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“Race”, Ethnicity and Educational Achievement: Data and Explanations

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“Race”, Ethnicity and Educational Achievement:Data and Explanations

Click here for teaching notes and an essay on “Race”, Ethnicity and Educational Achievement

Click here for a PPT on Social Class and Educational Achievement

Click here for a PPT on Gender and Educational Achievement

Click here for more information on the Sociology of Education.

“Race” , Ethnicity and Educational Achievement

  • Introduction

  • “Race” and Ethnicity

  • Relevant data

  • IQ theory and its limitations

  • Ethnic minorities, social class disadvantage and educational achievement

  • Ethnicity and culture

  • Ethnicity and racism in schools and in the wider society


  • The following slides provide an overview of the extent and causes of ethnic inequalities of educational achievement

  • I hope that the slides will provide a useful basis for the more detailed study of this topic and that they also prove useful for revision purposes

“Race” and Ethnicity

  • In many Sociology texts the term “race” appears in inverted commas.

  • The term “race” relates to supposed biological differences such as differences in skin colour, hair texture or shape of eyes as between different social groups .

  • However it can be shown that it is perfectly possible that if we consider at random, say, two white people and one black person, the overall genetic characteristics of one white person and the black person may be more similar than those of the two white people.

  • For this reason most sociologists do not consider “race” to be a meaningful concept which is why it is placed in inverted commas.

  • However, most sociologists do see “race” as a dangerous concept which can lead to the persecution of one “race” by another.

  • The term ethnicity relates to cultural differences which may exist as between different social groups and sociologists see this term as more useful than “race” for the analysis of different social groups.

Ethnicity and Educational Achievement: Relevant Data [1]

  • Data indicate that relationships between ethnicity and educational achievement are complex.

  • Successive cohorts of students in all ethnic groups have increased educational achievements in the last 30-40 years.

  • At GCSE level [using national statistics of percentages of students gaining 5 or more GCSE A*-C grades ] Chinese students are most successful, followed by Indian –origin, White, Pakistani-Bangladeshi-origin and Afro-Caribbean –origin students.

  • There are also significant local variations in ethnic educational achievements

  • Female students out-perform male students in every ethnic group.

  • Upper and middle class students our-perform working class students in every ethnic group.

Ethnicity and Educational Achievement: Relevant Data [2]

  • Data on free school meal eligibility show that this appears to have a greater adverse effect on some ethnic minority students than on others: for example free school meal eligibility has little adverse effect on Chinese students.

  • Ethnic minority students who are relatively unsuccessful at GCSE level are more likely than are unsuccessful white students to remain in education.

  • The broad patterns observable at GCSE level vary slightly at at Advanced level: Chinese students are still the most successful but White students are more successful than Indian Origin students

  • Ethnic minority students are more likely than white students to enrol on undergraduate courses.

  • However they are less likely than white students to enrol at higher status universities and also less likely to gain first class or upper second class degrees.

  • Click here for some useful recent statistics from the Office of National Statistics.

Ethnicity and Educational Achievement : IQ Theory

  • Theorists: Jensen, Herrnstein, Eysenck, Burt, Murray

  • These theorists claim that Intelligence can be defined clearly

  • They claim that intelligence can be measured accurately via IQ tests

  • They claim that USA data indicate clear ethnic differences in intelligence as measured in IQ tests even allowing for ethnic differences in social class membership

  • In their interpretation research on identical twins suggests that about 80% of the variation in intelligence among individuals can be explained by genetic factors

  • They conclude that environmental factors , therefore, are less important than genetic hereditable factors as determinants of intelligence

Ethnicity and Educational Achievement: IQ Theory [Criticisms]

  • Intelligence cannot be defined clearly or accurately measured by IQ tests.

  • IQ tests may be culturally biased which disadvantages some ethnic minority students and especially working class ethnic minority students.

  • Some students may not be at their best when they take the tests

  • Others may not take the tests seriously

  • Student IQ test scores can improve with practice, suggesting that they do not measure fundamental intelligence

  • The relative importance of genetic and environmental factors in determining intelligence is unknown but genetic factors are unlikely to be as significant as suggested by IQ theorists

  • In the USA the performance in IQ tests of Northern Black Americans has been higher than that of Southern Black Americans and the performance of both groups has improved over time suggesting that environmental factors are significant determinants of intelligence

  • Some ethnic minority students, most notably Chinese and Indian –origin students are now out-performing white students which means that the orthodox conclusions of IQ theory certainly do not apply to them.

Ethnicity and Educational Achievement : Social Class Disadvantage

  • Ethnic minority members are distributed throughout the UK class structure but members of some ethnic groups are disproportionately likely to be found in working class occupations. Therefore they are disproportionately likely to experience a range of adverse material circumstances associated with membership of the working class such as:

  • Low birth weight

  • Fewer pre-school play groups and nurseries in working class areas

  • Greater risk of poor diet, under-nourishment, tiredness and sickness

  • Absence may be caused by the need to care for sick siblings because parents cannot afford to take time off work

  • W/C ethnic minority students may feel especially forced to take part-time paid work which may interfere with their studies.

Ethnicity and Educational Achievement: Social Class Disadvantage

  • No quiet room for study

  • Parents unable to afford relevant books, trips or personal computers

  • Parents unable to afford part-time private tuition or full time private education

  • Parents unable to afford housing in catchment areas of most effective schools

  • Parents and students fearful of debts associated with higher education

Ethnicity and Educational Achievement : Cultural Circumstances

  • Studies of sociologists such as Hyman, Sugarman and Douglas have suggested that white working class students might be disadvantaged educationally because of their lack of ambition, strong present time orientation and unwillingness to defer gratification. The same difficulties could, in principle, arise for working class ethnic minority members.

  • However the above studies have also been widely criticised and in any case we must analyse ethnic minority cultures themselves rather than assume that white working class and ethnic minority working class pupils are broadly similar.

  • It is possible that some ethnic minority students might be disadvantaged because English is not their first language. However several studies [Driver and Ballard{1981}; The Swann report {1985}; Moodood and others{1997}] suggest that in many cases language difficulties have mostly been overcome by the age of 16.

Ethnicity and Educational Achievement : Cultural Circumstances [2]

  • Some sociologists have suggested that some ethnic minority members might be disadvantaged by their family lives, having noted the large proportion of Afro-Caribbean origin single parent families and the limited involvement of some Pakistani-Bangladeshi parents with their children’s education.

  • However there is also good evidence that Afro-Caribbean origin parents [single or otherwise] and Pakistani-Bangladeshi parents do see education as very important.

  • For example, they have set up their own week-end schools to offset what they see as the limitations of the official school system.

  • Secondly, the fact that ethnic minority pupils are more likely than white pupils to remain in education after the age of 16 suggests a beneficial parental interest.

  • Thirdly a study by Moodood and others{2004} showed that rates of participation in Higher Education were higher for ethnic minority students than for white students and that parental encouragement was an important factor encouraging ethnic minority students to opt for Higher Education

Ethnicity and Educational Achievement : Racism in Schools and in the Wider Society

  • Excessive emphasis in UK school curriculum on UK culture at the expense of ethnic minority culture in the teaching of, for example, English, History and Geography.

  • Insufficient numbers of ethnic minority teachers to act as positive role models.

  • Conscious or unconscious racism of teachers although it is difficult to assess the actual extent to which teachers are consciously or unconsciously racist.

  • Possibility of negative labelling and unfair allocation to lower streams resulting in educational failure and self-fulfilling prophecies.

  • Importance of systems of educational triage whereby teachers concentrate on borderline pupils who might gain 5 A*-C GCSE grades , secondly on high achievers and only minimally on students who were often Black and considered unlikely to gain A*-C passes.

  • Higher rates of school exclusion especially among Afro-Caribbean origin boys

  • These points might be linked to the concept of Institutional Racism.

The Concept of Institutional Racism

  • In the Lawrence Inquiry Institutional Racism was defined as follows: ” The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping that disadvantage ethnic minority people. It persists because of a failure of the organisation openly and adequately to recognise and address its evidence and causes by policy, example and leadership. Without recognition and action to eliminate such racism it can prevail as part of the ethos or culture of an organisation. It is a corrosive disease.”

Ethnicity and Educational Achievement : Racism in Schools and in the Wider Society [2]

  • There are several relevant studies which, however, are difficult to summarise on PowerPoint Slides.

  • Bernard Coard

  • Cecile Wright

  • Heidi Mirza

  • Mac An Ghaill

  • David Gilborn and Dianne Youdell

  • M.O’Donnell and S. Sharpe

  • Click here for some information on some of these studies but you should also consult your textbooks at this point for fuller relevant information. [I shall provide further links when the site is more fully developed].

Ethnicity and Educational Achievement : Racism in Schools and in the Wider Society [3]

  • It should be noted that the first 5 studies mentioned on the previous slide all suggest the schools themselves do contribute in various ways to the educational difficulties of some ethnic minority students.

  • However the study by M. O’Donnell and S. Sharpe suggests that there is at least some possibility that some schools may be more conscious nowadays of equality of opportunity issues and that they have introduced policies designed to increase equality of opportunity for both female and ethnic minority students.

  • It has been claimed also that ethnic minority pupils are more likely to encounter racism from other pupils and from members of the wider society than from teachers.

  • However these experiences of racism may provoke justified frustration and anger from the some ethnic minority pupils which teachers feel must be countered with disciplinary procedures, possibly including pupil exclusion. In this view teachers are responding to a situation for which they are not themselves responsible.

“Race”, Ethnicity and Educational Achievement: Conclusions

  • This concludes the introductory presentation. Additional information can be found by following the link on slide number 14.

  • However you must also use your textbooks to familiarise yourselves with some of the detailed conclusions of the various sociological studies which are relevant to this topic.

  • Once you have done this , it is important for examination purposes to be able to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the various theories which are used to explain patterns of ethnic educational achievement.

  • You should be able to improve your evaluation skills via further class discussion of the issues involved.

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