Ethnic differences in achievement

  • Created by: rdowd40
  • Created on: 15-04-19 14:55

What is an ethnic group and ethnic differences

  • Ethnicity refers to a shared culture, identity and history. An ethnic group is a group of people who see themselves as a distinct group based for example on religion, geography or language. 
  • An ethnic minority group may be of a different skin colour from the majority population, but not necessarily so. However, in the case of Britain, the largest minority groups are non-white: mainly of African, Caribbean or South Asian origin. 
  • Deciding who is in which ethnic group is a problem. Should all 'Asians' be classified together when this covers many different nationalities, religions and languages?

Patterns of ethnic achievement are complex, cross-cut by gender and social class. For example:

  • Black and Pakistani pupils do worst; Chinese and Indians do best.
  • White pupils are very close to the national average, but this is because they form the great majority of the school population. 
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Cultural deprivation: intellectual and language sk

  • Cultural deprivation theory claims that children from low income black families lack intellectual stimulation. As a result, they fail to develop reasoning and problem solving skills.
  • Bereiter and Engelmann claim that the language of poorer black American families is ungrammatical and disjointed. As a result, their children are unable to express abstract ideas - a major barrier to educational progress.
  • Some claim that children who do not speak English at home may be held back educationally. However, this is not a major factor. 

According to the Swann report, language is not a major factor in under-achievement. Any negative effect is likely to be temporary. Indian pupils do well despite often not speaking English at home. 

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Cultural deprivation: attitudes, values and family

Most children are socialised into the mainstream culture, which instils competitiveness and a desire to achieve, thus equipping them for success in education.

  • Fatalism and immediate gratification Cultural deprivation theorists claim that the subculture into which some black children are socialised is fatalistic and focused on immediate gratification, resulting in a lack of motivation to succeed. 
  • The lack of a male role model at home for many African-Caribbean boys may encourage them to turn to an anti-educational macho 'gang culture'. The New Right thinker Murray argues that the high rate of lone parenthood and a lack of positive male role models lead to the under-achievement of some minority pupils.

Evidence contradicting this view comes from Connor, who found that minority ethnic parents often place a higher value on education than white parents, and Sewell, who found that only a minority of African-Caribbean boys were anti-school.

  • Culture of poverty Moynihan argues that the absence of a male role model of achievement in black matrifocal lone parent families produces inadequately socialised children who fail at school, become inadequate parents themselves and perpetuate a culture of poverty. 
  • The impact of slavery Pryce argues that Black Caribbean culture is less resistant to racism because of the experience of slavery. As a result of, many black pupils have low self esteem and under-achieve. 
  • Asian families Sewell argues that Chinese and Indian pupils benefit from supportive families with an 'Asian work ethic'. He contrasts this with black lone-parent families.

Some argue that Asian families have more positive attitudes towards education and that adult authority in them is similar to that in schools, so that Asian parents are more likely than white parents to support the school's behaviour policies. 

  • Fathers, gangs and culture Sewell argues that lack of fatherly nurturing leads to black boys underachieving. Street gangs offer them alternative perverse loyalty and love. Academically successful black boys felt the greatest barrier to success was peer presure. Speaking Standard English and doing well at school were seen as 'selling out'. 
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Cultural deprivation: attitudes, values and family

  • Culture of poverty Moynihan argues that the absence of a male role model of achievement in black matrifocal lone parent families produces inadequately socialised children who fail at school, become inadequate parents themselves and perpetuate a culture of poverty. 
  • The impact of slavery Pryce argues that Black Caribbean culture is less resistant to racism because of the experience of slavery. As a result of, many black pupils have low self esteem and under-achieve. 
  • Asian families Sewell argues that Chinese and Indian pupils benefit from supportive families with an 'Asian work ethic'. He contrasts this with black lone-parent families.

Some argue that Asian families have more positive attitudes towards education and that adult authority in them is similar to that in schools, so that Asian parents are more likely than white parents to support the school's behaviour policies. 

  • Fathers, gangs and culture Sewell argues that lack of fatherly nurturing leads to black boys underachieving. Street gangs offer them alternative perverse loyalty and love. Academically successful black boys felt the greatest barrier to success was peer presure. Speaking Standard English and doing well at school were seen as 'selling out'. 
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White working-class pupils

Most research has focused on ethnic minority families, but white working-class pupils also under-achieve. This may be because they have lower aspirations than many other ethnic groups and this may be the result of white working-class culture, including a lack of parental support. There is evidence to support this view. 

  • Lupton studied four mainly working-class schools with different ethnic compositions. Teachers reported poorer levels of behaviour and discipline in the white working-class schools, which they linked to lower levels of parental support and the negative attitudes of white working-class parents towards education.
  • Evans argues that street culture in wite working-class areas can be brutal and is brought into school. The result is a strong pressure to reject education. 
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Compensatory education

Compensatory education is an educational policy that aims to counter the effects of cultural deprivation, e.g.:

  • Operation Head Start in the USA was established to compensate children for the cultural deficit they are said to suffer because of deprived backgrounds. 
  • Sure Start in the UK aims to support the development of pre-school children in deprived areas. 
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Criticisms of cultural deprivation

Cultural deprivation theory has been widely criticised as an explanation of ethnic differences in achievement:

  • Victim-blaming Keddie argues that it is a victim-blaming explanation. Minority ethnic group children are culturally different, not culturally deprived, and they under-achieve because schools are ethnocentric -biased in favour of white culture. 
  • Cultural exclusion Ball argues that minority ethnic group parents are at a disadvantage because they are less aware of how to negotiate the British education system. This results in 'cultural exclusion' rather than cultural deprivation. According to Gewirtz, complex school application forms are an example of cultural exclusion practices in some schools. 
  • Cultural domination Compensatory education imposes the dominant white middle-class culture on minority ethnic group pupils' own culture. 
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Material deprivation and class

Material deprivation (or poverty) is a lack of the physical or economic resources essential for normal life in society. Material deprivation explanations of ethnic differences in achievement argue that educational failure is the result of material factors such as substandard housing and low income. Ethnic minorities are more likely to face these problems. For example:

  • Half of ethnic minority children live in low-income households.
  • Ethnic minorities are almost twice as likely to be unemployed. 
  • Minorities face discrimination in the housing and labour markets.

While class plays an important part, it doesn't fully override the influence of ethnicity; e.g. middle-class black pupils do less well at GCSE than white or Asian middle-class pupils. 

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Internal factors: Labelling

Interactionists focus on small-scale, face-to-face interactions, such as those between pupils and teachers. They are interested in the impact of the labels that teachers give to children from different ethnic backgrounds; e.g. black pupils are often seen as disruptive and Asian pupils as passive. 

As a result of these negative racist labels, teachers may treat ethnic minority pupils differently, disadvantaging them and bringing about a self-fulfilling prophecy that leads to their under-achievement. Sociologists have studied labelling in relation to both black and Asian pupils. 

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Labelling: Black pupils

Gillborn and Mirza found that in one area, black children were the highest achievers on entering primary school (20 points above average), yet by the time it came to GCSE, they had fallen to 21 points below the average. This suggests schooling, not background, is to blame. 

Gillborn and Youdell found teachers had 'racialised expectations' (labels) about black pupils and expected more discipline problems and saw their behaviour as threatening. Black pupils were more likely than others to be punished for the same behaviour. The pupils felt that their teachers underestimated their ability and picked on them.

Gillborn and Youdell conclude that conflict between white teachers and black pupils stems from the racist stereotypes that teachers have, rather than from the pupils' actual behaviour. This can cause under-achievement because it leads to:

  • Higher levels of exclusions of black boys 
  • Black pupils being placed in lower sets or streams.
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Labelling: Asian pupils

Researcher on Asian pupils shows evidence of teacher stereotyping:

Wright found that Asian primary school pupils were stereotyped by their teachers and treated differently:

  • Teachers assumed the children would have a poor grasp of English and so they used simplisitic language when speaking to them. 
  • They mispronounced children's names.
  • They saw them as a problem that they could ignore

As a result, Asian pupils, especially the girls, were marginalised and prevented from participating fully, affecting their self-esteem. 

Connolly found that primary school teachers saw Asian pupils as passive and conformist. Both teachers and pupils saw Asian boys as more 'feminine', vulnerable and less able to protect themselves. 

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Pupil subcultures

Pupils may react in a variety of different ways to racist labelling in school, including forming or joining pupil subcultures. Sewell found that black boys adopted a range of responses to teachers' racist labelling of them as rebellious and anti-school.

  • Conformists were the largest group. They were keen to succeed, accepted the school's goals and had friends from different ethnic groups.
  • Innovators were the second largest group. They were pro-education but anti-school. They valued success, but not teachers' approval.
  • Retreatists were a tiny minority of isolated individuals disconnected from both the school and black subcultures outside it. 
  • Rebels were a small but highly visible minority of black pupils. They rejected the school's goals and rules and conformed instead to the stereotype of the 'black macho lad'. They despised both white boys and conformist black boys. Their aim was to achieve the status of 'street hood'.

 

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Pupil subcultures

However, despite only a small minority of black boys actually fitting the stereotype of the 'black macho lad', teachers tended to see them all in this way. This resulted in the under-achievement of many boys, not just the rebels, as a result of discrimination by teachers.

However, Sewell argues that factors external to school, such as peer groups, street culture and the lack of a nurturing father, are more important in producing underachievement than internal factors.  

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Pupil subcultures: rejecting negative labels

Studies show that not all minority ethnic pupils who are negatively labelled accept and conform to the label. Some may remain committed to succeeding despite racist labelling:

  • Fuller studied a group of high-achieving black girls in year 11 of a London comprehensive. The girls maintained a positive self-image by rejecting teachers' stereotypes of them. They recognised the value of education and were determined to achieve, but only conformed in terms of doing their schoolwork, working hard without giving the appearance of doing so. They didn't seek the teachers' approval, and they maintained friendships with black girls in lower streams. In some ways they are similar to the innovators in Sewell's study.
  • Mac an Ghaill's study of black and Asian 'A' level students at a sixth form college found that they did not necessarily accept teachers' negative labels - e.g. some girls felt that the all-girls school they had previously attended gave them a greater academic commitment.

Use Fuller and Mac an Ghaill's findings to criticise labelling as deterministic - it doesn't inevitably result in a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. 

However, Mirza found that black girls' strategies for dealing with teachers' racism, e.g. not asking certain staff for help, sometimes restricted their opportunities. Even though they did not accept the labels, they were still disadvantaged as a result. 

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Institutional racism: Critical race theory

Many sociologists argue that although the racist labelling practised by some teachers is important, it is not an adequate explanation for the widespread ethnic differences found in achievement. Instead, they argue, we must focus on institutional racism - discrimination against ethnic minorities that is built into the way institutions such as schools and colleges operate on a routine or even unconscious basis, rather than the conscious intentions of individual teachers. 

CRT sees institutional racism as a deep-rooted, 'locked in' feature of the education system. Critical race theorists see the education system as institutionally racist in several ways. 

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Institutional racism: The ethnocentric curriculum

This is an important example of institutional racism. 'Ethnocentric' refers to an attitude or policy that prioritises the culture of one particular ethnic group while disregarding or downgrading others. Many sociologists have argued that the curriculum of British schools is ethnocentric. 

  • Troyna and Williams note that it gives priority to white culture and the English lanuage.
  • David argues that the National curriculum is a 'specifically British' curriculum that teaches the culture of the 'host community'. 
  • Ball sees the history curriculum in British schools as recreating a 'mythical age of empire and past glories', while at the same time ignoring the history of black and Asian people. 

The result may be that minority ethnic group pupils feel that they and their culture and identity are not valued in education and this diminishes their sense of self-esteem, which has a negative effect on their educational achievement.

However, it is not clear what impact the ethnocentric curriculum has. Although it ignores Asian culture, Indian and Chinese pupils still achieve above average.  

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Institutional racism: The ethnocentric curriculum

Other examples of institutional racism include:

Selection and segregation Gillborn argues that because marketisation gives schools more scope to select pupils, negative stereotypes can influence decisions about admissions. Moore and Davenport's American research shows how selection procedures (e.g. using primary school reports to screen out pupils) leads to ethnic segregation. 

Assessment Gillborm argues that assessment is rigged to validate the dominant white culture's superiority. For example, baseline assessments showing black pupils ahead of whites were replaced in 2003 by the foundation stage profile, which is based on teachers' judgements and thus gives scope for stereotyping. As a result, black pupils appeared to be doing worse than whites. 

Access to opportunities Whites are over twice as likely as black pupils to be identified as gifted and talented. Tikly and Stran found blacks were more likely to be entered for lower tier exams - often becuase they had been placed in lower sets due to teachers' expectations, leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

The new IQism Secondary schools are increasingly using old-style intelligence (IQ) tests to allocate pupils to different streams on entry, based on the false assumption that 'potential' is a fixed quality that can be measured. Black pupils are more likely to be placed in lower streams as a result. 

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