Add colour to learning experiment

18th March 2005 at 00:00
I am not a fan or friend of Mr Trevor Phillips, but I am in support of the issue he raised (TES, March 11).

About 10 years ago, Carlton Duncan piloted a programme to teach Muslim girls in single-sex groups from Year 9 at George Dixon school in Birmingham. This was seen as a welcome innovation.

In 2002-3 I piloted a Department for Education and Skills project in six secondary schools in Nottingham City LEA - to raise the achievement of African-Caribbean pupils. We focused on key stage 3, monitoring all aspects of pedagogic relationships, curriculum materials and students' and parents'

responses. The areas selected were art, English, history and personal and social education (PSE).

Various groupings of students were encouraged. In two of the schools black boys were grouped separately. They were encouraged to engage in conversation and discussion in the teaching sessions and the room was rearranged for round-table discussion. Those students' attitude and behaviour changed within the second week of a 10-week pilot. They contributed in the mature way expected by teachers and mentors and felt positively about one another. The experiment was a success in the sense that it enabled black boys to appreciate their learning for once.

Perhaps Trevor Phillips need not have gone all the way to St Louis to learn that. Our experience in teaching Caribbean students at supplementary schools on Saturdays has confirmed that such groupings are important.

Given "the special needs" of failing black boys, I believe that it is incumbent on teachers, schools and local education authorities to meet these needs. Black-boys-only teaching groups - as a remedial measure - can be just another strategy to do just that.

Those who now see controversy in Trevor Phillips's suggestion are those very professionals who have covered up the abysmal failure of so many black boys of Caribbean heritage for decades. Now is the time to seek new strategies.

George Fisher


148 Evington Lane


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