Policy changes improve education standards for minority groups

Research-led changes to policies, programmes and practices have helped raise the school performance of students from black and ethnic minority backgrounds.

Prior to the investigations carried by Bristol’s Graduate School of Education, very little research existed that examined the degree to which pupils from minority groups were underachieving in the educational system. Nor did many initiatives exist that had successfully reversed a trend for which there was previously only anecdotal evidence.

Data collection

In 2001, Bristol's Professor Leon Tikly and colleagues from the University of Leicester were commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) to work with Birmingham Local Education Authority (LEA).

Their research involved the collation and analysis of data relating to the differing experiences of ethnic minority students across different local education authorities. In particular, they examined how student achievement was monitored, standards of best practice and LEA strategies.

A subsequent study in 2003 found further evidence for discrepancies in how students from mixed heritage backgrounds were treated. White/Black Caribbean students were shown to be placed at a disadvantage owing to stereotypes about their supposedly ‘confused identities’. Researchers also found they were excluded from programmes aimed at bolstering Black Caribbean achievement.

Aiming high

However, several school practices were found to be effective in raising attainment levels for White/Caribbean students, such as innovative learning strategies, diversity in the curriculum and raising the expectations of pupils. These findings enabled Birmingham LEA to create resources, reports and guidelines to enhance professional practice, improve school leadership and raise awareness to tackle stereotyping. Attainment standards for African Caribbean students and mixed heritage groups improved as a result.

Between 2004 and 2006, Bristol was commissioned to review the Government’s 'Aiming High' initiative, geared towards raising the achievement of Black Caribbean learners.

Professor Tikly’s research team found that while the initiative improved attainment levels for African Caribbean students, those improvements varied between schools. African Caribbean students were also less likely to be included in classes for gifted and talented pupils, or involved in examination tiers. Improvements for Africa Caribbean boys were also much lower.

Evidence-based gains

These findings influenced the content of the Government’s 2008 Black Pupil’s Achievement Programme (BPAP) which was credited for significant gains in the educational standards of BME students. The National Union of Teachers, the National College for School Leadership, the British Council and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation were consequently prompted to amend their own models of best practice.

“The consistent under-achievement of Black Caribbean learners in English schools has been a blight on our education system and a cause for concern and anger within the black community for half a century,” said Professor Tikly. “Our evaluation shows the positive results that can be achieved when the government, together with local authorities, schools and the black communities, work together to overcome the specific barriers to achievement facing black youngsters and especially black boys.”

Making a difference

In 2012, Bristol Local Authority commissioned Professor Tikly’s research team to investigate the achievement of minority students, so as to improve understanding of the obstacles faced by black and ethnic minority learners.

Drawing on experiences of head teachers, class teachers, support staff, parents and students, the ‘Making a Difference’ evaluation report identified several strategies informed by previous Bristol research that had been used to make a difference to students’ lives. This proved the value of an evidence-based approach and has gone on to inform the development of policy and practice relating to BME achievement in the Bristol LA.

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Date published

November 2015

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