Topic 3, Ethnicity and Achievement

INTRO: =Statistics to show ethnic differences in achievement?

  • 50-60% white pupils attain 5 or more A*-C GCSEs
  • On average, over 75% of Chinese pupils attain 5 or more A*-C GCSEs
  • 40-50 % of Pakistani and Black pupils attain A*-C GCSEs


3 cultural factors that can affect ethnic underachievement

  1. Intellectual and linguistic skills
  2. Cultural deprivation theory claims that children from low income families lack intellectual stimulation.
  3. This as a result, leads to a failure to develop reasoning and problem-solving skills which are vital in the education system in order to achieve.
  4. An example of this behaviour is evident in Bereiter and Engelmann’s study where they stated language spoken by low income black American families is inadequate, as they see it as ungrammatical, disjointed and incapable of expressing abstract ideas.
  5. This demonstrates how the linguistical capabilities of a pupil can affect the way they understand educational content resulting in underachievement.
  6. However, the establishment of compensatory education aims to combat this cultural deprivation to instil achievement motivation.
  • Attitudes and values
  • Difference in attitudes and values towards education may also be the result of differences in socialisation within a family structure.
  • This is because most children are socialised into mainstream culture, which instils competitiveness and desire to succeed however, some children are socialised into subcultures which places less value on succeeding in education.
  • For example, an attitude displayed within a subculture that some black pupils might be socialised into is fatalism. It is focused on immediate gratification where rewards in present time are more important than achieving long term goals (like mainstream culture would suggest)
  • This attitude results in a lack of motivation to succeed, therefore leads to some black pupils to underachieve.
  • However, Keddie argues that it is a victim-blaming explanation, as schools are biased in favour of an ethnocentric curriculum.
  • Family and structure
  • Within the family, there are various structures that can affect a child’s opportunity to succeed within the educational system.
  • Within many African Caribbean families Sewell argues the family structure is very matrifocal which implies a lack of a male figure within the home for young boys
  • This results in less ‘tough love’ for many young boys which may encourage them to turn into gang culture to seek ‘tough love’ and stimulation for a motive in life.
  • This shows how the lack of a key value in the family structure can result in anti-educational attitudes which are found within gang cultures.
  • However, this is not seen within all ethnic minorities, Asian families instil children with an Asian Work Ethic where high value is placed on education.

How can material deprivation lead to underachievement for ethnic minority pupils?

  • One way in which a pupil’s achievement can be undermined is material deprivation.
  • This refers to a lack of basic necessities, such as nutritious food, housing, clothing or money to buy things that will greatly impact upon a pupil’s achievement.
  • Palmer found this was common in ethnic minority households, where half of all children within this social group lived-in low-income households compared to a quarter of white children.
  • This demonstrates how a low income within the home can lead to a lack of resources vital for education such as pens, paper and money for educational trips can lead in missing out on valuable content. Which can result in underachievement, especially for ethnic minority students.
  • However, compensatory education introduced in America and the UK is aimed to combat issues for children who are deprived.

How can racism in wider society lead to underachievement?

  • While material deprivation and poverty have an impact on the educational achievement of some ethnic minorities, some sociologists state that the root of poverty is actually a result of racism within wider society.
  • This is due to the idea put forward by Rex where the racial discrimination leads to social exclusion which progresses into unemployment, low pay and inadequate housing which can affect a child’s education.
  • A study conducted by Wood et al that involved sending 3 closely matched applications with fictional names related to different ethnicities found 1 in 9 ‘white’ applicants got an interview while only 1 in 16 ethnic minority applicants got an interview.
  • This demonstrates how racial discrimination within wider society can lead to material deprivation within the home, especially within ethnic minority households.
  • Although, this idea does not consider other roots of poverty such as social class.


How does labelling and teacher racism lead to underachievement?

  • Labelling is the process of attaching a meaning to someone or something, which is often based on stereotypical attitudes.
  • Within education, teachers will place certain labels on pupils and lead to the teacher treating the pupil in a certain way based on this label.
  • For example, Gillborn and Youdell found teachers expected black students to present more disciplinary issues and misinterpreted their behaviour to be challenging to authority based on these stereotypical labels as a result of racialised expectations of this certain social group and led to teachers picking on the pupils more often resulting in less focus on lessons.
  • Therefore, these racialised expectations will lead to more confrontational and black pupils will be absent for more lessons that can undermine educational success.
  • However, not all black pupils conform to these labels and will succeed in education.

How can streaming lead to underachievement?

  • Another way which can affect a pupil’s opportunity to succeed is streaming.
  • As found by Gillborn and Youdell, within the A-C Economy, a teacher’s focus is on students who believe are most likely to achieve a C or above disregarding those who they believe will not

What did Wright’s study find?

  • Asian pupils can be a victim of teacher labelling.
  • Teachers hold ethnocentric views, and often see British culture and standard English is superior.
  • They are judged against English language and its culture.

What is institutional racism?

  • Troyna and Williams argue that to explain ethnic differences in achievement it is needed to go beyond examining individual teacher racism, and look at how schools routinely and unconsciously discriminate against ethnic minorities
  • This is because, within the Critical Race Theory it sees racism as a deeply ingrained feature of society and is not just an intentional act of an individual, but an institution
  • An example of this theory can be demonstrated by Locked-in inequality, where the scale of historical discrimination is so large that there no longer needs to be any conscience intent to discriminate as it becomes self-perpetuating

How does marketisation and segregation affect a pupil’s achievement?

  • Gillborn argues that marketisation gives schools more scope to select pupils
  • Schools are more likely to select pupils which show academic success, which are usually labelled as of white background. However, pupils of an ethnic minority background are less likely to be selected due to the lack of opportunities given to them due to the label given.

The effect of an ethnocentric curriculum?

  • Ethnocentric describes an attitude that gives priority to the culture or view point of one particular ethnic group, whilst largely disregarding others
  • This can undermine a pupil’s achievement if they do not belong to the prioritised culture due to being at a disadvantage within the education system
  • Ball in particular sees the history curriculum in British schools as recreating a ‘mythical age of empire and past glories’ while disregarding or ignoring the history of black and Asian people.
  • This have a detriment effect on a pupil’s achievement due to not having the advantage of belonging to the culture that is taught in schools, leaving pupils lacking in confidence to do well.
  • However, statistics show over 75% of Asian pupils achieve 5 or more A*-C GCSE grades compared to 50-60% of white pupils attaining the same grades.

Evidence of improvements or disadvantages in access to opportunities for ethnic minority students?

  1. ‘Gifted and talented’ programme
  2. Meets needs of more able students in inner city schools, benefitting bright pupils from minority groups.
  3. However, Gillborn argues who is more likely to be labelled as gifted?
  • Exam tiers
  • Tikly, 30 schools in the ‘Aiming High’ initiative to raise Black Caribbean achievement
  • But black students were more likely to be entered into foundation or lower exam tiers
  • New IQism
  • In what Gillborn calls ‘new IQism’ he argues that teachers and policy makers make false assumptions about the nature of pupil’s ability or potential
  • This suggests that access to opportunities (high sets or talented programmes) depends heavily on teachers which works against black pupils due to institutional racism
  • However, only focuses on two issues – under achievement of black pupils and over achievement of Indian and Chinese pupils
  • Ethnicity, class and gender
  • Evans argues that in order to fully understand the relationship between ethnicity and achievement, we need to look at how ethnicity interacts with gender and class. For example, in examining black children’s achievement, sociologists tend to look at their culture and ethnicity but rarely class
  • There is a bigger gap in achievements of white middle class and white working class than there is between black middle class and black working class.

Archer and pupil identities

  • Archer found that teachers often define pupils as having stereotypical identities, a teacher’s dominant discourse defines ethnic minority pupil’s identities
  • These identities are categorised into 3 – ideal, pathologized and demonised. Where typically black or white working class, hypersexualised identities and culturally deprived are placed into ‘demonised’
  • Archer argues that even those minority pupils who perform successfully can be pathologized (seen as abnormal) for example, Chinese pupils were simultaneously praised and viewed negatively by their teachers.
  • This in turn, puts the pupils at a disadvantage within the education system due to the racialised opinions and expectations placed on them. 
  • However, Fuller’s study into a small group of high achieving black girls in year 11 maintained a positive self-image by rejecting the teacher’s stereotypes of them

Negative pupil responses and subcultures to teacher labelling

  1. Failed strategies for avoiding racism
  2. Mirza found that a large majority of teachers in education held racist attitudes
  3. Identified in 3 main types; colour blind (all equal but don’t challenge racist behaviour), liberal chauvinist (sees black pupils as deprived and have low expectations) and overt racist (believe black pupils are inferior)
  4. Sewell – variety of boys’ responses
  5. Rebels, the most visible and influential subculture, actively reject goals of school
  6. Conformists, pupils are keen to succeed and accept rules within schools
  7. Retreatists, a minority of pupils who are isolated from both school and black subcultures
  8. Innovators, group is pro-education and want to succeed, but are anti-school and disruptive on the surface