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The focus is on how central government policy initiatives and internal institutional curriculum restructuring have served to disrupt, albeit unintendedly, the conditions for students' learning. They point to the general impact of the current changes and how they are differentially structured, experienced and responded to by different social groups. It fails to acknowledge the cultural specificity of pedagogic social relations that are essentially experienced as a human social activity.

Volume 18 , Issue 3. If you do not receive an email within 10 minutes, your email address may not be registered, and you may need to create a new Wiley Online Library account. If the address matches an existing account you will receive an email with instructions to retrieve your username. First published: June Tools Request permission Export citation Add to favorites Track citation. Share Give access Share full text access. Share full text access. Please review our Terms and Conditions of Use and check box below to share full-text version of article. Abstract In recent years we have witnessed unprecedented rapid and substantial curriculum change in state schools.

Citing Literature Number of times cited according to CrossRef: Volume 18 , Issue 3 June Pages Ethnic origin has emerged as one of the most important variables when considering educational performance at age Historically, the most consistent and clear pattern of educational performance is related to students' social class background. There is a strong direct relationship between social class and educational performance, such that the higher the social class, the higher the average level of achievement.

The pattern for achievement by gender is less pronounced; typically at age 16 girls achieve somewhat higher results than boys, although this pattern is reversed in postcompulsory education. Figure 1 shows the achievements of students in taking account of class, gender, and ethnic origin: Although somewhat.

Adapted from Drew and Gray There is a strong association between social class and achievement; whatever the stu- dents' gender and ethnic background, those from higher social class backgrounds achieved higher average results than their counterparts from less economically advantaged households. On average, African Caribbean students of both sexes achieved below the level attained by the other groups.

Although young black women from working-class backgrounds achieved higher than their male peers, the data suggest that the common understanding that black girls outperform boys may be an oversimplification, relating only to working-class students. At this point we simply have too little data to reach a firm conclusion.

Books by Máirtín Mac an Ghaill

In contrast to their black peers, Asian students generally achieved as well as, or better than, whites of the same social class and gender. Although the data can be criticized for aggregating all South Asian students into a single category, they are nevertheless useful in providing a general picture of attainments in the mids. During the late s and early s, successive Conservative ad- ministrations sought to introduce market principles into British educa- tion.

Reforms included establishing new types of school outside LEA control and funded directly by central government ; encouraging greater choice for parents about where they would prefer their children to be educated; changing funding arrangements to make school survival de- pendent on attracting sufficient numbers of students; and providing more information to "consumers" parents in the shape of nationally published performance tables that detail examination results by school and district. At the same time, a statutory National Curriculum was introduced to effectively define the content and structure of the majority of compulsory schooling.

The school performance tables are seen by teachers as especially worrying. The data collected centrally are published in national news- papers and, in many cases, local papers reproduce them in a best-worst league order, reflecting the proportion of students who achieved at least five higher-grade GCSE passes. No allowance is made for social class and other background variables.

The combined effect of these reforms has been to heighten pressure on schools; in particular, many have made a special priority of raising GCSE attainment at all costs. This has sparked a return to the use of selection creating separate teaching groups based on "ability" , a practice that tends to disadvantage minority students who are often overrepresented in lower groups even when their test results suggest a higher placing might be more appropriate Hallamand Toutounji Between and , the proportion of students leaving compul- sory schooling with at least five higher grade passes increased from 30 percent to almost 45 percent-around half as many again in an eight-year period.

This is a significant improvement, but there is evidence that young people of minority ethnic backgrounds have not shared equally in the gains. While students in each ethnic group have enjoyed relatively more educational success in recent years, the greatest improvements have usually been made by the ethnic groups that already fared best in each local authority, meaning that the gaps between groups have grown Gillborn and Gipps This has particularly struck African Carib- bean students, who have fallen even further behind the average achieve- ments of their white and Asian peers.

Where data allow for more sensitive ethnic categories, Indian students appear to achieve as well as their white counterparts in many areas, possibly reflecting the larger proportion of middle-class households in this group. The exception to this pattern is in London, where Pakistani and Bangladeshi students often achieve higher average results than their white classmates: Qualitative studies add a vital dimension to work onethnicity and school achievement; previously, researchers often adopted deficit ap- proaches, looking for shortcomings in minority children, their families, and their communities see Troyna and Carrington By examining the significance of race and ethnicity in the daily lives of schools, ethnog- raphers have begun to build a more detailed and contextual under- standing of how racism can operate within school settings.

The interaction between white teachers and African Caribbean stu- dents was central to some of the first qualitative research on ethnicity in British schools and remains a major concern. Additionally, ethnogra- phers have charted some of the ways young black people respond to their school experiences. Both questions have a direct bearing on school performance.

Black students are frequently portrayed as conflicting with the behav- ioral requirements of mainstream schools. Historically they are more likely to be moved into separate schools and units for those deemed to have special emotional, learning, and behavioral problems Cooper et al. Also, they are more often subject to "perma- nent exclusion" expulsion from school. This is the single most serious sanction available to school principals; less than one in three students ever returns to full-time mainstream education following a permanent exclusion.

Recent data suggest that black students are between four and six times more likely to be excluded than their white peers Gillborn and Gipps Although older boys ages 14 to 15 are most likely to be excluded, in comparison with peers of the same age and gender, African Caribbean girls are also excluded in disproportionate numbers. Ethnog- raphies of multiethnic schools suggest that statistics like these may be the tip of an iceberg; even where they share the same classroom as other students, teachers' beliefs and actions can be such that AfricanCaribbean young people do not enjoy equal opportunities to succeed.

Qualitative research frequently points to a relatively high level of tension, even conflict, between white teachers and African Caribbean students.

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This finding recurs in ethnographies from the late s through to the s. Cecile Wright's work in two comprehensive schools during the s, where white teachers blamed black youth for a perceived decline in school standards of achievement and behavior, was especially important in demonstrating the degree to which teacher- student relations could deteriorate Wright Subsequent research by Mairtin Mac an Ghaill in a boys' school and further education college teaching postcompulsory-age students confirmed Wright's ac- count of deeply felt conflict between white teachers and black students.

Additionally, Mac an Ghaill's more thorough attention to the range of teacher perspectives revealed that even well-intention4 "liberal" teach- ers often displayed negative and patronizing views of black students as disadvantaged by broken homes and pathological family structures. Mac an Ghaill also noted that despite their shared position as "ethnic minorities," African Caribbean and Asian students were subject to dif- ferent stereotypes.

This leads to a situation where the same action, say, borrowing equipment from a friend, may be legitimate for Asians but labeled as disruptive for African Caribbeans Mac an Ghaill Black stu- dents were disproportionately controlled and criticized, not because they broke school rules any more frequently, but because teachers per- ceived them as a threat Gillborn And yet City Road teachers, unlike those studied by Wright and Mac an Ghaill, did not speak about the school in terms that suggested black students were responsible for any fall in standards.

Some younger teachers had deliberately chosen the school because they wanted to teach in the inner city. Nevertheless, classroom observations, interviews with students of all ethnic back- grounds , and an analysis of school punishment records confirmed that, as a group, black students of both sexes were disproportionately criti- cized by white teachers.

Despite the teachers' genuine concern to work with all students, teacher-student interaction was fraught with conflict and suspicion for African Caribbeans. Ethnographic data on teachers' beliefs about working in an inner-city school, plus an analysis of interactions where black students were pun- ished for displays of their ethnicity-their sense of difference and racial identity-revealed that teachers frequently operated according to a myth concerning a black challenge to authority. Teachers believed that African Caribbean students, as a group, presented a greater threat to classroom order and their personal safety.

They expected trouble from black students, sometimes perceived a threat where none was intended, and reacted quickly as they saw it to prevent further challenges. Consequently, well-intentioned and committed teachers came to re-create familiar patterns of control and conflict with African Caribbean students. Although the myth of a black challenge was rarely stated explicitly, its consequences were felt lesson by lesson, day by day. A frequent recipient of teachers' reprimands, for example, was Paul Dixon, a black student who was widely seen as wasting his high ability through adopting "the wrong attitude.

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They went directly to the teacher and apologized for the delay, explaining that they had been talking with a senior member of the staff. The teacher looked up from the student he was withand shouted across the room, "Paul. Look, you come in late, now you have the audacity to waste not only your time but his [Arif's] as well.

Yet like all persistent myths, it drew strength from both the past and the present. The view of black people as physically powerful and prone to violence was, of course, a key feature of the thinking that supported and excused the slave trade: Within the school, the myth of a black challenge was handed down sometimes overtly, often tacitly from one generation to another as part of the craft knowledge of white teachers, and re-created through the mis interpretation of contemporary events. Yet white teachers frequently see the action as a rejection of their authority, leading to further conflict.

One of Paul's teachers, for example, placed the following interpretation on the action:. I think he's got it in for white. When you're talking to him he's going. It is especially significant that this teacher sees the rejection of his authority as a racial issue: In the teacher's mind the key issue is race: Kathy notes,] "I've never been assaulted by a white kid. Ths statement, by a compassionate and dedicated teacher, shows how any single incident could be taken and used to damn all black students. In this case, the suggestion is that whle many urban students might resort to verbal abuse, only blacks are capable of physical assault.


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Successive ethnographies of urban schooling in Britain conclude that African Caribbean students experience school in ways that are different from-more conflict-ridden than-students from other ethnic groups. In addition to studies of secondary schools Foster ; Gillborn ; Mac an Ghaill; Mirza ; Wright , a similar pattern has been documented in the early years and in primary classes Connolly ; Epstein ; Troyna and Hatcher ; Wright In all of this, only one researcher has concluded that the teachers' actions were simply legitimate responses to clear differences in the behavior of black students Foster L3.

In this way, ethnographers have begun to explore how racism can operate in subtle and more widespread forms than the crude, oftenviolent attitudes that are usually associated with notions such as prejudice and discrimi- nation. This situation affects black students of either sex. However, this is not to say that gender is unimportant. African Caribbean young women experience school differently, in some ways, than their male counterparts. Several qualitative studies Fuller ; Mac an Ghaill ,; Mirza have explored the consequences of race-gender stereotypes in detail.

Young black women are often subject to stereo- types of loud, boisterous behavior that can lead to opportunities being closed down:. Take Maxine last year, I had her name penciled in for the A band [the highest-ability teaching group]. What happened? It turned out that there were two girls to choose from; one was Maxine, a noisy West Indian girl, and the other, a quiet white girl. Guess who got the vote? S[a teacher] said Maxine didn't deserve to get the A band.

I saw her work recently and she's gone backwards. The greatest inequalities, however, may have their roots in the racialized and sexualized discourses that surround white teachers' views of young black men. BothFuller and Mac an Ghaill , argue that different peer and teacher pressures may amplify male resistance in ways that lead to more serious disciplinary responses such as expulsion. Ethnographies of black male peer groups highlight the dilemmas faced by students wherein the very masculinity that seems to offer them respect among peers including whites feeds directly into actions that will fail them in school Mac an Ghaill ; Sewell Although ethnographies of the male student subculture have ad- dressed the role of masculinity in school failure, they are mostly silent on the topic of success.

Tony Sewell , for example, comments on the existence of black young men who were "conformists at school," but does not interrogate the notion of conformity nor examine these stu- dents' experiences and perspectives. Existing research on successful black students tends to focus on black girls and young women: A simple dichotomy between resistance and conformity, therefore, may be too crude Aggleton and Whitty There are some parallels between Mac an Ghaill's study of "the black sisters" and my own account of the school career of Paul Dixon the highest- achieving black male in City Road.

In both cases the students adopted strategies that involved great personal sacrifice and a weakening of previously valued friendships. Yet both cases also concern students who retained a sense of themselves as young black people while managing relationships with teachers so as to minimize possible conflict. In Paul's case, however, resistance was achieved through the act of educational success itself; in contrast to the case of Mac an Ghaill's "black sisters," even limited signs of resistance such as lateness or minor insolence were absent.

There are too few studies, but it seems that academically ambitious black males may have even less room for maneuver with white teachers. Like their African Caribbean peers, South Asian young people often experience school as a racist institution: Qualitative research reveals widespread patronizing and racist stereo- types that operate to close down educational opportunities for young Asian people. Teachers frequently assume Asian communities to be excessively authoritarian, emphasizing narrow, restrictive expectations for their children, who are thought to be raised in families dominated sometimes violently by the rule of the father.

Such views can lead teachers to lower their expectations, especially for young Asian women, because they expect their lives to be restricted by overly protective families, the specter of early marriage, and the demands of home. Such perspectives surface even in the most routine interactions:. The teacher commented to the Asian girls in the class. Is it worth me giving you a letter, because your parents don't allow you to be away from home overnight? This is a complex area, where reliable data on parents' true feelings are scarce. For example, interviews with 55 young Muslim women, predominantly of Pakistani background, indicated that around one- third of the parents were unequivocally opposed to their daughters pursuing higher education Brah and Shaw Research on Pun- jabi Sikhs in Britain, however, shows that extended education for young women is actively encouraged by parents, and is supported by cornmu- nity norms that place a premium on women's education Bhachu Teacher stereotypes concerning a lack of support for the education of young Asian women are, therefore, exaggerations at best and at worst diametrically opposite to the true situation depending on specific cul- tural and local factors Gibson and Bhachu This is carried to further extremes in teachers' views of young Asian women.

Here a stereotype of passivity, of the docile Asian girl, "has often meant that the girls are systematically forgotten or ignored when it comes to demands on the teachers' time" Brah and Minhas In some classrooms young Asian women are, in effect, invisible. In the eyes of their white peers, however, Asiangirls are all too visible. Ethnography has contributed significantly to exposing the almost rou- tine nature of racial violence and harassment inBritish schools, including those with few minority students:.

One of the most common interactions we have in the playground, the most common, widely used abuse is "You dirty Paki" or "Fuck off, Paki. Findings from qualitative studies can provide a stark contrast to quan- titative approaches. By including participant-observation and interviews with a range of stu- dents both victims and aggressors , ethnographers have highlighted the importance of ethnicity within student subcultures and have shown that racist harassment is more than simple namecalling.

Once again, qualitative research has identified important interconnec- tions between race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. The harassment of Asian girls, for example, frequently embodies a range of complex, some- times contradictory, racist and sexist stereotypes as at once demure yet licentious, alluring yet ugly:. I don't think any white person can possibly identify with what it's like. The complex interplay of variables such as class, ethnicity, gender, region, and so on is illuminated through a range of ethnographic re- search.

Mac an Ghaill , , for example, shows not only that Asian Pakistani and Indian males are as capable of resistance as their African Caribbean peers, but also that social class differences influence the form of adaptation. Ethnographic research also points to ways in which Asian students' school experiences may vary according to the ethnic composition of their schools.

Although many white teachers hold negative views of Asian communities as rigidly ordered, static, and patriarchal , the particular manifestations of these views are not always the same. Specifically, where African Caribbean students make up a significant proportion of the school population, teachers' stereotypes can prove relatively positive for Asian students. In contrast to their black peers, Asians are assumed to benefit from family support and a settled home life, which complements the aims of the school. However, where Asians are the dominant ethnic group, there is evidence to suggest that in the absence of black students, the same basic stereotypes are differ- ently articulated-in negative ways.

In these cases, Asians' actions may be seen as "sly" rather than studious and the home community viewed as oppressive rather than supportive Gillborn and Gipps Whereas U. Indeed, issues of racial and ethnic equality have been systematically removed from the agenda during the current re- forms. Although a special group was appointed to report on the role of multicultural education within the National Curriculum, for example, its work was never published Tomlinson Education reforms are posited in a deracialized discourse that, while never mentioning race, constructs a particular version of the nation, its heritage, and traditions that excludes any serious engagement with minority issues Gillborn In view of the continuing success of the Thatcherite project, therefore, students of color remain a marginal concern at the national level in Britain.

Qualitative research has begun to chart ways in which individual schools have challenged this situation-for example, through the adop- tion of antiracist policies, greater parental and community involvement, and the active participation of students in school policy making and implementation strategies Gillborn ; Siraj-Blatchford Unfor- tunately, such strategies remain outside the thrust of mainstream reform: Asian students perform higher on average than their African Caribbean peers; but each group is inter- nally differentiated, particularly along lines of social class and gender, in ways that are also associated with variations in attainment.

One constant, however, is the salience of ethnicity as a crucial factor in students' school lives. Ethnographic research, in particular, points to the importance of racism as a complex, changing, and widespread factor that can work against students of color in many different ways. Similarly, although South Asian students suffer disproportionate levels of verbal and physical harass- ment, and can be subject to a range of patronizing stereotypes, under certain conditions those same stereotypes can operate to support posi- tive teacher-student interactions where white teachers view Asians as more settled and studious than their black classmates.

In this way, empirical work at the school level provides a further impetus to recent attempts to theorize race and ethnicity as part of a more fluid and complex arena of socially constructed identities and oppressions Hall ; McCarthy ; Omi and Winant ; Rattansi Perhaps most important, ethnography demonstrates the need to connect analyses at both the macro- and microlevels.

Qualitative studies of student adap- tations and antiracist school change remind us of the agency of individ- ual actors while simultaneously pointing to the powerful constraints that continue to shape wider patterns of success and failure along lines of race and ethnicity. Several articles in this issue address John Ogbu's typology of minority status and school adaptation; it will be clear by now that, in their attempts to understand variation in educational performance, researchers in Britain have largely moved away from theories of cultural difference. Such approaches have often fallen into the trap of deficit thinking-viewing minority cultures as somehow lacking the necessary sophistication or motivation to succeed in the "host" society.

Ogbu's approach clearly risks this same fault and has not featured significantly in British work in this field. His argument is that while South Asian migrants expect to struggle and work for their advancement in British society, migrants from the Caribbean regard Britain as their "motherland" and therefore approximate involuntary minority status, so far as adaptation and school performance in Britain are concerned.

But this stretches the typology beyond credence and usefulness. Such an interpretation does not explain the significant differences in performance between different Asian groups in Britain and risks dangerously oversimplifying the pro- cesses of social exclusion and oppression that are at work. Lack of space prohibits an exhaustive account here, but certain points are worth mak- ing, albeit briefly. First, in Britain the largest minority populations all appear to fit the category of voluntary minorities.

Although African Caribbeans and the various South Asian groups entered Britain on the grounds of citizenship status resulting from colonial relationships, the migrants had to varying degrees chosen to move to Britain. The degree to which their migration resulted from "push and "pull" factors has long been debated, and there are many variables to be considered Watson ; nevertheless, it is the case that the majority of Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and Caribbean migrant families could not be said to view their presence in Britain as "forced on them" by the dominant white population-a crucial defining characteristic of involuntary minority status Ogbu and Simons n.

Second, Ogbu calls attention to cultural factors by stressing that al- though minorities both voluntary and involuntary "experience similar treatments," they "do not necessarily adjust or perform alike in school" Ogbu and Simons n.