Pupils perform better with teachers of the same race and sex, research suggests

Children are more likely to try harder and aim higher in school if their teachers are from the same demographic group, academics say

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Pupils whose teacher is the same sex and race as them are more likely to understand what they are learning, research shows.

Students who shared these characteristics with their teachers were also more likely to think about going to university than those whose teachers were of a different race or sex.

Two academics tracked around 3,000 teachers and more than 80,000 pupils, across six US states.

Anna Egalite, from North Carolina State University, and Brian Kisida, from the University of Missouri, then asked the pupils to evaluate their teachers. In particular, they were interested in the way that pupils of different races rated the same teachers.

They found that pupils whose teachers shared the same racial background as them felt more cared for at school, and more interested in their schoolwork.

Nothing less than full effort

Pupils at elementary school – equivalent to primary school in the UK – were more likely to say that they understood what they were supposed to be learning in class when they were taught by teachers who shared their race and sex.

Those pupils were also more likely than their peers to say that their teacher explained difficult things clearly.

And middle-school pupils – equivalent to key stage 3 – were more likely to think about progressing to university when they were taught by teachers of the same sex and race as them.

Middle-school pupils were also most likely to respond negatively to a teacher who shared neither their sex nor their racial background.

The academics also found that pupils were more likely to say that their teachers pushed them to work hard and accepted nothing less than their full effort, when they were demographically matched. The pupils, therefore, reported doing their best work for these teachers.

This effect was most notable among female pupils with female teachers, and even more so for black female pupils with black female teachers.

'Just the tip of the iceberg'

“Teachers of colour may be particularly well situated to explain new material in a culturally relevant and engaging way,” the researchers write.

The academics also suggest that they “may have only observed the tip of the iceberg with regard to the benefits of demographically similar teachers”, suggesting that the benefits of having a teacher who looks like you could extend even further.

They add: “For policymakers, this study provides strong support for innovative and bold actions to reduce barriers for entry for more diverse teachers entering the profession, and efforts to improve retention.”

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