Black pupils in the UK have, for many years, been rated at the bottom of the league when assessments are made about educational achievements and analysed in racial and cultural groups.
Assessors and sociologists have constantly reached for explanations to identify reasons for the falling grades and below par performances of black pupils. They have, with unfailing regularity, suggested the causes as (1) products of broken homes, (2) living with a single parent, usually the mother and (3) lack of parental support and interest. All these reasons can be classified as hackneyed and diplomatic.
It now seems there could be some insight into the reasons for the generally low standards of achievement. A recent study carried out by the UK based think-tank, LKMco, has argued that teachers in London are biased against black pupils and white boys from underprivileged backgrounds. The study concludes that the biases affect settings, assessment outcomes and disciplinary measures in schools. It is calling for urgent steps to be taken to tackle the impact of social inequality on the two groups’ academic achievements. Although the report refers to a study in London, the possible broader effect across the UK cannot be easily dismissed.
In this damning report, LKMco suggested that teachers need training to minimise the impact of their unconscious bias on pupils.
The overall picture is gloomy and when one considers that black Caribbean boys’ attainment in London is 17 percentage points behind the London average for expected standards in reading, writing and maths by the end of primary school, this must be a major cause for concern.
The report includes interviews with experts, teachers and pupils and can be instructive in the ways in which black children can benefit from an open assessment of their abilities. Whilst reviewing some of the comments, I noted those of a young black student. He said: “I just feel like it’s a lot to do with stereotyping of the actual students before they even know what they (students) are like.”
Academics across the land are now coming out of the woodwork with assessments, reasons and reports on what has happened over the many years that has brought about the destabilisation and decline in the educational standards of black children in this country.
Results of study after study are produced at regular intervals but it is not apparent that there has been a tangible improvement in the overall standards. Indeed, these papers give the impression that they are school reports rather proposals to remedy a situation that is in dire need of repair or indeed, a complete restructuring.
It therefore begs the questions: (a) who should be blamed for the low levels of achievement by black children? (2) should some responsibility be placed at the feet of the parents who, in many cases, appear to take a casual approach to education at its highest level? and (3) is the national system so entrenched in a pit of unconscious bias that any possibilities of meaningful improvement are strangled at birth?
It is, indeed, a bleak outlook for future generations of black children if this situation is not soon corrected. The acceptance of mediocrity as normal is a condemnation of both society and parents and it should not be tolerated.
Stories of possible negative influences are easily found in the press when reports are made about the general state of education in the country. It is tiresome to constantly hear the depressing statistics about black pupils although it is commonly known that there are many high achievers among black students.
One such negative story, contained in a recent report by a former Conservative Education Minister, highlighted the fact that black pupils are more likely than other groups to be expelled from school. The same old, prejudiced reasons were given as the background to the expulsions and astoundingly, it has triggered a debate in some circles as to whether or not there is a connection with the raging knife crimes that are perpetrated by black and white alike.
However, negative these stories are, they pale in contrast against a comment by Oxford University in its review of the possible reasons for this state of affairs. The university has stated that many black pupils in England are having their education dumbed down after being wrongly identified as having one of a range of special needs that would influence how these students are taught. Interestingly, its study team could not explain the over-representation of this group when set against white counterparts with similar needs.
As one looks at causes and reasons for the relatively low standards achieved by black students across the board, it comes back to the perceived attitudes of parents and the apparent stereotyping by authorities that black children are lazy. There is also a perception generally held by British teachers that black children are not academically minded and have interests only on the sports fields. This is a notion that should be seen as nonsense in the extreme.
As we look in despair for reasons for the constant underperformances of black children in the UK and compare them to those of the Asian, Chinese and mainstream white students, we cannot but question whether or not black children are operating on a level playing field. Are society’s odds so loaded against them that delivering success is like pushing water up a hill?
In a society where it is portrayed that equal opportunities abound for everyone, it is foolhardy to pretend that is the case. Were it so, one would be bound to engage in a debate about relative abilities of different groups.
Solutions to this grave state of affairs must urgently be found to protect black children from falling further into the abyss. The manner in which the remedies are found rests squarely on the shoulders of the education authorities. They must now start thinking outside the box.
Many black children have beaten the odds and have gone on to higher plains. They should be applauded for their efforts and achievements.
The authorities must not be allowed to discriminate through stealth.
Vincent “Boo” Nurse is a Barbadian living in London who is a retired land Revenue Manager, Pensions and Investment Adviser. He is passionate about the development of his island home and Disapora.