Fear of racist label hampers teachers

15th December 2000 at 00:00
Schools to blame for underachievement, says inspector. Amanda Kelly reports

SCHOOLS are often to blame for the underachievement of their black pupils, according to a senior inspector who says teachers are afraid to discuss the children's behaviour for fear of being labelled racist.

The current climate in which African-Caribbean youngsters are almost four times more likely to be excluded than other ethnic groups is criticised in HMIinspector David Moore's report from the Office for Standards in Education, due to be published early next year.

The report will also reveal that black pupils often receive longer exclusions than white classmates for the same offence.

Attendance and Behaviour in Schools examines different reasons for excluding pupils and says that black pupils are most commonly barred for "challenging behaviour".

Mr Moore, who is responsible for behaviour, exclusion and ethnicity at OFSTED, said that many teachers were failing to get the best out of their black pupils because they were intimidated by them and did not understand them.

Speaking at a conference to discuss ethnicity, identity and achievement in Catholic secondary schools, the inspector said: "Some teachers clearly find the self-confidence of their African-Caribbean boys intimidating and therefore respond to them in a more confrontational and challenging way.

"But black youngsters would rather die than back down in front of their friends. So why do teachers continue to treat them in this way? A quiet word after class is far more likely to be effective."

He also revealed that Ofsted, which was severely criticised by the Commission for Racial Equality earlier this year for failing to takle racism in schools, will begin a 12-month study to look at the achievement of black pupils in secondary schools. While African-Caribbean pupils start school with the highest attainment of any group, by the age of 16 they have the lowest GCSE results.

But CRE research - dismissed as out of date by former chief inspector Chris Woodhead - found that the terms "racial" or "race equality" appeared in only 25 out of 10,000 Ofsted reports.

Father Philip Summer, chair of governors at Manchester's St Thomas Aquinas secondary school, blamed the poor academic performance of black youngsters on a failure to incorporate black achievement into the national curriculum.

He said: "How do you think black children feel when the only time they are taught about black people in school is in terms of slavery and economic dependence and the only symbol of black achievement is a token poster of Martin Luther King?" Granville During, 17, a pupil at Bonaventures sixth form, Forest Gate, London, said schools needed to raise their expectations of black pupils.

He said: "A lot of people still have the idea that black boys are just interested in walking down the streets with their trousers around their bums and that they have no aspirations or desire to succeed at school. This is not the case and it just needs teachers to believe in us a bit more."

However, recent research conducted among 262 African-Caribbean boys in four London schools questioned whether their failings were the fault of teachers. Many of the boys had strong anti-school attitudes and Mike O'Donnell, author of the report Uncertain Masculinities, said peer group pressure had an important influence on success or failure.

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