The school system and the performance of pupils within it, has been a focus for much attention, in particular there has been a long standing debate about the under-achievement of black and ethnic minority pupils at school. We need to look at why this group in our society are underperforming at school and how their performance can be improved through schooling. Certain ethnic minority groups have not benefited proportionately from the general increase in educational attainment.1 Bangladeshi, Black and Pakistani pupils in particular achieve less well than others. Many of these children enter the school system with equal ability to white children, but underachieve progressively as they go through the school system.
A report commissioned in 2000 for Ofsted, the Government schools inspectorate, concluded that, “inequalities of attainment in GCSE examinations place African-Caribbean, Pakistani and Bangladeshi pupils in a disadvantaged position in the youth education, labour and training markets, and increase the likelihood of social and economic exclusion in later life … evidence shows that in some cases the inequalities have increased in recent years. African-Caribbean and Pakistani pupils, for example, have not shared equally in the rising levels of GCSE attainment.”
“Official figures reveal a disturbing gap between the performance of black Caribbean pupils in GCSE exams and pupils of other ethnic backgrounds.” Guardian, February 26th 2003. Pupils from black Caribbean families did far worse than others, with only 30 percent achieving five or more good GCSEs grade A-C in 2002. just half of white pupils, 51 percent achieved this standard while pupils from Indian families achieved 64 percent and Chinese pupils were achieving 73 percent whom outperformed all others.
There seems to be numerous documents and statistics to support the findings the Black Afro-Caribbean boys do worse at school than any other group. By looking at the behaviour of this particular group there is an understanding as to why this may be happening. Young Black Afro-Caribbean boys have a tendency to group together, they can be segregated from the rest of the class and group activities outside their own group. This can lead to little if any participation at all in class activities.
The amount of Black children in particular whom experience school exclusions remains a cause for concern. Black children remain much more likely to be permanently excluded from school than children from other ethnic groups. In 1999/2000, black children were 3 times more likely to be permanently excluded from English schools than children from other ethnic backgrounds. Black Caribbean children were particularly likely to be excluded: in 1999/2000, 5.5% of all permanent exclusions in England were of children from this group.5 Within the black and minority ethnic groups, Black UK and Caribbean groups continue to be over-represented, among secondary schools, they represent 24% of secondary permanent exclusions, yet they comprise only 2.3% of Bristol’s pupil population.
Teachers often can effect the educational achievement of pupils and can be a factor that contributes to their attitude. Educational attainment varies between different groups of pupils on the basis of their gender, class and ethnicity. There may be several reasons for this, one possible cause of educational attainment is the attitudes teachers have towards different social groups. This means the teachers attitudes, expectations and behaviour towards pupils and the effects these might have. Hargreaves suggested that the construction of teacher attitudes went through three stages. In the first impressions were made, teachers evaluated their pupils on the basis of their behaviour, perceived attitude to school, personality, body language and so on. This impression was then carried out over a period of time when then they had fixed a clear picture of the pupil.
Rosenthal and Jacobson attempted to measure the effect on attainment of teacher expectations. By setting up expectations of different groups of pupils in the minds of teachers and then measuring any changes in pupil attainment, this research found that high expectations did lead to an increase in achievement. Research has also indicated that many teachers hold ethnocentric attitudes that prejudice the achievements of black and Asian pupils. Wright’s investigation of primary schools noted that teachers saw Asian students as quieter and as a result usually received least classroom attention. Afro-Caribbean students on the other hand were often assumed to have behaviour problems.
There is a great deal of evidence which supports the idea that teachers’ attitudes play an essential role in determining how well pupils do in schools. However, there has been a lot of research that has challenged how these attitudes and to what extent these attitudes impact upon pupil performance. It is also quite difficult to measure how far teacher attitudes affect pupils. There is a relationship between educational attainment and poorer ethnic groups. Sociological research has suggested several explanations of this relationship, including home background, language, the school and other factors such as racism.