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'Racist' syllabus hampers children

Birmingham study shows that a lack of cultural role models is affecting the achievement of ethnic-minority pupils.

Dorothy Lepkowska reports

Ethnic-minority pupils are underachieving at school because the curriculum is racist, according to a new report.

A Birmingham study found lessons often failed to motivate or interest pupils and that the curriculum did not provide enough positive role models.

"Some young people underachieve because they are educated in an education system that is not totally effective and which exhibits aspects of racism," it said.

The study, from Birmingham Advisory Service, is thought to be the first in the country to focus in depth on the issue of low attainment among some ethnic groups.

It looked at progress through the key stages, as well as social deprivation and free school meals and talked to community groups about their needs and aspirations.

Council figures show that 32 per cent of African-Caribbean pupils and 47.5 per cent of Bangladeshi teenagers gained five or more top grade GCSEs in 2002 .

National comparisons reveal that black and Bangladeshi pupils are faring better in Birmingham than other parts of country.

Across the country 30 per cent of African-Caribbean pupils and 45 per cent of Bangladeshi youngsters gained at least five GCSEs grades A* to C.

Results for Birmingham's white, Pakistani and Indian pupils were slightly below national averages for their ethnic groups.

Sixth-three per cent of Indians, 38.5 per cent of Pakistanis and 46.5 per cent of white pupils gained five or more top grade GCSEs, compared with 64 per cent, 40 per cent and 51 per cent respectively.

Despite the progress of some groups education officials remain concerned that levels of achievement should be maintained.

The city's education department has now created two action groups to target pupils from minority backgrounds.

Roger King, Birmingham secretary for the National Union of Teachers and a member of the action groups, said: "The curriculum needs to be more balanced and less Eurocentric. "Pupils grow up thinking there is no other playwright than Shakespeare."

Black and Asian history are to be introduced to the curriculm while citizenship lessons will teach about the diversity of religious and ethnic identities in the UK.

The local authority will also:

* Carry out an audit of its resources, websites and other media to ensure it promotes information about ethnic groups

* Use contemporary local African and Caribbean culture to raise attainment

* Produce a poster of black and Asian role models for use in science and technology Karamat Iqbal, the council's lead adviser on equalities, said: "At the moment the curriculum does not reflect the ethnic mix of the city, or of most schools.

"We need to find more imaginative and creative ways of engaging children and reflecting where they come from."

A spokeswoman for the Commission for Racial Equality, said: "Any initiatives that seek to engage pupils would be welcomed by the CRE, though equality and diversity should be built into all aspects of the curriculum and not shoe-horned into one area."

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