Victims of 'racist' system;Racism in schools

12th March 1999 at 00:00
Research shows that certain groups of pupils are disadvantaged by unwitting discrimination. Chris Magowan reports

MANY of Britain's schools are institutionally racist, according to Government inspectors.

A report by the Office for Standards in Education this week added weight to growing demands for reform of schools' race policies, following criticism of the education system in the Macpherson report on the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence.

A study of schools in 25 local authorities revealed serious under-achievement in four specific ethnic groups. Black Caribbean and Gypsy children were well behind other groups by the end of secondary school, with 50 per cent of Gypsy children in the survey having special educational needs. Bangladeshi and Pakistani pupils trailed at primary level.

The authors said schools were not only failing to combat the problems but, in many cases, were unaware that they existed: "If schools do not take a stand, what hope is there for breaking the vicious circle of these corrosive forces which exist in society at large?" Cliff Gould, head of OFSTED's secondary division, said he believed many schools were institutionally racist: "The vast majority of teachers in our schools are not intentionally racist but there are clearly features of our schools that unwittingly disadvantage some ethnic minority pupils.

"There was some evidence that some of the schools still think in stereotypes. There were one or two cases where senior managers had noticed that the teacher assessment results of ethnic pupils were significantly lower than test results," Mr Gould said.

Other failures included inadequate monitoring of ethnic minority achievement, a failure to review the curriculum and "uncertainty, verging on helplessness, in many education authorities about strategies which help specific groups."

Schools standards minister Charles Clarke welcomed the findings: "This is a hard-hitting document. It tells a number of truths which may be difficult and even unpleasant for some poeople to deal with, but it is important that we address these issues."

He said the Government, in line with recommendations in the Macpherson report, was considering reforming the National Curriculum to make sure it met the needs of a multi-ethnic society. Better monitoring of racist incidents and ethnic minority under-achievement was also a priority , although Mr Clarke did not support the idea that the number of racist incidents in individual schools should be made public.

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said the accusation of institutional racism was "gobbledegook". He said: "Given the pressures the schools are under it is not surprising they have not had time to do this monitoring. They are trying hard to address this and to me that blows up any accusation that they are institutionally racist."

Opinion, 17

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