Education and Culture

Culture includes ethnicity, sex, class, religion, etc.

Two approaches

Diane Ravitch (1990) suggests there are two approaches to multi-culturalism:

The particularist view emphasises the special history, literature, and art of particular ethnic groups. Ethnic studies for minority groups developed to raise self-esteem.

The pluralist view sees culture as a melting pot. All cultures contribute to the main culture that is thought to be subscribed to by the majority.

Both have disadvantages. The particularist approach is protectionist and the pluralist view supports cultural imperialism.

Learning Styles and Culture

Vasquez (1990) Hispanic children learn better in a cooperative environment. This is probably owing to the extended family systems that many hispanic children belong to.

Shade (1982) African americans are more people orientated, whereas whites are more object oriented.

Vasquez (1990) Native Americans are more field dependent (they need contextual cues) than field independent. This means they view a picture as a whole (holistically) before attending to the detail. However a confounding variable might be white children's familiarity with objects and the abstraction of information about the detail of such objects.

Sanders and Wiseman (1990) looked at the effect of teacher-immediacy behaviours on different ethnic groups. Teacher-immediacy behaviour include eye contact, smiling, physical proximity, encouraging questions, and praise. Most children respond in a similar way, but the following differences were found:

Hispanic and African children prefer personal examples.

Caucasian and Asian children like the teacher to use their names.

Asian children like teachers to ask their opinion about the teaching material.

African children like humour and the teacher to adopt relaxed body postures.

A criticism of this and similar studies is that the differences between groups are often smaller than the differences (or variance) within a particular group. Also, educators could end up stereotyping different ethnic groups.

Diversity training in Education

Bilingual education is a hotly debated political issue. It could be because it has the 'potential for empowering these traditionally powerless groups' (Nieto 1992).

The "Rainbow Curriculum", introduced into New York City public schools, was designed to promote understanding of many different cultures, gender issues and sexual orientation. Many books were produced concerning these issues. One book in particular caused a furore; "Daddy's New Roommate" was designed to help children understand gay fathers. The book and several others later had to be dropped from the curriculum.

An example of views against lessons on homosexuality.

Lucky Stores, a chain of grocery stores, introduced a diversity training program to try to find out why women and ethnic minority members were not being promoted. One of the exercises asked supervisors to voice their honest opinions about why not many women and/or ethnic minority members were not managers. Many sexist and racist comments were made by the supervisors. Unluckily for Lucky stores many of the comments were used as evidence in a sex discrimination law suit!

Locus of Control

Hau and Salili (1989) looked at changes in how Chinese primary school children interpreted the causes of exam results, as they became older and progressed through the educational system. Younger children, they found, expected to do better in exams and in other school activities than older ones did, specially if they had experienced some positive current achievements. They also attributed successful outcomes to external (eg luck or difficulty) causes yet felt able to control such influences! Older children, aged ten or eleven years, however, tended to make internal and uncontrollable attributions for examination success, and generally had lower expectations for themselves.

In a later study, Hau and Sallili (1991) looked at how an older group of Chinese students, who had reached high school, explained their academic performance. They found that these students made internal, controllable, stable and global attributions - relating to factors like effort, interest, study skills and ability. The implication of these two studies, then, is that long-term educational experience involves a gradual shaping of attributions for academic success. The researchers concluded that their findings were reasonably accurate in expressing the cultural attitude towards educational success in the Chinese culture.

Smith and Whitehead (1984) investigated attributions about promotion and demotion made by 87 White American and 131 Native American college students. The students were asked to read an account of a worker who was promoted or demoted in a job and then give reasons for why this had happened. they found that the white American students were more inclined to attribute the promotion or demotion to internal factors like ability and effort, whereas the Native American students were more inclined to attribute them to external power factors. Evaluation: Could the race of the worker affect the results? Would college students know much about promotion and demotion? An educated young sample; so can we generalise the findings?

IQ tests

Many intelligence tests are culturally biased (See Gould), and tend to favour children whose backgrounds are similar to that of the sample that was used as the norm for the test. If the normative sample consists of mainly white Americans, then the test would not be culturally fair when black children are tested. However, the most recent revisions of such tests as the Stanford-Binet and the Wechsler have expanded their standardisation samples to include minority groups in a representative way.

Culture reduced tests are non-verbal and attempt to tap intellectual functions through problems involving pictures and abstract designs, e.g. Ravens Progressive Matrices test. New tests have also been developed, e.g. Mercer's SOMPA. See intelligence document.


Goodman and Milner have accumulated evidence to suggest that black children have identity problems. This can sometimes present itself as open self rejection. Asked to choose between a white or black doll, a black child might choose the white doll, claiming it was more like themselves. Later research by Hraba and Grant suggests that black children would now choose the black doll, probably because of a positive self-image.

Deschampd (1982) People belonging to the ethnic minority group tend to view themselves in terms of their social position and their culture. The dominant majority view themselves in terms of their personal characteristics.

Exam results

Analysis of the 1998 GCSE results (ONS 2000) reveals that in all ethnic groups girls do as well as or outperform boys. The greatest difference in boy/girl performance was for students from the black group: 42 per cent of black girls achieved one to four GCSE passes at grades A* to C, compared to 24 per cent of black boys. A greater proportion of Indian boys and girls achieved higher grades at GCSE than any other ethnic group. This trend continued at A levels, with 36 per cent of Indian pupils achieving two or more A levels. Only 29 per cent of white students achieved this standard.


The document, Recent Research on the Achievements of Ethnic Minority Pupils (Gillborn and Gipps 1996), reaches the following conclusions:


           ‘Whatever the pupil’s gender or ethnic origin those from higher social class backgrounds do better on average’ (p. 17).

           ‘Black over-representation in exclusions is a widespread problem, affecting both primary and secondary schools. .. . The figure for Black Caribbean young people is the worst, almost six times the rate of exclusion for whites’ (p. 52).


However, pupils from nearly all ethnic minorities are more likely to continue with further or higher education than their white counterparts. In 1998 students from ethnic minorities accounted for 13 per cent of higher education students (under the age of 20) in the UK. Students from ethnic minorities are said to be over-represented in higher edu­cation as only 9 per cent of the population under the age of 20 are enrolled in higher education classes. However, students from Indian and Chinese groups are more likely to enter higher education than those from other ethnic groups. Young black Caribbean men and young Bangladeshi and Pakistani women are under-represented in higher education (ONS 2000).


It is perhaps most important to understand the way in which ethnicity is seen as a factor causing under­achievement in society in the context of racism. This is possibly the most critical factor that under-pins the achievement of certain groups. There are two forms of racism that have been the focus of attention in educational research — individual racism and institutional racism. Institutional racism is the one we will focus on in the context of the school environment but as with the section on gen­der there are also biological and cultural factors that will be considered as explanations for differential attainment.

The influence of  innate ability on educational attainment

In America, Jensen and Eysenk, as late as the 1970s, were still subscribing to the view that black people had lower innate intelligence (measured using IQ tests) than the white population. They suggested that statistical evidence showed that black people scored 10 to 15 points lower on IQ tests than white people.


These views have been widely discredited by taking into account environmental factors — particularly the preju­dice and discrimination suffered by black people in America over a long period of time. It is impossible to control all the confounding variables that might affect IQ scores in tests as unreliable as these.

The influence of racism in society

There is a history to racism in our own society that cannot be ignored as a factor that has shaped the experience of people from ethnic minor  within the education system. One of the places to start looking at contemporary racism in this society is in the post-war period of immigration in the 1940s and 1950s. By the late 1950s there was a growing resistance to this immigration among some members of the white population; and in 1958 a series of riots, sparked by attacks on people from ethnic minorities, caused policy makers to look to schools to change attitudes.

Prior to this it was assumed that black children would assimilate into British society by accepting and learning British values and traditions. In the mid-1960s, however, Roy Jenkins, the (then) Home Secretary, made a speech that was seen to influence this assimilationist policy towards a more integra­tionist phase. The outcome of this was the develop­ment of multicultural education (Kirby et al, 1997).

Multicultural education worked on the assump­tion that the curriculum might be perceived as Euro centric. Multicultural education was supposed to combat the underachievement of people from ethnic minorities by making the curriculum reflect the experiences and cultures of all children, not just the white population. The problem, however, was that it was seen by many as condescending and had little impact on the real issue of achievement.


Some theorists actually blame multicultural educa­tion for the underachievement of black students.

Stone (1981) argued that meeting the needs of black students through multicultural education was inter­preted by teachers as encouraging their abilities in areas such as music and sport. Multicultural educa­tion was seen as focusing on lifestyle rather than life chances’ Kirbv et al 1997, p. 298).

           Multicultural education was also seen as ignoring the wider problems of institutional racism in society.

           One of the responses to the problems with multicul­tural education was for schools to develop more rounded equal opportunities policies that addressed other discrimination that some students might face, such as that on the grounds of gender, sexual orienta­tion, class, disability and so on.

           Right-wing critics of multicultural education argue that assimilationist educational policies are still more appropriate.


Cultural factors  explaining ethnic differences in educational attainment

Bennett (1990) identifies five ­aspects of ethnicity that are potential sources of student-teacher misunderstanding.

1          Verbal communication: Bennett argues that problems with verbal communication can occur for children for whom English is a second lan­guage. Many children from ethnic minority back­grounds are thought of as less intelligent by their teachers than their \white peers, simply because they do not communicate in ‘standard’ English.

2          Non-verbal communication: Bennett argues that some forms of communication, such as eye con­tact, are used in different ways by different cul­tures, and that these signals can be misinter­preted. In some Native American and Asian cultures it is not appropriate to hold eye contact with someone in authority’ — looking down or away might be misconstrued as disinterest or ignorance by a teacher who did not understand this.

3          Time orientation: Mainstream American culture is very time orientated. Time is highly valued and the education system is geared towards appropri­ate time management. Groups in the population, such as Hispanic Americans and Native Ameri­cans, whose cultures do not stress this sense of urgency are disadvantaged in an education sys­tem that does.

4          Competition and individualism: Many class­room activities and the system of examinations in schools reward competitive and individualistic behaviour. Bennett argues that Mexican Ameri­cans, for example, are more likely to he taught co­operative values at home, which do not fit in with the ethos of their education.

5          Types of knowledge and learning: Bennett found that different ethnic groups within the American population prefer different learning styles, depending on their own cultural influ­ences. For example, some prefer listening to tapes of information as well as looking at a book, whereas others learn better without the use of a tape. Some children, whose culture reflects co­operation, prefer to work with others in group work engaged in discovery learning, whereas other prefer an approach based on reception learning.


Many other studies, both British and American, sug­gest that there are problems with the individual or within the family or the particular communities where children are underachieving. These explana­tions lay the blame at the door of the underachiever. Although some of the more recent American research has been described here, there are many other rather dated studies that look at the structure of families, linguistic deprivation, low self-esteem and so on as explanations of the underachievement of Afro-Caribbean boys in particular (Trowler, 1996). However, more contemporary studies in Britain are now focusing on racism within the edu­cation system itself that accounts for the under­achievement of some students, and more positively, the achievement of others. There is, for example, an increasing amount of evidence that suggests that black girls are doing better in exams than their peers (Mirza, 1992), unlike black boys, who are still over-represented among those failing within the educa­tion system (Gillborn and Gipps, 1996). What is interesting about the success of these girls is that they do not perceive themselves as conforming but, rather, they see their success as a reaction to racism and a way of overcoming it.

Racism in the education system

Gilroy (1990) argues that the education system sees ethnicity as a white and black issue, and ignores other ethnic groups. He sees this as what he calls essentialist (defining something on the basis of a set of essential characteristics) and reductionist (reduc­ing the problem to one single cause). Gilroy talks about the cultural politics of difference’, and others like him argue that there are many different forms of identity that need to be considered — including, for example. class. religion and gender.

Much of the research into racism and issues sur­rounding the status of ethnic minority groups within the education system is inevitably qualita­tive. Studies are often carried out using observa­tional techniques and interviews (see Key Study , below).


Researcher: Wright (1992)

Aim: To investigate the nature of racism in ‘multiracial’ primary schools

Method: Wright studied four multiracial inner-city primary schools in a classroom observation of 970 students and 57 staff, and informal interviews of teachers, support staff and the parents of children. Wright also looked at the test results of three of the four schools.

Results: In spite of the commitment of the staff to equality of educational opportunity, Wright found considerable discrimination in the classroom. In all the classes, Asian girls were ‘invisible’ to their teachers, who stereotyped them in terms or their expectations of the girl’s traditions and customs.

Wright found that other children, who picked up on the attitudes of the teachers, exacerbated the isolation felt by these girls. Wright also found that teachers’ expectations of Afro-Caribbean children were also stereotyped, but in different ways. Wright found that teachers expected Afro Caribbean boys in particular to be disruptive, and punished them more harshly than white boys exhibiting the same behaviour. Wright argues that young children will be affected by their early experiences of racism within the school environment. Not only did children suffer from the racism of their teachers and fellow classmates, but also, when topics relating to ethnic minority concerns were raised by the teachers (looking at religious festivals, for example), the teachers often mispronounced words or names, embarrassing black children and causing white children to laugh. Wright argues that, unintentionally, the teacher helps to make this knowledge seem exotic, unimportant and difficult.

Research, and the broader implications of racism

Many other studies also show that teachers hold stereotypical views of black students. Figueroa (1991) shows how this affects the educational opportunities and experiences of black students in the following ways.

           Through inappropriate assessment - using assessment tools that are culturally biased.

           Through misplacement – by being put in lower streams than test results suggest, on the basis of teacher expectations.

           Through channelling — for example, the over-representation of Afro-Caribbean students in sport rather than mainstream academic subjects.

Although many studies have been outlined here that show the reasons why children from minorities are disadvantaged within the system, more recent research focuses on the broader implications of racism and students experience of it. Some feminist researchers (such as Mirza) are interested in ‘de-constructing the myth of black educa­tional underachievement’. Mirza (cited in Kirby et al, 1997) argues that there is actually a movement away from the underachievement of ethnic minority children (particularly girls). Statistics show that in post-sixteen education, 56 per cent of students from ethnic minority backgrounds stay in the education system, compared to 37 per cent of white students. In new universities, black students, and particularly female students, are over-represented in relation to their respective population sizes. In new universi­ties, people of Caribbean origin were over-represented by 43 per cent, Asians by 162 per cent and Africans by 223 per cent. For Mirza it is possible that ‘. . . doing well can become a radical strategy. An act of social transformation’ (1997, p. 263).

Real Life Application

Anti-racist education

Material A: Black sociologist attacks race doom and gloom’

At the Association of Teachers of Social Science conference in 1996, Heidi Mirza, then head of Sociology at South Bank University, attacked a government report that recommended the intro­duction of anti-racist and multicultural educa­tional policies. She argued that multicultural edu­cation initiatives detract from the real issues of finding good jobs and structured careers. There are gender differences in educational attainment between black male and female students, and Mirza put many of these down to the opportuni­ties available to black women in the labour mar­ket. Black women can use traditionally female jobs such as nursing, that are secure and offer educational opportunities. For black men there are fewer opportunities. Mirza argued that people are quite rational; if there is nothing for them, they will recognize this and are not going to invest in their education. In spite of this, Mirza cited evi­dence that suggests there are relatively more black men in full-time education than white men (36 per cent compared to 31 per cent). Mirza stated that comparisons are always drawn between black girls and black boys, when more meaningful com­parisons should be drawn between black girls and working-class white girls. If these comparisons are made then it is evident that black girls do better. Mirza said: ‘I live among black people and educa­tion is all anyone talks about. I see so much per­sonal investment.’

Material B: ‘Anti-racism doesn’t work’

At an equal opportunities conference held by the National Union of Teachers on 6 November 1999, Rosemary Campbell, the black head teacher of Northicote Secondary School in Wolverhamp­ton, said that anti-racist teaching was serving no useful purpose. She told the conference: ‘People have learned the terminology. They have learned how to cover their racism and their hatred, but they are still within our profession and doing dam­age to our people.’ Campbell argued that the fundamental basic human rights of all children were paramount and that if these are embraced by the teachers in a school, then racism cannot flourish. Rather than dealing with racial harassment specifi­cally, she prefers to tackle all forms of harassment in the same way. This prevents arguments about whether a specific incident is racist and puts the onus on teachers to deal with every form of harassment they come across. According to Campbell, all that is required in order to create an environment in which all students feel understood and nurtured is basic humanity. She said: ‘Too many of us do not have that humanity and our racism rises to the fore. And it is so sad and degrading to see that when it is actually exercised against children.’


One of the factors not considered so far in relation to ethnicity is the impact of social class. The text that follows considers it as a factor that shapes educa­tional performance and will include an analysis of ethnicity in relation to class.

As with gender and ethnicity, social class has been examined by many theorists as an explanation for differential educational achievement. Statistics relat­ing to achievement show that the higher the social class, the higher the level of educational achievement.

Innate ability and social class

Some studies show that there is a correlation between measured intelligence and achievement in education. The 1944 Education Act in Britain estab­lished the tripartite system of education. This sys­tem was based on an IQ test called the 11+ . This test was taken in the year before secondary school and was supposed to determine the type of secondary education that was best suited to each individual on the basis of his or her lQ score. There were three types of school: grammar schools for students with higher measured intelligence, secondary modern schools for students with lower levels of measured intelli­gence, and a few technical colleges, established in some parts of the country for students for whom a vocational education was considered most appro­priate.

Educational psychologists were very influential in helping to develop and establish the system. Once the system was in place it became obvious that there was a correlation between IQ scores and social class, as the overwhelming majority of grammar school children were middle class. This would suggest that there is a link between class and innate intelligence. However, there are many criticisms of the 11+ exam, and the system was eventually largely aban­doned in favour of the comprehensive system in which all children, regardless of their ability or social background, go to the same local school.


Research into the type of test being used in the 11 + exam shows that it was very culturally biased in favour of the middle class. The types of question were written by middle-class psychologists with the cultural knowl­edge of middle-class children in mind, and were stan­dardized on middle-class children in a narrow range of schools. For example, many 11 + questions were ana­grams of culturally specific knowledge famous com­posers, or artists. Some of these questions therefore reflected the cultural capital of the middle classes rather than the working classes. The tests have since been dis­credited, as most educational psychologists recognize that there can be no such thing as a culture-fair test.

Language and social class

Studies in the 1960s and 70s suggested that lan­guage deprivation was a problem for working-class children within the education system. Working-class children were not thought to be using the type of language that was expected in school. One of the most famous studies of this type was carried out by Bernstein (1960). He described the way in which the middle class and working class use different speech codes. Bernstein referred to these as elabo­rated and restricted speech codes.

Bernstein argued that the characteristics of the restricted code spoken by the working class were:

           short unfinished sentences


           use of question tags (‘didn’t I?’ and so on)

           narrow vocabulary

           bound to a particular social context (since the language is limited to explaining particular situa­tions).

The characteristics of the elaborated code, spoken by the middle classes were:

           explicit and detailed sentences

           meaning explained clearly

           use of universalistic language (not tied to a par­ticular context).

Bernstein used the example of working-class and middle class children being given a series of pic­tures to describe.  He argued that because of the restricted code they were using the working-class children’s explanation could only be understood with reference to the pictures, whereas the middle-class children could be understood without refer­ence to the pictures. Bernstein argued that the edu­cation system demands and teaches the elaborated code, therefore working-class children are at a dis­advantage, and that using a restricted code limited the opportunities for working-class children to acquire some of the shills they needed within the education system.


Critics of Bernstein, and others who support his views, argue that the research encourages people to make value judgements about types of speech codes or regional variation in speech patterns for example. They argue that it is more important to understand the differ­ence between language styles rather than looking at one as superior to another.

An example of this approach is adopted by Tizard and Hughes (1986). They examined the ways in which middle-class and working-class mothers and daughters interacted with each other and came to the conclusion that there were no major differences between the lin­guistic competence of working-class and middle-class women. They argue that a distinction should be drawn between linguistic competence and style of communi­cation.

Cultural capital

It is important to look at other aspects of family life as well as the use of language in trying to explain the differences in educational attainment between working-class and middle-class children.

Bourdieu (1977) uses the term ‘cultural capital’ to refer to the educational advantages that some fami­lies may have, which are of benefit to their children within the education system. It is made up of the cultural activities and knowledge that is valued within the school system. A quote from Judd and Borrill (1991) gives an example of what this means:

Parents and teachers are preparing to drill seven year olds for the new national reading tests . . . Booksellers and publishers were deluged by inquiries last week after the Department of Education issued a list of 51 books that will be used for the tests. At Blackwell’s in Oxford and Heffers in Cambridge, ambitious parents, carrying the government’s list, scoured the shelves hoping to ensure top marks for their children (1991; cited in Trowler 1996, p. 153).

The influence of school

School alienation

Sleeter and Grant (1991) Many text books, through grades 1 to 8, are ethnocentric. Dominated by whites, in the stories, in the accomplishments of the characters. Women and minority groups shown in socially inferior roles. Little information about race relations.

Nieto (1992) Children from ethnic minorities torn between identifying with the mainstream culture or their own cultural background. If they follow their own culture then they feel alienated from school and society at large. If they identify with the mainstream culture then they feel they are betraying their own culture.

Hirsch (1988) feels that educational standards are declining in the USA because of the overemphasis on multicultural education. The focus is too often on self-esteem and cultural pride rather than on basic skills and knowledge. If students cannot handle a monocultural curriculum, how can they handle a multicultural one?

Will (1992) talks of 'balkanizing' the curriculum. If each ethnic group teaches in it's own way then this reinforces divisions within society.

Student—teacher interaction

Many studies focus on the interaction between the teacher and the student as a cause of working-class disadvantage. All this research suggests that teachers stereotype students who do not conform to a certain ideal. This ideal ‘good’ student works hard, follows school rules, behaves well, wants to, and is capable of, answering teacher’s questions and writes in stan­dard English (Trowler, 1996). This student is also likely to follow dress codes and subscribe generally to the ethos of the school — taking part in sport and drama for example. Students who do not do this can very quickly become alienated, and will not identify with the school or what it stands for. According to the research it is students from working-class back­grounds who are more likely to become alienated than middle-class ones.

In America, Rist (1970) carried out research to look at the way in which teachers stereotype chil­dren even when they are in kindergarten. Rist found that as early as the eighth day of school, their teacher had grouped the children on three separate tables. Table 1 was for ‘fast learners’; the other two tables were for less able students. Rist, however, believed that in reality it was not ability, but the degree of conformity that children showed to the teacher’s own middle-class values that had made the teacher place the children in groups. (Link with ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’)

There are many similar studies that look at the expectations middle-class teachers have of their stu­dents. Like the studies that focus on stereotyping in groups some of these also look at the likelihood of middle-class children end­ing up in the top sets or streams in secondary schools. Again, there is very clear evidence that middle-class and working-class children are not placed in sets according to their ability, but accord­ing to their social class, and most of these studies found a strong correlation between streaming and performance.

Why do some students from lower social classes and minority ethnic groups underachieve?

Here we get into an argument, which tries to mesh the factors of gender, lower social class, race and educational achievement. A lot has been written about the ‘macho lads’. Indeed this ‘new laddish’, ‘anti-school’, ‘behaving badly’ attitude has been identified as the consequence of economic decline and one of the main reasons for male under­achievement. This argument (Arnot et al. 1999) centres on how the structure of paid employment has changed dramatically within the last few decades, with males in lower socio-economic classes having taken the brunt of these changes. The last few decades have seen the contrac­tion of manufacturing and the labour market and the replacement of factory work with an emphasis on new technology. The new careers are in areas such as computing and biogenetics. Such fields call for well-qualified, highly skilled and highly educated individuals. While years ago a young male with minimal educational qualifications could leave school and find a job, those days have gone. Many young men have experienced their fathers losing jobs and in turn have reduced expectations of finding work. The question now revolves around how a male forms a masculine identity in the face of unemployment. In addition to changes in the job market, schools, in response to the National Curriculum and publicised league tables, have become more competitive places. Setting and streaming have become more popular within schools, with the consequence that the lower sets have proportionately more boys and more pupils from ethnic minorities. One could argue that boys need not be in the lower sets if only they set their minds to it and worked. Here we get into the relationship between peer group culture and the value it puts on academic success. Can males from lower working-class backgrounds really work hard, achieve those grades and still be seen as one of the lads? Is working hard at school seen as girls’ stuff? By working hard will they be seen as a traitor to their class? Do such attitudes exist? Mac an Ghaill (1994) studied a group of working-class boys and found that the macho lads responded to academic failure and their poor employment prospects by ‘cele­brating the 3 Fs — fighting, football and fucking’. These lads coped with the uncertainties in their life by developing a hyper-masculinity. A recent study by the Kirklees LEA (Noble 1999) in regard to male underachievement argues that this issue demands immediate attention.

They state that: ‘to establish a generation of under-achieving, under-skilled and unemployed 16—24 males is a danger to society and its most vulnerable members who are often women’ (Noble, 1999, p. 2).

Why do some beat the odds?

Some boys in the Mac an Ghaill (1994) study did not take on the role of the macho lads. These boys were described as developing a business­like masculinity. They took a realistic view of life and saw academic success as a way to get on and get out. Academic success would open up the possibilities of employment in newer jobs. In the previous section it was stated that certain ethnic minority groups were in fact over-represented in higher education. Mirza (1997) and Bryan et al. (1985) argue that discrimination in the workplace forces black students, both male and female, back to school and that the attainment of vocational qualifications is one way of fighting discrimination.

Why do some boys underachieve despite benefits from social class?

Aggleton (1987) studied a group of young people from the new middle class. Aggelton found that the young men studied had a definition of masculinity and achievement that differed from that of their parents. Here we again see a relationship between gender and academic achieve­ment. It would seem that students tend to define themselves first by their gender and that this gender identification will have an effect on how they define themselves as a learner (Noble 1999). The young men of the Aggleton study saw themselves as ‘midway between the brutish manliness they associated with manual labour and the essential impotence they saw as characteristic of those whose involve­ment in mental labour was both committed and industrious’ (Aggleton 1987, p. 73). ‘In perceiving themselves as positioned between the macho lad and the sexless swot they aimed for effortless achievement’ (Aggleton, 1987, p. 72). Of course to succeed without effort is a difficult task.

Raising Achievement Levels for Minority Ethnic Pupils

(DfEE 2000b)

This document outlines four specific areas, which it feels as crucial to raising attainment.

I Raising expectations

This involves the need for teachers, parents and students to believe in the students’ potential and to value and celebrate their successes. High expectations regarding success are supported by:

Programmes of mentoring and having pupils acting as role models.

The mentoring programme in the school was extended specifically for Black male students in Years 9 and 10. The mentors were young men in their early twenties who had achieved, were from the local community and could relate to the students and speak to them about school.

One boy, 5, was able to be popular, to work and still have credibility with the other students. We have lads like that who don’t mind having their work pinned up or who don’t mind being highlighted. One of S’s friends came in and asked for extra work at K53 because he wanted to do as well asS.

           Structured learning and support programmes which include specific support for different areas of the curriculum, assessment and target setting, and a programme which respects the cultural background of all pupils.

Students studied examples of Black writers writing in English.

One school explained that in teaching Macbeth they had made links with certain traditions in Islam.

African Studies was initially introduced in response to one group, the African Caribbean male students, whose behaviour was causing concern. Despite giving time to these extra initiatives, the school had progressively improved in terms of overall higher grades at GCSE.

2 Culture and ethos

           Heads and governors to establish and effectively communicate values to which the whole school was committed.

           High standards of behaviour and a culture of mutual respect to be adopted by all.

           Systems of reprimand and reward that are recognised as fair to all to be implemented.

           Conscious attempts to be made to counter the effect of stereo­typing and prejudice, and procedures implemented to deal with race relations.

3 Parental involvement

           Parental involvement to be encouraged by increased communi­cation with staff, to include: designation of staff members whom they could telephone, home visits, open-door sessions and language assistance.

4 Ethnic monitoring

           The school needs a system to keep track and analyse what is happening for their ethnic minority pupils in regard to academic progress and behavioural issues.


Banks and Thompson p192-205

Susan Bentham, Psychology and Education, Routledge, 2002. ISBN 0-415-22763-1

Karen Legge and Philippe Harari, Psychology and Education, Heinemann, 2000. ISBN 0-435-80655-6


Punishment for black pupils appears harsher

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