Ethnic Differences in Achievement

Ethnic differences in achievement from the Education topic of AQA A level Sociology


External factors - Cultural deprivation

Intellectual & linguistic skills

Many children from low income black families lack intellectual stimulation leaving children poorly equipped for school as they are unable to problem solve. The language spoken by low income black American families is seen as ungrammatical and inadequate for educational success. Children who do not speak English at home are also seen at a disadvantage but this is not always true as Indian pupils often do better than English pupils despite not speaking English at home

Attitudes & values

Some black children are socialised into a subculture that instils a fatalistic live for today attitude that does not value education leaving them unequipped for success

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External factors - Cultural deprivation

Family structure & parental support

Moynihan argues that because many black families are headed by a lone mother the children are deprived of adequate care because the mother has to struggle financially in absence of a male breadwinner

The New Right argues that a high rate of lone parenthood and a lack of positive male role models leads to underachievement. Pryce argues that black Caribbean culture is less resistant to racism so many have low self esteem due to the black culture and their experience of slavery

Sewell argues it is not the absence of fathers which leads to underachievement. Instead he sees the lack of fatherly love which results in many black boys joining street gangs to develop male role models with this subculture being reinforced through rap music. This then leads to underachievement as educational achievement is not part of the gang culture

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External factors - Cultural deprivation

Asian families

Indian and Chinese pupils benefit from an Asian work ethic which places a high value on education. Lupton states that adult authority in Asian families is similar to the model that operates in schools so Asian children can fit in better and know that respectful behaviour towards adults is an expectation

White working class families

White working class children often underachieve and have lower aspirations. Lupton studied four working class schools with different ethnic mixes. She found that teachers reported poorer levels of discipline in the white working class schools despite the fact they had fewer children on free school meals because of the lower levels of parental support. By contrast, ethnic minorities saw education as a way up in society

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Criticisms of cultural deprivation

  • Driver argues that it ignores the positive effects such as the black Caribbean family providing girls with a strong independent role model which is why black girls often do better than boys
  • Lawrence argues that black pupils underachieve not because of low self esteem, but because of racism
  • Keddie sees cultural deprivation as a myth with ethnic minorities underachieving because of the schools' ethnocentric curriculum which is biased in favour of white culture
  • Compensatory education is not a viable solution as it imposes a dominant white culture. Instead there should be multicultural education schems which values minority cultures and anti racist education which challenges prejudice 
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External factors - Material deprivation

According to Palmer, almost half of all ethnic minority children live in low income households as against a quarter of white children. In addition, ethnic minorities are almost twice as likely to be unemployed compared with whites

This is because many live in deprived areas with low wage rates, cultural traditions prevent women from working outside of the home, a lack of qualifications and language skills and racial discrimination in the job market

However, even deprived Indian and Chinese pupils still do better than most. 86% of Chinese girls who received free school meals achieved 5 or more GCSEs compared with 65% of white girls who were not receiving free school meals

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External factors - Racism in wider society

Rex shows how racial discrimination leads to social exclusion and how this worsens the poverty faced by ethnic minorities. In housing minorities are more likely to be forced into substandard accommodation than white people

In employment there is also evidence of discrimination. A study sent 3 similar job applications from fictitious applicants using names from different ethnic groups. Only 1 in 16 ethnic minority applicants were offered an interview as against 1 in 9 white applicants. This helps to explain why ethnic minorities are more likely to face unemployment and low pay which has a negative effect on their children's educational prospects

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Internal factors - Labelling & teacher racism

Teachers often see black pupils as being disruptive and Asians as passive with negative labels often leading teachers to treat ethnic minority pupils differently

Gillborn & Youdell found that teachers were quicker to discipline black pupils than others due to their racialised expectations. Teachers expected black pupils to present more discipline problems and when teachers acted on this misperception the pupils responded negatively saying the teachers were picking on them

This may explain the higher levels of black pupils being excluded from school with this affecting achievement as only 1 in 5 excluded pupils achieves 5 GCSEs

Wright says teacher labelling has affected Asians too as teachers assumed they would have a poor grasp of English so left them out of class discussions leading them to feel marginalised as teachers expressed a misunderstanding to their culture and way of life

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Internal factors - Pupil identities

Archer describes how the teachers' dominant discourse constructs three different pupil identities:

  • Ideal pupil identity - A white, middle class, masculined identity who is seen as achieving in the right way through natural ability
  • Pathologised pupil identity - An Asian, feminised identity who is seen as a plodding over achiever who only succeeds through hard work rather than natural ability
  • Demonised pupil identity - A black, working class identity who is seen as unintelligent, culturally deprived and an under achiever

Even those minority pupils who perform well can be pathologised such as Chinese pupils who have achieved success through passive conformism rather than natural ability so they can never occupy the identity of the ideal pupil

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Internal factors - Pupil responses

Fuller studied a group of black girls in London who were untypical as they were high achievers. Instead of accepting the negative stereotypes of themselves they channelled their anger into persuit of educational success but without seeking the approval of teachers. This highlights how pupils can succeed without conforming and negative labelling doesn't always lead to failure

Mirza identifies three types of teacher racism which discourages black pupils from being ambitious:

  • The colour blind - teachers who believe all pupils are equal but allow racism to go unchallenged
  • The liberal chauvinists - teachers who believe black pupils are culturally deprived so have low expectations of them
  • The overt racists - teachers who believe blacks are inferior and discriminate against them
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Internal factors - Pupil responses

Sewell identifies four responses to racist stereotyping by teachers:

The rebels - only a small minority but the most influential group. They rejected the goals of the school and expressed their opposition through peer group membership 

The conformists - the largest group who accepted the school's goals and were anxious to avoid being stereotyped by teachers or their peers

The retreatists - a tiny minority of isolated individuals who were disconnected with school and subcultures

The innovators - the second largest group who were pro education but anti school, valuing success but not seeking the approval of teachers

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Criticisms of labelling & pupil responses

  • Some argue that racism in the way that the education system operates has a bigger effect such as the A to C economy putting black pupils into lower streams so educationally underachieve
  • Many assume that once labelled negatively pupils automatically become victims of the self fulfilling prophecy but Fuller's study proves otherwise
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Internal factors - Institutional racism

Critical race theory sees racism as an ingrained feature of society where it involves not just the intentional actions of individuals, but more importantly institutional racism which is less overt and is a locked in inequality

Gillborn argues that marketisation allows negative stereotypes to influence decisions about school admissions. The Commission for Racial Equality 1993 noted that there was lack of information in minority languages, racist bias in interviews etc which mean ethnic minority children are more likely to end up in unpopular schools

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Internal factors - Institutional racism

The ethnocentric curriculum is a curriculum which reflects the culture of one ethnic group which is institutionally racist because it builds a racial bias into the everyday workings of schools

Examples of the ethnocentric curriculum include the teaching of only European languages and art. In addition, Ball says the History curriculum promotes an attitude of little Englandism which teaches about the British empire and glory years while ignoring the history of blacks and asians. This can lead to underachievement because the idea of British people bringing civilisation to the primitive people they colonised makes black children feel inferior so have low self esteem

However, even though the curriculum may be ethnocentric Indian and Chinese pupils' achievement is still above the national average and far superior to White British children

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Internal factors - Institutional racism

Gillborn argues that the assessment game is rigged to validate the domiant culture's superiority. Black children in one local authority were the highest achievers on entry to school but the new FSP had ranked them lower than whites. He argues that this was because they were now based on teachers' judgements and a change in timing

The Gifted and Talented programme might seem to benefit bright pupils from minority backgrounds but Gillborn points out that whites are over twice as likely as Black Caribbeans to be indentified as gifted and talented

Similarly, blacks were more likely to be entered for lower tier GCSE exams even if they were taking part in the Aiming High scheme to raise black carribean pupils' achievement

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Internal factors - Institutional racism

Teachers often place students in sets not only on the basis of their prior attainment, but also on disciplinary concerns and perceptions on their attitude. In what Gillborn calls the new IQism he argues that teachers and policymakers see potential as a fixed quality that can be easily measured but he says there is no genuine measure of potential as people can change and learn more

Criticisms of Gillborn

  • Sewell argues that institutional racism isn't powerful enough to cause underachievement and instead external factors such as boys' subcultures have a bigger effect
  • Not all ethnic minorities perform poorly as there is also overachievement by model minorities like Chinese students
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