Skip to content
January 4, 2015 / C H Thompson

Ethnicity and Educational Attainment – part 2

The Issues 

  1. a) Gender gap

As stated above, Black Caribbean students have the lowest attainment levels out of all ethnic groups except Gypsies, Roma and Travellers. This becomes even more pronounced when looking at Black Caribbean boys. Whilst there are race_exam_results (1)attainment gaps between boys and girls amongst all ethnic groups, the gender gap is even greater between Black Caribbean girls and boys, being 12.5% compared to the national gender gap of 7.3%

b) Behaviour and exclusions

  • Black Caribbean boys in particular are twice as likely to be characterised as having behavioural, emotional or social difficulty compared to White British boys (Stephen J. Ball, 2008.
  • In addition, Black Caribbean boys are far more likely to be excluded from school – the Office of the Children’s Commissioner found that they are 37 times more likely to be excluded than girls of Indian origin.
  • Also, in 2009-10, if you were a Black African-Caribbean boy with special needs and eligible for free school meals you were 168 times more likely to be permanently excluded from a statefunded school than a White girl without special needs from a middle class family.
  • Being excluded from school has a massive impact on a pupil’s attainment levels.

For example, research by David Gillborn and David Drew found that excluded pupils are 4 times more likely to finish their education without having gained academic qualifications. Subsequent access to higher education and employment is therefore limited. Furthermore, if a child has lower academic achievement they are more likely to become involved in criminal activity (2010).

Racism and unconscious bias

A reason for educational attainment differences could be unconscious bias from teachers, leading them to assume that children of certain ethnic groups are more (or less) likely to misbehave or work hard. There has been concern from a sizeable number of newly trained teachers that their training does not well prepare them for teaching pupils of different ethnicities. Improved teacher training on this issue may improve outcomes.


  •  There has been a range of evidence suggesting that school decision making and selection processes about access to course and qualification routes in schools work against the interest of Black students. For example, evidence suggests that Black pupils are more likely to be entered for lower tier exams, meaning that these students are only able to able to achieve a maximum grade of a C or D, and other evidence has found that Black Caribbean and African students are less likely to be indentified for gifted and talented programmes (Stephen J. Ball, 2008).
  • Evidence also suggests that Chinese and Indian students are more likely to be entered into higher sets. Setting can be problematic given that a pupil’s set is decided at a young age, and evidence suggests that teacher assumptions that Black students will achieve poorly and Chinese/Indian students highly may result in children being put in an inappropriate set, and thus effectively pre-determine how high a grade it is possible for them to achieve.

Exclusions and discipline

  • Research by the former Department for Education and Skills (Getting it, Getting it Right 2006) suggest a number of reasons as to why Black pupils are disproportionately excluded, including institutional racism. The report argues that Black pupils encounter both conscious and unconscious prejudice from teachers– for example, research has found that throughout their education black pupils are disciplined more (both in terms of frequency and severity) and often for milder offences than those leading to their White peers being punished.
  • The report recommended that to help decrease exclusions of Black pupils there should be consistent and continued monitoring of pupil progress to identify problems early on, more teacher training on matters of race equality, involving pupils in designing and setting rules, and providing support from academic mentors.

Post-school achievement

It is important to take into account, that whilst attainment gaps are decreasing among minority ethnic groups, they still experience unequal outcomes at university and in the workplace post school. The picture is extremely striking for Indian students who, overall, do far better than White students at school yet are more likely to attend less prestigious universities, and are more likely to be unemployed.

Types of university attended

  • The proportion of university places taken by BME students has increased from 13% of students in 1994/95 to 23% in 2008/09, a figure broadly proportionate to their size in the young population (EHRC Triennial Review, 2010)
  • However, at least 44% of all Black, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian graduates attended post-1992 universities, or former polytechnics compared to 34% of other ethnic groups. This is despite the fact that Indian students are second highest achieving ethnic group (National Equality Panel, 2009)
  • All minority ethnic groups, with the exception of students from Chinese backgrounds, are more likely to be at ‘new’ institutions (Runnymede, 2007). There are more students of Black Caribbean origin at London Metropolitan University than at all the Russell Group universities put together (Runnymede, 2007)
  • In 2009 only one Black Caribbean individual was accepted to study on a course at Oxford University (University of Oxford, 2010)

Attainment at university

  • 66.4% of White students studying first degrees received a first class or second class honours qualification, compared to 48.1% of BME students overall and only 37.7% of Black students (Equality Challenge Unit, 2009)
  •  A higher proportion of lower second class degrees were awarded to Black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi graduates than upper seconds (National Equality Panel, 2010)
  • Black British students, Asian British Pakistani students and ‘other’ British Asian students are significantly more likely to drop out of higher education. (N. Powdthavee and A. Vignoles, 2007)

After university

  • Chinese boys are among the highest performing groups in our schools. After university, however, they can expect to earn 25% less than White graduate (EHRC).
  • Despite being the second highest achieving ethnic group, Indian young people looking for work are more likely to be unemployed compared to White British young people (24.2% compared to 20%, ONS 2012).
  • 44.4% of young Black people and 33.3% of young Pakistani/Bangladeshi people looking for work are unemployed (ONS 2012)


  1. Re-introduce the ring-fenced Ethnic Minority Achievement Grant
  2. Ensure the new curriculum is inclusive and promotes diversity. We would also recommend retaining Citizenship as a subject at all levels, not just in secondary schools
  3. Teacher training needs to be improved to equip all teachers to be able to teach a diverse range of students. This training should also explore issues around unconscious bias.
  4. There has been little research into effective independent careers advice and guidance that young people from BME communities need in order to access a wider range of universities or the labour market on graduation. Work to explore whether careers advice is resulting in some ethnic groups (such as Indian students) choosing less prestigious universities or low paid/over-competitive careers, is needed.
  5. Reintroduce targets to recruit ethnic minority teachers (previously organised by the TDA)
  6. Reduce the number of exclusions of Black Caribbean boys, and restore powers to exclusions appeals panels to reinstate those pupils who have won their appeal in their school (see more in our response to the Education Bill:

Taken from

The complete text above was taken from


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: