Girls beyond Brick Lane

7th May 2004 at 01:00
University is still out of reach for many Bangladeshi women. Emily Clarke reports

The academic achievement of Bangladeshi girls is improving but they are often held back by parents who do not support or understand their aspirations, an inspectors' report shows.

Economic circumstance and cultural traditions are among the key reasons why the girls are significantly under-represented at university, said the report, based on nine secondary schools by the Office for Standards in Education. The inspectors found that ambitious girls resent being denied the freedoms boys have and feel parental pressure for them to marry early is unfair.

One girl said: "(Parents) don't listen to us. We are not allowed to answer back. They are wrong not to allow us any freedom as we would not exploit it in the way that the boys do. They worry all the time about our reputations.

But we'll prove them wrong and when we marry and have daughters we will treat them differently."

However, inspectors also say that some girls under-achieve because they do not ask questions or assert themselves in class.

Girls value the social side of academic life but are often confined to home outside school hours. Some boys feel pressured into leaving school to join the family business, but others, according to teachers and parents, enjoyed too much freedom and in some cases this led to conflict with the law.

Once Bangladeshi pupils become fluent in English, they match the attainment of other groups in similar circumstances and, in some cases, exceed it.

Key stage 2 test scores for Bangladeshi pupils match those for other pupils in similar socio-economic groups when account is taken of their fluency in English. Bangladeshi pupils make more progress than several other ethnic minority groups between key stage 3 and GCSE.

Bengali-speaking pupils with greater English fluency are closing the gap for GCSE average scores with other language groups. For example, 71 per cent of Bangladeshi pupils who achieve level 5 at key stage 3 achieve five or more A* to C grades at GCSE, compared with 67 per cent of Pakistani pupils and 48 per cent of black Caribbean pupils.

The inspectors found that on the whole parents valued education and were ambitious for their children, although those with poor English were unable to communicate well with the school. The schools in the sample were found to have a good understanding of Bangladeshi culture and to incorporate it into the curriculum.

analysis 17 Achievement of Bangladeshi heritage pupils

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