Commission for Racial and Ethnic Disparities Report – Education

The CRED report is a brave but necessary one in terms of education, a field in which too often policy changes are advanced based on gross generalisations made from anecdotal evidence and experience and unevidenced assertions about what is taught. For the purposes of this blog, I am going to focus on the significance of the report for primary and secondary schools.

The report includes multivariate data analysis which shows that:

“The picture of education achievement across ethnic groups is complex and different social, economic and cultural factors contribute to this: parental income levels, parental career and educational achievement, geography, family structure and attitudes towards education within the family and wider community.” [1]

The report tackles head on the issue of whether structural or institutional racism is the cause of the disparities. While acknowledging individual stories and experiences of racism within the system, the report highlights that:

It is very difficult to judge on a national level the extent to which racism could be a determining factor in educational outcomes amongst ethnic minority groups. However, the fact that ethnic groups within the same system can have quite divergent educational outcomes, and that even within the major ethnic groups there are quite distinct trends, suggests that other factors may be more influential. Indeed, if there is racial bias within schools or the teaching profession, it has limited effect and other factors such as family structure, cultural aspirations and geography may offset this disadvantage.” [2]

Some ethnic minority pupils do better than their white British peers – e.g. Black African, Bangladeshi, Indian and Chinese pupils – while others fare less well including Black Caribbean, Pakistani and White other pupils. While some may wish to believe the education system is structurally and institutionally racist, the reality is far too complex, and the data does not support this belief.

For example, when analysing how well pupils meet attainment goals there is variance across the different sectors with little disparity in primary education between different groups while there is a much more pronounced ethnic disparity in pupils who attain a strong pass in GCSE Maths and English, with black pupils (as an aggregated group) the least likely to attain these as well as 3 A grades at A-Level. The difference is most pronounced at university level with white students the most likely to gain at least a 2:1 at undergraduate level[3].

However the limits of aggregated data are highlighted when looking at the disaggregated data which highlights differences within and between racial and ethnic groups for both GCSEs and A-Levels – with Black African pupil outcomes significantly higher than Black Caribbean pupils.[4] Furthermore when socio-economic status is taken into account ethnic minority pupil outcomes at GCSE there is little or no gap between ethnic minority pupils and their white British counterparts though there a gap is highlighted between White British boys of high SES and their Black counterparts as well as for Pakistani girls. More longitudinal research is required to know if this is a trend or a cohort issue.

Class clearly does play an issue – the impact of family income, parental education and employment as reasons for differences between pupils and GCSE outcomes is clear. There is also clear gap between those receiving Free School Meals and those who don’t. Yet even here the picture is not straightforward as the gap is wider for some ethnic groups (e.g. White Irish) compared to others.

Geography too plays a significant role in terms of disadvantage gaps where there is a wider gap for white British pupils in areas such as Blackpool but less so in Westminster which has high levels of ethnic minority representation. The report also highlights the outcomes differences in family structure while reinforcing the role that stable and resilient families play in supporting educational achievement. It is right that single parent families are not vilified but that the challenges they face are recognised and they and their children are supported in ways that can help close the gap.

On school exclusions the report also backs the right for schools to exclude while supporting the recommendations made by the Timpson Review. The latter found no evidence of systematic or institutional racism but pointed to complex factors, while highlighting the fact that permanent exclusion rates continue to remain high for Black Caribbean and Mixed White and Black Caribbean pupils. As both the review and CRED report rightly highlight there is a significant difference between exclusion rates for Black Caribbean and Black African students which cannot be the result of structural racism or individual teacher bias.

Where the report is strongest is where it makes sound recommendations based on the evidence. For example, reinforcing the need to invest in Early Years education and importance of a strong core offer in all schools. Instead of novel unevidenced solutions for different ethnic groups the report reinforces the evidence that Ofsted has shown relates in improvements:

good leadership and governance

good curriculum (reinforcing the importance of a well-sequenced, knowledge rich curriculum based around subjects)

good teaching

good behaviour and culture

good pastoral support

high aspiration

However the report does acknowledge that this will not be sufficient to close the gap, which has widened as a result of Covid lockdowns. Thus it makes recommendations to look at funding to support improving outcomes for three specific groups in particular – white working class, Black Caribbean and mixed White and Black Caribbean.

Racial activists and campaigners will not like the parity given but it is the only just outcome given the disparities that exist within the education system. To prioritise non-white British pupils resulting from spurious assertions of structural racism based on US centric ideas and ideological stances will not result in a more just education system in the UK.

Other recommendations include asking the government to invest in research to understand what factors drive the success of high performing pupils’ communities including Black African, Chinese, Bangladeshi and Indian ethnic groups, and how it can be replicated to support all pupils. In a multi-ethnic and racial society it is right that all should learn and benefit from the strengths of all groups and such research has been needed for decades now. This would also enable a better understanding of how different factors such as class and parental attitudes impact on outcomes.

Two recommendations that I think need careful thinking through are the provision of after-school enrichment. The report uses spurious data on the impact of creative after school clubs on reading outcomes (such transfers are highly unlikely) but it is true that disadvantaged pupils should have access to a wide range of after school clubs and in identifying the barriers to such, clearly the policy has been thought through.

On the curriculum, the report highlights the need to teach an inclusive curriculum which would forge integration and aspiration. Personally, I think the issue of outcomes and inclusivity should be treated separately – it’s unlikely that an inclusive curriculum will lead to improvements in results. As Shelby Steele has highlighted in the US, initiatives which seek to improve self-esteem by teaching Black Americans more Black literature, history, etc, have not succeeded. Usually this is because the core offer is unchanged. Reading a class of Pakistani boys a story that contains a Pakistani character is not going to change outcomes if phonics teaching is weak and school lessons are disrupted.

I would have liked to see a recommendation that research into what is actually is taught in schools be conducted as the charge of racism and lack of diversity relies on anecdote. However, a good curriculum should be broad and balanced in a number of ways. My own small scale research highlights that too often the lack of coordination between primary and secondary means repetition of history units for example. This leads to a lack of diversity in any kind of history teaching – local, British and world history. However in calling for a more inclusive curriculum, the report does not insist that everyone is represented on the curriculum as it’s clearly not going to be possible. A move away from liberal over promising on this issue is welcome.

While the current curriculum contains the flexibility to teach a curriculum that is more inclusive, it is true that teachers lack resources and training to be able to deliver this. However the report is clear that the teaching of British history should be in a balanced manner, thus rejecting the one sided racially politicised narratives of BLM and CRT advocates. It is welcome that the report reinforces the requirement to ensure that political neutrality is maintained in the teaching and goes on to suggest an online national library of high quality resources which are embedded within the subjects in the statutory curriculum. This would certainly ensure that schools are not using materials created by political activists for the purposes of actively politicising pupils.

My only concern is that a panel of experts could easily result in organisational capture especially with the call for representatives of subject associations. For example, the Historical Association would seem to be a primary candidate to be on such a panel yet their lurch into intersectionality and historic revisionism makes it unsuitable to oversee such a library of resources. Other subject associations have similarly subscribed to CRT principles. The DfE does need to think about how to create such a panel so that experience and expertise, as well as political neutrality is maintained in the resources provided.

Overall the findings of the report are welcome. It rightly highlights the successes in the education system as well as identifying where improvements need to be made and how. The evidence based nature of the report counters the politically motivated smearing of teachers and schools as racist as orchestrated by those in the media and by activist organisations. Instead it highlights a subtle, nuanced picture of the current education system and meaningful ways to move forward to ensure fairer outcomes for all groups of pupils.

 

[1] CRED – page 55

[2] CRED – page 69

[3] CRED – page 58

[4] CRED – page 57

Tarjinder Gill Written by:

2 Comments

  1. gc95014
    April 3, 2021
    Reply

    This is a great report. It will be wonderful to see something similar undertaken here in the US. The only flaw with the report was the author’s assumption that success can be attained only through traditional academic routes, whereas Gardiner has recently established ten levels of intelligence. I truly feel we need more emphasis on technical skills and job-readiness, rather than just academics, because many of our students, especially those that don’t seem “successful” in school, are non-traditional learners whose strengths may lie undiscovered and unused due to lack of opportunity.

    • AIB
      April 4, 2021
      Reply

      Multiple intelligences are not a route that schools can take. It distracts from the core offer and is one of the ‘fads’ that should be avoided. Having said that an academic route is not the only one but a good education is a foundation for all routes and not just an academic one.

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