This special issue of Race Equality Teaching (RET), an equality impact assessment of the Con-Dem government’s educational programme, unpicks exactly what is in store for the nation.
On the one hand is the 2010 white paper entitled The Importance of Teaching and the education bill, on the other hand is Theresa May’s supposed commitment to upholding the principle of equality. Yet, never the twain shall meet. ‘Response to The Importance of Teaching and the Education Bill 2011′ ‘is a concerted effort by a team from [the RET] Editorial Board to put before the Secretary of State and his ministers the evidence that their plans will do little good and, especially for the least advantaged, enormous harm.’
Equality impact assessment?
Robin Richardson shows how the Department of Education has either disregarded or paid a shallow lip-service to matters relating to equality impact assessments. The most obvious disregard was in the cancellation of the building schools for the future programme – which will obviously affect many pupils from BME backgrounds. And he provides a series of points of error or weakness that can, hopefully, be picked up by local authorities and others who are struggling against central government plans.
On raising attainment
David Gilborn tears apart the government’s programmes for meeting its stated purpose of raising attainment for all children and closing the gap between the richest and the poorest. First there are the cuts. And yet there is money to form all those new academy schools. And he provides chapter and verse, stats and graphs to show that academies are unlikely to benefit black pupils achievement-wise and they will actually be at risk to more permanent exclusions. There are higher rates of exclusion for all pupils in academies and, he warns, the right of reinstatement following an appeal against exclusion is due to be removed. Government reforms, he concludes ‘seem likely to have considerable negative impacts that will further entrench existing inequalities by social class and race. The extension of academy status carries numerous threats but the most immediate is that a group of schools known to be less diverse and more middle class than the average are set to benefit from enhanced funding at a time when state education budgets are being reduced elsewhere.’
Don’t mention race
Sally Tomlinson is equally scathing. She shows that both the Con-Dem white paper and New Labour’s first white paper in 1997 had similar stated aims and input from the same man, Michael Barber. The differences now are that there will be less focus on targets and micro-management and more structural change, along the lines of academies and free schools (which were of course first introduced in the Blair years). She goes on to highlight the fact that now there is nothing in the current white paper on respect for others and appreciating other cultures and backgrounds. Race and ethnicity, she says, are mentioned minimally in the bill but form an important covert subtext. A major section of the white paper translated into Part 2 of the bill is devoted to discipline and much comment, she writes, is directed at black and other minority students. Teachers already have powers to search for weapons, drugs and stolen goods and new legislation extends those powers and suggests new areas in which teachers should be empowered to check on pupils out of school. Powers of head teachers to exclude disruptive pupils are to be extended and new arrangements put in place for alternative education – ‘in effect an extended sub-system of mainstream schooling’. She envisages private providers entering a market place of free schools for the disruptive and Pupil Referral Units turned academies. The increase in academy schools and free schools will run against any notion of community cohesion by intensifying divisions by faith, class and community.
Free for whom?
Ros Garside argues that the curriculum suggested in the 2010 white paper is elitist and does not indicate any understanding of the process of learning. It ‘harks back to … rote learning and facts that may have no resonance for learners’. Bruce Gill and Feyisa Demie question whether in terms of accountability the white paper has anything much to offer that is new. Rosemary Campbell-Stephens points to the irony that the free schools movement in the UK, though modelled on African American and Hispanic schools in the US, is essentially a white movement. Though the rational might be to tackle inequality, those who have been most disenfranchised in the UK are systematically being excluded from discussions. ‘It appears to be the preserve of well-organised white middle class groups, and certain predominantly Asian communities.’ Berenice Miles, contrasting a report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission with government proposals, argues for the need to prevent and respond to racial bullying and the needs of minority children. This means more support for children and schools rather than more top-down sanctions and more exclusions. Children from African, Caribbean, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller backgrounds will suffer.
Fighting the cuts
Bill Bolloten comments on two of the ‘unkindest cuts of all’ – the removal of financial support for English classes for speakers of other languages (ESOL) and the proposed withdrawal of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) which, though currently worth only between £10 and £30 per week, allows some of the most poor young people aged 16-19 to stay in education. Both of these cuts are politically charged. Forty-three per cent of all those 17-18 year-olds in fulltime education in 2008 received EMA, but this was true of 64 per cent of Black Caribbean and 88 per cent of Bangladeshi students. There is absolutely no doubt that this is a disincentive now for such young people from the poorest families in the most marginalised communities to better themselves. The Save EMA Campaign and others are mounting a legal challenge on Gove’s decision: two-year contracts with students to receive EMA have been breached by the government.
What an irony. Cameron, in his denunciation of multiculturalism at Munich and recent warning about ‘disjointedness in some neighbourhoods’, calls on immigrants to speak English and fall in with British values. At the same time an essential public service – funded English classes which can help people fit in by getting access to work and training – is being massively cut. This appears to be in line with the government’s kow-towing to the anti-immigrant, anti-asylum seeker chant of the tabloids. For ESOL will be available to ‘settled communities’. No equality impact assessment has been carried out by the government on this policy decision. A campaign to defend ESOL, including asylum groups and teachers’ unions has been launched.
This edition of Race Equality Teaching lays out the facts – bare and stark. But in its interstices lie a number of unarticulated issues and unanswered questions. Today, when state provision is being systematically and strategically undermined and chunks of provision handed over to the private sector, the struggles have of necessity to be changed. How can equality be high up on an agenda which is now about private profit? How can racism and structural issues of discrimination be addressed when the political discourse is against multiculturalism and for blaming familial culture for undermining society’s cohesion? How can education’s role in social mobility be maintained when a third of society is, through the market state, to be locked away in the ghettos? At a time of recession and acute cuts, how can one prevent the further marginalisation and penalisation of the poor and powerless in which BME communities are over-represented?
What this issue of Race Equality Teaching (Volume 29 number 2, Spring 2011) reveals is the crying need to campaign now, and all on fronts against the education proposals, before yet another generation of young people is failed and thrown on the scrap heap. And it points up exactly where and how everyone in education – lecturers, teachers, governors, parents, pupils, trade unionists, local authority officials and councillors – can take up the struggle. More, it sketches the range of issues which unites students from asylum-seeker, Gypsy and Traveller, African Caribbean, African, Asian and poor white families. Imagine the strength if all those campaigns got off the ground and came together in a community of interests. That would be community cohesion indeed.
Read about the journal: Race Equality Teaching .
Read an IRR News story: ‘Learn the language – how?’
Sign the petition to save ESOL