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Get involved, head tells black parents

Leading head courts controversy as he says African-Caribbean mothers and fathers must take some of the blame for their children's underperformance. Adi Bloom reports

BRITAIN'S most prominent black headteacher said this week that black parents need to rethink their attitudes to their children's education if they want to see an end to underachievement.

William Atkinson, head of Phoenix School in the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, said lack of involvement by black parents in school life was often to blame for their children's academic problems.

He said parents should stop blaming schools and start taking responsibility for their child's progress. Black children's achievement at the age of five or six is generally on a par with that of their white and Asian peers, but by the end of primary school has dropped off considerably.

It continues to decline throughout secondary school. Currently 80 per cent of African-Caribbean pupils in London fail to achieve higher than a C at GCSE.

Exclusion rates are also high, with 34 in every 10,000 black pupils in English schools permanently excluded compared to 12 white and six Asian children in 19992000.

"Part of the problem is the children do not belong to a culture that supports success," Mr Atkinson said. "They're not coming to school regularly, or on time. They've not got the right equipment for the lessons.

"Many schools are working very hard with disaffected children to give them the skills and opportunities for success. But too many students are not buying into it.

"(They) buy into a separate culture - about being smart, the clothes you wear, about being able to do the latest rap."

Mr Atkinson, a regular visitor to Downing Street, was speaking prior to a conference tomorrow on black pupils' achievement.

The conference, organised by the Greater London Authority and Diane Abbott MP, coincides with a fresh government drive to reduce the disproportionately high number of exclusions among black pupils.

Trevor Phillips, deputy chair of the London Assembly, echoed Mr Atkinson's comments. He said: "Fathers need to make sure that children are going to school and doing their homework. They need to go to parents' meetings. They need to know teachers and make sure that the teachers know them. They have to be more pro-active."

The conference comes after an influential education researcher attacked the Government policies for black pupils this week.

Delivering the inaugural lecture of his professorship at the Institute of Education in London on Wednesday, David Gillborn examined the failure of the system to provide for the needs of black children, particularly boys. He said institutional racism in schools would be strengthened by Green Paper proposals on the future of education for pupils aged 14 to 19.

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