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Today's race for equality

Michael Peters says Section 11 must be rethought to raise achievement among ethnic-minority children.

I work in an authority where the numbers of young people from minority ethnic communities are small. Nevertheless, what happens to the support mechanisms for these pupils through the so called Section 11 regime is as important in areas where the minority population is low as it is for some of the other large urban centres. In fact, the future for so many young people depends upon it. There is growing concern for the future of this resource. With recent evidence suggesting that the achievement of some minority groups is markedly different, there must be renewed vigour in support of additional provision for the education of pupils from ethnic minorities.

The reasons for the underachievement of African-Caribbean pupils are complex, however a primary responsibility for improving achievement must lie with schools.

Many professionals working in education would accept the retention of a specific and targeted fund to support the educational achievement of ethnic minority pupils. At the heart of this should be measures that facilitate race equality as an essential step towards educational achievement.

During this decade many have argued the economic case for education. We should improve the achievement of all pupils so that they can participate actively in a high-skills, high-wage economy. This needs to be balanced by the case for education that argues that it is a good in itself to produce civilised beings, each with a sense of self worth and dignity.

The way we fund support for pupils from ethnic minority communities does need to change but not to be obliterated entirely. At the moment it looks as if funding will come to an end in April next year and will not be replaced. This will have catastrophic results. Proposals for change should take account of the views of minority communities, specialists employed to raise educational achievement of children from ethnic minorities, the number and position of black and bilingual staff and the need to increase their numbers and status across the education professions. The need for flexibility to ensure that support can be provided in both urban and non-urban areas on an equitable basis should also be taken into account as well as the experience and expertise built up within Government departments.

In recent years discussion of race equality in education has focused on the funding for Section 11. This has not been helpful; to the general public Section 11 has little meaning. This has led to ambivalence and has given successive governments the power to erode the importance of the work supported by the Section 11 resources. Now we have reached a stage where consideration is being given to the future of the resource itself.

The main focus of Section 11 has become support for English language. While this has benefited pupils with English as a second language, the strategy has ignored the needs of African-Caribbean pupils.

It should be made clear that Section 11 is about educational access and achievement. As this must be secured through measures to support race equality in schools the name should be changed to "educational support for access and achievement".

This new resource would pull together existing funding for ethnic minority communities, for example Section 11, GEST (grants for educational support and training) 16, the single regeneration budget and the ethnicity component of the education standard spending assessment. Also, much greater central government use should be made of European Union money to combat racism and xenophobia. Funding should be allocated over periods of at least seven years. This will allow pupil-related targets for the length of a pupil's stay at school. Longitudinal tracking would allow a clear view of the added value of school and local authority. LEA and school-based targets should be agreed against which periodic assessment throughout the life of the funding should be made. The seven-year proposal recognises the need for periodic accountability and the fact that the funding allocation is based on meeting the long-term needs of individual pupils. These needs are likely to remain, and therefore this resource should remain also.

Section 11 funding is currently bids-led rather than needs-based. The introduction of LMS has led to the notion of transparency through allocation by formula. This practice could well be applied to the new resource and done so in a way that treats schools, and more importantly the pupils within them, fairly. Allocation can be based on the numbers of qualifying pupils, weighted on the basis of the proficiency of each pupil in English and on their curriculum and pastoral support needs. This should also be related to a general disadvantage index (normally measured by the free school meals proxy).

Educational Support for Access and Achievement should be supported by a code of practice and used for:

* direct teaching and support, training and development of teaching and support staff;

* training for school staff and governors;

* building effective home-school relationships;

* parentcarer development to support children in school;

* pupil assessment;

* multiculturallingual resource production and dissemination;

* production and monitoring of racial harassment policiespractices, locally-based research (within a national framework) on access to and exclusion from educational services using data such as exclusions, examination results;

* model projects and job descriptions.

Many staff who have worked on the access and achievement of ethnic minority pupils are from black communities themselves. These staff have built up expertise to support minority pupils. It is axiomatic that improving the achievement of these pupils depends upon the investment in staff. It is similar to the wise counsel given to people about to travel by air: "In the case of an emergency air masks will drop down; if you are with a child, you should fix the mask to yourself first and then assist the child". Unless you have air you cannot help the child. Support from role-model staff with expertise is like air to the ethnic-minority child.

This is intended as the start of a fresh debate on raising the achievement of all of our young people as we move into the millennium, to set the standard for achievement for all.

Michael Peters is director of educational services at City of York Council.

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