She's a 'pushy' middle-class parent, but why does she feel her views aren't welcome at school?

29th January 2010 at 00:00

Middle-class parents from ethnic minorities are happy to live out the cliche of excessive involvement in their children's academic lives, but often struggle to make their views heard at school, new research has found.

And they are reluctant to challenge teachers about racist discrimination or bullying, according to Louise Archer, professor of sociology of education at King's College London.

Professor Archer interviewed 36 parents, pupils and professionals from ethnic minorities whose economic or professional background designated them members of the middle classes.

True to stereotype, all the parents were keen to ensure their children were receiving the education they felt was their due.

Tariq, a Pakistani-origin father, described coming down "like a tonne of bricks" when teachers ignored his son's difficulties: "We said, 'Look ... he's in the bottom set for maths ... the second-lowest set for English, so don't try and say everything's fine, because we know it's not.'"

Like their white middle-class counterparts, these parents felt entitled to intervene in such circumstances. "Intervention was regarded as the natural, responsible and 'right' thing to do," Professor Archer said.

However, unlike the white middle classes, many ethnic-minority parents did not have a legacy of school intervention to draw on.

Phil, a British Chinese father, said his parents had not done "the school gate thing ... They didn't know what was going on". This was echoed by Decasia, a mixed-race mother: "I'm much more involved in schooling than my parents ever were."

They were therefore sensitive to the danger of being negatively stereotyped as "pushy", and more likely than their white counterparts to try to resolve a problem without recourse to the school.

For example, British Indian pupil Suki talked about her mother's fear that her school was not pushing her sufficiently. "No, she hasn't raised it with the school," Suki said. "But she's told people that I should do extra classes. I'm also doing, like, extra tuition out of school."

Some parents also felt that their race affected their impact at school. Aisha, a Pakistani mother, volunteered as a governor at her children's primary. But she felt that her views carried less weight than those of the other governors because she was a practising Muslim.

Equally, Pakistani mother Sameena felt her views were dismissed by teachers until they discovered she held a middle-class occupation. At this point, their attitudes changed.

And Professor Archer found that parents were far less willing to challenge the school when discrimination was explicitly race related.

Sameena described her response to the racist bullying her son was experiencing: "I used to hate going in there ... I just felt ... oh ... I think schools could put up a fight."

However, Professor Archer suggested that there was particular need for parents from ethnic minorities to take on such roles.

"Teachers tend to hold lower expectations of minority-ethnic pupils," she said. "Minority-ethnic children are more likely than white children to have their abilities underestimated."

In fact, she argues, implicit and explicit racism often offsets the positive effects of a middle-class background.

"While their class resources may protect against failure per se, their racialised positionings qualify and curtail key aspects of class advantage," she said.

"Consequently, minority-ethnic families must work disproportionately harder to achieve success."


When forming education policy, government ministers, along with local authorities and schools, tend to assume that ethnic-minority pupils will be working class. Indeed, ethnic-minority families are twice as likely as white families to live in poverty.

But the ethnic-minority middle classes are growing, especially among black Caribbean, black African and Indian families.

Earlier this month, Communities Secretary John Denham said that class, not race, was now the greatest predictor of a life of poverty.

However, ethnic-minority professionals still earn less and face lower chances of promotion than their white counterparts. In fact, differences in earning between white and ethnic-minority workers are higher in professional and managerial occupations than in any other area.

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