Saturday, March 03, 2007

Black pupils treated worse

A report published yesterday entitled "Getting it. Getting it right" concludes that staff in many schools are "unwittingly" racist and routinely punish black children more severely.

In the wake of the injunction against the BBC this now seems to have slipped from the top news items. The BBC's own report is here. The report states that, "this as an "iconic issue" for those of black Caribbean heritage" and this is undoubtedly true. Often officials in education and elsewhere do not take the time to consider the background of people they interact with. I know of one educationalist who, when in a meeting with a black child, complained after that the boy did not look at her throughout the discussion. Only after was it suggested to her that the boy's upbringing demanded that he avert his gaze when receiving a chastisement. This may be apocryphal but it certainly gives fuel to an incendiary situation if the two sides of a dispute expect very different behaviour of one another but are unable to communicate what that is. It may seem a small point but at the same time understanding can be reached if sought out at all.

The report looks at two strands of thought, the first being that "largely unwitting, but systematic, racial discrimination" means staff expect black pupils to behave worse. In my career in education, albeit from the local authority perspective, this is certainly evident. And if teachers expect it, it should be no surprise if children come to believe it of themselves. The second consideration is that black pupils, especially boys, are subject to outside influences and cultural stereotypes which make them prone to aggressiveness. There may be some mileage in this suggestion. Certainly if media and drama continually portray a section of society in a negative light then the causal effect of that should not be underestimated. However, educationalists need to be better able to sort reality from fiction. With an increasing migrant population cultural understanding is key. This may upset the Mail readers but simply demanding that this is Britain and this is how things are done here is not the answer. Understanding and explanation will achieve much more.

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