Heads reject black ghetto

11th March 2005 at 00:00
Trevor Phillips is wrong, they say. Warwick Mansell and Dorothy Lepkowska on the controversy over boys

Schools must address the underachievement of boys in general and not focus on specific groups, teachers' leaders said this week.

Figures show that poor white boys are more likely than black boys to underperform at school.

Last year, 18.3 per cent of British white boys on free school meals got five or more A*-C grades at GCSE, compared with 19.3 per cent of African-Caribbean boys on free school meals.

Comments from teachers' leaders came after Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, told a BBC documentary that black boys should be segregated in some lessons to help them catch up. He said they were suffering from a culture in which it is not "cool" to be clever, and which lacks good role models.

Mr Phillips said: "If the only way to break through the wall of attitude that surrounds black boys is to teach them separately for some subjects, then we should be ready for that."

But heads rejected the proposal, saying there were problems with boys'

education across the board.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "A majority of heads will recoil in horror at the prospect of separating children, especially as there are general issues of under-achievement that need to be addressed with many boys. Schools needs to make particular provision for whoever needs it, regardless of whether they are black or white."

Martin Ward, deputy general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said all alienated children needed help.

"This shouldn't be done in different groups but together. Black and white boys need successful role models," he said.

Mr Phillips was invited by programme-makers to travel to St Louis, Missouri, where a school in a mainly black area had run separate lessons for boys and girls, apparently with dramatic results.

He said the approach should be considered in Britain.

But Sir Michael Wilshaw, former head of St Bonaventure's boys'

comprehensive in Newham, east London, where three-quarters of pupils are from ethnic minorities and 78 per cent achieved five or more GCSEs at grade C or better in 2003, said he had never considered segregation.

"All it would do is reinforce a feeling that pupils (from ethnic groups) are different," he said.

But Professor David Gillborn of London university's institute of education and an expert on race in education, said Mr Phillips was right to raise the issue. He said: "He was trying to open up a conversation that says if you're serious about addressing this issue, you have to do some things differently for different ethnic groups."

Research in the UK and the United States showed that policies that sought to treat individuals of all colours the same failed because white professionals tended to have lower expectations of black pupils.

warwick.mansell@tes.co.ukLeader; opinion 22 Quiz 31

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