There’s no black in the baccalaureate

Gross racial injustices scar our education system, and Tory policies are making things worse, writes David Gillborn in an article for London’s Guardian that sets aside black Caribbean students as the worst affected.

Earlier this year, David Cameron said the tiny number of black students admitted to Oxford was “disgraceful”. Although his comments failed to generate a single meaningful change in policy, they did at least signal dissatisfaction with the gross racial injustices that continue to scar our education system.

However, the government appears intent on introducing reforms that will make it harder for young black people to succeed. The education bill, due to receive its second reading in the House of Lords on Tuesday, includes measures such as reform of exclusions panels, powers to search pupils, and the discontinuation of the equalities teaching resource “Multiverse”, all of which will have a negative impact on black pupils.

However, the most worrying policy in relation to inequality isn’t included in this week’s bill – it is the recently introduced English baccalaureate benchmark, which requires pupils to achieve A*-C grades at GCSE in maths, English, two science subjects, a foreign language, and either history or geography. Newly released data shows that if universities and businesses adopt the measure, race inequalities will increase.

The data shows that in 2010, black Caribbean pupils were less than half as likely (6.8% in total) to achieve the grades and subjects necessary for the Ebacc compared with white British pupils, 15.4% of whom achieved the measurement. Indeed, most minority ethnic groups are less likely than white British pupils to attain this new measure. Traveller or Gypsy/Roma pupils were the worst affected; those who met the Ebacc standard in 2010 were so few that the Department for Education (DfE) did not release an actual number for fear that individual pupils might be identifiable.

The key problem with the Ebacc is that most pupils are not given the opportunity to achieve the requisite grades. Because of scarce resources, (including a lack of qualified teachers) many schools are selective about who gets access to certain high-status science and language courses. In addition, most GCSE exams operate a tiered system of question papers that reserve the highest grades for only the minority of candidates entered at the highest level.

The government acknowledges that only 22% of pupils entered the required subjects in 2010: before they even sit an exam, therefore, four out of five children know that the Ebacc is impossible for them to achieve. No ethnic breakdowns were published at the time, and my inquiries to the DfE went unanswered.

Research has consistently shown that black children, and especially black Caribbean pupils, are disadvantaged when teachers decide who should be entered for the top exams. Black children are most likely to be placed in lower teaching groups and denied the most sought after subjects regardless of their achievements, their social class and their gender. These findings have been replicated by numerous studies, including work commissioned by the education department itself and byOfsted.

This is not a matter of choice, or of pupils lacking drive or ambition; this is a case of opportunity being denied by teachers who simply do not see black children as likely academic successes. In fact, these stereotypes are exactly the opposite of the beliefs that surround Chinese pupils, for whom teachers routinely expect the very highest grades. Not surprisingly, Chinese pupils are the most likely of all groups to achieve the Ebacc, at 34.1%.

The DfE website states the hope that the Ebacc will “encourage more pupils to take these core academic subjects and bring about greater fairness of opportunity”. In the meantime, however, the measure introduces a clear race bias into any selection system that adopts it.

For the original report go to

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