Bureaucrats block the path to racial equality

23rd May 2003 at 01:00
Many councils are denying governors key data they need to boost black and Asian achievement. Karen Thornton reports

MANY governors lack the vital information they need to tackle discrimination and other problems faced by black and Asian children, a new analysis reveals.

Two in five education authorities fail to tell governors how their exclusion rate for ethnic-minority students compares to other local schools, says Do the right thing!, a report from Ten, the local government education network. And less than half of county councils and only 58 per cent of unitaries provide a similar breakdown of academic achievement by ethnic group.

And while all education authorities monitor racist incidents in schools, nearly a fifth of counties and half of unitaries are not reporting these figures to governors.

This must change, says Ten's Simon Bird, author of Do The Right Thing!, which was commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills. As he notes in his report, schools and education authorities now have a specific legal duty to assess the impact of their policies - particularly on the attainment of different racial groups. That is impossible to do without basic data.

He said the proportion of councils not telling governors about the level of racist incidents - half in the case of unitary authorities - was "unacceptable".

However, he also pointed to signs of progress.

"It is very encouraging that virtually all authorities are embracing their broader responsibilities under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act, for example in supporting schools to promote multicultural awareness through the curriculum and undertaking ethnic monitoring of school staff."

Ministers have threatened to introduce separate performance targets for under achieving ethnic groups in two years' time, if they do not catch up with their white classmates (see TES, May 16).

The DfES's recent consultation paper, Aiming High: Raising the Achievement of Minority Ethnic Pupils, says governors have "a key part to play in leading a whole-school approach to raising the achievement of minority ethnic pupils".

Do The Right Thing! highlights how far there is to go. For example, only 30 per cent of black Caribbean pupils get five good GCSE passes, well below the 51 per cent national average. Pakistani and Bangladeshi children also lag behind.

Lack of information for governors is a wider problem. In a report published last autumn, Ten found many bodies were not receiving copies of LEA inspector reports on their schools - in part because of resistance from headteachers (see TES, September 13, 2002).

That report also highlighted the under-representation of black and Asian governors on school boards. Even in London, only 23 per cent of governors were from minority backgrounds - compared to 47 per cent of pupils. In unitaries, black and Asian people were a third less likely to be on boards.

Do The Right Thing! suggests improving representation could help schools focus on the performance of ethnic-minority pupils.

Interestingly, though, it says class, not race, differences in school communities are least likely to be reflected on governing bodies.

Feedback from deprived areas suggests the poor are not becoming governors.

"Governors are mostly white, middle-class professionals," said one London LEA.

"Do The Right Thing!" by Simon Bird, is published by the DfES and Ten, pound;4.95. For copies call 020 7554 2810

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