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 You are in: Analysis
Educational achievement

By Mike Baker
BBC education correspondent

African-Caribbean pupils have highest rates of exclusion

The achievement of ethnic minority pupils in British schools is a complex and sensitive issue.

Highlighting the performance of any particular group of students can exacerbate their problems by encouraging prejudice and damaging self-esteem. Equally, to adopt a 'colour blind' approach risks allowing inequalities to remain unchallenged.

The issue of ethnic minority achievement in schools is bound up with discussion of racial discrimination and integration ... issues which have occasionally come to the boil.
In every ethnic group in Britain there are high achievers. So, when highlighting overall patterns of achievement, there is a danger of appearing to suggest that all ethnic minority pupils have problems or are victims of a school system that is failing them. This would be unfair to many students and teachers.

However, to ignore patterns of achievement would be to put political correctness ahead of the need to know what is happening to ethnic minority pupils.

It is also clear that within the overall picture there is a patchwork of different experiences within and between schools. In some schools there is no difference in achievement between ethnic minority groups. In others the gap is very wide.

Most patterns of ethnic minority achievement are also strongly associated with differences of social class or poverty. The use of English as a first language in homes is another important factor in determining success at school.

Differences among groups

Overall then, pupils of Indian and Chinese origin tend to do very well, out-performing both the average and the scores of white pupils. By contrast, pupils of Pakistani origin show a very varied pattern of achievement with some doing very well and others relatively poorly.

Pupils of Bangladeshi origin, who tend to experience higher levels of poverty, mostly under-perform compared to other groups, although in one London borough they are the highest achieving of all ethnic groups.

Probably the greatest concern is over pupils, especially boys, of African and Caribbean origin. This concern extends beyond examination performance to issues of discipline and motivation.

The proportion of African-Caribbean students achieving 5 good GCSE grades is well below the national average. Yet in Birmingham, where there has been extensive testing of pupils at the school starting age of 5African-Caribbean pupils were doing better than the average.

However, recent trends suggest ethnic minority students are mostly closing the gap or, in some cases, pulling further ahead.

The proportion of African-Caribbean pupils getting 5 good GCSEs jumped from 23% to 37% between 1996 and 2000. Over the same period the figure for white students rose from 45% to 50%.

Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin students showed a more modest improvement, rising from 23% to 30% and 25% to 30% respectively. Students of Indian origin have pulled further ahead with 62% achieving 5 good passes, up from 48% four years earlier.

"Other Asian" students, a category that excludes Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi students but includes children of Chinese origin, have the highest score at 70%.

Major inquiry

The issue of ethnic minority achievement in schools is bound up with discussion of racial discrimination and the arguments over integration in the school system. These are issues which, since the 1970s at least, have occasionally come to the boil.

In 1979, a major inquiry was set up in response to widespread concerns about the achievement of 'West Indian' pupils. The resulting Swann report focused attention on the relative achievement of different ethnic minority groups and on the effects of racial discrimination in the education system.

A lack of clear data, and the difficulties of separating out other factors such as social class and poverty, meant the issue slipped from the headlines. However, the Macpherson inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence has renewed interest in the issue of "institutional racism" and black achievement relative to others.

The Macpherson report recommended that schools should record all racist incidents and record and publish an ethnic minority breakdown of permanently excluded pupils.

Exclusion problems

There has been a growing focus on exclusion figures since analysis by ethnic background has revealed that pupils of African-Caribbean origin are several times more likely to be expelled as whites of the same gender.

In 2000/01, 38 in every 10,000 Black Caribbean pupils in England were permanently excluded. This was the highest rate for any ethnic minority group. Indian pupils had the lowest rate, at just three in 10,000 pupils. White pupils were expelled at the rate of 13 in every 10,000.

As with academic achievement, African Caribbean pupils are starting to close the gap as the numbers being excluded have fallen from a high of 60 per 10,000 in 1998/99.

Nevertheless there are serious concerns over the causes of this relatively high exclusion rate, particularly as evidence suggests that two out of every three pupils permanently excluded from school fail to return to full-time mainstream education.

Recent research has show an unusually high degree of tension and conflict between white teachers and African-Caribbean pupils. There is also evidence that teachers are more likely to have a more negative view of African-Caribbean pupils than those from other ethnic minority groups.

Such findings have fuelled the calls for more black teachers and, from some quarters, for separate schools for black pupils, either on a full-time basis or as 'booster' Saturday morning schools.

There has also been a growing trend for families of Caribbean origin to send their children to the West Indies for a period of schooling there. Many parents believe discipline is better handled in Caribbean schools and that African-Caribbean teachers will have a better understanding of how to deal with their children's needs.

The presence of role models in schools is clearly important as a motivating factor for children however it's estimated only around 3% of teachers in Britain are from ethnic minorities, only around half the proportion in the population as a whole.

However, once again, recent trends suggest an improvement: the most recent figures showed that between 7 and 8% of new teacher recruits came from ethnic minorities.

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