Racial equality failed by '12 years of Labour's broken promises'

9th October 2009 at 01:00
New research claims that affirmative action failed to match rhetoric as gap between white and minority pupils' achievements grows

Original paper headline: Racial equality failed by `12 years of Labour's broken promises'

New labour's record on race- related education and equality in schools has been a litany of "broken promises", according to new research.

Farzana Shain, senior lecturer in education at Keele University, analysed Labour's policies on race and education since the party came to power in 1997. And she found a significant gulf between the rhetoric and the reality.

When New Labour was elected, politicians spoke explicitly about the scale of racial inequality in Britain, and promised to address it.

But Dr Shain said: "Across the fields of race policy and education, which were hailed as New Labour's priority, such promises did not translate into any meaningful action."

She claims that a focus on parental choice, and initiatives such as the gifted and talented scheme, did nothing to help the socially excluded. Instead, they merely enhanced middle-class advantage.

Middle-class Indian and Chinese pupils were held up as evidence of meritocracy at work. But, in reality, the gap between white and minority pupils' achievement continued to grow. In 1989, 30 per cent of white pupils achieved five or more A*-C grades at GCSE, compared with 18 per cent of black pupils. By 2004, this 12 per cent difference had risen to 20 per cent.

The Race Relations Amendment Act of 2002 stated that schools should produce a written policy on race equality, and staff were also expected to monitor the achievements of ethnic-minority pupils.

But it quickly became clear that the Act was not being taken seriously as only a handful of authorities complied with its requirements.

"As with education, New Labour's record on race has been one of broken promises," Dr Shain said.

"Equal opportunities had been watered down into an empty and meaningless concept of `valuing diversity'. This overemphasised the celebration of differences, at the expense of tackling inequalities."

Then, following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and July 7, 2005, politicians began to use a rhetoric of "us" and "them", often emphasising the value of Britishness.

"But the core of this Britishness. is never clearly defined," Dr Shain said. "Sometimes it is opposition to genital mutilation and forced marriages, at other times. fair play and tolerance."

Meanwhile, unambiguous links were made between Muslims and terrorism. The argument that only a small number of Muslims were involved in such acts was undermined by continued references to a wider community under suspicion.

After the 2005 bombings, Tony Blair, then then prime minister, said: "Few terrorist movements have lasted long enough without a supportive community."

This was emphasised by the Prevent strategy in education. Introduced in 2006, the pound;45 million plan was intended to stop pupils from turning to terrorism by promoting common values. Resources for teachers invoked the language of recent wars: "preventing violent extremism" and "winning hearts and minds".

"Underlying the Prevent strategy is the assumption that all Muslims may be susceptible to condoning and harbouring terrorists in their communities," said Dr Shain.

"Although there are frequent disclaimers suggesting that there are other forms of extremism, it is made clear from the outset that Islamic extremism is the target."

The intense focus on Muslim cultural practices, she added, has meant that differences of culture are often used to explain away the class-related disadvantages experienced by Pakistani and Bangladeshi pupils.

"Rather than creating a united Britain, it seems that New Labour's one- nation project has provided a convenient distraction from the current realities of economic decline," Dr Shain concluded.

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