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Why are black children missing from the grammar school debate?

May 19, 2017 by

Expanding grammar schools will only deepen racial inequalities in our society – and leave more black students behind

Theresa May’s plans for a new generation of grammar schools have been met with staunch cross-party opposition. Criticism has even come from senior members of her own party. But there is one important point that has been largely ignored: how the plans will affect racial inequality in education, and indeed society.

The argument for the reintroduction of grammar schools hinges on the idea of meritocracy, but this denies the ways race and other social factors such as class impact education and grammar school admissions. Black students are already at a disadvantage in our education system, and May’s plans will worsen this.

By the time black students reach the end of primary school, they have already faced a litany of barriers that would prevent them from getting the grades to enter grammar schools: race and class biases in examinations, harmfully low teacher expectations and a whitewashed curriculum that refuses to recognise Britain’s colonial past, to name a few.

Race affects educational outcomes way before students would be expected to take the dreaded 11-plus exams. According to Department for Education statistics on SATs exams, the proportion of black students (including those designated as mixed white and black Caribbean) who achieve level 5 or above in the key areas of reading, writing and mathematics is notably below that of their white peers and the “all pupil” average.

The general consensus is that students looking to pass the grammar school entrance exam should be at level 5 (often high level 5) in their SATs exams. A disproportionate number of black students, then, are excluded from grammar school entry. The expansion of grammar schools could see the widening of already troubling racial disparities.

Professor David Gillborn argues that the British education system is not in fact designed to be meritocratic but to reproduce the racial attainment gap. Given the fundamental role education plays in structuring employment, the economy and society at large, the maintenance of the attainment gap means continued racial inequality. And contrary to May’s rhetoric, evidence suggests that the reintroduction of grammar schools will further entrench the education system’s role in this.

Source: Why are black children missing from the grammar school debate? | Teacher Network | The Guardian

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