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.
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).
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.
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
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.
a look at how GCSE, A-level and degree results vary by ethnic group in England and Wales.
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
Average attainment 8 Score by Ethnic group 2018
Attainment 8 is a way of representing all GCSE results as a single percentage!
The average score for all ethnic groups together was 46.5/90. 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 46.5, and Bangladeshi children achieved 3% higher. All of these figures are quite close together and so nothing really needs explaining for these broad groups.
Chinese children achieve 18% higher than the national average
Indian children 10% higher
Black Caribbean children underachieve by about 7% points
Irish Traveler and Gypsy Roma children have the worst underacheivement levels with 18% and 22% respectively.
So what needs explaining from the above is why Chinese and Indian children do so well, and why Black Carribean 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
If we look at GCSE results by free school meal eligibility (roughly the poorest sixth of children) we see that ethnicity still has an independent effect on achievement – the pattern is broadly the same as in the chart above, but with the following two differences:
No free school meal children (roughly the wealthiest 5/6ths of children) move closer together slightly.
For the FSM groups, white and mixed children are now the lowest achievers, suggesting that poor white and mixed kids do comparatively worse than poor kids from all other ethnic groups.
NB – I think the DFE here is doing a cunning job of disguising the fact that ‘income’ has a larger affect on results than ethnicity – we are seeing here the poorest 1/6th (FSM) compared to the richest 5/6ths (No FSM). If we were to stretch this out and compare just the poorest 1/6th (which we’ve got) to the richest 1/6th my guess would be that you’d find very similar levels of achievement across what would be the upper middle classes for all ethnic groups.
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!).
(*) WTF – 30% – sorry kids, 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.
White working class underachievement is persistent and real, but contemporary government reports are potentially biased in that they might fail to take seriously critical (left wing) analysis of issues such as this. Students might like to read the summary below, and check out the actual full report and consider whether or not this report provides a full picture of the causes of white working class underachievement, or whether its agenda is limited by ideological (neoliberal) bias…
A summary and sociological analysis of a recent government report on white working class underachievement….
Summary of the Government Report on White Working Class Underachievement
The summary below is taken from the House of Commons Education Committee on Underachievement in Education by White Working Class Children, First Report of Session 2014-15
The possible causes and contributors to white working class underachievement are many and various, and include matters in home life, school practices, and wider social policies. We received evidence on a broad range of policy areas and relevant factors, many of which fell outside education policy. Our report holds a mirror up to the situation—it does not attempt to solve the problem on its own—but it is clear that schools can and do make a dramatic difference to the educational outcomes of poor children. Twice the proportion of poor children attending an outstanding school will leave with five good GCSEs when compared with the lowest rated schools, whereas the proportion of non-FSM children achieving this benchmark in outstanding schools is only 1.5 times greater than in those rated as inadequate. Ofsted’s inspection focus on performance gaps for deprived groups will encourage schools to concentrate on this issue, including those that aspire to an “outstanding” rating.
Our inquiry focused on pupils who are eligible for free school meals, but there are many pupils just outside this group whose performance is low, and it is known that economic deprivation has an impact on educational performance at all levels. Data from a range of Departments could be combined in future to develop a more rounded indicator of a child’s socio-economic status and used to allocate funding for disadvantaged groups. The improvement in outcomes for other ethnic groups over time gives us cause for optimism that improvements can be made, but not through a national strategy or a prescribed set of sub-regional challenges. Schools need to work together to tackle problems in their local context, and need to be encouraged to share good practice in relevant areas, such as providing space to complete homework and reducing absence from school.
Policies such as the pupil premium and the introduction of the Progress 8 metric are to be welcomed as measures that could improve the performance of white working class children and increase attention on this group. Alongside the EEF “toolkit”, our recommendation for an annual report from Ofsted on how the pupil premium is being used will ensure that suitable information on how this extra funding is being used.
An updated good practice report from Ofsted on tackling white working class underachievement would also help schools to focus their efforts. Meanwhile, further work is needed on the role of parental engagement, particularly in the context of early years.
The Government should also maintain its focus on getting the best teachers to the areas that need them most, and should give more thought to the incentives that drive where teachers choose to work. Within a school, the best teachers should be deployed where they can make most difference. Schools face a battle for resources and talent, and those serving poor white communities need a better chance of winning. White working class children can achieve in education, and the Government must take these steps to ensure that that they do.
While the summary recognises that a number of factors contribute to white working class underachievement, including policy and home based factors it basically (obviously?) ends up concluding that the problem can be fixed by individual teachers and schools within the existing system, without making any major changes to the current system.
The evidence cited to support this view is that ethnic minorities from poor backgrounds do not significantly underachieve compared to their richer peers (the message being ‘if they can do it, so can poor white kids); and the fact that ‘schools can and do make a difference’.
The suggested strategies to improve the standards of white working class kids include:
Schools dealing with the issues in their local contexts (fair enough I guess)
Schools ‘sharing best practice’
Getting the best teachers to where they are needed the most – which mainly means coastal areas (although there is no mention of how to do this)
Yet more monitoring by OFSTED (into how the Pupil Premium is being used)
Doing more research on how to engage parents, implying that they are somehow to blame.
What is NOT considered is the broader social and cultural inequalities in the UK and the possibility (some may say FACT) that the education system is actually run by and for the middle classes and white working class kids just see it as ‘not for them’, as this research by Garth Sthal suggests:
Garth Stahl worked as an educator in predominantly white working-class and boy heavy schools in London for nine years and recently spent one year researching the educational experiences and aspirations of 23 white working-class boys in order to better understand how they came to understand the educational provision provided to them.
He argues that white working-class underachievement is symptomatic of a much larger social, cultural and economic inequality, which plagues the British education system, in which pupils’ performance has an extraordinarily strong positive association with social class.
A summary of his research is as follows:
Schools negatively label white working class boys as ‘lacking in aspiration’ and write many of them off before the enter the school building, putting them in lowest sets and paying less attention to them, as they believe they have no chance of achieving 5 A-Cs.
White working class boys are well aware of how they are negatively labelled in educational environments, and the poor quality of education they are receiving, and also the constraints of their social class position.
In response, they often excluded themselves from the school’s neoliberal “aspirations” agenda of university entrance and social mobility
They preferred employment that was ‘respectable working-class’ such as trade work which they considered for “the likes of them” and where they would feel comfortable.
The boys were also haunted by a fear of academic failure – they realised that they would be blamed for their failure and thus be made to feel a sense of shame because it (Even though deep down they knew they had less chance of succeeding than their middle class peers).
On the other hand, they also feared academic success. Good exam results would mean pressure to further their education, and to enter into areas that felt foreign, such as university, where they potentially would be made to feel uncomfortable.
Application and Relevance
Taken together these two items show how research which implies that we need system-level change will not be considered in government education policy – and serves to show up the bias and limitations of government reports which feed into social policy.
Key statistics on education in America, and the key features of the American education system including primary, secondary and tertiary education, the national curriculum and the examinations system.
This is part of a new set of posts designed to help students assess how developed countries are in terms of some of the key indicators of development such as economics, inequality, education, health, gender equality, peacefulness and so on…
Kindergarten, Primary, and Secondary Education in America
Schooling is compulsory for all children in the United States, with every child being entitled to a minimum of 12 years publicly funded education. Some states add on an additional year of pre-primary ‘Kindergarten) education, and the school leaving age also varies from state to state: some states allow students to leave school between 14–17 with parental permission, other states require students to stay in school until age 18.
Children attend primary school from the ages of 6-11 where they are taught basic subjects, typically in a diverse, mixed ability class, with one teacher.
Children attend secondary school from the ages of 12-17, which is subdivided into junior high-school and senior high school. Here students are typically taught in different classes for different subjects and are allowed some degree of freedom to choose ‘elective subjects’.
While there is no overarching national curriculum, education in secondary school generally consists of 2–4 years of each of science, Mathematics, English, Social sciences, Physical education; some years of a foreign language and some form of art education, as well as the usual PSHE.
Many high schools provide ‘Honors classes’ for the more academically able during the 11th or 12th grade of high school and/ or offer the International Baccalaureate (IB).
The National (And Hidden) Curriculum
While there isn’t a national curriculum in America, there are some very detailed national common core standards in subject areas such as English and Maths – so why schools aren’t told what books they should actually get students to read, or how to teach maths, the standards dictate that they must spend a certain amount of time teaching these and other subjects…. When I say detailed, they really are – the standards on English stretch to over 60 pages.
In terms of the Hidden Curriculum – 50% of schools require their students to pledge allegiance as part of their daily routine, which I guess is an attempt to enforce a sense of national identity.
If you’re American I imagine this gives you a warm glowing feeling, if you’re not you’re probably fluctuating between an uncomfortable feeling of nausea and wondering WTF this has got to do with ‘liberty’. NB note the doting parents looking on, and that YouTube is full of this sort of thing.
Differential Educational Achievement in America
The education system clearly doesn’t work for everyone equally – around 3 million students between the ages of 16 and 24 drop out of high school each year, a rate of 6.6 percent as of 2012.
Unsurprisingly, there are considerable ethnic differences in educational achievement in America, as this data from 2009 suggests:
They argue that boys’ underachievement has long been a feature of the UK education system, but it has recently become a ‘moral panic’ (In 1996, the UK’s Chief Inspector of Schools called it “one of the most disturbing problems facing the education system”) which has arisen because of the following three reasons:
First, deindustrialisation in the UK has led to the decline of traditional manufacturing jobs, and so there are fewer jobs available for those with few or no educational qualifications. As a result, young working-class men who leave school with relatively few qualifications have now become a ‘problem’.
Second, feminism has had an impact on girls’ education and career aspirations, and so women are advancing into technical and professional jobs which were previously male dominated.
Third, examination performance is increasingly central to policy, with Britain ranked against other countries, and failing students matter more.
They argue that focusing on boys’ underachievement is a problem because:
It ignores other differences between young people, particularly of ethnicity and class, which actually have a far greater affect on results.
Since girls are on top, there’s no space to tackle the problems that girls have in education. including teenage pregnancy, sexualisation and bullying in friendship groups.
Finally, they point out that some of the strategies adopted to deal with the ‘problem with boys’ are unlikely to work:
For example, there has been a big push to recruit more male teachers, particularly in primary schools, to act as role models for their male pupils. Yet research shows that the gender of the teacher has no effect on how well boys achieve in school.
Similarly, to solve the gender gap in reading policymakers have suggested giving boys adventure stories and factual books. But research shows that boys have a more positive attitude to reading when all pupils are encouraged to read as wide a range of books as possible.
It would seem that the notion of ethnic minorities underachieving is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. If you look at the stats below, with the exception of Gypsy Roma children, ‘white British’ children are outperformed by the majority of ethnic minority groups, and for those groups who lag behind, the difference is small.
It’s also worth noting that for those groups who were drastically underachieving in 2008/09 compared to the national average, have seen rapid improvement in the last five years, especially black Caribbean children. If this trend continues, we could see white children at the bottom of the ethnic league tables by 2020.
What all of this means is that all of that material about teacher Racism that you have to trawl through in the text books is probably by now mostly irrelevant, except for the fact that you now have to criticise the hell out of it.
The question is now really one of why do most minority students do better.
This brief post from The Guardian is a good starting point to find the answer to this question – in which one London school teacher explains why he thinks London schools with a higher proportion of ethnic minority students tend to do better…
“It comes down to the parents’ influence. Students who’ve arrived as migrants recently are generally coming from a place where education is valued for education’s sake. Where I teach now, in a rural area, we’ve got a very homogenous set of students, all from similar backgrounds – generation after generation quite happily in a steady state where they’re not forced to improve. If you compare that with a parent and children coming over from a country where there isn’t as much opportunity, they do really have to try, and that’s a parent-led ideal that gets fed into the student. I met so many students from African and Asian countries that really wanted to learn.
“But that sort of ambition can have a positive impact on other pupils too. If there’s someone who’s a really enthusiastic learner, it’s a teacher’s job to seize on that opportunity and use it to generate an atmosphere in the classroom, and it does rub off.”
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