Nothing black and white in race row

12th June 2009 at 01:00

Fran Abrams' comment piece suggesting that scrapping the ethnic minority achievement grant (Emag) would "foster better race relations" is based on some serious and dangerous misconceptions ("Stop the extra cash for ethnic minority pupils", June 5).

First, she conflates "white working class" with entitlement to free school meals. In fact, white British pupils in receipt of dinners made up only 10 per cent of white British pupils sitting GCSE examinations last year.

The 90 per cent of white British pupils who did not get free school dinners ensured that white British pupils as a whole remain one of the top-performing ethnic groups in schools at GCSE. The only groups that consistently achieve more highly than white British pupils as a whole are Chinese and Indian heritage pupils.

Second, she posits a false and pernicious choice between provision for white working class and ethnic minority children. White pupils are not "victims" of race equality measures - they are victims of underspending.

It is disingenuous to suggest that the Emag is the only additional funding source for schools in disadvantaged areas. Entitlement to free meals is used to direct resources to schools, many of which are mainly white; and schools with large numbers of ethnic minority students also tend to have white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. The Emag funding does not only impact positively on minority ethnic pupils. Report after report shows that English as an additional language initiatives have improved attainment all round.

This is not to say that we do not need to spend more on white working-class children - we clearly do - but that does not mean we should take it away from another disadvantaged group.

We have other choices. The Government spent Pounds 2 billion last year on Afghanistan and Iraq. Does Ms Abrams think that's fostering better race relations? When it comes to disadvantage, these children are all in the same boat. Taking one oar away will not help them get anywhere further or faster.

Dr Frank Monaghan, Senior education lecturer, London region, The Open University.

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