Commentators who blame racism for black underachievement at school are harming pupils' chances of success, according to a prominent black sociologist.
Dr Heidi Mirza, head of sociology at South Bank University, told a conference of the Association of Teachers of Social Science last week that "doom and gloom" headlines about black education demoralise families and underplay much valuable progress.
She criticised last week's report from the Office for Standards in Education, which said that schools should introduce anti-racist and multi-cultural education policies. It said that black pupils, particularly boys, are continuing to fall behind.
"For the teachers and students going back to school this week, the timing of the report can only serve to undermine everyone's morale," she said.
Good jobs and structured careers are more important than multi-cultural programmes and are a key to the comparative success of young black women, said Dr Mirza.
The 1993 Labour Force Survey showed that 61 per cent of black women aged 16 to 59 had higher and other qualifications. Figures for 1995 showed 52 per cent of black women aged 16 to 24 in full-time education, compared with 28 per cent of white women in the same age range. The equivalent figures for men show that a greater proportion of black men (36 per cent) are in full-time education than their white counterparts (31 per cent).
"We found that girls were able to take advantage of education because of the opportunities that the labour market threw out for them," said Dr Mirza this week. "Boys don't have those labour market opportunities."
Girls have been able to look to traditionally female jobs such as nursing which not only provide stable employment, but offer educational opportunities.
"People are quite rational. If there's nothing for them, they're not going to invest. It isn't that girls are genetically cleverer than boys."
"We always compare black girls to black boys. But very rarely dowe contrast black girls with working-class white girls. The black girls do better. They just expect to work."
Dr Mirza said that the common picture of black failure to get involved with the education system was wrong. "I live among black people and education is all anybody talks about. I see so much personal investment."