BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Last Updated: Friday, 11 March, 2005, 08:59 GMT
Should black boys be taught separately?
Two black teenage boys standing in front of a school
Some black boys may have to be separated from classmates to help improve their school performance, the head of the Commission for Racial Equality has suggested.

Trevor Phillips said lack of self-esteem and positive role models for black boys adds to the problem, as well as an attitude that being clever is not cool.

He added that black fathers not living with their sons should be denied access if they didn't go to parents evenings.

But Martin Ward of the Secondary Heads Association warned that, "to single out black children for special treatment could be counter-productive and even illegal."

What do you think of the suggested class segregation? Would it be racist? What would improve black boys' school performance?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.


The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:

SUGGEST A DEBATE
This topic was suggested by Les, England
Should black boys be taught in separate classes?

How exactly is class segregation going to improve the school performance of black boys? This proposal may be in the best interests of the black boys, but many white children are under achieving as well. If segregation is made legal, then we will only be moving backwards, certainly not forwards. We will be living in an unequal, racially divided society. Won't this new proposal promote racism and division amongst children instead of tolerance and equality?
Anon, London, England

I found some of the wording in the article very 'interesting'- especially the part stating that "black African" girls were outperforming "white British" boys - what about the "black British" girls? Or in the CRE's eyes, does no such thing exist? Whatever happened to integration and racial equality? Seems to me it's gone out of the window in this wonderful country of ours.
Steve, Edinburgh, Scotland

I would suggest rather than single out children because of colour, single out children who lack self esteem and motivation and give them the incentive to learn and better themselves by providing classes which can instil confidence in their abilities to all children who fall behind for whatever reason.
Alysia Sutcliffe,

This would just encourage racial discrimination
Anna, Framlingham, England
To be honest I think it is a totally ridiculous idea to separate black and white students. I am a 15-year-old student at a school which teaches a variety of different cultured students and have no problem with mixed racial classes. I would like to make the point that school is not only for learning academic skills, but also life skills. So what if black people are not getting the results that white people are? That's a pretty general statement to make. How would it look to a young student if black and white people were separated? To me this would just encourage racial discrimination.
Anna, Framlingham, England

"Black boys may have to be separated from classmates to help improve their school performance" So what happens to the under performing white boys, white girls, or black girls for that matter?
Wesley Sharp, London, UK

Isn't this going backwards?? Segregation is not the answer. Hasn't the education system worldwide learned anything in these past few years?
Anonymous

I'm from an ethnic minority community and think that this is the most ridiculous notion ever conceived. To understand under-achievement in the black community we must address the "gangster and bad boy" mentality. That's why so many young black men underachieve. I might also add that it's in stark contrast to members of our other minority groups.
Qadir, London, England

I am a Britain of minority background working in the Middle East. I am appalled at the suggestions from Mr Phillips. It is obvious that positive discrimination does not work. In fact it can lead to more racism. We all have to compete in this world. I can understand extra classes in the evening or even summer schools as they have in some North American countries, but segregation is not the answer.
Hamad, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

I overcame this attempt to hinder my progress
Neil, Lagos, Nigeria
I am mixed race half Jamaican half Polish. Despite being a bright pupil and doing well in most subjects, my self esteem was not great. This I put down to a form of racism in schools during the 70's, especially as I lived in an area that was mostly white. At the age of 14 I was put into an English class one step above the remedial class. I queried why this was to my tutor, especially as many of my white peers whom I had out-performed were put into higher classes than me. I was informed that there were a few of us of this ability in that class and we were put in there to help the others. I saw no others of this level there, and lacking confidence I accepted my fate. I am still bitter about this, and put it down to their low expectations of black or mixed black children. However, I overcame this attempt to hinder my progress. Later in life I achieved a degree and I am now in a good job overseas.
Neil, Lagos, Nigeria

Firstly, I do believe that segregation is a huge backwards step, but it has been suggested in the best interests of those involved and thus cannot be called racism. However, some people are obviously being failed by the current educational system and we have a duty to correct this. The question is how can this be best done?
Nathan, Bath, UK

I grew up in West Africa and was always in racially mixed classes. I find the concept of segregation abhorrent. The attitude problems should be dealt with in other ways. Let us not forget, the South African government once tried to convince the world that apartheid was to allow blacks to develop in an improved fashion!
Steve Clifton, Ziegelbrücke, Switzerland

This policy is clearly racist (and sexist). It suggests that the attitudes of whole groups of people rather than individuals can be predicted. I'm not black, but if I was I'd be angered at being lumped together with others on the basis of a trivial characteristic like skin colour. It's absurd to attempt to judge people in this way.
Dean, Reading, UK

So long as the root cause of this cultural problem is not tackled, under achieving will not go away
Jojo, Huddersfield, W/Yorks

Segregation, in my opinion, is not the solution to black boys under achievement. So long as the root cause of this cultural problem is not tackled, under achieving will not go away.
Jojo, Huddersfield, W/Yorks

Not too long ago, Bill Cosby shocked his Afro-American friends, colleagues and countrymen by exposing a few home truths that could equally well apply to many white youths of today. Disruptive no-hopers were a presence in schools long before "racism" and "political correctness" were heard of. What education needs is less modern thinking and trendy solutions, more education and less social studies. Employers decide what they want in their future employees, not far-out teachers with way-out ideas.
Peter Nixon, Munich, Germany

As a teacher I don't see it working. Most schools are already understaffed and deal with a lot of supply teachers particularly in areas where there is a high Afro Caribbean population. They need male role models in my experience and don't respect female teachers unless the teacher has the ability to exclude ie senior management. Boys are always harder to interest in the academic subjects. Having positive home role models would be far better or mentors within schools as are already implemented. Inclusive Education means in a main stream classroom by segregating them is simply doing what 20-30 years ago we did to disabled students.
Helen, Grays, UK

Black kids fail in school for the same reasons other kids fail; absent fathers and bad role models (rap). Check the statistics, and you'll see why things seem so disproportionate.
Khalil, Ottawa, Canada

I am the mother of two African American boys who have attended integrated schools in N.Y.C. and in California in the USA. I can tell you that there is a problem within the classroom and within schools where the educators have a lower expectation of the African American youth and transfer those feelings onto those students. I have had first hand experience as my sons experienced disparaging treatment from teachers early on - as young as the age of 7. However, despite the negative experiences they had with some educators, they did not develop the inferiority complex that those educators sought to create in my sons and did well. They are both college students, employed and doing well. I feel the initiative to educate black children separately could work as long as you provide a quality education and a supportive learning environment.
Nadine McMillon, Sacramento, CA USA

The problems start from within the home. The fact is there are a higher number of single parent families in the black community than in other cultures. In many of the homes there is a lack of foundation, grounding and discipline. Many of the children are left essentially to do their own thing and have nothing to aspire to. Also, before people start shouting "racist" I am black.
Yolanda, London, UK

How about addressing the cause of the problem rather than the outcome?
Chris Byers, Preston, UK

This idea is racist, because it focuses on race, when race is not the problem
Jack, Milton, UK
Politicians repeatedly fail to act upon the root causes of the entire race problem. Ethnic minorities in this country are still pulling themselves up as relative newcomers to the British Isles. In my view, underachievement by black boys has grown up as an indivisible part of the fact that black people have been the underdogs - a legacy of Britain's imperial past. In predominantly white areas of the country where people are subject to the same socio-economic conditions that black people have (in general) been subjected to, I think you will find that academic results are very much comparable. So yes, this idea is racist, because it focuses on race, when race is not the problem.
Jack, Milton, UK

So after years of crying racism and demanding inclusion the CRE now wants segregation. I suspect the problem lies more with authority being afraid to discipline these pupils for fear of being branded racists. If the same rules of discipline were applied to all pupils, black and white I'm sure there would be a marked improvement. It's discipline and the will to impose it that's lacking. The sooner excuses stop being made the better.
Irene, Manchester, UK

Deny fathers the right to see children if they can't make it to a parents' night at school? Have these people gone mad. What the commission describes as a problem for black students sounds like a general description of any one of thousands of any race of students in America. Get with the real world of education!
ED, Houston, USA

Trevor Phillips has got this one wrong. The point is not that "some black boys" need to be separated, but that some of the boys that need to be separated are black. In Moss Side, Brixton, Handsworth etc, the excluded pupils almost certainly will be black. However, in County Durham, Newcastle, South Manchester, the boys will almost certainly be white. The need and problem is just the same. It is an exclusion/bad behaviour issue. If it would help disruptive and disturbed boys get a better education, I'm all for it, but Trevor Phillips is misguided by turning it into a racial issue.
Chris S, London

Put away your race cards! Placing children in specialised schools is normal. My son goes to a boys-only school. Should that be viewed as sexist? No. Children who pass the 11+ can choose to go to a grammar school. Should that be viewed as elitist? No. Children can go to drama schools or boarding schools or catholic schools or a multitude of other types of schools. None of them are viewed as 'a bad thing'. Having schools which cater for black-boys is no different to have schools which cater for catholic boys; if the teaching is geared towards providing the specific requirements for your child, then it must be good.
Glen, Welling, UK

Plenty of kids of all ethnicities don't think school is cool and waste the opportunity of education. Do they get singled out? There's a great danger of providing one more "excuse" for failure rather than tackling the social issues that foster their poor attitude to education. Can it be coincidence that one of the major problems with black kids in the US is the number of single parent/absentee father homes they come from?
Keith, US/UK

Why should black boys be given preferential treatment? I work in a secondary school and I know that the "being clever is not cool" culture is no different amongst white boys, as is the problem with "absent fathers". Most black kids I have worked with do not have any problems with self-esteem, either.
Mike, Ivybridge, UK

I don't wish to sound simplistic about this but surely if black girls are achieving shouldn't we all look at what works with them and implement it with boys or are we risking being accused of being sexist as well as racist?
Anne Bebbington, Gloucester, UK

I go to school with people from various different cultures; Asian, African, American and European and I can assure you that segregating classes will only make matters worse. How are people supposed to learn from each other and their cultures if they are being separated by race? There is nothing wrong with the educational ability of blacks or any other racial groups for that matter. All that students need is a dedicated support system to help them in their studies.
Phil, Belgium

How will young black boys with no positive role models or self esteem react to segregation and isolation? Not well I fear.
Anonymous

Education starts in the home
Frank, London, UK
Trevor Phillips is right to raise this issue but segregation in classes is not the answer. Education starts in the home. The best achievers, of all colours and creeds, are those who are taught the importance of education by their parents. It has always been all too easy for groups of youths, most frequently boys, again of all colours, to get into a culture where education is seen as worthless and to be sneered at. Trevor Phillips would be better served examining why a disproportionate number of black boys fall into this culture.
Frank, London, UK

I do not support Trevor Phillips' proposal but credit to him for bringing this issue to the forefront and hopefully some sensible discussion will come out of it. The under-performance of black boys at school has been an issue for a long time but has previously been an attraction for unlikely, ideologically-driven theories. Maybe the Trevor Phillips moment will be a spark for some sensible ideas on this subject.
Steve Warwick, London

When I was at school, pupils were 'streamed' according to their perceived academic ability. Now it is proposed to stream pupils according to their race. This idea, especially as it comes from the head of the CRE is astounding and retrogressive. Trevor Phillips seems unaware that some of the world's intellectual heavyweights are from the Caribbean, and from Africa.
Chris B, Bedford, UK

Black girls seem to be managing fine. Maybe it's a culture of 'cool guys aren't smart' we should be addressing here. This probably has a lot more to do with gender, and image than race.
Michelle, London

I was lucky, I had very good, strong teachers who knew how to get the best out of the class
Colin H, London, UK
I think the real solution is for teaching staff to get a real understanding of differences in teaching black boys to other races. Black boys tend to be more boisterous than other kids and therefore need a strong hand to get the best of out them. Discipline in schools has got a lot worse over the past 20 years and a lot of younger teachers do not know how to handle a loud black boy so they find it easier to just exclude them from the class, starting a vicious circle. I was lucky, I had very good, strong teachers who knew how to get the best out of the class. But I did also find that a small minority of teachers did single me out because of my race. Fortunately, I didn't let things like that put me off and I did very well in school and college but I can certainly see how many black boys would alienated by that kind of treatment.
Colin H, London, UK

Even if it does help black boys educationally, I think it would not help, as it would foster racist attitudes. One of the most valuable lessons kids learn is getting on with other kids, no matter what colour. Also, if black kids are given separate education, how long would it be before this became a second-rate under funded education, as happened to the "separate but equal" education in the United States?
Chris Q, Bradford, England

All children, no matter which race, religion, gender should be taught together, integration not segregation. Mr Phillips is totally wrong in saying there is a lack of positive role models to young black men, there are many black role models, in sport, the arts and politics. It is unbelievable that the Commission for racial equality has come up with this ridiculous suggestion.
Sarah Landrigan, London England

Give them role models and improve their self-esteem and don't start off as though you're expecting them to do badly
Jemima (18), London
They should be made to feel wanted in the classrooms they are in already. Black boys I've known talk about how they feel no one cares about them at school and from the first day in year seven everyone acts as though they're going to fail, or mess around. It's the expected behaviour, so they conform to it. Change the situation and expectations surrounding them. Give them role models and improve their self-esteem and don't start off as though you're expecting them to do badly. Putting them in "special" classes will inevitably lead to these being known as "dumb" classes and alienate them further from the educational institutions. It's good the issue is being addressed but I honestly don't believe this is the way forward.
Jemima (18), London

Doing this will only cause racism and hatred. Kids are cruel and if you start separating races you'll only end up with each race "sticking to their" own, which in the long term will cause a lot more problems! You'd think in this day and age and the hard battles fought by people to live in an equal world we wouldn't even be considering this.
Hugh Douglas, Bristol

There's a simple reason why black people perform less well at school - they come from less well-privileged backgrounds because black people find it more difficult to get high-up well paid jobs. Maybe the government ought to start tackling racism in the workplace before flaming it up in the school. I don't think they've meant this to be a racist policy, but it has the potential to become a catalyst for racism.
Darryl LeCount, Paderborn, Germany

So, finally we have become such a problem within our community that we have to be taken out of our 'inclusive' education system. Rather than spending money on employing appropriate staff, educating existing staff and teaching a more 'ethnic-positive' curriculum; we have to be segregated from others and taught separately. Where is the CRE going to find educated black role models to teach these segregated lessons when we can't even find enough for our normal classes? I am a mixed-race teacher and I know that it made a difference having someone who the pupils related to leading the lesson. I didn't need to be paid more than my white colleagues to be coerced into this job; instead, use the money to improve opportunities inside and outside of the classroom.
Rachael Stone, Quito, Ecuador

Separate, additional support for black boys may be fine in principle but, like special needs children currently, it is unlikely the proper amount of resources or personnel will be made available to make the policy successful.
Al, W'Ton, UK

It may seem extreme at the moment, but if the idea is piloted, perhaps we may all learn something
Hala, Manchester
I think that people are too quick to jump on the 'oh that's racist' bandwagon. This idea should at least be contemplated. It may seem extreme at the moment, but if the idea is piloted, perhaps we may all learn something.
Hala, Manchester

As a black man, from a single parent family. I have to agree somewhat with the comments raised by Trevor Philips and to some degree his proposed solution. However, I think we need to explore other ideas first. For example the social issues behind why many black men are not reaching their potential in education seriously needs to be looked at as solving this would be the ideal long-term solution.
Mike, London

What concerns me more about this article is the bit about "black fathers not living with their sons should be denied access if they didn't go to parents evenings." If this should be the case then should it not also extend to white men and women who are not living in the same home as their children!
Anne-Marie, Bracknell

The severe shortage of ethnic minority, in particular black, Afro-Caribbean teachers, employed in the teaching sector must surely attribute towards the current underachievement of black boys in school . This has to be fundamentally addressed, if we are to see any improvement in the performance of black school kids as a whole. However, I can see where Trevor Phillips is going with this one. Nonetheless, do we really want a situation similar to the one South Africa underwent during the era of apartheid?
W Liu, London, England

Separating kids in class will not improve their education. It will only serve to further the gap between different ethnic backgrounds. Only changing the whole education system to embrace more vocational qualifications will the gap really disappear. If it's a matter of 'It's not cool to be clever', then why would this change if black kids were taught separately? As for offering more money to black people to teach, this would be completely racist. How can one person earn more money, purely because of their race?
Andrew Clure, Stalybridge, England.

I don't think that's a good idea, it creates divisions in schools and promoting unnecessary arguments and time wasting.
Gerald, UK

How can it be argued that it is beneficial to separate young people in education from each other? The racial problems in this country are only going to be exacerbated by separating youngsters as they will only ever come into contact with people of their own ethnicity and never into contact with the diverseness of culture once they leave education and start to work.
Mathew, Maastricht, Holland

Do it for everyone, let everyone see and learn about it!
J Coalter, Norwich, UK

Why must you segregate a child to improve his self-esteem? Children with dyslexia or children with special needs are actively encouraged to stay in the classroom; they aren't segregated out of the community. And that's what this dangerous statement is suggesting: that a black youth's colour is some kind of disability he has to carry through life!

If you want to improve children's self-esteem it can and must be done in the classroom for all children; if you want to foster self-respect in individuals it must be seen to be done for all individuals; if you want to introduce special programs to highlight all the positive aspects of being black, then do it for everyone, let everyone see and learn about it!
J Coalter, Norwich, UK

Can we now look forward to special classes for fat kids, kids wearing glasses, nerdy kids, and anyone else who gets picked on for being different?
Jonny, England

Can we now look forward to special classes for fat kids, kids wearing glasses, nerdy kids, and anyone else who gets picked on for being different from whatever the norm is perceived to be in any given week? I always thought the definition of racism was to treat people more or less favourably based on their racial background.
Jonny, England

The studies are being taken out of context, the point was that black boys benefit from single gender education. Maybe they would, but all the nonsense about racism isn't going to help them, is it?
Ian, Bradford, UK

Maybe there should be positive role models for young boys of all races and colour, other than footballers and pop stars. Having more male primary teachers and nursery workers at a young age may be more influential than segregating pupils because of colour and sex.

Black boys of West Indian origin have been under performing in schools for more than 20 years, so something positive must be done. It may help society as a whole as there is a link between a poor education and young men who commit crime.
Eliza, Bucks

Isn't it the case that boys and girls generally do better if in gender-separated classes? Colour may not be the issue.
Chris Gough, London, UK

I admire the boldness of Mr Phillip's idea. However, I disagree with this no matter how effective it may be, segregation is a very dangerous precedent to set.
Martin, London, UK

Being a black teacher myself, I know first hand the culture of failure within black males in education. Whilst these proposals are not be the best, they are clearly a step towards at least trying to combat this problem. Perhaps those who dismiss this entirely do not know the very desperate situation within our inner city schools.
Jordan, Birmingham, UK

This country condemned South Africa because of Apartheid and colour segregation - isn't this tantamount to doing the same thing? If we are to target racial/religious hatred shouldn't we start by teaching the young to work together in harmony rather than segregate them? In my opinion this can only cause more problems because one group of people will be seen as getting preferences that other groups are not.
Linda, Hull

Martin Luther King must be turning in his grave. He dreamt of time when people would not be judged by the colour of their skin. People are not groups they are individuals. These types of stories are wrong as they perpetuate the error of discrimination.
Peter Evan, Bristol

This is a serious debate that needs to take place
David, London, UK
Well done Trevor Phillips for sparking this debate. The inference I draw from what he's saying is that schools need to approach black boys in a different way. This is true for boys generally. The reliance on course-work, the lack of opportunities for hard physical exercise, and the disapproval of competition all work to the disadvantage of most boys. The problem for black boys is compounded by the absence of black male teachers to inspire them, and white society's fear of black masculinity. This is a serious debate that needs to take place.
David, London, UK

Now if this had been suggested by a white person it would have been put down as completely racist.
Ben Bell, Canterbury, Kent, UK

Might I make a simple suggestion? Stop talking about positive discrimination, there is no such thing, Stop confusing human rights with flouting the rules and get the kids back to being children, at school, being taught! Children should all be in a decent uniform, unadorned by bling-bling, fed food that can be identified as something that actually is food and being taught the basic building blocks of life. Get that right, the rest follows, disband the quangos, everyone wins! Oh if only!
Merv, MK, England

Statistics can be made to say anything. I find this findings to be a perfect example of good money being put to waste. A way to improve their performance would be to work on the mindset not separate them which would have an effect of lowering their self-esteem.
Cristao, England

Oh dear, does this not defy all aspects of the word community. I cannot perceivably see how, by taking a black boy out of a class will make any difference. It amazes me how a problem can be put down so specifically, not only to black people but to the black male. Do we truly want to make people feel anymore segregated? In my view, it's all wrong. I went to a mixed school in South Africa and it didn't make an ounce of difference to how you turned out. If you're not academic then your artistic or sporty side should be developed. This country is too academic focused rather than developing people's skills.
James, Cardiff, Wales

No need to select children on the basis of colour. How about selecting them on under achievement or poor self esteem?
Robert Hawes, Australia

It might be more profitable to both school and black boys if the bling-bling and rap culture language were brought into the school as a teaching aid.
Jill B, England

Imagine the uproar and condemnation if it was suggested that white boys be separated in class. Heads would roll.
Joe Kissick, Australia

It's good to be unafraid to have ideas and voice them, but I really can't see segregation based on colour being a good thing. Segregate pupils based on their learning progress certainly - after all there might be a few white, Hispanic and Asian people who are struggling with their GCSEs too. This whole thing smells like the horrible American positive-discrimination regime, or apartheid in South Africa.
Adrian, UK

Regardless of colour, I think a lot of boys/young men in general need more positive role models and convincing that trying at school is the only way they can excel as a person and fulfil their dreams. How can you do that, though, when modern culture tells young people you can get what you want by using violence and aggression or by stepping on someone to get where you want?
Lynda Matthews, Southport, England

If it's a scheme to help their education then how can it be racist? Racism involves discrimination, this would be a positive scheme. However, if it's the culture that Trevor Phillips wants to get around then a segregated class surely would not help anyway.
James Bucknall, Scotland

This is not branding all black children as needing special help - but taking into account the general culture and the fact that some of them are not doing as well as the rest in their education. This is exactly what parents have been asking teachers to do for years... help their children get a better education.
Amit, Brighton, UK

I'm white, and I went to a school in a very black area of West London. The school was probably 50% black, 20% Asian, 30% white. We didn't have a single black person on the staff. That has got to affect performance.
Richard, Notts, UK

No need to select children on the basis of colour. How about selecting them on under achievement or poor self-esteem?
Robert Hawes, Australia

The only reason that most blacks get into trouble is because people scan them, assume they're bad, assume they are poor and do drugs.
Hannah, USA

Let me get this straight - the Commission for Racial Equality is suggesting what amounts to racial apartheid in Britain? It just confirms my view that the Commission is a very dangerous organisation which has done more to damage race relations in this country than any other.
Steve, Birmingham, England

I'm with on this Steve in Birmingham. Such organisation very seldom espouse programs that will help integration. The ideas they espouse are, in my view, very dangerous.
James, Bucks, UK





PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

News Front Page | World | UK | England | Northern Ireland | Scotland | Wales | Politics
Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health | Education
Have Your Say | Magazine | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific