Alexandra Blair and David Charter, Times (London), Mar. 7
BLACK BOYS may have to be taught apart from other children in some subjects to improve their grades, according to Trevor Phillips, the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality.
A row over whether black boys should be segregated at school erupted last night after Mr Phillips said that separate lessons may be needed to overcome years of failure.
Mr Phillips also called for tougher action on black fathers who do not take parenting responsibilities seriously, including the denial of access to their children if they fail to turn up to school parent meetings.
Teachers reacted with concern to the proposals, which come after the publication of figures last month showing black male teenagers continuing to lag far behind their white peers in GCSEs.
Martin Ward, the deputy general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association gave warning that the suggestions could fall foul of racial equality laws. He said: “Clearly there is scope for schools to help all children who are doing badly. But to single out black children for special treatment could be counter-productive and even illegal.”
But Mr Phillips is no stranger to controversy, having called last year for a redefintion of multiculturalism. He explained that this was to ensure community cohesion rather than the promotion of separate cultural identities.
Mr Phillips told Inside Out, the BBC One programme due to be broadcast at 7.30pm today, that many black boys were suffering from a culture where it was not cool to be clever, and they lacked selfesteem and good role models.
“If the only way to break through the wall of attitude that surrounds black boys is to teach them separately for some subjects, then we should be ready for that,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Mr Phillips said last night that he did not believe that separate lessons were right for all black boys but he was reacting in the BBC programme to a successful experiment in a US school.
The spokeswoman said: “The BBC asked him to see the work of Professor Stan Mimms, who took black boys out of the class in a school in St Louis and they were taught separately in a different classroom. Trevor saw that it seemed to be working there and believes we should not close our minds to it and should look into it.
“He is not saying that all black boys should be taught separately. He is saying it seems to have worked in America and we should look into it.”
Mr Phillips told the programme: “A tough new strategy would compel black fathers to be responsible fathers. If they can’t be bothered to turn up for parents’ evening, should they expect automatic access to their sons?” Another prominent black figure said that educating black boys separately in mixed schools might actually cause them to be demonised. Simon Woolley, co-ordinator of Operation Black Vote, gave warning that the controversy went deeper than Mr Phillips’s comments suggested.
Mr Woolley, who has invited the Rev Jesse Jackson to Britain this week to encourage the black community to vote, said: “The issue about poor results with some black children is complex. Run-down housing estates, broken families and low teacher expectation are all factors. I would prefer to focus on these things first before we start blaming the victims — and demonise them for their failure. However, it is true that the bling-bling and gangster rap culture does not help.”
Although results improved marginally last year, just 35.7 per cent of black Caribbean pupils in England and 43.3 per cent of black African pupils scored at least five C grades at GCSE, compared with a national average of 52.3 per cent.
Those figures masked the fact that black Caribbean girls achieved far better results than boys, with 43.8 per cent achieving five A*-C GCSEs compared with 27.3 per cent boys. The difference of 15.5 percentage points compares with a national gender gap of 10.2 per cent.
Mr Phillips returned to his old school, White Hart Lane in Wood Green, North London, to film the programme and get a better understanding of the problem. He said that radical measures were needed.
In order to tackle the lack of sufficient black male role models, he also suggested that the Government pay incentives to encourage more black men to join the teaching profession.
He said: “We need more male black teachers, tempting them with extra cash if necessary. . . We need to embrace some new, if unpalatable, ideas both at home and at school. None of us, least of all the next generation of black children, can afford a repeat of the past 40 years.”
Mr Phillips, who spent time in America studying measures taken to improve the achievement of black boys, said that schools should consider stopping pupils who do not apply themselves in lessons from playing in school sports teams.
Baroness Rosalind Howells, the black Labour peer, dismissed Mr Phillips’s suggestion, saying it would be a step back to the racially divided United States of the past century.
She said: “I would never support segregation of any sort. It is the education system that is failing not only black pupils but also white working-class pupils from council estates. Now if you were to segregate these groups of pupils and drive them away from each other and prevent them playing with each other, then when these groups meet up there’s a chance they will fight and cause all sorts of chaos. I find it difficult to see that segregation is the way.”
Dr Tony Sewell, the prominent black educationist, said: “I think what Trevor is saying is that we need some of our pupils to have a black time-out: to take a step back.
“There is a lack of focus with some of our boys and taking them aside occasionally can be beneficial. But kids perform better in a mixed context.”