Anushka Asthana, Toby Helm and Tracy McVeigh, Guardian (London), April 4 2010
Black children are being systematically marked down by their teachers who are unconsciously stereotyping them, it has been revealed.
Academics looked at the marks given to thousands of children at age 11. They compared their results in Sats, nationally set tests marked remotely, with the assessments made by teachers in the classroom and in internal tests. The findings suggest that low expectations are damaging children’s prospects.
The study concludes that black pupils perform consistently better in external exams than in teacher assessment. The opposite is true for Indian and Chinese children, who tend to be “over-assessed” by teachers. It also finds that white children from very poor neighbourhoods were under-assessed when compared with their better-off peers.
“What is worrying is that if students do not feel that a teacher appreciates them or understands them, then they are not going to try so hard,” said Simon Burgess, professor of economics at the University of Bristol and co-author of the report. His study finds that the differences are a result of stereotyping, as opposed to other factors, and are particularly pronounced in areas where there are fewer black children–or fewer children from very poor estates.
The issue of testing is top of the agenda this weekend as the National Union of Teachers urges its members to vote to boycott the Sats test for 11-year-olds this summer. They believe the external tests are distorting education and should be replaced by teachers’ assessments. Yesterday, the union used its annual conference in Liverpool to threaten the next government with a “summer of discontent” over public spending cuts and national curriculum tests.
But Burgess, who is director of the Centre for Market and Public Organisation at the university, said his study showed that the tests were the only opportunity some children had to “prove their teachers wrong”. He argued: “These findings suggest that going down the route of abolishing key stage tests at age 11 would be a bad idea.”
Ed Balls, the secretary of state, said concerns about stereotyping were one reason he did not want to abolish the tests. “There are still schools, particularly in white, working-class communities, where the attitude is ‘the children here don’t do so well, we do the best with what we have got, aspirations aren’t high’,” he said. “That is unacceptable.”
But teachers rejected the argument yesterday. John Bangs, of the National Union of Teachers, said that if there was stereotyping it should be tackled by improving teacher training so teachers could better assess children themselves–not by retaining Sats. And Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, which is also calling on members to back the boycott, said there were ways of moderating teacher assessment to make it more reliable.
Gloria Hyatt, a former secondary headteacher of black-Caribbean and Irish heritage, said the study confirmed a longstanding complaint made by ethnic minority groups. She now works as an education consultant helping schools to get the best potential out of those who might be “deemed as failures”.
“This is not discrimination or racism,” said Hyatt. “It is something unconscious. What this study shows is that what we see and what we experience influences our beliefs, attitudes and perceptions. We are conditioned by society, in terms of what comes out of the television about minorities, what we see in books. That says that ‘this is the model’ and then experiences reinforce that.” Hyatt argued that it was hard to go against those pervasive generalisations.
[NOTE: On April 16, the Guardian replaced the above paragraph with the following text:
She said that while there was no clear agreement that discriminatory, culturally-biased testing or pupil behaviour were the reason for this outcome, teachers needed training in not “consciously or unconsciously” sustaining this practice.
“What this study shows is that what we see and what we experience influences our beliefs, attitudes and perceptions. We are conditioned by society, in terms of what comes out of television about minorities, what we see in books. That says that ‘this is the model’ and then experiences reinforce that.” She argued that it was hard to go against those pervasive generalisations.]
She said she had met teachers who believed “all black children are great at sport” and less able in “English, maths and science”. She argued that a “training tool” was needed. “Equal opportunities legislation will not fix this.”
Meanwhile, it emerged that the three biggest teaching unions and leaders of the NUS Black Students Campaign have written to the Equality and Human Rights Commission demanding an audit of Britain’s schools and universities to uncover race inequality in education. The letter points to the “disturbingly” low numbers of black teaching staff in primary and further education. It says that the London Metropolitan University had more black students than the country’s top 20 universities put together.