Are Black Children Disadvantaged By the UK Education System?

I encourage every parent with school going children to watch a documentary coming up today

Thursday the 20Th May 2021 on BBC 1 starting at 9PM to understand the educational disadvantages

that faced generations of black children and the enduring consequences of those actions to this day.

While great progress has been made, a lot remain to be done and black children are still more likely

to be excluded from school or sent to a Pupil Referral Unit (a sure way to crime, gangs and prison)

than any other race in the UK. It is correct to say perhaps through unconscious bias that behaviour

that white children will get away with in class shall most likely result in sanctions and punishment

when committed by a black child. This is NOT news – it is widely available and documented in

publicly available literature and extends to the UK Criminal Justice System where once more blacks

make a proportion of the prison population inconsistent with their number in the overall population.

The treatment of black children of a Caribbean origin arriving in the UK in the 60s and 70s was to

say the least despicable, immoral and deliberately and consciously bigoted. Many were labelled as

outright stupid, unintelligent, unteachable and with low IQ. They were needlessly sent to special

needs schools with devastating lifelong consequences for opportunities, progress and ultimately

economic status, which persist to this date. These children were seen as intellectually inferior to

white children and the educational opportunities available to them greatly constrained their learning

and progress with many leaving school without the basics of reading, writing and basic arithmetic.

Those who understand the classroom dynamics would know only too well that a teacher who doesn’t

believe his or her pupils are good enough will limit the materials of study and the intellectual

engagement and exposure with them. If this persists over time, it has catastrophic consequences

for the learning and progress and achievement of the pupil. Those parents who remember teachers

who saw them as incapable of understanding maths and repeated that to them every lesson may

relate to this. By contrast, a teacher who believes every child can make progress of some kind will

help pupils of average intelligence to break down the imaginary boundaries and limitations that the

pupil may have brought into lesson. A child who is repeatedly told that they are incapable of learning

by their teachers and or parents will tend to believe and act to vindicate that. The words a parent or

an adult present in a child’s life says frequently or repeatedly to that child could have lasting and

irreversible impact on that child’s education, progress, achievement, confidence and life general.

Indeed many schools in the 60s and 70s believed that the concentration of too many black children

in one school would weaken the overall intellectual quality, rigour and achievement in that school.

Schools and educational authorities bussed children out of particular areas to mitigate this fear with

no one school allowed to have more than 30% of the pupils as non-white. That institutional labelling

of black children is evidently visible in the many challenges and disadvantages a disproportionate

number of black children continue to experience in school and in the classroom as a lived reality to

this day, especially the culture of low expectations placed on black children. One may perhaps

understand why the top universities in the UK (Russel Group Universities) admit so few black

children, even when they have the entry requirements. Subtle entry requirements such as “cultural

fit” interviews (which most top universities have) result in many black children being weeded or drop

out once admitted. A recent BBC documentary on racism in UK universities shed as much light.

The good news is that there is so much a parent can do at home to support their child from an early

age especially on literacy and numeracy as well as building their personal confidence and resilience.

My considered believe is that there is no harm explaining to our black children that the challenges

of racism exists but that most of the teachers in British schools today want to support their pupils to

achieve the best they can. Black parents today have the opportunities and access to information to

ensure that they both strengthen the gains made over the years but also support and encourage

their children especially outside of the classroom, against some of the enduring educational bigotry.

Ultimately, parents involved in their children’s education and who engage with the school and the

teachers from an early age are more likely to end up better than those who take the opposite route.

Alex Kamau wa Ikui teachers in London. (Waikui 2021©)