New official figures reveal a disturbing gap between the performance of black Caribbean pupils in GCSE exams and pupils of other ethnic backgrounds.
The annual pupil census, implemented in 2002, makes it possible, for the first time, to monitor the achievement of black and ethnic minority pupils in a consistent way, locally and nationally.
The data published last week shows that pupils from black Caribbean families did far worse than others, with only 30 per cent getting five or more good GCSEs (grade A-C) in 2002. Just half of white pupils (51 per cent) achieved this standard while pupils from Indian families scored 64 per cent and Chinese families, at 73 per cent, outperformed all others.
- Bangladeshi 45%
- Black African 40%
- Black Caribbean 30%
- Black other 37%
- Chinese 73%
- Indian 64%
- Pakistani 40%
- White 51%
These disturbing figures follow the publication, at the end of February 2003, of the latest Youth Cohort Study, which had tracked the educational experience of young people for over a decade. The survey of nearly 20,000 school pupils showed that the performance of black pupils has fallen by 8 per cent since 2000, in contrast to that of white and other minority ethnic pupils which all showed significant improvement.
Worryingly, the problem has been persistent for decades. OFSTED, the education watchdog, has found that although black pupils start school aged five as enthusiastic and academically able as any other youngster, by sixteen they perform worse than any other group.
Diane Abbott MP, has described the experience and achievement of black boys in British schools as a ‘silent catastrophe’ and has been active in organising conferences to address the issue.
The slump in the performance of black Caribbean pupils, revealed by the new figures, is a bitter blow to the government, which has launched successive drives to reverse the trend. In April 2001, David Blunkett, then Secretary of State for Education, pumped £1.5 million into projects focused on African-Caribbean boys, who were identified as a group in particular need of support.
With the release of the GCSE data, Minister for Schools, Stephen Twigg, launched a drive to raise achievement from ethnic minority pupils. A consultation document, entitled Aiming High: Raising the Achievement of Minority Ethnic Pupils, outlines the government’s strategy to raise the standards for all young people whatever their ethnic and cultural background and ensuring that all educational policies truly address the needs of every pupil in every school.
All schools will be required to collect information each January by ethnic group, to enable the publication of national data annually on performance by ethnicity. OFSTED will report on how well schools and local education authorities are responding to the requirements of the Race Relations (Amendment) Act. The strategy seeks to improve training for school leaders and teachers, reduce exclusions among certain groups and increase support for bilingual pupils.
Stephen Twigg is also seeking views on how to reduce exclusions rates among black pupils, who are four times more likely than others to be suspended or excluded.
Also being targeted are highly mobile pupils such as the children of refugees and travellers. It is estimated that there are some 82,000 refugee and asylum seeker children in Britain, of which more than three quarters are in Greater London.