Diane Abbott, Britain's first black female MP, believes more needs to be done to recruit teachers from an Afro-Caribbean background. She is hosting a conference on why pupils "of African and Caribbean heritage are failing to reach their potential in our schools", at which the recruitment of black teachers will be a focus. She has said more black teachers are needed to act as role models for black pupils.
She told First Appointments: "There is no reason why we should not have a teacher workforce that closely reflects the racial composition of the children and be more reflective of society. There is evidence to show that black teachers tend to stay in a school longer because they see themselves as part of a community."
The 2001 census put the ethnic-minority pupil population at 15 per cent, while the number of black and Asian teachers is estimated to be around 5 per cent.
The Teacher Training Agency (TTA) wants to double the number of places offered to black and Asian trainees from the 1,600 of two years ago to 3,000 by 20056. It has agreed voluntary recruitment targets for every training provider according to their geographical location, and is providing funds to help meet them.
But a pound;6 million scheme to boost ethnic minority recruits is having more success with other ethnic groups. One provider, the Institute of Education in London, exceeded its 17.9 target by achieving more than 20 per cent.
The number of students of Afro-Caribbean origin actually fell this year.
There are just seven black students on primary teaching courses, and 57 on secondary courses, compared with 21 and 54 last year.
The TTA has agreed to give pound;4.5 million additional funding to teacher training providers to help boost the recruitment of ethnic minority students. So far this year, pound;1.5 million has been made available to colleges and universities by the TTA, and it will make the same amount payable for each of the next three years.
Alf Brown, the TTA's senior adviser for minority ethnic recruitment, said:
"We are seeking to make the teaching workforce more representative of the pupil population. A target figure of 9 per cent of new entrants has been set, and good progress has been made towards achieving it. We need to start increasing recruitment from these groups rather than set unrealistic targets."
Mr Brown, a former science teacher, said there are 2,178 black or Asian students on teacher training courses this year, nearly 600 more than when the targets were first established.
Simon Wattam, head of recruitment for PGCE courses at London's Institute of Education, said he received pound;30,000 in funding from the TTA for ethnic minority recruitment, much of it spent in advertising in black and Asian newspapers and radio.
He said: "We are also looking at focus groups of certain students to see what interests them, see how they found out about us, and what attracted them to us."
Direct mailing was targeted at community and religious groups, and also to individuals who had inquired about its courses.
The London Schools and the Black Child Conference II takes place at the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre tomorrow (May 10). Last year, it was attended by more than 2,000 teachers, parents, and educationists