Most ethnic groups in Britain are poorer than the white majority.
There are several dimensions to inequality by ethnicity in the United Kingdom.
Pakistani and Bangladeshi households have among the lowest levels of wealth and income compared to White Households while Black African households have high wealth but lower income.
Despite their wealth and income, however, White British people have the second lowest life expectancy of all ethnic groups, and despite their relative poverty Bangladeshi women have the second highest life expectancy!
Household Wealth Inequalities by Ethnicity
There are significant differences in household wealth by ethnicity.
The median household wealth in the U.K. between April 2016 and April 2018 (the latest data available) was £286 600. The range between the most and least wealthy ethnic groups was £314 000 for the White British Group and £34 000 for the Black African Group.
This means that White British households are nine times wealthier than Black-British African households.
All ethnic minority groups have less household wealth compared to White households, except for Black Caribbean households who are wealthier:
If we rank ethnic minority groups in order of household wealth from richest to poorest we get the following:
However these differences in household wealth are partly a reflection of two other factors which have a major influence on wealth
The different age profiles of ethnic minority populations. Black Africans especially have a lower age profile than average, in other words they are younger overall, and age has a huge influence on household wealth. Those in the 55-64 age group are 10 times wealthier than those in the 25-34 age group.
Home ownership. Houses tend to be the largest capital investment a family or individual has, and the value of houses is included in the measurement of wealth used by the ONS. Home ownership rates vary by ethnicity and Black Africans have relatively low rates of home ownership, which is in turn partly a reflection of the lower age profile.
Income Inequality by Ethnicity
Income inequality varies by ethnicity. The statistics below (2) are for the period 2017 to 2020 (the latest available at time of writing in January 2023).
Focusing on which ethnic groups are most likely to be in the bottom two quintiles for income, ranking the poorest first:
76% of Pakistani and 75% of Bangladeshi households are in the bottom two quintiles.
75% of Bangladeshi households
62% of black households are in the bottom two quintiles
49% of Chinese households are in the bottom two quintiles
40% of Asian and 38% of households are in the bottom two quintiles.
So to summarise Pakistani and Bangladeshi households are almost twice as likely to be in poor households compared to the average (which is 40% which is the poorest two quintiles or 2/5 or 4/10!).
Black households are 1.5 times more likely and Chinese households are slightly more likely to be poor.
Indian and White British households are at 40%, which is in line with the national average.
The figures are similar for the chances of having a high income household by ethnicity.
Ethnic Differences in Life Expectancy
Life expectancy at birth for females varies by ethnicity from 83.1 years for those of mixed ethnicity to 88.9 years for those of Black African ethnicity.
The differences here don’t seem to correlate at all with inequalities in wealth and income.
For example the White ethnic group has the second lowest life expectancy despite having some of the highest wealth and income.
Also Bangladeshi and Pakistani females have differing life expediencies despite having very similar levels of household income.
The pattern is similar for males but with overall lower life expectancy in all ethnic groups.
This material is of general relevance to a whole range of sociology modules, from education to crime and deviance!
The latest figures on Police Stop and Search show that black people are now nine times more likely than white people to be stopped and searched by the police.
This is a key statistics relevant to the A-level Sociology crime and deviance module. And I must say this is a thoroughly depressing trend, as the last time I updated this it was ‘6 times’ more likely, so the disproportion in stop and search has gotten worse!
The figures show that 6/1000 white people were stopped and searched by the police in the last year, compared to 54/1000 black people.
It is also interesting to note that ‘black other’ has a much higher rate than all other ‘black’ or any other sub category of ethnic group.
Asian people are now three times more likely than white people to be stopped and searched.
Why are Black People Stopped by the Police more Often?
This increase in disproportion of stop and search has been investigated by the media recently.
Channel Four News recently put together an item in 2020 covering the topic:
They frame the issue of stop and search in the context of the ‘British Police’s Long History of Race Relations’, reminding us of the following key events:
1981 – Brixton Riots – when young black people felt over policed and Under-protected.
1985 – the death of Cynthia Jarret after police officers searched her home in North London.
The video points out that there were also disturbances over police racism in Birmingham in 1981 and 1985, so this wasn’t just a London issue.
The flawed police inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence by four white men is mentioned next, and the fact that the 1999 Mcpherson Inquiry found the MET to be institutionally racist.
In 2011 Mark Duggan was shot and killed in London while police tried to arrest him, sparking Riots in several cities across the UK.
Finally, during Lockdown, you’re twice as likely to be fined for breaking Lockdown in London if you’re black compared to if you’re white.
The police have responded to the accusations of racism by trying to do more outreach initiatives with communities and recruit more people from Black and Ethnic Minority backgrounds, however, the police’s own figures still show that black people are ten times more likely than white people (I guess they rounded up!) to be stopped and searched by the police.
Black people are also more than twice as likely to die in custody than white people.
The video mainly focuses on an interview with Neil Basu – assistant commissioner for the MET, the highest ranking officer from a minority background.
He agrees there is racism in the police because Racism, but puts this down to the fact that Racism still exists more broadly in the United Kingdom.
And he says the MET are not institutionally racist in terms of policies but in terms of not having equal outcomes, then yes they are.
In short he says that the higher Stop and Search rates of black people is all about society, not the police.
The Police use force more often on Black People…
This recent report (2021) by the HMICFRS found that black people are five times more likely to have force used on them during Stop and Search – such as the police drawing or using Tazers or using handcuffs during the search.
The report also found that around 20% of stop and searches are initiated by officer intuition, so they are ‘spontaneous’, which isn’t in line with national guidelines, and they found that most forces don’t regularly review body cam evidence to check stop and search procedures.
In a way I guess this report backs up what Basu says about the police not being institutionally racist in terms of policies, the problem is that too many police are ignoring formal guidelines and using their (racist?) intuition to stop and search.
The Use of Stop and Search for Drug Possession is also part of the problem
Stops for drug possession account for nearly 60% of stop and search, and drug possession is a relatively minor offence (compared to stops for suspected theft or holding a weapon).
The report suggests that if the police spent less time focussing on this it might help reduce the disproportionality by ethnicity in the stop and search figures!
NB – this raises the question of whether Black People just happen to use and/ or deal drugs more than White people – but the stop and search figures alone can’t tell us this and there is something of a paucity of self-report study data on drug use by ethnicity. I may return to this question in a blog later this month!
Find out More…
For a more detailed look at statistics on ethnicity and crime, please see this post here.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 Haralambos and Holborn (2013) Sociology Themes and Perspectives, edition 8.
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
Only 33% of cases reported
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…
Confidence levels in the reporting figures.
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…
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.
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!
Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) children underachieve significantly compared to students from all other ethnic backgrounds (source for graphic below):
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.
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 to Traveller services as a possible barrier to maintaining attendance levels of GRT children.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Adapted from Haralambos and Holborn (2013) Sociology Themes and Perspectives, edition 8.
Some education polices such as prevent seem to be racist, and most ethnic minority students would agree!
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…
Exclusions by Ethnicity
More Gypsy-Roma, Traveller and Black Caribbean students are excluded from school, but this might not necessarily be evidence of racism…
Exclusion rates for Gypsy-Roma and Traveller Children
Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) children are 5 times more likely to be excluded from school 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).
Exclusion Rates for Black Caribbean Children
The permanent exclusion (2) rates for Black Caribbean and mixed White Black/ Caribbean are two and half times higher than for White children. The respective exclusion rates are:
2.5 children per 10 000 Black Caribbean pupils
2.4 children per 10 000 mixed Black Caribbean and White pupils
1 child per 10 000 White pupils.
Gypsy-Roma children have the highest exclusion rates of all minority groups with 3.9 children per 10 000 pupils being permanently excluded, four times as many exclusions compared to White children.
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.
Another problem is that if you dig down deeper into the data and look at the overall statistics on reasons for exclusion by ethnicity we find that White pupils are more likely to be excluded for ‘persistent disruptive behaviour’ and Black students for more the more serious sounding ‘assault against a pupil’ which suggests maybe that schools are being harsher on White pupils, so this may not be sound evidence of Institutional Racism!
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. )
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.
Schools handed out 4500 fixed term exclusions for racist abuse in 2017/18, but only 13 permanent exclusions.
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
The A-C Economy
David Gilborn (2002) argues that schools are institutionally racist because teachers interpret banding and streaming policy in a way that disadvantages black pupils.
Gilborn and Youdell (1999) argued that Marketisation policies have created what they call an A-C economy: schools are mainly interested in boosting their A-C rates and so perform a process of educational-triage when they put students into ability groups.
Those who are judged (by teachers) to be able to get a C and above get into the higher sets and are taught properly and pushed to get a C, but some students are labelled as no-hopers and get put in the bottom or bottom sets and written off.
Gilborn and Youdell noted that Black Caribbean children were more likely to be labelled as ‘no-hopers by teachers and were overrepresented in the lower sets, thus this kind of labelling is linked to institutional practice and wider policy thus it is institutional racism.
Racism in Education Policy?
David Giborn has argued that education policies in England and Wales have done little to combat racism over the last several decades. He argues that education policy has never successfully celebrated multiculturalism and that ever since the London Bombings of 2005 there has been an element of anti-Muslim sentiment in the way schools are required to teach British Values.
PREVENT policy certainly seems to have been interpreted in way that is discriminatory against Muslims. 95% of pupils referred under PREVENT are Muslim despite the fact that there have been more problems with racism and extremism from White people following Brexit.
Schools DO NOT have to report Racist Incidents
Schools are not required to report cases of bullying or racial abuse to their Local Education Authorities, only to their governing bodies. Some LEAs insist that governing bodies send them the data but some do not, meaning we have incomplete data on racial incidents in schools.
This implies that the Tory government (this no-reporting requirement was introduced in 2010) isn’t interested in even knowing whether racism in schools is a problem or not.
The available data (1) shows us that 60 000 racial incidents were reported in the five years between 2016-2020 but that information had to be collected through a Freedom of Information Request and will not included all of the racist incidents in schools during that period.
Student Perception of Racism in Schools
70% of Black students report having experienced racism in school, according to a YMCA poll of 550 students in 2020 (3)
The report is depressing reading with Black students reporting being called racial names such as ‘monkey’ and being criticised because of having untidy ‘Afro’ hairstyles.
The report also noted a resigned acceptance of the fact that schools were just institutionally racist.
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.
Conclusion: Are schools ‘institutionally racist’?
There is a considerable amount of evidence suggesting that institutional racism does exist in schools today, starting with some overtly discrimantory policies such as PREVENT and the failure of government to even collect data on racist incidents.
The strongest evidence lies in student perceptions of racism, with over 70% of Black British students feeling as if they are discriminated against in education.
This material is mainly relevant to the sociology of education, usually taught in the first year of A-level Sociology.
a look at how GCSE, A-level and degree results vary by ethnic group in England and Wales.
Educational achievement varies considerably by ethnicity and level of achievement.
At GCSE White, Black-African and Pakistani children have similar rates of achievement, Chinese and Indian students ‘overachieve’ and there is slight underachievement for Pakistani and Black Caribbean students.
Black and Asian students are more likely to stay on in Further Education than White students, but Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Black African and Caribbean students are much less likely to get 3 A grades at A-level compared to White students, while Chinese and Indian students are more likely.
White students are more likely to get first class degrees than even Chinese and Indian students.
The Department for Education makes it very easy to access statistics on educational achievement. Below I summarise some of the recent trends in educational achievement in England and Wales by ethnicity and offer some commentary on what I think needs explaining, and some thoughts on the limitations of these statistics.
The latest data available are for the 2021 exam results (this post updated January 2023).
Average attainment 8 Score by Ethnic group 2021
Attainment 8 scores measure how far pupils have progressed in their eight major government approved GCSE subjects over five years of secondary schooling compared to the average progress of all pupils.
The higher the attainment 8 score the more a pupil has progressed compared the average pupil.
As you can see from the results below there is considerable variation in progress by GCSE by ethnicity:
In the 2021 exam year the average score for all ethnic groups together was 50.9/90. It’s no surprise to find this is very close to the ‘White British group as White British children still make up the vast majority of school children.
To my mind the headline figures from the above statistics are as follows:
White, Pakistani and Black African children have results very close to the national average of 50.9. All of these figures are quite close together and so nothing really needs explaining for these broad groups.
Chinese children achieve 19% higher than the national average
Indian children 11% higher
Bangladeshi children achieved 5% higher.
Black Caribbean children underachieve by about 6% points
Irish Traveller and Gypsy Roma children have the worst underachievement levels with 30% (18% in 2018) and 22% respectively.
So what needs explaining from the above is why Chinese and Indian children do so well, and why Black Caribbean children underachieve, and why Irish traveler and Gypsy Roma children do so badly.
In terms of impact of research it’s probably worth focusing on Chinese, Indian and Black Caribbean children because there are many more of these than of the last two ethnic groups.
A final point to note about these statistics is that it doesn’t seem useful to lump together ‘Black’ and Asian’ students because there are SIGNIFICANT differences in the achievement rates within these groups.
Educational Achievement (attainment 8) by Free School Meals and Ethnicity
Free School Meals pupils represent approximately the poorest sixth of pupils by household income.
We can see from the above that poverty has a negative impact on the educational attainment of pupils from all ethnic backgrounds but that it has more of an impact on some ethnic groups than others.
If we just focus on the achievement of pupils in receipt of free school meals (FSM pupils) we find that:
White pupils have the lowest achievement rates with a score of just 36.1
Black and Asian FSM pupils have broadly similar attainment 8 scores with scores of 44 and 48 respectively
Chinese FSM pupils have the highest attainment 8 scores, with a score of 68.5, which is very close to non FSM pupil scores.
The two main questions arising from the above statistics are:
Why does poverty not affect poor Chinese children children as much as children from other ethnic backgrounds (the FSM and non FSM results are very similar for Chinese children?
Why are poor white kids impacted the most? The difference between FSM and non-FSM achievement is largest for white children?
Statistics on Participation in Further Education
This demonstrates a long standing trend – that ethnic minorities (Black and Asian) students are more likely to carry on into further education compared to white students. This should mean that you’ll see a higher proportion of white kids starting work based apprenticeships.
NB – making comparisons to the overall population is a bit misleading as the age profile for ethnic minorities tends to be younger.
Students achieving at least 3 As at A-level
The overall average is 12.9%.
These are quite interesting.
Huge ‘over-achievement’ by Chinese kids – 22.5%
Indian kids do slightly better than average at 15%
Signficant underachievement for Pakistani and Bangladeshi kids – around 7%
Terrible underachievement for Black African and Caribbean kids at 5.6% and 3.5% respectively.
The source notes that the Irish Traveler population is only 7 people, so one can’t generalize, still, at least it busts a few stereotypes!
These stats show something of an exaggeration of what we saw at GCSE.
I put these stats in the ‘interesting but not that useful’ category – I’d rather see the percentages for high grades or A-C grades to make these a bit more representative.
Degree results by ethnicity
Surprisingly, we see white students gaining significant ground on ethnic minority students with 30.9% of white students gaining a first class degree (*).
Black students in comparison come crashing down to just 14% of first class degrees.
These kind of differences – from similar GCSE results for Black and White students to such different A-level and degree results need further investigation.
(1)The education statistics above form part of the government’s Ethnicity Facts and Figures series, you can check out a wider range of statistical evidence on ethnicity and life chances by clicking here. (As always, remember to be critical of the limitations of these statistics!).
(*) 30% does seem rather high, but a lot of those first class degrees are probably down to grade inflation, which in turn is probably down to the fact that students are now paying £30 K for yer for their degrees.
Ethnicity and Differential Achievement: Key Questions
Based on the above statistics the following questions stand out…
At GCSE why do Chinese and Indian Students have such high achievement
A summary of four theories: cultural transition, cultural defence, neo-marxism, and Weberianism.
Ethnic minorities in Britain tend to see religion as more important than Whites. This post summarises four theories which seek to explain this trend: cultural transition theory, cultural defence theory, neo-marxism, and Weberianism.
This post has been written primarily for A-level sociology students studying the beliefs option as part of second year sociology.
Cultural Transition Theory
Cultural transition theory emphasizes the fact that most ethnic minorities in the UK originate from societies with higher levels of religiosity.
When the first waves of immigrants came to Britain from the West-Indies and Asia, religion helped immigrants deal with the stress of adjusting to a new culture.
Religious institutions, for example, provided a sense of community, and actually working together to build a ‘religious infrastructure’ promoted a sense of social solidarity.
Given that immigration is still a relatively recent phenomenon, it is not surprising that ethnic minorities are still more religious than White Britons.
Cultural transition theory holds that once a group has settled into a new culture, commitment to religion will gradually weaken.
This later seems to be the case as third and fourth generation immigrants tend to display lower levels of religiosity than first and second generation immigrants.
Cultural Defence Theory
Cultural defense theory suggests that religion helps some ethnic minority groups preserve a sense of unique cultural identity in the face of an unwelcoming and hostile mainstream culture.
Religion can be a way to provide emotional support in the midst of racism and intolerance from mainstream society.
When Black Africans and Caribbean Christians first came to Britain, they were not generally welcomed by the congregations of mainstream churches. One of the ways they responded to this was to establish their own forms of Pentecostal Christianity.
Weberians suggest that there is a relationship between poverty and religiosity.
There does seem to be a correlation between religion, ethnicity and poverty…. African-Caribbeans in the UK experience higher levels of poverty and have higher levels of religion.
Weber (1920) theorised that certain denominations and sects appeal to the deprived because they can help people cope with their deprivation.
Ken Pryce’s (1979) research into the role of Pentacostalism among African-Caribbeans in the UK is a useful application of Weberianism. Pentecostalism emphasizes the importance of family and community, and values hard-work and thrift, all of which offer practical support for helping to cope with poverty as well as a sense of spiritual status.
Neo-Marxist theory holds that religion has some degree of autonomy from the economic base, and that religious institutions can act as agents of revolutionary change for the oppressed.
Ethnic minority groups tend to suffer from higher levels of exploitation, especially when they are used as scapegoats for some of society’s problems (as Stuart Hall argues in ‘Policing the Crisis‘), and resistance has sometimes centered around religious institutions.
The Nation of Islam in America is probably the most obvious example of this.
This probably applies more to America than it does to the United Kingdom.
In the UK, this certainly does not explain the experience of every ethnic minority group… Sikhs and Hindus (mainly of Indian origin) for example, experience lower levels of deprivation than whites.
Signposting and Related Posts
This post has been written primarily for A-level sociology students studying the beliefs option as part of second year sociology.