Monday, March 07, 2005

Educational Segregation?

Trevor Phillips, chairman of the UK's Commission for Racial Equality, finds himself under fire after he suggested that black male students might see improved academic performance if they were educated in classes set aside exclusively for them. Teachers and educational experts decried the proposal as "apartheid" and argued that it might even be illegal under the UK's Human Rights Act. Nevertheless, Mr. Phillips, who is black, defended the idea of educating black young men by themselves.

Mr Phillips insisted the proposals did not break the law. He said the Government had succeeded in raising the performance of children as a whole at GCSE level, but black boys were not improving.

“It seems to me that we need to look for some new ideas because this is costing the whole community, not just the black community or the individuals, a great deal,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“These boys are unemployable, they end up in a situation where, in a sense, they can’t participate in society. So we wanted to look for some radical ideas.”

Mr Phillips said anything that worked was "at least worth considering”. He also insisted that the scheme did not amount to segregation.

“The point is there is a group of boys who we know have a particular set of needs, partly because of their background, partly because of things that they bring into school... and we may need to have some specific tailor-made solutions for them which don’t apply to other people.

“That might mean putting them in some classes together.”

Black male students perform signicantly worse than other racial groups in the GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education), a series of tests administered in various subjects to UK students around the age of 16. According to Mr. Phillips, young black men in Britain suffer from cultural values that disparage learning and achievement.

Mr Phillips told Inside Out, the BBC One programme due to be broadcast at 7.30pm today, that many black boys were suffering from a culture where it was not cool to be clever, and they lacked selfesteem and good role models.

“If the only way to break through the wall of attitude that surrounds black boys is to teach them separately for some subjects, then we should be ready for that,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Phillips said he had heard of similar programs being tried in the US with some success - particularly under Dr. Stan Mims at the East St. Louis School district, which recently introduced gender separated math classes.

But another prominent black figure said that educating black boys separately in mixed schools might actually cause them to be demonised. Simon Woolley, co-ordinator of Operation Black Vote, said that the roots of under-achievement went deeper than Mr Phillips’s comments suggested.

“The issue about poor results with some black children is complex," he said. "Run-down housing estates, broken families and low teacher expectation are all factors. I would prefer to focus on these things first before we start blaming the victims — and demonise them for their failure. However, it is true that the bling-bling and gangster rap culture does not help.”

The Times noted that results for the GCSE's showed a continued racial and gender gap.

Although results improved marginally last year, just 35.7 per cent of black Caribbean pupils in England and 43.3 per cent of black African pupils scored at least five C grades at GCSE, compared with a national average of 52.3 per cent.

Those figures masked the fact that black Caribbean girls achieved far better results than boys, with 43.8 per cent achieving five A*-C GCSEs compared with 27.3 per cent boys. The difference of 15.5 percentage points compares with a national gender gap of 10.2 per cent.


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