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Teachers' fears hinder black pupils

Teachers are contributing to the underachievement of black children because they are too scared to confront the issues surrounding race, according to the chief inspector of schools.

Writing in today's TES, David Bell says black pupils are being "let down"

because the education system does not do enough to combat racism.

He says schools need to do more to raise black pupils' confidence and establish credibility with their communities.

Action to raise standards for black pupils needs to be a key priority and "not something to be pursued as an afterthought or by the committed few", he writes.

This must include a clear stance on racism to ensure pupils respect each other and give black children confidence the school will deal with any incidents they report, he adds.

Official figures show the achievement gap between black Caribbean pupils and their classmates widens as children progress through school. By the time they leave at 16, only 33 per cent have gained five or more top grade GCSEs, compared to a national average of more than 50 per cent.

Black African pupils do slightly better with two in five gaining five A* to C grades.

Black pupils are also three times more likely to be excluded than their white classmates.

The chief inspector's annual report, published in February, said that a quarter of education authorities were not doing enough to tackle racism.

Mr Bell says: "This situation is unacceptable. We have a duty to ensure that all our children get a good education, not just a lucky majority."

He sets out a three-point plan to raise achievement. Schools should:

* open a debate among staff, pupils and parents about the barriers to achievement faced by different ethnic groups and use data to focus resources where they are most needed;

* set clear targets to raise participation and attainment as part of usual improvement initiatives;

* increase links with other local services to improve the inclusion of disadvantaged groups.

Mr Bell acknowledges the pressures facing schools which do not receive sufficient support. But, he said: "For too long now black Caribbean children have been let down by our education system. But our evidence shows that in good schools, with the help of good teachers, they can achieve their potential.

"Schools in ethnically diverse areas are plainly nervous about opening up such a debate for fear of making things worse."

Lesley Morrison, head of St Martin-in-the-Fields girls school in Lambeth, south London, says that winning the support of parents is key to raising ethnic minority achievement. Last year, 57.5 per cent of the school's black Carribean girls gained five or more A* to C GCSEs.

"We have a large number of parents, particularly single mums who had a negative experience of school. We work very hard to build up relationships and have very frank discussion with them about their children's lifestyles, attitude and even their sexual health," she said.

* Educationists should make greater use of the Office for Standards in Education's data which is probably the "the world's largest, longitudinal education database", Mr Bell told members at the National Foundation for Educational ResearchConfederation of Education's annual research conference last week.

It holds statistics on 4,000 schools collected every year since 1993, reports on subjects and over a quarter of million records of inspectors'

observations of lessons.

Platform 21

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