Assess the claim that ‘ethnic difference in educational achievement are primarily the result of school factors’ (30)

An essay on ethnicity and education written for the A Level Sociology paper 1 exam, AQA focus. 

Assess the claim that ‘ethnic difference in educational achievement are primarily the result of school factors’ (30)

There are significant differences in educational achievement by ethnicity. Around 80% of Chinese children achieve 5 or more GCSE grades at A*- C compared to only 55% of Caribbean and about 15% of Gypsy Roma children. The national average is around 65%.

The idea that in-school processes are the main reason for these differences is associated with Interactionism which focuses on processes such as teacher labelling, Institutional racism and pupil subcultures. I will explore how these in-school factors affect pupils differently while evaluating using cultural deprivation and cultural capital theory.

Two classic studies in Sociology found that teacher labelling based on ethnic stereotypes did occur in British schools 25 years ago.

Cecile Wright (1992) Found that teachers perceived ethnic minority children differently from white children.  Asian children were seen as a problem that could be ignored, receiving the least attention and often being excluded from classroom discussion and rarely asked to answer questions. African Caribbean children were expected to behave badly, were seen as aggressive and disruptive, and were more likely to be disciplined for bad behaviour than children from other backgrounds.

David Gilborn (1990) found that teachers tended to see African-Caribbean children as a threat when no threat was intended and reacted accordingly with measures of control. Despite the fact that teachers rejected racism their ethnocentric perceptions meant that their actions were racist in consequence. African-Caribbean children experienced more conflict in relationships with pupils, were more subjected to the schools detention system.

The main problem with both of these studies are based on small scale samples and they are very dated, and they tell us nothing about whether ethnic stereotyping exists today. If anything, teacher bias is less likely given the greater emphasis put on multi-cultural education and the increased awareness of diversity.

Having said this, the rates of African-Caribbean pupils are still 3-4 times higher than the national average, which could be a result of the biases found by Wright and Gilborn, but given lack of recent research, we simply don’t know whether African-Caribbean children are objectively more deviant, or whether they are just perceived to be so by racist teachers.

A further problem with the above is that if teachers are just ignoring Asian pupils, and letting them get on with it, then they can’t really be having much of an impact on their education – and thus it must be home factors which explain why many Asian (Indian and Chinese) students today do better than the white majority.

A second reason for ethnic differences in achievement may be Institutional Racism which is where discrimination against minority groups is built into the organisation of the school – this can happen in various ways: through the ethnocentric curriculum, through banding and streaming and through the hiring of fewer minority teachers.

The ethnocentric curriculum is one which reflects the culture of one dominant group – for example the white majority culture in Britain. The curriculum can be described as Ethnocentric – for example students have to study British history from the European point of view, use out of date textbooks that racially stereotype and some subjects having a narrow, white British focus.

Banding and Streaming has been found to disadvantage both the working classes and some minority groups. Gilborn and Youdell (2007) point out that Black Caribbean children are overrepresented in the lower sets  and talk of how those in the lower sets get ‘written off’ because they have no hope of achieving A-Cs.

Crozier (2004) examined the experiences of racism among Pakistani and Bangladeshi pupils and found that the experience of racism from both the school system and other pupils led to a feeling of exclusion.  The researchers discovered that Pakistani and Bangladeshi pupils had experienced the following – anxieties about their safety; racist abuse was a lived experience of their schooling; careers advisors at school believed South Asian girls were bound by tradition and it was a waste of time advising them; Not being allowed off during Ramadan; feeling that assemblies were not relevant.

The problem with the idea of the ethnocentric curriculum is that it cannot explain why so many ethnic groups do better than white children. It may be the case the Pakistani and Bangladeshi children feel marginalised by it, but they have caught up with white children in recent years and so achieve well in spite of ethnocentricity in education.

Moreover, schools in recent years have made huge efforts to be more multicultural – with RE and PSHE lessons and event such as ‘black history month’ doing a lot to raise awareness of diversity, so this has changed significantly.

However, some recent statistics do suggest that institutional racism is rife – black applicants are half as likely to be accepted onto teacher training programmes compared to white applicants (around 20% compared to 40% success rate) – the end result of this was that in 2013, in the whole of the UK only three black people were accepted as trainee-history teachers. Professor Heidi Mirza, herself of African Caribbean origin, says there is evidence of discrimination within our education system today.

Another in-school factor is pupil subcultures – as with teacher racism a number of classic studies from 20 years ago have focused mainly on black subcultures:

Tony Sewell (1997) observed that Black Caribbean boys may experience considerable pressure by their peers to adopt the norms of an ‘urban’ or ‘street’ subculture. More importance is given to unruly behaviour with teachers and antagonistic behaviour with other students than to high achievement or effort to succeed, particularly at secondary school. Fordham and Ogbu (1986) further argue that notions of ‘acting White’ or ‘acting Black’ become identified in opposition to one another. Hence because acting White includes doing well at school, acting Black necessarily implies not doing well in school.

Mac an Ghail (1998) looked at three subcultures – the Asian Warriors, the African- Caribbean Rasta Heads and the Black Sisters. He used mainly participant observation both in the school and through befriending the students and socializing with them outside of the school. What he found was that the African Caribbean community experienced the world in very different ways to white people – namely because of institutional racism in the college and he argued that any anti-school attitudes were reactions against this racism.

As with the research on teacher labelling, the research on the relationship between pupil subcultures and educational achievement is somewhat thin today. If anything, today subcultures are probably less important, as there seems to be less resistance to the school today than in previous years.

Most sociologists seem to agree that home background is more important than in-school factors in explaining differences in achievement by ethnicity: As with class and gender, schools only account for s10% of the differences in achievement (according to a recent Analysis podcast), home-factors are much more important. Pupils only spend a minority of their time in-school after all!

Tony Sewell, for example, focuses on the higher rates of single parent households and the influence of gangsta culture on young black boys, which is far more significant than anything which goes on in-school.

Also, where the excellent achievement on Chinese children is concerned, it seems to be the ‘tiger parenting’ style which advantages these pupils compared to others.

Most of the research on in-school factors focuses on African-Caribbean underachievement, which is a narrow focus, there are other differences too – Gypsy Roma for example, and given that the main reason for their underachievement is the low attendance rate, again school is not a significant factor here.

However, in-school factors may play a role in explaining the biggest problem with underachievement today – that of white working class children, who themselves feel excluded from the culture of the school because they feel school does not reflect their culture, but this is more of a matter of social class (and gender) rather than ethnicity.

In conclusion, I would say that in-school factors explain very little of the differences in achievement by ethnicity, most of the difference is accounted for by home factors and schools cannot be expected and should not be expected to close the gap, moreover, I believe that focusing on issues of race within education are a red-herring, the issue of class and differential achievement is far more important, irrespective of ethnic background, and here, as with ethnicity, much of the differences in achievement are down to differences in home background, not differential achievement within schools.

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The Prevent Agenda – Arguments For and Against

The Prevent Agenda is a recent social policy which requires schools (among other public bodies) to assist the government in preventing people from being drawn into terrorism, which is worth looking at because it’s relevant to several areas of the A level syllabus – education, crime and deviance, ethnicity, and social policy.

The Prevent duty: what it means for schools and childcare providers

From 1 July 2015 all schools are subject to a duty under section 26 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015,  to have “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”. This duty is known as the Prevent duty.

Below is a brief summary of some of the main points from the Government’s guidance to schools

It is essential that staff are able to identify children who may be vulnerable to radicalisation, and know what to do when they are identified.

Schools and childcare providers can also build pupils’ resilience to radicalisation by promoting fundamental British values and enabling them to challenge extremist views.

“Extremism” is vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.  We also include in our definition of extremism calls for the death of members of our armed forces, whether in this country or overseas.

Schools and childcare providers should be aware of the increased risk of online radicalisation, as terrorist organisations such as ISIL seek to radicalise young people through the use of social media and the internet.

There is no single way of identifying an individual who is likely to be susceptible to a terrorist ideology. Children at risk of radicalisation may display different signs or seek to hide their views.  The Prevent duty does not require teachers or childcare providers to carry out unnecessary intrusion into family life, but schools are expected to liase with social services where it seems appropriate

School staff and childcare providers should understand when it is appropriate to make a referral to the Channel programme. Channel is a programme which focuses on providing support at an early stage to people who are identified as being vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism.

Stats so Far….

There were 7500 referalls in 2015-16, about 20 a day, with 1/10 being deemed at risk of radicalisation with a referral to the ‘Channel’ programme.

What are the arguments for the Prevent agenda?

Leicestershire Chief Constable Simon Cole (also the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for Prevent), argues Prevent is essential to fighting terrorism and describes the scheme as “putting an arm around” people at risk of radicalisation.

“We try and divert, allow people the opportunity to help them make better decisions. It’s absolutely fundamental,” he said.

“It has enabled us to try and help stabilise communities and stop people getting us into a cycle of aggravation.”

He cited a case in which people referred a young man from the Midlands who had been considering travelling to fight in Syria. Prevent groups worked with the man and he decided not to go,

“The people he was travelling to meet, we believe, are dead. This is very real stuff,” he said.

Some of the arguements against Prevent

Click on link four below for lots of different types of criticism – to summarise just a few:

  • It alienates British Muslim communities – let’s face it, most of the focus is on Islamic radicalisation, especially when 9/10 people thought to be at risk aren’t
  • It doesn’t stop everyone from being radicalised, even though so many people who aren’t at risk are caught in its net, the very existence of the Prevent agenda could just make those people who are inclined to get radicalised to be more cautious.
  • It means an increased level of surveillance of some people (links to categorical suspicion nicely).
  • It’s something else teachers now have to do on top of teaching
  • Should schools be politicised in this way?

Sources:

  1. Prevent – Advice for Schools (Department for Education)
  2. BBC News Article (December 2016) – Arguments for Prevent, and some problems
  3. Analysis – the Prevent strategy and its problems
  4. The Guardian – lots of articles criticizing Prevent

Ethnic Minority Pupils – No Longer ‘Underachieving’ ?

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.

ethnicity and achievement

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.”

Ethnic inequalities in social mobility

Black and Asian Muslim children are less likely to get professional jobs, despite doing better at school, according to an official government report carried out by the Social Mobility Commission

This blog post summarizes this recent news article (December 2016) which can be used to highlight the extent of ethnic inequalities in social mobility – it obviously relates to education and ethnicity, but also research methods – showing a nice application of quantitative, positivist comparative methods.

In recent months, the low educational attainment of White British boys has gained significant attention. However, when it comes to the transition from education to employment, this group is less likely to be unemployed and to face social immobility than their female counterparts, black students and young Asian Muslims.”

White boys from poorer backgrounds perform badly throughout the education system and are the worst performers at primary and secondary school, the report said, and disadvantaged young people from white British backgrounds are the least likely to go to University.

Only one in 10 of the poorest go to university, compared to three in 10 for black Caribbean children, five in 10 for Bangladeshis and nearly seven in 10 for Chinese students on the lowest incomes.

Black children, despite starting school with the same level of maths and literacy as other ethnic groups, young black people also have the lowest outcomes in science, maths are the least likely ethnic group to achieve a good degree at university.

But after school, it is young women from Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds that are particularly affected. Despite succeeding throughout education and going to university, they are less likely to find top jobs and are paid less than women from other ethnic minorities, the report concluded.

Alan Milburn, the chair of the commission said: “The British social mobility promise is that hard work will be rewarded. This research suggests that promise is being broken for too many people in our society. Britain is a long way from having a level playing field of opportunity for all, regardless of gender, ethnicity or background.”

The report also showed the role of parents plays a large part in performance at school, as the more they engage, the better their children do, according to the research

Two of the more specific recommendations made by the commission are

  • Schools should avoid setting, particularly at primary level, and government should discourage schools from doing so.
  • Universities should implement widening participation initiatives that are tailored to the issues faced by poor white British students and address worrying drop-out and low achievement rates among black students

Related Posts 

Ethnic minorities face barriers to job opportunities and social mobility (Guardian article from 2014) – so nothing’s changes in the last two years!

Ethnicity and Educational Achievement – The role of Cultural Factors – you might like to consider the extent to which it’s cultural factors which explain these post-education differences?

The C.V. and Racism Experiment (scroll down to 2009) – alternatively – racism in society may have something to do with these differences – this experiment demonstrated how people with ‘ethnic’ sounding names are less likely to get a response from prospective employers when they send them their C.V.s

 

Ethnicity and Crime: Short Answer Exam Questions and Answers

This post contains two examples of possible 4/6 mark ‘outline and explain’ questions which may come up on the AQA’s Crime and Deviance Paper 3.

Outline two structural factors which may explain differences in offending by ethnicity (4)

Two marks for each of two appropriate reasons clearly outlined or one mark for appropriate reasons partially outlined

  • The higher rates of single parent families in African-Caribbean households (1 mark) this might explain the higher levels of crime because absent fathers mean lack of a disciplinary figure and the fact that children from Caribbean households are more likely to join gangs (+1 mark)
  • Blocked opportunities in the education system for African-Caribbean children (1 mark) which means lower educational achievement, and a higher chance of being unemployed, which is correlated with higher levels of economic crime (+1 mark)
  • Institutional racism in the police force (1 mark) higher rates of ethnic minority crime may be a frustrated response against police oppression, as with the London riots (+1 mark)

Outline three ways in which Racism may manifest itself in the criminal justice system (6)

Two marks for each of two appropriate reasons clearly outlined or one mark for appropriate reasons partially outlined. The following would get 1 mark each, you need to add in the +1s

  • The police stop disproportionate amounts of black and Asian people (1 mark)
  • Black suspects are more likely to be sent to jail than white people (1 mark)
  • Ethnic minorities are more likely to have their cases thrown out of court than white people (1 mark)
  • Black and minority officers are under-represented (1 mark)
  • There is a ‘canteen culture’ of Racism in the UK police force (1 mark)
  • The police force fail to take race crimes against ethnic minorities seriously (1 mark)

Related Posts

Ethnicity and Crime: Paul Gilroy’s ‘Anti-Racist Theory’

Below I summarise pp52-3 of Collins’ Sociology AQA A-Level Year 2 Student Book (Chapman, Holborn, Moore and Aiken.) This is their take on what they call ‘Paul Gilroy’s Anti Racist Theory of Crime’ – Interestingly Prof. Gilroy commented on the post saying this is a shallow, oversimplified travesty of what he wrote.

Gilroy’s Anti-Racist Theory of Crime 

Gilroy describes a ‘myth of black criminality’ and attributed statistical differences in recorded criminality between ethnic groups as being due to police stereotyping and racist labelling .

Gilroy also argued that crime amongst Black British ethnic groups was a legacy of the struggle against White dominance in former colonies such as Jamaica. When early migrants came to Britain they faced discrimination and hostility, and drew upon the tradition of anticolonial struggle to develop cultures of resistance against White-dominated authorities and police forces.

While Left Realists such as Lea and Young argued that ome criminal acts such as rioting could involve protest against marginalisation, but Paul Gilroy goes much further, seeing most crime by Black ethnic groups as essentially political and as part of the general resistance to White Rule.

Evaluations of Gilroy’s Anti-Racism Theory

This theory is criticised by Lea and Young (1984) on several grounds:

– First generation immigrants were actually very law-abiding citizens and as such did not resist against the colony of Britain and were less likely to pass this anti-colonial stance to their kids.
– Most crime is against other people of the same ethnic group and so cannot be seen as resistance to racism.
– Like critical criminologists, Lea and Young criticise Gilroy for romanticising the criminals as somehow revolutionary.
– Asian crimes rates are similar or lower than whites, which would mean the police were only racist towards blacks, which is unlikely.
– Most crime is reported to police not uncovered by them so it is difficult to suggest racism within the police itself.

Related Posts 

Gilroy draws on the labelling theory crime, among others.

Left Realist Explanations for Ethnic Differences in Crime

Left Realists, Lea and Young suggest that ethnic minorities are disadvantaged in comparison with other groups in society, and this is especially true for young black males who have much higher levels of unemployment. In comparison with their peers from other ethnic groups, they are much less likely to be successful in the labour market and so suffer lower wages and thus higher levels of relative deprivation.

Young ethnic minority males are also more likely to experience marginalisation because they are under-represented at the highest levels of society, in government, political parties and trades unions for example.

 

Lea and young argue it would be surprising if there were not higher crime levels among those groups which experienced higher levels of deprivation and marginalisation.

Evaluating Left Realism

Read through the following two items, you should be able to find at least two reasons why Left Realism may be inadequate to explain the higher rates of offending by Black and Asian people.

Item A: Statistics on ethnicity and relative deprivation

Some ethnic minority groups experience higher levels of poverty than white people. According to the Labour Force Survey 2004/05 20% of White British households are in income poverty compared to 25% of Indian, 30% of Black Caribbean, 45% of Black African, 55% of Pakistani and 65% of Bangladeshi households.

In terms of social class, 42% of White British students are from homes in the top two social classes, compared to 37% of Black Caribbean, 36% of Black African, 29% of Indian, 19% of Pakistani and only 9% of Bangladeshi students.

Item B: The Home Office Affairs Committee 2006-7 Report on young black people and the criminal justice system

This recent report seems to offer broad support for Left Realism, but also suggests there are other factors which need to be taken into account in order to explain variations in patterns of offending by ethnicity…

Data gaps prevent us from building a comprehensive picture of young black people’s overrepresentation in the criminal justice system. However, the evidence we received suggests young black people are overrepresented as suspects for certain crimes such as robbery, drugs offences and—in some areas—firearms offences. Young black people are also more likely to be victims of violent crimes.

Some of our witnesses were concerned that the media distorts perceptions of young black people’s involvement in crime. Research commissioned by this Committee contradicted this view, indicating that most members of the public reject stereotyping as regards young black people’s involvement in crime.

Social exclusion is a key underlying cause of overrepresentation. Eighty per cent of Black African and Black Caribbean communities live in Neighbourhood Renewal Fund areas. Deprivation directly fuels involvement in some types of offence—such as acquisitive crime—and also has an important impact on educational achievement and the profile of the neighbourhood young people will live in. The level of school exclusions appears to be directly related to educational underachievement and both are linked to involvement in the criminal justice system. Witnesses also emphasised factors within black communities which help exacerbate disadvantage and fuel involvement in the criminal justice system.

They drew attention to a lack of father involvement and to other parenting issues. In the perceived absence of alternative routes to success, some young people also actively choose to emulate negative and violent lifestyles popularised in music and film. Criminal justice system factors play an important role in promoting overrepresentation.

There is some evidence to support allegations of direct or indirect discrimination in policing and the youth justice system. However, the perception as well as the reality of discrimination has an impact. Lack of confidence in the criminal justice system may mean some young black people take the law into their own hands or carry weapons in an attempt to distribute justice and ensure their own personal safety.

Ethnicity and Crime: The Role of Cultural Factors

Some Sociologists have suggested that cultural differences, especially differences in family life, may be responsible for underlying differences in offending between ethnic groups.

Single Parent Families are more common among African-Caribbean Families, which may be related to higher rates of crime

In 2007 Almost half the black children in Britain were being raised by single parents. Forty-eight per cent of black Caribbean families had one parent, as did 36 per cent of black African households.

Rates of teenage motherhood are also significantly higher among young black women and despite constituting only 3 per cent of the population aged 15 – 17, they accounted for 9 per cent of all abortions given to women under the age of 18.

The higher rates of single parenthood in Black-Caribbean families may lead to boys from this group being more likely to offend because of the lack of a male role-model to provide guidance and keep them in check.

However, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that British Caribbean single parents are far from isolated, and not even really ‘single’ at all. Research by Geoffrey Driver in the 1980s revealed that Caribbean single mothers are often well-connected to other people in their communities, so not necessarily isolated. Networks existed within neighbours to provide informal help with childcare and school runs. Other research has also found that family connections to brothers and sisters (uncles and aunts) are strong in British Caribbean communities, while Tracey Reynolds (2002) points out that many single Caribbean mothers are in a long term relationship with a man who doesn’t live with them, but visits every day and plays an active role in childcare.

In contrast, Asian families tend to be more stable, which might explain the lower rates of offending within Asian communities.  Marriage is still seen as a key milestone in Brit-Asian life. A UK National Statistics report says the highest proportions of married couples under pension age, with or without children, are in Asian households. Over half of Bangladeshi (54%), Indian (53%) and Pakistani (51%) households contained a married couple, compared with 37% of those headed by a White British person.

However,  there is a dark-side to Asian family life, and that comes in the number of Forced Marriages associated with Asian communities. One report from 2008 suggests that there are up to 3000 third and fourth generation  Asian women who are subjected to forced marriages in the UK. This crime will of course be practically invisible in the official statistics.

The culture of anti-school black masculinity may also be related to higher rates of black criminality

Tony Sewell (1997) observed that Black Caribbean boys may experience considerable pressure by their peers to adopt the norms of an ‘urban’ or ‘street’ subculture. More importance is given to unruly behaviour with teachers and antagonistic behaviour with other students than to high achievement or effort to succeed, particularly at secondary school.

Sewell (2003) argued that “black boys today have real opportunities but they are failing to grasp them. I talk to middle class, black parents who tell me they literally have to fight to keep their boys on task. These are boys from well-resourced homes, they go to the better state schools and yet they are performing below their potential. A black male today faces anti-school peer pressure that dominates our schools. Ask your son about it if you need some enlightenment. A head teacher told me how one student was jumped outside of his school: he was beaten and his attackers took his mobile phone, his trainers, his jacket and his cap. In our inner cities, black male youth culture has moved from a community of safety and brotherhood to one of fear of each other.”

Evaluating the Role of Cultural Factors

There are limitations with cultural explanations of differences in offending

Firstly, these theories might be accused of explaining crimes by drawing on crude stereotypes – there are significant cultural variations within Black and Asian ethnic groups, and official statics only collect very basic stats on ethnicity (literally just recording whether people are Black or Asian) thus there is no real way to evaluate the above theories.

Secondly, it is difficult to separate out cultural from material factors such as unemployment and poverty, which are emphasised by Left Realists.

Thirdly, these theories don’t take into account the fact that underlying differences in crime rates may be a response to blocked opportunities which are in turn caused by structural racism in wider society.

Fourthly, these theories do not consider the fact that that the statistics might be a social construction and exaggerate the true extent of Black and Asian criminality. Critical criminologists, for example, argue that the over-representation of minority groups in the criminal justice system is because they are more likely to be criminalised by agents of social control.

 

White Working Class Underachievement

A recent parliamentary report has found that poor white boys and girls do worse in schools than children in other ethnic groups.

How much worse do poor white children do?

The report uses students who received free school meals (FSM children) as an indicator of poverty:

  • 32% of FSM white British children get five good GSCEs, compared to…
  • 42% of FSM Black Caribbean children
  • 62% of FSM Indian children
  • 77% of FSM Chinese children

The achievement gap between poor white children and rich white children is much larger than the corresponding gap between poor and rich children from other minority groups, and the gap widens as white children get older.

How has educational performance changed over time?

The achievement rates of poor white kids has actually improved signficantly in the last decade – in 2008 only 15% of white pupils on Free School Meals got 5 good GCSEs, which has now doubled – the problem is that pupils from more affluent backgrounds have also improved, meaning the ‘achievement gap’ has stayed the same for white kids – today 65% of better off white children get 5 good GCSEs compared to only 32% of FSM white children, meaning a and achievement gap of 33%.

This trend is different for ethnic minorities – poor minority children have closed the gap on their wealthier counterparts. For Indian and black students the gap between rich and poor is only 15%, and for Chinese students it is 1.4%.

This has led some to conclude that there must be cultural differences influencing the way poor white British children approach their education.

Do Cultural Differences Explain why White Working Class Underachievement?

The cliche is that the children of immigrant parents are put under greater pressure to study, and the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England suggests some supporting evidence for this view:

White working class boys and girls are more likely to have anti-school attitudes than other minority groups, they play truant less, and they spend less time doing homework – an average of 2.54 evenings a week compared to 3.13 for black African and 3.29 for Indian children.

There is less support for the idea that white working class parents and their children lack aspiration – For a start, 57% of British people identify themselves as working class, while it is only the 12.5% on Free School Meals who are doing very badly at school – so it is more a case of there being pockets of underachievement rather than the whole of the working class underachieving.

There is also evidence that working class children, especially young children, have high ambitions.

Schools (and leadership) Can Make a Difference

There are plenty examples of academies which have been set up in deprived areas which have helped local working class kids get good GCSE results.

In 2003 New Labour launched ‘The London Challenge’ to drive up standards, and invested £80 million in leadership, targeting failing schools – about 80% of schools in London now have ‘outstanding leadership’ according to OFSTED and 50% of children in London on Free School Meals get 5 good GCSEs, irrespective of ethnicity.

The problem is that this initiative might not work outside of London – London has a prosperous economy which makes it easier to attract the best leaders and teachers, and also benefits from the positive impact of immigrant families.

The Geographical Aspect to Underachievement 

In 2013 the chief inspector of schools, Michael Wilshaw, identified a geographical shift in educational underachievement – away from big cities and crowded, densely packed neighbourhoods, to deprived coastal towns and rural, less populous parts of the country.

Such towns suffer from fragile, seasonal economies, an inability to attract good staff, a lack of jobs for young people, and scant opportunities for higher education – all of which contributes to a vicious cycle of underachievement, perpetuated further by the ‘brain drain’ – anyone that does get qualifications leaves because there are no opportunities to use them in the local area.

In such areas, simply building swish new academies don’t seem to be enough to improve results – In 2005, the so-called worst performing school in the country, Ramsgate School, was transformed into the new, £30 million Marlowe Academy. SIx years later, it fell into special measures.

Summarised from ‘The Week’, 2nd August 2014. 

 

 

Official Statistics on Educational Achievement in the U.K. – Strengths and Limitations

How useful are official statistics for understanding differences in educational achievement by social class, gender and ethnicity?

How do GCSE results vary by social class, gender and ethnicity?

The data below is taken from the Department for Education’s document – GCSE and Equivalent Attainment by Pupil Characteristics 2014

Firstly – GENDER –  Girls outperform boys by about 10 percentage points. 61.7% of girls achieved at least 5 A*- C GCSEs (or equivalent) grades including English and mathematics compared to 51.6% of boys; this is a gap of 10.1 percentage points.

Girls Outperform Boys in Education
Girls Outperform Boys in Education

Secondly – ETHNICITY – Chinese pupils are the highest achieving group. 74.4% of Chinese pupils achieved at least 5 A*- C GCSEs (or equivalent) grades including English and mathematics. This is 17.9 percentage points above the national average (56.6%). Almost half of Chinese Pupils are achieving the English Baccalaureate (49.5%); 25.4 percentage points above the national average (24.2%).

Children from a black background are the lowest achieving group. 53.1% of pupils from a black background achieved at least 5 A*- C GCSEs (or equivalent) grades including English and mathematics; this is 3.4 percentage points below the national average (56.6%). However, things are also improving: 75.5% of black pupils are making the expected progress in English and 68.4% in mathematics; both above the national average of 71.6% for English and 65.5% for mathematics.

educational attainment by ethnicity 2014
educational attainment by ethnicity 2014

 

Thirdly – SOCIAL CLASS – Here, instead of social class we need to use Pupils eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) (meaning they come from a household with an income of less than £16000) – FSM pupils are nearly 30% points behind non FSM pupils. 33.5% of pupils eligible for FSM achieved at least 5 A*- C GCSEs (or equivalent) grades including English and mathematics compared to 60.5% of all other pupils. This is a gap of 27.0 percentage points. 36.5% of disadvantaged pupils achieved at least 5 A*- C GCSEs (or equivalent) grades including English and mathematics compared to 64.0% of all other pupils, a gap of 27.4 percentage points.

Educational attainment by social class
Educational attainment by social class

 

The government stats also include achievement data by ‘disadvantage’:

Disadvantaged pupils are defined as pupils known to be eligible for free school meals in the previous six years as indicated in any termly or annual school census, pupil referral unit (PRU) or alternative provision (AP) census or are children looked after by the local authority for more than 6 months.

Educational achievement by disadvantage
Educational achievement by disadvantage

 

Other statistical data included in the pupil characteristics report

The Department for Education also collects data and reports on educational achievement by English as a second language, and special educational needs. Look it up if you’re interested, I’m limiting myself here to educational attainment by ‘social class’, gender and ethnicity.

Some Strengths of Official Statistics on Educational Achievement by Pupil Characteristic 

ONE – Good Validity (as far as it goes) – These data aren’t collected by the schools themselves – so they’re not a complete work of fiction, they are based on external examinations or coursework which is independently verified, so we should be getting a reasonably true representation of actual achievement levels. HOWEVER, we need to be cautious about this.

TWO – Excellent representativeness – We are getting information on practically every pupil in the country, even the ones who fail!

THREE – They allow for easy comparisons by social class, gender and ethnicity. These data allow us to see some pretty interesting trends – As in the table below – the difference between poor Chinese girls and poor white boys stands out a mile… (so you learn straight away that it’s not just poverty that’s responsible for educational underachievement)

Educational achievement varies hugely by class, gender and ethnicity
Educational achievement varies hugely by class, gender and ethnicity

FOUR – These are freely available to anyone with an internet connection

FIVE – They allow the government to track educational achievement and develop social policies to target the groups who are the most likely to underachieve – These data show us (once you look at it all together) for example, that the biggest problem of underachievement is with white, FSM boys.

Some Disadvantages of the Department for Education’s Stats on Educational Achievement

ONE – We need to be a little cautious about the validity of some of these results, especially when making comparisons over time. This is because until last year schools could count any one of 3000 ‘soft’ subjects as equivalent to a GCSE, which could make the results look better than they actually are. Also, with coursework subjects there is a potential problem with ‘grade inflation’ within schools, and not to mention the fact that with coursework we are least partially measuring the degree to which parents have helped their children, rather than their children’s actual personal achievement.

TWO – comparisons over time might be difficult because of recent changes to the qualifications that are allowed to be counted towards attainment measurements. In 2014 the following changes were made:

1. The number of qualifications which counted towards ‘GCSE or equivalent’ results were drastically reduced – around 3,000 unique qualifications from the performance measures between 2012/13 and 2013/14.

2. The associated point scores for non-GCSEs was adjusted so that no qualification will count as larger than one GCSE in size. For example, where a BTEC may have previously counted as four GCSEs it will now be reduced to the equivalence of a single GCSE in its contribution to performance measures.

3. The number of non-GCSE qualifications that count in performance measures was restricted to two per pupil.

All of this has had the effect of making the results look worse than they actually are:

Effects of Wolfes review on GCSE results

THREE – These stats don’t actually tell us about the relationship between social class background and educational attainment. Rather than recording data using a sociological conception of social class, the government uses the limited definition of Free School Meal eligibility – which is just an indicator of material deprivation rather than social class in its fuller sense. Marxist sociologists would argue that this is ideological – the government simply isn’t interested in measuring the effects of social class on achievement – and if you don’t measure it the problem kind of disappears.

FOUR – and this is almost certainly the biggest limitation – these stats don’t actually tell us anything about ‘WHY THESE VARIATIONS EXIST’ – Of course they allow us to formulate hypotheses – but (at least if we’re being objective’) we don’t get to see why FSM children are twice as likely to do badly in school… we need to do further research to figure this out.

No doubt there are further strengths and limitations, but this is something for you to be going on with at least…

Related Posts 

Official Statistics in Sociology

Assessing the Usefulness of Using Secondary Qualitative Data to Research Education