Page last updated at 01:57 GMT, Tuesday, 25 November 2008

'Stereotype' fear from race data

Classroom
Black Caribbean boys lag behind in exam performance tables

School performance data comparing different ethnic groups' exam results is fuelling a new kind of racism, an academic is warning.

Professor Heidi Mirza argues that race-based statistics feed into racial stereotypes which can themselves become "self-fulfilling prophecies".

It is right that achievement by ethnic group is monitored, says Prof Mirza.

But she warns against hierarchies of achievement with Chinese pupils at the top and black boys at the bottom.

Prof Mirza, who is director of the Centre for Rights, Equalities and Social Justice at London's Institute of Education, said: "What happens is that the teachers begin to think about children of these backgrounds in a different way. These tables become lodged in every day thinking."

We see structures that categorise black boys as failing and having bad behaviour - and then it's borne out
Professor Mirza

She acknowledges that research suggests Chinese pupils, for example, do very well compared to other groups, but says that the teachers themselves have "a concept of what doing well should be".

"This might mean that they are steered towards mathematics, which Chinese pupils are thought to excel at, rather than towards creative subjects," she suggests.

"We have moved from biological notions of innate differences in the 19th Century to religious, national and cultural notions of inborn differences now.

"For example, people say: 'Blacks are good at sport; Chinese are good at maths and make good food; Indians have good business sense'."

This can mean teachers have certain expectations about pupils based on their ethnic group, she argues.

'Racialised patterns'

"So we see structures that categorise black boys as failing and having bad behaviour - and then it's borne out.

"We know that black boys are three more times more likely to be excluded from school - the reaction from teachers to bad behaviour from them is often more severe and quicker," she adds.

She also argues that teachers' prejudices based on these race-based results cause the "sifting and sorting of pupils into tiers and streams by perceived ability".

"The patterns are often racialised, with black children locked into the lower streams," she adds.

"We need to talk about expectations and self-fulfilling prophecies. We need to reverse some of these entrenched stereotypes.

"We are still in the same place that we were in 20 years ago on how we are thinking about this," she says

Prof Mirza says part of the problem is that there was still no comprehensive anti-racist training for teachers.

Research for the Training and Development Agency for Schools suggests 70% of newly qualified teachers say they do not feel equipped to teach pupils from different ethnicities.

"They may get an hour class on diversity in their whole training, and often I am the invited guest speaker," she adds.

But the TDA said there had been a year on year increase in the proportion of newly qualified teachers who said their training gave them good or very good preparation for working with learners from minority ethnic backgrounds.

In 2008 it stood at 40%, the TDA said.



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