Institutional Racism in Schools

[BPSDB]Many newspapers yesterday carried stories such as this, claiming that institutional racism in schools was holding back black pupils. Research shows it apparantly. But don’t bother looking for it – it’s not been published in a proper journal but presented at a conference of the British Education Research Association.

Nothing wrong with presenting research at a conference of course. What is a bit off is the fact that researcher Steven Strand has released it to the media before submitting it to a peer-reviewed journal. One cannot help but see the parallels with the way certain controversial medical research was put into the public domain.

I am not saying at this point that there is no institutional racism in schools in general but I do resent these sort of allegations being made when I am not in a position to look at the research and ee whether or not it actually stands up.

The dead-tree version of the story linked to above contained an anecdote in which a mixed-race boy was entered for the Foundation tier of an examination even though (according to his mother) he had the ability to do the Higher paper. She claimed his teachers were “too fixated” on his behaviour. It does not seem to have occurred to her that pupils who spend their time disrupting lessons rarely learn enough to obtain good grades. She goes on to complain that the school did not notify her about homework not being done. Obviously she never had enough interest in his education to check his books on occasion else she would have noticed for herself. So it would appear that this boy was disruptive and did not work. IMHO he was lucky that the school entered him for anything at all. I rather doubt, on the evidence provided, that racism had anything to do with the school’s decision.

Let me counter this anecdote with one of my own. I work in an inner city school where a number of the teachers are black. One would imagine that they would have no truck with anti-black racism and would challenge colleagues who were guilty of it. Indeed, I have seen no cases of it myself.

You might say that institutional racism, by its nature, is difficult for those not on its receiving end to spot and that is true so let me conclude with a quote from Tony Sewell – an education consultant and columnist for the Afro-Caribbean newspaper “Voice”:-

“[There is a] link between behaviour and academic outcome. It doesn’t mean that’s evidence of institutional racism. It’s evidence that we need to address properly the complex reasons why black Caribbean pupils behave badly. We can’t just say it’s white racist teachers.”



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