A high-flying lawyer is going back to school to act as a mentor for under-achieving black pupils, reports Chris McGowan
DOMINIC Carrington's teachers told him he would be lucky to get two O-levels. He was one of a gang of about 20 black youngsters at Sylvan high school, south London, who were running out of control.
He was bright but not expected to achieve. By the time the crucial summer examinations came around, six of his friends had been expelled.
"We were stereotyped very much as the troublemakers. They tried to deal with the problem by expelling certain members of the group," says Dominic, now 27 and a high-flying criminal barrister.
"The teachers' attitude was that our year had no hope, 'Don't worry about those lads, try and deal with the younger students'."
It was a surprise, then, when Dominic passed six O-levels and moved on to take his A-levels.
Now, Dominic is one of the relatively few black Caribbean males to have bucked a long history of under-achievement in Britain's education system.
"I still see friends from that time. They still have no job, they have no prospects and the only thing they can do then is fall into crime," he says. "I see people from school in the local magistrates' court, but we are there for different reasons."
A report by the Office for Standards in Education last month confirmed that 30 years of work to tackle low achievement among black children has failed. In 1998, only 29 per cent of black youngsters gained five good GCSE grades, compared to 47 per cent of white pupils. Black boys were more than three times more likely to be excluded than other groups.
But the inspectorate also pointed out that excellent work in a minority of schools had shown it was possible to make inroads into the problem.
Dominic Carrington is taking part in a scheme in schools in Croydon, south London, which helped to reduce permanent exclusions of black Caribbean boys by 11 per cent in 1998. The council is also working on improving achievement of its children in care (see below).
Annette Duberry, leader of the district's African-Caribbean Support Team, said GCSE results also seemed to be improving. Positive role models like Mr Carrington have been invited into schools to convince pupils of the possibility of success, while a team of 13 teachers and teaching assistants tackles the nitty gritty of improving standards.
Classroom teachers are offered ways of making the national curriculum more accessible to black Caribbean pupils and therefore avoiding the frustrations people like Mr Carrington encountered during their school years.
"You felt the classes weren't including you," he recalls. "The only black history they dealt with was slavery. You could have learned much more positive stories about black people.
"It is only later you realise that there were black scientists, that any black people fought in the war."
An additional black teacher is often on hand in classes to help improve communication and discipline.
Out of class, there are counselling sessions for black pupils and meetings with parents to engage them in improving their children's achievement.
Croydon's work is not unique - in Wolverhampton, for example, a similar project has helped reduce expulsions of black Caribbean children by 38 per cent and temporary exclusions by 43 per cent - but the imperative now being pressed on the education system by the Government is for all schools and all local authorities to match the good practice.