Rail against racism in schools

22nd July 2011 at 01:00

Many Glasgow Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) parents tell me in my community development work that their kids experience racism in schools, not just from pupils but from teachers. Black children's and parents' experience in Scottish education are not well researched, but evidence can be traced in recent Scottish education statistics.

Racism influences subject choices and career paths as too often teacher assessment of BME pupil capacity is limited to the sports and cultural fields. Some say "aw ye can always work in yer faither's shop". When I presented this picture of deep-seated institutionalised racism in Scottish education at the recent Engage forum in Edinburgh, the Education Secretary, Michael Russell, replied just how mixed and integrated one particular Glasgow school was, with its 36 spoken languages.

Yes, multiculturalism is a fact in Glasgow schools, with BME schoolchildren being 15 per cent of the 63,000 pupils, and yes, policymakers talk about inclusion, cohesion and evidence-led approaches, but while the Equalities Act 2010 guidance for schools is clear, how does Scotland compare with England's record of failure to report breaches of race equality in schools?

Children from asylum-seeking and migrant communities are often very motivated by parents who value education, and do very well in primary school, with results outperforming even privileged white children. But something happens at S4 level - around adolescence - especially for Pakistani, Bangladeshi and African-Caribbean boys, which leaves them trailing white pupils by about 15 per cent in achieving 5 Standard grade passes.

In 1971, Professor Bernard Coard wrote the groundbreaking How the West Indian Child is Made Educationally Subnormal in the British School System. His main observations were that racist perceptions of teachers profoundly affected their assessment of pupil ability (they expected less of black pupils) and educational psychologists and teachers needed anti-racist training to better understand the cultures of the pupils they taught.

After 30 years of anti-racist legislation, inequality for black pupils is still the reality. Prof David Gillborn of London University's Institute of Education is categorical: English schools still discriminate against BME pupils because teachers under-estimate academic ability, and "although teachers are at the chalk face many of their actions and priorities have to be understood in terms of the wider politics of the education system. And this is where the role of national policy makers becomes key".

How is it possible that Scotland's Education Secretary seems to believe its schools and teachers have escaped these pitfalls? In some BME communities 60 per cent of adults are degree-level qualified compared to 30 per cent of Glaswegians, and yet BME adult unemployment is more than double the level of whites.

Graham Campbell, development and capacity building officer, BEMIS, Glasgow.

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