this is today.

I also have to wonder how representative these schools were. To have no black students in one of those schools achieving a grade C in English, Maths or Science, that has to be extremely rare?

Adapted from Harlambos and Holborn (2013) Sociology Themes and Perspectives, edition 8.

Racial Harassment seems to be common in British Universities, but largely ignored by them.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission recently conducted an Inquiry into Racial Harassment in Universities.

The findings from the inquiry are broken down into three reports, all published in October 2019.

Survey of University Students

This was a short online survey (7-8 minutes) which was completed by just over 1000 students. Ethnic minorities were deliberately over-represented to boost the sample size of some of the smaller sub groups (roughly 50-50 white to ethnic minority sampling).

The survey reports that:

  • Just over one in ten of all students (13%) had experienced racial harassment since starting their course.
  • Around a quarter of students from an ethnic minority background (24%) had experienced racial harassment, compared to 9% of White students.
  • Men were twice as likely as women to have experienced racial harassment (16% and 8% respectively).

The main types of harassment experienced

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Only 33% of cases reported

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The report notes that the main reason for not reporting (cited in 44% of cases) was that the victims had no confidence that the matter would be dealt with effectively.

Survey of Universities

The EHRC’s survey of universities reveals that they receive very few complaints of racial harassment from either students or staff. The report notes that:

“Institutions received an average of 2.3 complaints of racial
harassment of staff and 3.6 complaints of racial harassment of
students between the start of the 2015/16 academic year and
January 2019.

This equates to roughly one complaint for every 1,850 university
employees and one complaint for every 4,100 students since the start
of the 2015/16 academic year.”

Main reason for reporting racial harassment

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the main type of harassment reported is verbal…

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Confidence levels in the reporting figures.

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56% of staff are confident that the above figures are accurate, slightly lower for students

Outcomes of reports for harassment

Less than 40% of cases for students, and only 17% for staff result in some kind of redress fro the victim…

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A few problems with the methodology of this study…

  • It’s not clear how the students were sampled (it doesn’t say in the report) – this may be a self selecting sample – students who have experienced racism are maybe more likely to take part.
  • There’s a lot of problems with subjectivity over definitions of terms, and whether some of the incidents being reported are actual harassment. Students reporting that they’ve been eluded from events on racial grounds for example – it’s very difficult to prove this is because of race, and I’m fairly sure it doesn’t count as harassment.

Conclusions

According to students in England’s universities, the experience of racial harassment is common place, with 13%, or roughly 1 out of every 7 students having been a victim of some sort of unfair treatment on the basis of race.

If we look at just ethnic minority students, 24% believe they have been a victim of racial harassment.

However, the universities seem to be largely oblivious to this – they only record 1 incident per 4000 students, which is so far away from the stated figures that the students themselves.

Maybe more worryingly 55% of universities think their own recordings are accurate. I think we can at least conclude from the above survey of students that this is something they may need to investigate!

Finally, if 33% of cases of harassment are being reported to universities, they are certainly not being recorded, again something which seems to suggest that universities are ignoring the issue!

Find out more

You could investigate the above reports for yourself, and even check out the qualitative findings if you like!

The PISA Global Education Tests – Arguments for and Against

The PISA international assessments are part of the globalisation of education. The OECD (which runs the tests) claims there are benefits to having a global system of assessment because we can learn what the best educational practices are and apply them globally. However, critics argue that these tests could be doing more harm than good, by focusing on a narrow range of educational outcomes, which reflect the biases of Western educationalists.

The PISA international assessments are part of the globalisation of education. The OECD (which runs the tests) claims there are benefits to having a global system of assessment because we can learn what the best educational practices are and apply them globally. However, critics argue that these tests could be doing more harm than good, by focusing on a narrow range of educational outcomes, which reflect the biases of Western educationalists.

What are the PISA tests?

The PISA Tests are sat by a random sample of 15 year old students every three years, and measure their ability in reading, mathematics and science. More than 3 million students in over 90 countries have participated in the PISA tests since they started in the year 2000, with the latest round being in 2018, the next will be in 2021.

The PISA Tests aim to assess whether what students have learned in school can be applied to real life situations, focusing on their ability to reason and communicate rather than factual recall.

PISA stands for the ‘Programme of International Student Assessment and is run by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. An overview of the PISA programme and summary of the 2018 results can be found on the PISA website here.

Countries volunteer to take part in the PISA tests and if a country isn’t equipped to conduct the test country-wide, then regions of that country can participate instead.

If a country volunteers to participate, then individual schools are selected to represent all 15 year olds, and the individual students who are to sit the tests are then randomly selected from within those schools.

Students take the test in their native language, and the tests involve interpreting texts, solving problems and using their reasoning skills.

According to the video below, the primary aim of PISA isn’t to rank countries next to each other, although this is what tends to catch the headlines, rather it is about assessing how successfully students are being equipped for further study and work , and about collecting data to put together a picture of what the most effective education systems look like.

PISA’s positive spin on ‘PISA’.

Examples of PISA test questions

You can find some examples of the PISA test questions on the PISA web site here.

These questions really are worth having a look. The ‘reading’ questions really do challenge students to read thoroughly and think about their answers, and the maths questions all seem to be applied to real-world circumstances.

An overview of the 2018 PISA Results

Top ranked countries

Selected regions in China (not all regions do the tests!) came out on top, with a mean score in all tests of 555, closely followed by 3 other wealthy Asian city-states, then Estonia, Canada and Finland. Overall, there’s not too much of a mix at the top end – it’s either Asian city or Euro-American-Australian!

Bottom ranked countries

Much more of a mix down at the bottom: The Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Saudi Arabia and Argentina stand out for me, either due to large population size or to just surprise due to their having quite a high level of development!

Problems with the PISA tests

This excellent (and short) 2019 article in The Conversation outlines seven problems with PISA tests, among which it mentions that economic and cultural factors in some countries can explain a of the difference in test results – poverty may account for up to 50% of the difference, for example,

It also mentions that the sampling of schools may bias the results – ‘indiginous’ schools which have higher SEN rates are not included in Canada’s sample, for example, which could boost it up to near the top.

This 2019 Washington Post article makes several main criticisms of the PISA tests, all based on a lot of research by serious academics. The gist of these criticisms are that the tests are very narrow – focusing on English, maths and science, and this narrow agenda reflects the biases of the rich people who have mainly been involved with designing them.

Despite their claims that the tests are universally applicable, they are not: the real world challenges faced by students in poorer countries probably aren’t being assessed by these maths/ english and science tests, they are probably more appropriate to students in wealthier countries.

Why do pupils in some countries get better PISA test scores than others?

Do European countries do well simply because the tests have been designed for them? And do the students in countries such as Saudi Arabia do worse because the tests aren’t culturally relevant (too narrow)?

Or is there at least some validity to these tests and then real underlying factors which might explain differences in student peformance?

Do those countries/ regions at the top end of the scale have features in common? Do their students perform well because of cultural factors such as parents valuing education, or economic factors because of the degree of equality, lack of poverty? Or is it because of the quality of education systems and amount of resources or way the schools are organised?

This is definitely something worth exploring, and it’s something I’d recommend all students think about doing.

You can do so by using either the individual snapshots of countries from PISA, or simply by doing your own independent research on the education systems of those countries at the top end of the league tables.

Are the PISA tests damaging education?

This letter, written in 2014 by education academics and published in The Guardian outlines several concerns about the negative consequences of the PISA testing regime. Some of these concerns include:

  • It has increased the pressure on national governments to rise up the rankings, which can increase the amount of testing (rather than education).
  • It encourages countries to focus on a narrow range of quantitative measures in mathematics, science and English rather than a broader range of qualitative educational goals.
  • It encourages a focus on a three-year improvement cycle, rather than longer term development.
  • ‘Work readiness’ is not the main aim of education in some countries, yet this is what the PISA tests are designed to assess.
  • PISA has no mandate in countries, it has just ‘imposed itself on them’.
  • It opens the doors to private companies to sell ‘education improvement’ products based on PISA findings.

Sources

Social class and educational achievement statistics

The relationship between social class and educational achievement is one of the main topics within the sociology of education at A level.

The problem is, the government does not routinely collect statistics on the relationship between social class and educational achievement!

Instead, we have to reply on statistics which look at the relationship between household income and educational achievement, rather than the relationship between social class and educational achievement.

Household income is related to social class, but income alone does not tell us exactly which social class someone is from. Some parents might work in traditionally ‘working-class’ jobs which could be very well paid, such as the building trades; while other parents might be earning a limited amount of money working part-time in traditionally middle-class jobs – as private music teachers for example.

Also, income does not necessarily tell us about the cultural aspects of class – how well educated parents are or how much social and cultural capital they have, for example.

Thus you must remember that household income indicators are only proxies for social class, they may not show us precisely what a child’s social class background is.

Two sources we might use to to examine the relationship between social class and educational achievement are:

  • Free School Meal (FSM) achievement rates compare to non FSM achievement rates
  • Data on independent school results compared to government schools results.

The Achievement of Pupils Eligible for Free School Meals

Three is a 13.7% achievement gap in the ‘attainment 8’ scores of pupils eligible for Free School Meals compared to non-FSM pupils

In 2019 parents in households with a gross annual income of no more than £16190 were entitled to claim for Free School Meals. (Source).

This means that approximately the poorest 1/6th of households are eligible, so the above statistics are comparing the results of children from the poorest 1/6th of households with the richest 5/6ths all lumped into one.

One limitation with the above statistics is that if you were to stretch this comparison out and compare the poorest 1/6th with the next poorest 1/6th and so on up to the riches 1/6th, you would probably see much starker differences.

Independent School Results Compared to State Schools

If we look at the top 10 independent school results compared to the top 10 state schools, we see quite a difference in results.

In order to be able to pay the fees to get your children into an independent school, you have to be comfortably in the top 10% of households. There are a few scholarships for pupils from poorer households, but not in significant numbers!

Top 10 independent schools

Top 10 state schools

You can see a clear 8-9% difference in achievement in favour of the fee-paying independent schools.

One advantage of the above stats is that it’s much more likely that you’re seeing the solidly upper middle class in these schools, rather than this just being about income.

However, we are only talking about the the top 5-10% of the social class scale, we are not able to make social class comparisons more broadly.

Conclusions

If we use the above data, we can see there is a drastic difference in the achievement rates at the very top and the very bottom of the household income scales.

IF we think household income is a valid indicator of social class, we can also say there are huge social class differences in educational achievement based on the above statistics.

However, we don’t have systematic, annual data on the relationship between the vast majority of middle income households and educational achievement.

Sources

DFE Education Statistics

Why do Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Children have such low educational achievement?

Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) children underachieve significantly compared to students from all other ethnic backgrounds (source for graphic below):

Attainment 8 Results, 2018 data, DFE

The most obvious explanation is to look at their poor attendance rates. Gypsy and Roma and Traveller (GRT) children have much higher absence rates than children from other ethnic groups: 13% and 18.8% respectively.

Absence from School, 2019, DFE.

However, Professor Kalwant Bhopal, from the Center for Research in Race and Education at Birmingham university has conducted research with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) children and cites two main reasons for poor attendance and high drop out rates:

  • Firstly they they don’t feel represented in the school curriculum
  • Secondly that they have experienced racism in mainstream schools

Not feeling included in the school curriculum

Parents felt that the curriculum did not adequately represent their unique histories, they felt that they were effectively excluded, and that the curriculum wasn’t really for them.

They also felt suspicious of sex education being included in the curriculum – in their communities, this is something that is done within the family rather than talked about in public.

Finally, simple activities where children are asked to talk about their home lives can make GRT children feel very different very quickly. Asking a child to draw a picture of their home-life, for example can lead to most children drawing pictures of homes and gardens, which is different to what GRT children are going to draw.

In short, it sounds like children are experiencing the curriculum as ‘ethnocentric’!

Being victims of discrimination and racism

Parents and pupils claimed that they had experienced racism from both children and teachers within schools, however, when they reported incidents of racism this tended not to be taken seriously as they were white.

GRT parents were also very sensitive to stereotypes surrounding the GRT community.

Funding Cuts

Funding cuts to Traveller services as a possible barrier to maintaining attendance levels of GRT children.

Changing Times?

Having said all of the above, times are changing. Younger GRT parents are much more pro-school than older parents, and much more likely to work with.

Sources

Cecile Wright: Racism in Multi-Ethnic Primary Schools

This classic ethnographic study suggests that teacher stereotypes and labelling have a negative impact on Asian and Black Caribbean students in primary schools

This classic ethnographic study of four inner city primary schools suggests that the teacher labeling of ethnic minorities leads to them having a more negative experience of school than white children.

The study took place In 1988-1989, and was published in 192. The main research methods included classroom observations and interviews with both school staff (teachers, managers and support staff) and the parents of some students.

The study involved researching almost 1000 students, 57 staff and 38 parents.

Wright’s main conclusion was that although the majority of staff seemed genuinely committed to the ideals of treating students from different ethnic background equally, in practice there was discrimination within the classroom.

This study seems to be great support for the labeling theory of education and suggests that in school factors are one of the main reasons for the underachievement of ethnic minority students.

Asians in Primary Schools

Wright found that Asian students were often excluded from classroom discussions because teachers thought they had a poor grasp of the English language. When teachers did involve Asian students they often used simplistic language.

Asian girls seemed invisible to teachers and they received less attention from teachers than other students. Teachers often showed insensitivity towards their cultural norms such as disapproving when Asian girls wanted to maintain privacy in PE when getting changed.

She cites one example when a teacher was handing out permission letters for a school trip saying to the Asian girls: ‘I suppose we’l have problems with you girls. Is it worth me giving you a letter, because your parents don’t allow you be be away from home overnight’?

Wright concluded that such stereotypical comments from teachers resulted in other students becoming hostile to Asian students and the Asian students becoming isolated.

It also led to the Asian students becoming more ambivalent towards school. For example, when the school introduced a celebration of Asian culture into the curriculum while Asian students did express some pride in having their culture recognized, they also felt concerned that this might lead to more teasing and harassment from white children.

Teachers did, however, expect Asian students to be academically successful.

Black Caribbeans in Primary Schools

Teachers expected Black Caribbean students to be poorly behaved, and they expected that they would have to be punished as a result. Teachers were also insensitive to the fact that many students would have been victims of racism.

Wright cites the example in one class of a student called Marcus who was frequently criticized for shouting out the right answers to questions, while white students were not.

Black Caribbean students received a disproportionate amount of teachers negative attention. Compared to white students whose behaviour was the same they were more likely to be:

  • sent out of the class
  • sent to the head teacher
  • have privileges removed.

Trivializing Ethnic Minority Cultures

Teachers often mispronounced words or names related to minority ethnic groups, causing white students to laugh and embarrassment to ethnic minority children. According to Wright this situation made ‘minority ethnic values and culture appear exotic, novel, unimportant, esoteric or difficult’.

Racism from White Students

Minority ethnic students also experienced racism from other students which made their life even more difficult. White children often refused to play with Asian children and frequently subjected them to name calling and threatening behavior. Both Asian and Black Caribbean children had to suffer intimidation, rejection and occasional physical assault.

Conclusions

Wright does point out that all of the above disadvantaging of ethnic minority students is unintentional. Schools and teachers do appear genuinely committed to the values of equality and celebrating multiculturalism, they’re just very bad at putting these into practice and their actions have the opposite effect!

Wright believes that some Black children are disadvantaged as a result of their negative experiences in primary school, and this holds them back at later stages of their school career.

Evaluation of the study

The study doesn’t explain why Black Caribbean are held back by negative experiences in primary school when this doesn’t seem to affect the later achievement of Asian children as badly.

The study has been critizied for portrayign ethnic minority students as the passive victims of racism. In contrast, studies by Mirza and Mac An Ghail see students as responding much more actively (and in much more diverse ways) to racism in schools.

Maybe obviously, the date! This is from the late 1980s!

Sources

Adapted from Harlambos and Holborn (2013) Sociology Themes and Perspectives, edition 8.

Cecile Wright (1992) Race Relations in the Primary School.

Are schools institutionally racist?

Based on available research evidence I would conclude that schools are not institutionally racist

One sociological explanation for differences in educational achievement by ethnicity is that schools are institutionally racist.

This means that the school system as a whole is racist, or that schools are organised in such a way that children from ethnic minority backgrounds are systematically disadvantaged in education compared to white children.

If schools are institutionally racist then we should find evidence of racism at all levels of school organisation – both in the way that head teachers run schools and the way in which teachers interact with pupils. We might also expect to find evidence of racism in government policies (or lack of them) and regulation.(OFSTED).

What might institutional racism in schools look like?

There are numerous places we might look to investigate whether schools are racist, for example:

  • The curriculum might be ethnocentric – the way some subjects are taught or the way the school year and holidays are organised may make children from some ethnic backgrounds not feel included.
  • We could look at school exclusion policies to see if the rules on behaviour and exclusion are biased against the cultural practices of students from particular ethnic backgrounds.
  • We might look at how effectively schools deal with issues of racism in school – do the victims get effective redress, or is racism just ignored?
  • We could look at teacher stereotypes and labelling, to see if teachers en-mass have different expectations of different ethnic groups and/ or treat pupils differently based on their ethnicity.
  • We can look at banding and streaming, to see if students from minority ethnic backgrounds are over-represented in the lower sets.

Below I summarise some recent research evidence which may suggest that schools are institutionally racist…

A disproportionate number of GRT and Black Caribbean students are excluded from schools

Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) children are 5 times more likely to be excluded from school than white children, while Black Caribbean and Mixed White and Black Caribbean students are three times more likely than white children.

I’ve included the temporary exclusion rates below as you can see the difference (you can’t really see the difference with permanent exclusions because the percentages are too small to really show up).

Source: Pupil Exclusions, published January 2020

Whether or not these particular ethnic minority students are being excluded because of institutional racism is open to interpretation, and is something that needs to be investigated further. There is certainly qualitative research evidence (see below) that both groups feel discriminated against in the school system.

Schools punish Black Caribbean Pupils for Hair Styles and ‘Kissing Teeth’

Campaign Group ‘No More Exclusions’ argue that schools with strict exclusion policies are unfairly punishing Black Caribbean pupils for having different cultural norms to pupils from other ethnic backgrounds.

They cite evidence of Caribbean girls having been temporarily excluded for having braids in their hair, while other students have been sanctioned for ‘kissing teeth’, a practice mostly associated with Black students.

Such exclusions are mainly being given out by Academies with strict ‘zero tolerance rules on student behaviour, but according to David Gilborn there is a problem of discrimination when black Caribbean students are being disproportionately sanctioned as a result.

In defense of this policy, Katharine Birbalsingh, head of Michaela Community School in London, which enforces very strict rules on behaviour, argues that we should expect the same standards of behaviour from all students, and that Black students know that ‘kissing teeth’ is rude, and so should be punished for it.

Source: The Independent (no date provided, just lots of adverts, but it must be from late 2019 as it links back to a previous article from October 2019. )

Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children feel excluded from mainstream education

Professor Kalwant Bhopal has conducted research with GRT children and found that they don’t feel represented in the school curriculum: parents believed that their histories were not adequately represented, and were uncomfortable with sex education being done in school, as this was something usually done within the family in their culture. In short, it sounds as if they are experiencing the mainstream school curriculum as being ethnocentric.

Parents and pupils also claimed that they had experienced racism from both children and teachers within schools, however, when they reported incidents of racism this tended not to be taken seriously as they were white.

Source: Find out more details at this blog post here.

Racist Incidents In Schools Are Mainly Dealt with by Fixed Period Exclusions

According to a recent Guardian article (September 2019), Hate Crimes in schools rose 120% between the years 2015 and 2018. There were 1987 hate crimes recorded by the police in 2018, of which 70% were recorded as being racist. This means that approximately 1500 racist incidents occurred in schools which were deemed serious enough to warrant police involvement.

Now this won’t be all hate crimes going on in school. Adult hate crimes only have a 40% reporting rate, and this might be lower for crimes against children given the increased levels of vulnerability, naivety and anxiety .

Schools handed out 4500 fixed term exclusions for racist abuse in 2017/18, but only 13 permanent exclusions.

Source: Permanent and Fixed Period Exclusions, DFE, July 2019.

If the under-reporting rate is similar for children as it is for adults and if most of these racist crimes aren’t ‘very serious’ then it seems that schools are doing a pretty good job at dealing with Racism, even if they are not always involving the police. This certainly seems to be backed up by the case study below…

Case Study 1: How One School Dealt with its problem of racism:

Some pupils do experience racist abuse from other pupils. One example is the case study of eight year old Nai’m, a boy who moved to from Bermuda to Britain with his mother in 2017, who was a victim of at least five racist incidents in a year. (article link from January 2020)/

His mother was contacted by the school when one student, apparently his friend, called him a ‘black midget’. Another pupil told Niam’h that his parents had told him he wasn’t allowed to talk to black or brown people. Niam’h plays football for his local professional club and says a lot of racist name calling occurs on the football field.

Besides Niam’h being a victim staff at the school where this incident happened (The Lawrence Community Trust Primary School) had also overheard racist comments from other students – such as ‘go back to your own country’ being directed at ethnic minority students and discussion about skin colour between students.

The school seems to have taken measures to address this problem with some of the racist attitudes being verbalized by some students by taking the following actions:

  • they seem to have excluded at least one student
  • they encouraged Niam’h to give a special assembly on Bermuda
  • They called in Anthony Walker Charity to deliver a presentation to students on Racism

Conclusion: Are schools ‘institutionally racist’?

The above is only a small selection of evidence, but based on what I’ve found I’ve got to conclude that they are not.

Sources, find out more