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Friday, 27 October, 2000, 14:55 GMT 15:55 UK
Teacher racism 'not whole story'
black youths
Ethnic minority pupils were found to lag behind whites
Evidence that children from ethnic minority backgrounds are under-performing at school should not be blamed on teachers, an education specialist is warning.

A report commissioned by the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) found that the achievement gap between 16-year-old white pupils and their Pakistani and African-Caribbean classmates had doubled since the late 1980s.

Dr Tony Sewell
Tony Sewell: Black children are caught in a culture trap
The findings have prompted criticism from the Council for Race Equality (CRE) that schools are "institutionally racist".

Spokesman Chris Myant called for an "urgent and radical debate," saying schools were failing pupils.

"The fact that many black pupils are coming into school at the top of the table, but then leaving at the bottom should send alarm bells ringing across the system," he said.

But Dr Tony Sewell, a lecturer in education at Leeds University, suggests under-achievement among minority groups is too deep-rooted and complex to be attributed to racism among teachers.

Shouting 'teacher racism' just doesn't work

Dr Tony Sewell
"Teacher racism and low expectation do exist, but there is also an issue of black peer pressure and how that relates to motivation," he said.

"African-Caribbeans in particular are caught up in a culture that sees learning and intellectual activity as anti-black."

Dr Sewell said he was not surprised that middle-class black students were found to be performing badly, as they face the same cultural expectations from their peers.

"It is not to do with the academic world, it's taking on the street culture," he said.

Support for teachers

White teachers, he suggested, were often fearful in dealing with black pupils and needed more guidance.

"The government should gear more resources towards supporting ethnic minority students, rather than just concentrating on numeracy and literacy.

"But shouting 'teacher racism' just doesn't work," Dr Sewell stressed.

There is a danger in assuming that the problem lies outside the school system

Dr David Gillborn, Report co-author
But co-author of the Ofsted report, Dr David Gillborn from the Institute of Education said the findings should not be put down to peer pressure alone.

Teachers often assumed that black pupils would not achieve, he said.

"There is a danger in assuming that the problem lies outside the school system - and that can lead to complacency," he warned.

Teachers' unions have expressed anger at the suggestion that schools are to blame.


Nevertheless, Dr Gillborn and his colleague Professor Heidi Safia Mirza found some evidence for optimism in their research.

Professor Mirza, from Middlesex University, stressed that there was nothing inherent in any of the ethnic groups which pre-supposed poor educational attainment.

"It's important not to fall into deep despair over these figures.

"We have found evidence that every minority group can achieve high results - unfortunately this potential is not always being tapped."

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See also:

27 Oct 00 | Education
Ethnic pupils 'failed by system'
15 Aug 00 | Education
No-name marking to counter racism
19 Jul 00 | Education
Ofsted 'failure' over school racism
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