Institutional Racism in Education

Today I am going to talk about education. Or rather, I am going to let Akala talk about education and I am mostly going to quote or paraphrase him. To write as eloquently as him, or to argue so pointedly and affirmatively, is an aim I will almost certainly never achieve. At least not today...

Akala is a rapper, poet, journalist and activist. In his brilliant book, Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire, there is an exposing, personal and very thorough account of how Britain's systemic racism shows up in schools. Now, as a teacher, I found this hard to read and I could have easily dismissed it as "Not my problem", but white exceptionalism and white silence (as defined in Layla F. Saad's workbook White Supremacy and Me) are substantial inhibitors towards equality. If I dismiss this, simply because I believe that I am one of the good guys, white dominance will continue to overshadow legitimate movements towards equality.

In 2000, there was a study commissioned by Ofsted, which looked at data over 6 LEAs (local educational authorities). The study found that, in all of them, the educational attainment of black children fell, relative to the LEA average, as they moved through school. In one of the LEAs, black students entered the school system, aged 5, 20 points above national average, as the highest performing ethnic group and, in the very same LEA, they left school the LOWEST performing of all ethnic groups 21 below average.

A statistically significant display of racial bias

Akala goes on to say that instead of using these findings to create a policy that does not disproportionately disadvantage black children, the national policy was instead changed to using FSP (Foundation Stage Policy) to test kids on entry. This involves using teacher assessments, which are non - imperical and will play into any biases, subconscious or otherwise. These tests unsurprisingly put white children on top despite the fact that Indian students have been outperforming them for many years. He asks us to just think for a second that if FSP dramatically reduced the perception of white ability, would the system not have been changed by now?

Now SATs, at least, are blind marked and, if we have to test children at all, then at least they eliminate the possibility for racial bias. Interestingly, in year 6, teachers will also assess their classes using internal methods. A study in the years 2001/02 and 04/05 showed that black Caribbean students scored around 5 points lower in teacher assessments than in SATs, compared to white students being assessed around 3 points lower. A categorical, statistically-significant display of racial bias.

There are also references to black students being more likely to be chosen for a foundation tier GCSE than a like-for-like white child, literally capping the achievement of a student because of the colour of their skin.

If these examples don't demonstrate the nature of systemic racism in our education system, I don't know what will. Teachers must be better trained and educated on these matters but, importantly, policies should be introduced nationally that prevent this immoral behaviour from exhibiting itself so brazenly. From historic papers written in the 60s about racial injustices in school, to the research referred to above written in the 00s, we still have not learned from our mistakes. Or rather, we still refuse to learn from our mistakes.

I hope we can start now.

To anyone who is interested in Akala's work, and who hasn't yet got his book, I thoroughly recommend watching this enlightening talk.

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