Girls lose out in clash of cultures

1st February 2008 at 00:00
Ethnic-minority lifestyles can restrict learning opportunities, government research reveals.

New research reveals strong cultural and religious barriers to the educational attainment of young people from ethnic minorities in South Wales - particularly girls.

A lack of English skills, as well as funding, are seen as hurdles in the education of Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Somali and African-Caribbean students of both sexes according to the report, Barriers to Learning Among Selected Communities, commissioned by the Assembly government.

But girls, according to Leeds-based York Consulting, are most likely to be educationally restricted due to lack of family support.

Examples of parents being wary of their daughters mixing with young men at college were cited in the report, released earlier this month. While boys might be encouraged to follow their parents into the family business, other young women were expected to become wives and mothers at an early age.

Despite these obstacles, girls from the ethnic-minority groups in the study still outperform their male counterparts in the region. Good practice, particularly mentoring schemes, was praised, as well as the use of school liaison officers to support young people.

The government research, a result of discussions with the Muslim Council for Wales, concludes that family aspirations and their ability to provide support are crucial in determining how well young people achieve.

Asha Ali, a teacher at Cardiff's Fitzalan High School, says she is well aware of the education sex divide in her classes, based on differing family support.

"Boys are allowed to go out more than girls, who are expected to stay at home and help with the cooking and cleaning. In spite of this, they still achieve so well."

But Naz Malik, chief executive of the All Wales Ethnic Minority Association believes most parents have high aspirations for all their children but are wary of mainstream education.

"They're all ambitious but they don't want to send their children to a school where teachers do not understand them or their culture."

The report adds that parents may not be able to help their children practically because of poor English-language skills, poverty and lack of understanding of the UK education system.

The report calls for better English-language provision and more support between different stages of learning - including the transition to secondary school.

Improved support within mainstream education, with more communication between schools and parents, is also recommended.

And there are concerns that schemes such as the mentoring services will falter without statutory funding.

Mrs Ali, who works with many Somali children in after-school and weekend clubs, believes things are beginning to change.

"Children are achieving more than when I first started at Fitzalan High. We are getting there, but we need more resources and people."

Mr Malik says: "We need an after-school infrastructure where there are people from an ethnic minority who understand all these issues. But it needs adequate funding and facilities.

"That is one of the biggest barriers to success."


The All Wales Ethnic Minority Association was one of the organisations praised for its work in encouraging positive role models for young people in the report.

Together with Cardiff's Ethnic Minority Achievement Service, it mentors young people from ethnic minorities to support them through school and college.

Chief executive Naz Malik says: "Our work is not structured or funded but we have volunteers going into secondary schools and higher education institutions, as well as after-school activities, where we provide support and guidance.

"Many of the children are asylum-seekers, refugees or young people at risk. Most of the young people we mentor are girls because they are much more likely to take part.

"Boys like being macho and don't think it's cool to say, 'I don't understand this maths problem'. We also ran a successful poetry slam project recently for children without English as their first language."

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