New research by Warwick University's Professor Steve Strand has found that British children of Caribbean heritage are discriminated against when entered for SATS tests at Key Stage 3 (Year 9 and aged 14). Government data shows that children from a number of ethnic minority groups, including Pakistani, Bangladeshi and black African Britons, were doing far worse in these tests than white Britons. But while social factors such as economic background, attitudes to and attendance at school and mothers' educational attainment appeared to explain this in relation to the other groups, it did not seem to with regard to the Caribbeans.
Strand emphasises that accounting for this is not straightforward, but suspects teachers' expectations are partly to blame. His clue for this lies in the type of SATS test teachers enter pupils' for at Key Stage 3. These come in different degrees of difficulty, and the data reveal that a Caribbean child is a third less likely to be entered for the most demanding version than a white child whose level of attainment in the preceding three years has been the same. As the Guardian’s education editor Polly Curtis explains, this means that, “Significant numbers of black pupils who are academically capable of getting the higher marks have them taken out of their reach.” Lower levels of outcome are therefore guaranteed.
It is with some caution that Strand uses the term "institutional racism" to describe this, but use it he does. He wonders if part of the expectations problem lies in the interaction between some Caribbean pupils and some white teachers, the former believing the latter do not give them a fair chance and the latter finding the former confrontational, resulting in depressed perceptions of their academic potential.
A familiar debate has ensued. Although the government points to a narrowing of the attainment gap at the subsequent GCSE level over the past four years, black educationalists have called for further action. There are, though, differences of view about where and how this action be should be directed. Gus John believes Strand's work confirms what black parents have known for years and advocates a joint approach with teachers to correct the failing. Lee Jasper has been quoted as saying that the answer is schools run by black governors and staffed by black teachers with the specific needs of black youngsters in mind. By sharp contrast, Tony Sewell says it is wrong to blame teachers when the biggest problem is an anti-learning culture among black boys (his article does not identify Caribbean boys in particular, nor does it mention girls) which schools cannot be held responsible for.
I think there is force is all these arguments and that even the most opposed may be more reconcilable than they at first appear. Is there, for example, necessarily a conflict between encouraging Caribbean Britons to self-mobilise in terms of what their children aspire to, and encouraging teachers to do the same with regard to the pattern of discrimination Strand seems to have unearthed in them? The optimist in me thinks not. Yet the three generations after the Windrush, the pessimist in me could not blame Caribbean British parents for concluding that, whatever they do themselves, the state schooling system will never serve their children as it should.
Also at Liberal Conspiracy.