Race more influential than class to success of pupils?

30th May 2008 at 01:00
Schools' focus on underperforming pupils has swung too far from ethnic minority children towards the working class, according to an academic credited with setting that direction
Schools' focus on underperforming pupils has swung too far from ethnic minority children towards the working class, according to an academic credited with setting that direction.

In an interview with The TES, Professor David Gillborn, from London University's Institute of Education, has demanded an about-turn from policy-makers.

Many experts have become convinced that class plays a far bigger role than race or gender in determining a child's educational success. That view was bolstered by the work of Professor Gillborn, who identified the relative achievements of each group in 2000.

However, Professor Gillborn said that his research has been widely misinterpreted. "At the moment, there's a panic about white working-class children. But a lot of that panic is built on a misreading of the statistics," he said.

The graph that he produced for Ofsted in 2000 identified social class as an overriding factor in determining how well a child performs at school.

But his new, updated graph charts how class affects most pupils, rather than the extreme ends of the spectrum. It shows that race plays a bigger role than class or gender. Once other factors are removed from the equation, a white child will still perform 21 percentage points better than a black child.

Class is responsible for only a 12 percentage point difference and gender for 10 percentage points.

"Class is very important. But it's being treated like some kind of competition between working-class kids and ethnic minorities," Professor Gillborn said. "The suggestion is that you can't help one group without hurting another, but that is patently ridiculous."

John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers, warned against trying to treat race and class separately.

The NUT published research last year about the challenges that black Caribbeans boys faced, but Mr Bangs said social deprivation formed an integral part of their underachievement.

"Class is a powerful determinant across all races and cultures," he said.

Mind performance gaps, page 15.

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