Education Essays - Underachievement African Carribean

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Underachievement African Caribbean


This study discusses various issues related to under achievement of African-Caribbean or Black boys in British schools. The study highlights the fact that there is a denial in the British educational system of race and racism and that this is reflected in the in-flexibility of many schools to consider the differential positioning of Black boys in the UK and the effect of their experiences in the school system and opportunities gained thereafter in the workplace.

In sum the study shows that there is clear evidence that African-Caribbean pupils have not shared or have been received equally in the increasing rates of average educational performance at various academic platforms.

Chapter 1: Introduction

Boys’ underachievement has been a major concern within academic circles and among government bodies (Gorard, Gillborn) for quite a while. Ofsted 1996 highlighted the gap between the performance of boys and girls as the attainment continued to lower for boys as they move along the key stages. Coard explores some of the issues that black children faced three decades ago. Some of the abysmal failure of black children within the British school system includes:

  • Racist policies and practices of the education authorities in the past
  • Racism within the curriculum itself
  • Low teacher expectation and how destructive a force this could be
  • Inadequate black parental knowledge of and involvement in what was happening to their children (Coard 1971).

According to Coard, black children were deemed as Educationally Sub-Normal (ESN) and were excluded from mainstream. This issue coupled with racist policies and curriculum and low teacher expectation caused most of these children to encounter emotional disturbances which in the long run affected their overall performance of black children in Britain. Despite the odds, in the late 1960s and 1970s some black children were able to make it academically but the majority were not so lucky (Coard 1971).

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study is to investigate the educational experiences of African-Caribbean boys in the UK. The main focus will be to identify the factors that have contributed to the poor academic performance of Black Boys over the years. Furthermore, this work would investigate the claim that there is a denial in the British educational system of race and racism and that this is reflected in the inflexibilityof many schools to consider the differential positioning ofBlack boys in the UK and the effect of their experiences in the school system and opportunities gained thereafter in the workplace.

This work will draw on a study in which various stakeholders voice e.g. (Tony Sewell) their experiences of why Black Boys in Britain perform poorly in schools and alsoseek to identify alternative visionsof schooling to re-engage Black males thereby increasing their prospect for a successful future.

Research Questions

  • What is the relationship between under achievement and social exclusion of black boys studying in UK schools?
  • How are schools dealing with the issue of student underachievement of black students studying in UK institutions?
  • Are all black boys underachieving?
  • Significance of the Study

This study is quite significant as it shows that high under-achievement rates are not just an issue for black pupils. In 2005-2006 the permanent under-achievement rate for special schools was 0.54% compared with 0.34% for secondary and 0.04% for primary schools; overall, pupils with statements of special educational need were seven times more likely to be excluded from school than pupils without statements (DCSF, 2007).

Other groups who are over-represented in the statistics include children looked after by local authorities and children from Gypsy and traveller families, despite the behaviour of travelling pupils being generally good (OFSTED, 2006b). Links have been made between school under-achievement and long-term social under-achievement (Blyth & Milner, 2003), as have links between school under-achievement and juvenile crime (Graham & Bowling, 2005; Gilbertson, 2005); these links are also recognised by government as a policy issue (Social Under-achievement Unit, 2005).

For many pupils permanent under-achievement from school marks the end of their formal education: a recent report by the Audit Commission (2006) suggests that only 15% of permanently excluded secondary pupils return to mainstream schooling.

Chapter 2: Literature Review

A review of the literature on student under achievement highlights the fact that ethnic monitoring of under-achievement was first introduced by the DCSF in the 2004-2005 national schools census. Data from that census indicates that although `Black Caribbean' pupils form only 1.1% of the school population they represented 7.3% of those excluded from school and were around six times more likely to be excluded than their White peers.

The disproportionate under-achievement of black boys is a particularly serious problem because overall many more males than females are excluded: official statistics show the ratio to be 4.3 boys for each excluded girl. Nevertheless, within the female school population, girls identified as `Black Caribbean' are also particularly vulnerable to under-achievement: the school census shows they accounted for 8.8% of excluded girls in 2004-2005 (DCSF, 2006) and are thus eight times more likely to be excluded than might be suggested by the ethnic composition of schools.

There is also evidence that African-Caribbean pupils have not shared equally in the increasing rates of average educational performance at GCSE. An OFSTED-commissioned review of research on the achievements of ethnic minority pupils over a 10 year period up to 2005 concludes that the relatively lower exam achievements of Caribbean pupils, especially boys in a wide range of academic and LEA research studies is a cause for concern.

The research evidence suggests that ‘A combination of gender and racial stereotypes may make it more difficult for young black men to avoid being caught up in cycles of increasingly severe criticism and control’ (Gillborn & Gipps, 2006, pp. 29 and 58). For black families rising under-achievement rates, combined with boys' relatively low levels of achievement in public examinations, amount to an educational crisis.

Under-achievement and Special Educational Needs

It has been suggested (for example, Norwich, 2004; Parffrey, 2004) that in some schools children may be excluded when it is required as assessment and provision for special educational needs (SEN). Analysis of permanent under-achievement from Birmingham schools during the 2006-2007 school year indicated that 53% of those excluded were on the schools' special needs register.

The Code of Practice relating to special educational needs (DfE, 2004a) requires schools to draw up an individual education plan (IEP) for a child identified as having SEN and outlines a series of stages in which the school is responsible, in co-operation with support agencies, for meeting these needs. It can be argued from a personal experience and evidence from an interview with a teacher that most of the black boys that are underachieving are SEN children who comes under social emotional and behavioural difficulties and probably that is why they are underachieving because the have not been diagnosed for IEP to be made on them yet.

These are pupils whose learning and/or behavioural difficulties may be placing stress on teachers but for whom the amount of additional support is limited. It is possible that some of these children's needs might have been met and under-achievement avoided if the school had been able to access appropriate additional support at an earlier stage.

Although official national statistics recognise the over-representation of children with SEN among those excluded from school, these statistics only count excluded pupils with a statement of special education need and thus record pupils with SEN as a minority (17%) of all under-achievements (DCSF, 2007). Analysis of the Birmingham data, which allows us to consider all pupils on the special needs register, indicates that over half the children permanently excluded from Birmingham schools have identified special educational needs.

If this pattern is replicated across the country, then it seems likely that the extent to which unmet special educational needs may be contributing to the problem of under-achievement has been under-estimated. It is possible that some LEAs with low proportions of children assessed as having special educational needs, both overall and from particular ethnic groups, may not be identifying children in need of SEN support. Where this correlates with high under-achievement rates, there is reason to suspect that neglected learning difficulties may lie behind some of the disciplinary problems.

Ethnicity and Reducing Under-achievement

An analysis of the number of groups under-achieving per secondary school over the three year period 2001-2003 with the number of under-achievement in the three years 2004-2006, in order to identify schools which had reduced the number of pupils permanently excluded in Birmingham, show a reduction in the number of pupils excluded over this period, from an average of 11 to an average of seven per school.

Those secondary schools which had reduced their use of permanent exclusion had, overall, cut under-achievement by nearly half for all ethnic groups. This suggests that where schools had developed policies for reducing under-achievement, these had been equally effective for all ethnic groups.

Nevertheless, this still left black pupils to be over-represented among the under-achievement from these schools. The evidence suggests that if the problem of over-representation of black pupils is to be addressed and racial equality achieved then strategies which specifically address the needs of these children are important.

Since African-Caribbean pupils formed some 28% of excluded pupils and only 8% of the school population in Birmingham, I wished to argue whether this might be because African-Caribbean pupils are more likely to attend schools with high under-achievement rates.

A total of 14 schools with high under-achievement rates, i.e. schools which had permanently excluded 30 or more pupils in the 6 year period 2001-2006, were identified (two of them grant maintained schools). Of these, 11 had an African-Caribbean population of 8% or less and the other three had higher proportions of African-Caribbean children than for the city as a whole, ranging from 11 to 33%.

Sewell (1998), mentions that African-Caribbean boys were six times more likely to be excluded from school as compared to the other group. Furthermore there are argument that these black boys were seen to be conformists in that they were seen to be accepting both the means and goals of schooling but they are most likely to be excluded.

There is evidence of an interview with a black boy on page 113 which goes further to prove that not all boys are the same. This particular point is important to my research as there seems to be the assertion that all black boys are underachieving and this is what this research seeks to address. Sewell unpacks some of the oversimplification that exists in the current debate about boys’ underachievement.

He goes further to describe boys as ‘a tip of the iceberg in a doomsday scenario within the school’. There seems to be a link between gender identity and anti-school attitude which makes peer group pressure which is sensitive in boys to allow the generalization to be made about boys as unified lumps, in this content as underachieving academically

Identifying Good Practice

The study sought to understand teachers' and head teachers' attitudes and approaches to under-achievement and to equal opportunities. Previous research studies have tended to ignore teachers' perspectives and the ways in which under-achievement merge into the lives of schools (Gillborn & Gipps, 2006), although Hayden's (2007) study of children excluded from primary schools does consider the perspectives of both head teachers and class teachers of excluded pupils.

My study addressed schools with low or declining under-achievement rates with the aim of identifying good practice in minimising the practice of under-achievement.

In particular, I wished to establish whether teachers in the case study schools felt supported in managing difficult or challenging pupil behaviour or whether a low under-achievement rate might be masking other problems and causing stress to individuals working in these schools. Where schools are able to avoid under-achievement we wished to identify the alternative strategies they adopt.

Teachers' Explanations of Rising Under-Achievement Rates

Teachers and head teachers in the case study schools were not asked about the impact of recent educational reforms, but as they reflected on pupil behaviour and their own attitudes to excluding pupils they made regular reference to the changing social policy context in which they are working.

They referred frequently to the impact which market forces in education have made on school discipline, increased teacher workloads, changed parental expectations and to how the National Curriculum had limited the scope for schools to meet individual needs and address pupils' personal and social behaviour.

They broadly agree with Charlton & David (2003), Blyth & Milner (2004), and Hevey (2004) and Hayden (2007) that increased competition between schools for pupils’ and resources is a key underlying reason for a general rise in under-achievement.

As Parffrey (2004) argues, 'Naughty children are bad news in the market economy. No one wants them. They are bad for the image of the school, they are bad for the league tables, they are difficult and time-consuming, and they upset and stress the teachers'.

The teachers believed that although schools were all experiencing similar conditions, some had resisted excluding pupils who presented problems. In that have lower excluding rate such as their own, when teachers were working with numbers of children with behavioural difficulties, they argued that the costs of maintaining higher thresholds of tolerance were felt by teachers themselves, in terms of teacher stress and fatigue.

Many teachers in the study, notably those in primary schools who have responsibility for the whole curriculum, believed that the National Curriculum has led schools to accept a narrow view of education and, as Gray et al. (2004) have suggested, that 'it has diminished the importance of personal and social education'.

They indicated that curriculum pressures and demands for additional record keeping leave them with little time to support a disruptive child or to develop appropriate alternative materials for children with learning difficulties. This in turn can lead to frustration and consequent disruption among such children if they are unable to succeed in the tasks set.

Teachers set these difficulties within the context of wider social problems facing children's families, notably unemployment and poverty. They suggested that pressures faced by children in school, allied to difficulties which a number of them were experiencing out of school and young people's belief that schooling might not support them in finding future work, were having an impact on their motivation, even at primary level:

We are into the second generation of children whose parents have not worked. A lot of the original reasons why people toed the line are not there any longer and I think that a lot of the children in our school are living in situations where there does not seem an awful lot of point [to education].

Everyone wants to achieve in some form, but I feel at home and at school they are not seeing opportunities for themselves as individuals. Some of the traditional motivations are not there. So we've got to look at alternatives. Where we become negative it's because of tiredness, it's because of workload, it's because of the amount of curriculum we have to cover. We've lost sight of making it interesting. (Primary teacher)

Interestingly, none of the teachers suggested that the removal of corporal punishment as a possible disciplinary option had contributed to discipline problems, and ultimately to the increasing use of under-achievement as a sanction, as did a number of the teachers and parents in Hayden's (2007) study of excluded children.

Teachers' Understandings of Racial Equality

Some teachers also argued that pressures to meet the demands of the National Curriculum had led to an approach where teachers often fail to consider whether or not the content of lessons builds upon particular children's experiences and cultures. This would lead some children to feel neglected or marginalised and thus more likely to become disaffected. One teacher argued that an inappropriate curriculum was part of the solution, as was inadequate teacher training, but felt that teacher expectations played a central role:

The over-representation of African-Caribbeanboys (among those excluded) is a very complicated issue. However, I think expectations make a big difference, and I think we do tend, however well intentioned, to see a black boy and think they are going to be trouble. A lot of this is down to the media and how they over emphasise issues about black boys, the society in general as well as other research findings.

I think that one of the problems is that after a long period of dependency (on National Curriculum requirements) and considering new teachers now, there is a whole generation of teachers who are sent into schools without the grounding of making decisions about what is appropriate for example SEN issues in the class (experience from supply teaching)

These teachers comments about a generation of teachers being inadequately prepared to make decisions about appropriate curriculum content within the context of a culturally diverse classroom was supported by a number of newly qualified teachers. Such teachers reported that they wished to develop multicultural approaches but lacked training in this area and were unaware as to where they might find suitable materials. (Birmingham report 2004)

Head teachers generally showed themselves to be more aware of issues relating to cultural diversity and racial equality than class teachers. Parffrey (2004) points out that schools in Canada and the USA do not exclude children since schooling is recognised as the means by which children realise their basic human right to education.

According to research studies on teachers understating of racial equality none of the teachers or head teachers interviewed in the case study schools supported the abolition of permanent under-achievement, although all heads saw it as a last resort. A number characterised it as a failure on the part of the school: `I would say permanent under-achievement is a defeat' (secondary head teacher).

Some head teachers recalled their personal sense of failure and distress as they recounted the experience of permanently excluding a pupil. Nevertheless, all the head teachers, including the two primary heads--one of whom had never excluded and the other who had excluded only two pupils in 20 years as head teacher--advocated retaining permanent under-achievement as an ultimate sanction:

Behaviour Policies

Most school had developed its own system of rewards and sanctions which were generally explicit in the behavioural code. The aim is to provide a structure of support for difficult pupils, with a system of rewards and a full range of lesser sanctions so that permanent under-achievement was, where possible, avoided:

There is some evidence (for example, Holland & Hamerton, 2004) that even within schools there can be inconsistency in the types of offence for which pupils are, and are not, excluded. Such inconsistency might, in certain circumstances, allow sanctions to be applied in a discriminatory way.

However, it could be argued that policies listing particular offences as leading to under-achievement should be avoided, as they could place heads in the position of having to exclude a pupil when mitigating circumstances might make under-achievement inappropriate.

While this might mean treating the same offence differently when committed by different pupils or groups of pupils, it could also reduce the rate of under-achievement. It is essential that clear explanations of school policy are made to both pupils and parents, so they can see the justice of a school's approach.

In some cases of under-achievement from school, teacher inexperience or lack of skills or training in managing difficult pupil behaviour may play a part (OFSTED, 2006a). A lot of the behavioural problems that exist , and I do not think there are many, are due to the fact that the whole staff have not got together to go over the approach to aspects of misbehaviour in real depth.

So what I think is happening for example, if a member of staff does something inappropriate-this is not criticise a kid gets into the situation where the school has to send them home. But I think if we could change the approach in the classroom more, this would happen less. At the moment we have to react to situations and also we are trying to send a message to the students about the standards that are required of them.

Pastoral Care and Mentoring

In a case study of schools, (Birmingham city council 2004) particularly in the secondary schools, they felt that school discipline was directly related to the degree of respect which was shown to them by teachers and also to the level of support they received from teachers.

A number stressed the importance of giving pupils occasional opportunities for individual tutorials with a teacher at which they might raise personal or academic concerns. Effective pastoral care systems were also highlighted by a number of head teachers as contributing to good discipline and self-discipline among pupils. At some schools the behaviour policy was incorporated within the school's pastoral policy:

Managing difficult behaviour and developing discipline is to do with the whole school ethos. We are in the business of caring and supporting; therefore we do whatever we can. We are in the business of being fair. Another thing looked at was how to reinforce positive behaviour. (Head teacher, secondary school)

Some schools had worked hard to ensure that their Personal and Social Education curriculum allowed all pupils to reflect on issues of their personal conduct. For example, some had introduced a mentoring programme for pupils who were presenting problems or who were disaffected.

In one secondary school, a group of African-Caribbean boys who had been regularly in trouble and were perceived as vulnerable to under-achievement were being informally mentored by the (white male) head teacher. On the other hand, an African-Caribbean man could be invited to lead weekly sessions with African-Caribbean boys.

Another aim was to raise self-esteem, and we be bring in consultants to work with the pupils on half-day conferences, to get them thinking about 'Where do I want to be in three or four or five years time?'. (Head teacher, Birmingham school)

Equal Opportunities Policy and Practice

One explanation for the over-representation of African-Caribbean pupils within the under-achievement statistics is racism. The suggestion is not that most teachers operate in overly racist ways but that deep-seated stereotypes held by teachers and school governors may lead to black children being seen as having behavioural difficulties.

Bridges (2004) suggests that with additional pressures on black families from high levels of unemployment, cuts in social spending, racial harassment and 'social dislocation imposed on their family and community life ... it is hardly surprising that some black children present themselves as "aggressive" in school, as this is a stance that society outside has taught them is necessary for survival'.

Stifling (2003), in her research into the causes of under-achievement , found that race often featured as a background issue and that although schools think they treat all their pupils the same and do not exclude black pupils unfairly, they do not take into account the factors which have caused the unacceptable behaviour, particularly racial harassment by other pupils.

She concludes: 'Throughout the course of my research I have found evidence of open racism demonstrated by staff in schools to be uncommon. Far more common is the racial harassment of a black child by a white peer group'. A government-commissioned study to establish why some schools appear more effective in managing pupil behaviour and avoiding under-achievement also highlighted racism, in the area if not in the school, as one of the problems likely to be experienced by excluded pupils (OFSTED, 2006a).

Community and Support Services

Previous research has suggested that in many cases of under-achievement , support from outside the school has been lacking, while the support provided within school has been to help the teacher cope, rather than to help pupils overcome their problems (Abbotts & Parsons, 2003). A case study schools drew on a wide range of outside support agencies, including voluntary agencies, independent consultants and LEA support services. However, they noted that resources for LEA services were often limited and that they may not always be available for all pupils who need them.

One community-based initiative which has been welcomed by a number of Birmingham schools is the KWESI project (Klein, 2006), a mentoring project run by black men which targets black boys judged to be vulnerable to under-achievement . The mentors enter into a partnership with schools to support individual children and KWESI asks its volunteers and participating schools to adopt a 'no blame' approach, so that both parties work for the best interests of the child.

Although none of the case study schools was working directly with KWESI, evidence suggests that the scheme has been influential beyond the schools where volunteers are working. It has made head teachers aware of the need to address the disproportionate under-achievement of African-Caribbean boys and may have contributed to a change in the climate of opinion.

The Role of the LEA

There is a clear role for LEAs in providing feedback to schools on the patterns and trends in exclusions and the impact on under-achievement. Monitoring of exclusions varied considerably among schools. Some head teachers, for example, did not have the data to discuss numbers of fixed term exclusions in relation to permanent exclusions nor any evidence as to whether fixed term exclusions helped to prevent permanent exclusions.

The desirability of recording and monitoring action taken to support vulnerable pupils was also stressed by a number of schools. Birmingham LEA currently provides support for schools' own monitoring by analysing their records to highlight any patterns in under-achievement by ethnic group and sex.

A school wishing to monitor under-achievement thoroughly would need to collect and analyse data for both fixed term and permanent exclusions by sex, ethnic group, special educational needs, socio-economic background (for example, by entitlement to free school meals) and year group. Schools can record additional data which might indicate a need for changes in practice or school policies; for example, noting the pupil’s and teachers who are involved in incidents leading to under-achievement. LEAs might provide guidance in such matters and put schools in touch with schools in similar circumstances who have found solutions to particular difficulties.

Head teachers of schools with low under-achievement rates often feel penalised if they are asked to accept pupils excluded from other schools. Head teachers also suggested that the LEA might impose a ceiling on the number of previously excluded pupils a school should be expected to take within a given period, thus protecting the support and resources available for difficult pupils within any one school.

According to a research a school had received a small grant from the LEA to assist with the integration of excluded pupils. Although the head argued the money had not stretched far, this was seen as a gesture of goodwill. Such funds can support an induction programme which might include additional supervision and support from outside agencies. Other support for reintegration might include allocation of a special teacher-tutor and the development of a peer group mentoring scheme.

Within LEAs there is also a need for greater collaboration between those who address the needs of vulnerable children and curriculum and advisory services which have particular expertise regarding equal opportunities and race equality issues. In many LEAs responsibility for under-achievements rests with an individual or service responsible for special educational needs; in such a situation questions of structural or unintended racism or possible racial discrimination are likely to have low priority if they are on the agenda at all.

The West Midlands Under-achievement Forum, set up to bring together representatives from nine LEAs to share expertise and develop policies and strategies to minimise school under-achievement, is a good example of inter-LEA co-operation. It is not just at the level of policy development that such co-operation is important. For children living in one area but attending school in a neighbouring LEA there are sometimes difficulties in the co-ordinated provision of services.

Chapter 3: Methodology

Research Method

For this study I have utilised the qualitative research approach. Qualitative research is much more subjective than quantitative research and uses very different methods of collecting information, mainly individual, in-depth interviews and focus groups. However, since this research study is a secondary qualitative research the data that has been collected for qualitative analysis has been through an extensive review of literature that has been published in the field in the past few years.

Secondary research is often less costly than surveys and is extremely effective in acquiring information about peoples' communication needs and their responses to and views about specific communication. It is often the method of choice in instances where quantitative measurement is not required.

For the purpose of this project the qualitative interview is the perfect approach to take using semi structured interviews. Quantitative research involves counting and measuring of events and performing the statistical analysis of a numerical data (Smith, 1988). The assumption behind this is that there is an objective truth existing that can be measured and explained significantly. The main concerns of the quantitative approach are that, their measurement is reliable, valid and generalisable in its clear prediction of cause and effect (Cassell and Symon, 1994).

Primary Data - was collected first through interviews. Merriam (1994) said that; Interviews are the best form of collecting evidence if the researcher wants to find out facts that cannot be observed. The student used semi-structured interviews with three year 7 students as well as three year 10 students.

These interviews were to find out the views of African- Caribbean boys about how they are performing in schools and how they could be helped to achieve. The interview provided me with the views of the informants in verbatim with the aid of a recorder. This approach enabled the researcher to elaborate on points which were not expanded on, or further investigation on certain topics.

Search Technique

Libraries including online databases were accessed to get the most relevant and updated literature. Some of the online databases that were used are: EBSCO, Emerald, Blackwell, etc.

Theoretical Framework

For this study as already stated the secondary research approach was utilised and all the relevant data was collected through books, journals and articles. The very popular ones were the Birmingham city council report (2004), Coard (1971), Sewell (1998) in failing black boys. I will personally recommend is Coard (1971) because it gives the history of black boys underachievement and the causes.


For this study interviews were done with African-Caribbean boys. Semi-structured interviews were used to find out about the student’s performance in the three cores subjects that is Maths, English and Science and also find out where the year 10s are in their GCSE, what could help in their learning, the qualities of a good learner as well as the importance of role models to them.

Ethical Concern

The ethical concern for the research was informed consent and commitment on confidentiality. Consent was asked directly from children as well as of schools and parents. In this regard, care was taken to explain the research in terms that children will understand. Parents and carers consent were sorted before interviewing students by writing to them and ask them if they feel uncomfortable for the children to be interviewed by contacting me before hand.

Ethics in research is the application of a system of moral principles to prevent harming or wronging others to promote the good, to be respectful and to be fair.” (Sieber 1993, p.14)

According to Bell (2005p45) research ethics is about being clear about the nature of the agreement you have entered into with your research subjects. In other words, reaching agreement about the use of data and how the analysis will be reported. However, it was agreed that, the response will be used for academic assessment only and individual information will be confidential

To have a successful research methodology the quality of it must be high. To judge the validity and reliability it must be assessed. Validity concerns the issue of whether or not the findings can be shown to be valid for the problem that is being investigated. Data collected must be relevant to the problem and the purpose of the project otherwise there will be low validity. Irrelevant data and unnecessary information leads to low validity.

As suggested by Bell (2005 p147) pilot test helps in checking that, all questions are clear and also enables you remove any items which do not yield usable results as well as indicating how long it takes recipients to complete the interviews. In order to increase validity of the research findings, the student used did pilot the interview questions and also gave them to the supervisor to have a look at them.

The core ethical principles on which this research will be based upon is trust, respect for person, knowledge and most importantly transparency. These ethical principles will enable me to carry out research in an ethically accepted way so that no poorly designed or harmful research is allowed (Bell, 2005).

Holmes (2005), comments that there is informed consent when the research respondent agrees voluntarily to participate in a research project. I wrote formal letters for permission to the prospective schools to get access to the students. I disclose to the respondents that interviews will be the method for data collection stating the length of time involved in the interviews.

Owning to the fact that I am currently not working in school there was a lot of delay and even at some point rejection from some schools to conduct the interviews. Even when the permission was finally given some of the respondents were not willing to work collaboratively and comply with the research process by producing a yes and no response even when the question demands elaboration probably because they saw my as a stranger impose on them.

A key ethical principle asks a researcher not to put respondents in a situation where they are likely to be at risk of harm because of their participation. I protected the confidentiality and identities of my respondents and also held their information as private by using assumed names or keeping the informants anonymous. In ethical principles a researcher must comply with the legal requirement regarding the use and storage of information by the data protection Act (1998).

One could argue that in a research project especially during interviews the respondents might be in a bad mood or experience discomfort or distress in the process for example during my interviews one of my question was- Do you think that having a father at home helps? The responds from the interviewee was “I don’t know my dad dead when I was a baby”. I was in a bit of a dilemma because I did not know whether to go on with the interview or to stop and console the respondents because I felt I had opened a heeled wound. I finally gathered courage said sorry about that and went on with the interview as planned.

Chapter 4: Analysis and Discussion

The researcher’s findings show that for children living in one area but attending school in a neighbouring LEA, there are sometimes difficulties in the co-ordinated provision of services.

According to research agendas on school under-achievement have largely reflected the divide in service provision between special educational needs on the other hand and race equality on the other. Although writers concerned with the over-representation of black pupils in the under-achievement statistics have addressed teachers' responses to behavioural problems, this has generally been within the context of teacher expectations.

We do not know enough about the school processes which lead to under-achievement nor about the ways in which the diagnosis or lack of diagnosis of special educational needs may contribute to under-achievement, particularly in the case of children who are over-represented amongst those excluded, those of African-Caribbean or mixed heritage. There is the assumption that under achievement could be due to SEN in black boys according to an interview with a teacher during the research.

The government, in its plans to tackle school under-achievement, acknowledges the links between school under-achievement and long-term social under-achievement and recognises that African-Caribbean boys are currently particularly vulnerable to under-achievement from school. In seeking to explain this over-representation the Social Under-achievement Unit's (2005) report avoids any explicit reference to racism or racial discrimination but acknowledges research findings which highlight conflicts between white teacher’s and black pupils, negative stereotyping, and expectations of low ability and disruptive behaviour and consequent disproportionate levels of teacher criticism and control (Social Under-achievement Unit, 2005, p. 11).

The government has set a national target of a one third reduction in the number of permanent and fixed term under-achievement by 2002. LEAs have a key role in achieving this and the greatest improvements are expected from those who are currently performing most poorly. There are, however, no national targets proposed for reducing the disproportionate numbers of African-Caribbean children excluded from school. Without such targets the overall message that the government is concerned about racial equality and social justice is considerably weakened.

My research showed that when schools set out to minimise school under-achievement they were equally successful in achieving this for all ethnic groups, but it is only when specific actions are taken to reduce inequalities between groups that these inequalities begin to be addressed.

If this pattern is repeated across the country then the government may achieve its overall targets while failing to address the over-representation of African-Caribbean pupils within the under-achievement statistics. Specific targets relating to-over-represented groups would focus the efforts of schools and LEAs on reducing current inequalities.

The research highlighted the need for effective leadership at both school and LEA levels in reducing under-achievement. For example, I found that a decision of the Chief Education Officer (CEO) to adopt a personal performance target for reducing under-achievement rates was an important symbolic step, demonstrating personal commitment and leadership on the issue.

Head teachers committed to minimising under-achievement in their own schools felt they had moral support as well as specific practical support from the LEA. The CEO subsequently adopted a performance target relating to racial over-representation in the under-achievement statistics.

If we are to achieve social justice and racial equality in the matter of school under-achievement we need similar leadership at the level of central government: specific targets to reduce the proportion of African-Caribbean under-achievement and to end racial inequalities in this area within a fixed time period would demonstrate government leadership in tackling racial inequality in education.

The government's main response to racial inequality in school under-achievement is to collect data on the number of children from ethnic minorities who are excluded and to publish this performance data at school level for secondary schools and LEA level for primary schools. There is evidence that some schools are unaware of the current racial inequalities in their use of under-achievement and such data may encourage them to review their practices. It is difficult to predict how publication of ethnic statistics at school level may be interpreted by parents and the media; one possibility is that it may reinforce current stereotypes about difficult and unruly black children.

There is a proposal for special inspections of schools (OFSTED) which have a disproportionate level of under-achievement or truancy, either overall or among specific groups, such as African-Caribbean children. This measure is to be welcomed, as it would appear from the under-achievement data that there is a very small minority of schools who are using the sanction of under-achievement in a somewhat cavalier manner.

The government also proposes to give support to ethnic minority mentoring schemes, as part of its commitment to improving the achievement of children from ethnic minorities. However, it should not be forgotten that not all ethnic minority groups are under-achieving.

Evidence from my interviews with black students confirms that not all black boys are underachieving and that they feel this is a generalisation or a stereotypical analogy (Appendix B 11). A more effective way of encouraging schools to monitor and address the achievement of all ethnic groups would be to include ethnic monitoring within government achievement targets, such as those for numeracy and literacy.

Although some schools develop mentoring programmes with outside agencies and community organisations, the responsibility for effective mentoring and tutoring of individual pupils remains with the school and the majority of schools are likely to depend on their own teaching staff to act as mentors. Evidence suggests that individual tutorial support for all pupils may minimise under-achievements, as may special mentoring for vulnerable pupils (Appendix B 12).

Some schools employed 'same race' mentors to work with groups of pupils judged to be 'at risk' of under-achievement, whereas others recruited black and ethnic minority teachers with the aim of developing a teaching staff which reflected the ethnic composition of the pupil population. Both these strategies are important in the development of a genuinely inclusive school and should not be seen as either/or options.

Government support for community mentoring is a small but symbolic contribution in tackling the issue of racial inequality in under-achievements. However, it needs to be matched by training programmes and resources which allow teachers to provide effective pastoral and tutorial support for pupils.

The Social Under-achievement Unit's report states that equal opportunities issues, as well as behaviour management, will be adequately incorporated in the requirements for initial teacher and in-service training. However, the Teacher Development Agency (TDA) considers that racial equality is already adequately dealt with in both in-service and initial teacher training, despite criticisms by Herman Ouseley, chair of the CRE (1993 – 2000), that the TDA and the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) (previously Department for Education and Employment, DfEE) are negligent in failing to incorporate race equality issues in the teacher training curriculum (Ghouri, 2005).

The TDA presents racial equality largely in terms of 'raising the achievement of ethnic minorities' and incorporating 'multilingual and multicultural dimensions' into the curriculum. While acknowledging the need for teachers to deal with racial harassment, the chief executive of the TDA considers the evidence for widespread negative stereotyping of minority pupils by white teachers 'contentious' (Millett, 2005), despite a number of studies which indicate it is a genuine matter of concern in both primary (Troyna & Hatcher, 2002; Wright, 2002; Connolly, 2005) and secondary schools (Wright, 1986; Mac an Ghaill, 1988; Gillborn, 2000; Mirza, 2002; Sewell, 2007).

The approach of the TDA, which is reinforced by the framework of the DCSF Task Force on ethnic minority achievement, is to promote a type of multiculturalism which presents ethnic minorities as under-achieving, despite evidence of widespread differences in the achievements of different ethnic groups. So long as DCSF education policy documents fail to acknowledge the impact of racism on schools and society, guidance on handling racial harassment in schools is also likely to be flawed.

If we are to effectively tackle the disproportionate numbers of African-Caribbean pupils excluded from school, race equality issues need to be built into training programmes in a way that acknowledges the complexity of the processes of under-achievement.

Management training programmes for head teachers’ and curriculum leadership and behaviour management training for new and experienced teachers need to explore questions of racial equality and discrimination as they affect the everyday lives of pupils both in and beyond school. My research suggests that other professional groups involved in the diagnosis of special educational needs and the support of children vulnerable to under-achievement would also benefit from a race equality dimension in their training.

An important step forward in guaranteeing the right to education is the proposal that all children excluded from school for more than three weeks will receive full-time education. The government's report on school under-achievement indicates that all such children will have an individual education plan, including a target date for reintegration, but that for young people coming to the end of compulsory school 'further education or training may be a more realistic aim than school' (Social Under-achievement Unit, 2005, p. 26).

A significant proportion of pupils currently excluded from school are in their last two years of compulsory schooling and under-achievement often denies them access to public examinations. There has been a long-term concern within African-Caribbean communities that significant numbers of young people have been excluded from mainstream opportunities.

Chapter 5: Conclusion

In conclusion we can say that research reveals a complex picture of the pattern and causes of school under-achievement, in British schools which extend well beyond the school.

Nevertheless, we have evidence of schools which have successfully minimised under-achievement, drawing on the support of a number of local agencies and community initiatives. All the evidence suggests that if schools are able to access appropriate support from a range of agencies, the rise in the level of under-achievements can be reversed; the government's decision to set targets to achieve this is to be welcomed.

It is critical, however, if we are to ensure racial equality in this aspect of education policy, that specific targets are set to reduce the current over-representation of African-Caribbean pupils in the under-achievement statistics and to end racial inequalities, within a fixed time period.

Such target setting is critical in addressing current inequalities in outcomes. Our research demonstrates that schools which adopt a 'colour blind' approach to the reduction of school under-achievements are successful in cutting under-achievement for all groups, but do not address existing inequalities, leaving particular ethnic groups vulnerable to under-achievement.

Schools and LEAs are more likely to find effective and creative solutions to reduce black over-representation if central government demonstrates that it sees this as a priority. In particular, there needs to be a review of how in-service and continuing teacher training can be developed to support teachers in achieving these targets.

Teachers need support in understanding and challenging racism and structural inequalities. There is an urgent need for a move from a model of race equality which tends to focus exclusively on curriculum access and multiculturalism towards a model which also recognises and responds to the current inequalities in educational outcomes.


To improve on the standard of black boys in the British educational system

  • Schools should invest in successful and positive role models amongst older boys from the school to mentor younger ones in the school.
  • Pedagogic approaches in the classroom must make boys as useful as possible by introducing active learning and more ‘physical stuff’ (response from a year 10 during one of my interviews) setting clear objectives, giving regular feedback and most importantly higher expectations from teachers.
  • Schools need to have partnership with parents and dismiss stereotypical comments they have about black parents “the assumption that black parents are not interested in their children’s education because they do not always attend open evenings” Maud Blair (2005).
  • Teachers should build good relationships with boys by setting ground rules where appropriate and introduce reward systems, giving praise and reprimand when need be.
  • Schools need to understand and respond to adolescents needs. It could be argued that the adolescence stage could cause boys especially to behave in an unacceptable manner. This could lead to underachievement in schools if left unchecked for long. It is therefore necessary for teachers to understand that fact of growing up and how to respond to it.


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