Black pupils are two-and-a-half times more likely than white pupils to be misallocated to a lower set in maths, new research shows.
The finding is the latest outcome of a landmark academic study of the use of setting and streaming in secondary schools in England.
A leading expert on race and education has described the finding as proof that “institutional racism is alive and well in the English education system”.
The team of researchers from the UCL Institute of Education and Queen's University Belfast analysed data from 9,301 Year 7 pupils in 46 secondary schools in England.
The academics compared which set pupils should have been placed in based purely on their key stage 2 maths Sats results with the actual set they were put in.
According to an unpublished research paper, seen by Tes, once differences in socioeconomic background were controlled for, black pupils were 2.54 times more likely to be misallocated to a lower set in maths, compared with white pupils.
The research also shows that girls were 1.55 times more likely to be misallocated to a lower maths set than boys.
However, the researchers found no evidence that set misallocation was associated with a pupil’s social-economic background.
'Gender and ethnic stereotypes'
Professor Becky Francis, director of the UCL Institute of Education, told Tes: “I simply think it shows the power of stereotypes.
“It’s not to suggest that individual teachers are making racist or sexist decisions on the spot, but in terms of overall trends you can see how these gender and ethnic stereotypes may be bleeding into set placements.”
She said biases appear in decisions about set placements when schools move away from basing them purely on pupils’ prior attainment in the specific subject.
Professor David Gillborn, director of the Centre for Research in Race and Education at the University of Birmingham, told Tes: “We might well ask, whatever happened to institutional racism?
“The answer, unfortunately, is nothing. These latest findings confirm that institutional racism is alive and well in the English education system.”
He said the disproportionate placement of black pupils in lower sets has been established before, and added: “This is an example of institutional racism – the situation reflects the routine everyday assumptions that most white teachers have of black students; whom they see as more likely to pose a disciplinary problem rather than as an academic prospect.
“These stereotypes are deeply rooted and often operate despite the best intentions of the teachers themselves, who may genuinely believe that they are doing their best for everyone.”
He called for teacher education courses, leadership preparation and Ofsted inspections to take these issues seriously.
You can read more about the findings about setting in tomorrow's Tes magazine, available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here