Ethnic differences in achievement

These cards show inequalities in the educational achievements of different ethnic groups.



  • there are achievement differences between ethnic groups
  • there are also class and gender differences
  • some explanations focus on external and internal factors - which shows which ethnic groups are more likely to under-achieve
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Cultural deprivation - external factor

Cultural deprivation is a theory that sees the under-achievement of some ethnic groups; as a result of inadequate socialisation in the home. These include:

  • intellectual and linguistic skills - this causes them to under-achieve due to them being poorly equiped for school as they haven't developed reasoning and problem-solving skills
  • attitudes and values - lack of motivation and education causes them to under-achieve
  • family structure - many families do not have parents that are willing or able to help and do not have the finances for resources
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Criticisms of the cultural deprivation theory

  • Keddie sees cultural deprivation as a victim-blaming explanation
  • she argues that ethnic minority children are culturally different - not culturally deprived
  • they under-achieve because schools are ethnocentric: biased in favour of white culture and against minorities
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Material deprivation - external factor

  • Material deprivation is the lack of basic necessities such as adequate diet, housing, clothing or money to buy things
  • this theory explains under-achievement due to lack of resources
  • e.g. parents are unable to afford educational aids and over crowding deprives the children of a suitable study area
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Pupil responses and subcultures - internal factor

  • pupils can respond in a variety of ways by becoming disruptive or withdrawn but many refuse to except their label by deciding to prove them wrong by working extra hard
  • negative labels do not automatically turn into self-fulfilling prophecies
  • Fuller and Mac an Ghaill reject negative labels - they had similar outcomes to their studies due to students not accepting their label and becoming high achievers in school
  • the liberal chauvinists are teachers who believe black pupils are culturally deprived and have low expectations of them
  • the overt racists are teachers who believe blacks are inferior and actively discriminate against them
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Criticisms of the material deprivation theory

  • Gillborn and Mirza argue that social class factors do not override the influence of ethnicity
  • when pupils of the same social class but different ethnic origins are compared differences in achievement are still found
  • particularly the case for black children, since even middle-class black pupils do comparatively poorly at GCSE
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The ethnocentric curriculum - internal factor

  • ethnocentric describes an attitude or policy that gives priority to the culture and viewpoint of one particular ethnic group while disregarding others
  • Troyna and Williams (1986) describe the curriculum in British schools as ethnocentric because it gives priority to white culture and the English language
  • however, it is not clear what impact the ethnocentric curriculum has - it may ignore Asian culture but Indian and Chinese pupils' achievement is above the national average
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Institutional racism - internal factor

  • Troyna and Williams argue that explanations of ethnic differences in achievement need to go beyond simply examining individual teacher racism to look at how schools and colleges routinely discriminate against ethnic minorites. They therefore make a distinction between -
  • individual racism - that results from the prejudiced views of individuals
  • institutional racism - discrimination that is built into the way institutions such as schools and colleges operate
  • this evaluates that the ethnocentric curriculum is a prime example of institutional racism
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Selection and segregation - internal factor

  • Gillborn argues that marketisation has given schools greater scope to select pupils and this puts some ethnic minority pupils at a disadvantage
  • Moore and Davenport's (1990) view supports this as their study focuses on how selection procedures lead to ethnic segregation, with minority pupils failing to get into better schools - this leads to an ethnically stratified education system
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Labelling and teacher racism - internal factor

  • negative labels may lead teachers to treat ethnic minorty pupils differently - results in failure
  • Gillborn and Youdell argue that this is the result of teachers' racialised expectations
  • found that teachers expected black pupils to present more discipline problems
  • Peter Foster (1990) found that teachers' stereotypes of black pupils as badly behaved could result in them being placed in lower sets than needed
  • Cecile Wright (1992) found that teachers used childish language when teaching asian pupils - believed they would not be able to grasp standard English
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