The connection between ethnicity and educational accomplishment is very complicated as there is a great deal of difference between achievements between each of the ethnic groups.
In previous studies, such as those carried out to compile the Swann report (1985), used very simplistic classifications of each of the ethnic groups, ‘Afro-Caribbean’, ‘Asian’ and ‘All others’ (including white). There was clear ranking between these groups with all others at the top, followed by Asians, and then Afro-Caribbean.
Later on more complex classification systems were introduced and so a more detailed picture of the relationships between class and education emerged. For example, Kysel (1988) used eleven classifications to measure success at 16. This study placed Indian, African, Asian and Pakistani pupils at the top, followed by South East Asian and Greek students. Students of UK origin came in the middle of the range, followed by pupils from Turkish, Arab and Caribbean origin. At the bottom were Bangladeshi pupils.
Most sociological explanations point to home back ground, educational experiences and factors to do with society. However studies don’t usually apply such sophisticated classifications, as used by Kysel, so making it difficult to explain distinctions between the categories.
There are three main reasons for different ethnicities achieving differently in the cultural factors, social class and school factors.
Cultural factors are thought by sociologists to have a large influence on the difference in attainment of the ethnic groups. Findings of those such as Douglas have provided support for what came to be known as ‘cultural deprivation theory’. This theory states that many of the values, attitudes and skills needed for high educational success are missing in the culture of certain ethnic groups. This was a particularly popular theory in the 1960-70’s, it was notably supported by the Swann committee (1985), however evidence can be seen as weak, even the Swann report said this argument was ‘sketchy’.
Driver and Ballard adopted this explanation in their study of children with parents of South Asian origin. They found that these parents quickly developed high expectations of their children’s abilities and such attitudes may have attributed to their success.
Ken Pryce rejected theory. He did a study of the Afro-Caribbean community in Bristol (1979) and although he described their way of life as ‘turbulent’ he also said that Afro-Caribbean parents have great aspirations for their children, and that they were not socially deprived because their parents are supportive, interested and provide all of the educational aid the can.
Rex and Tomlinson also rejected the cultural deprivation theory in their study in Handsworth. Their rejected the theory because the data they collected points to Asians achieving highest at school and yet their parents go into school the least, indicating that they are not as interested as Afro-Caribbean parents who go into school the most. In spite of their parents frequent visits to school Afro-Caribbean are achieving the least in school.
Another important theory is cultural difference theory, this about children being disadvantaged because their culture differs from the schools, the main example of this is if a child go to an English speaking school and speaks a different language at home, this means that they will not be as practiced as the children for whom English is their first language, they will be subjected to constant correction by teacher and their confidence and self esteem may suffer as a result.
This theory is rejected by Driver and Ballard who found that by sixteen Asian children’s command of English is at least as good as their class mate, and in some cases, much better.
The Swann report also noted that linguistic factors held back some Afro-Caribbean students but most did not have a problem.
Social class is another important factor to consider. Some research suggests that much of the differential educational advantage that Afro-Caribbean’s face is due to the fact that most Afro-Caribbean’s are working class, disproportionately so. Swann said social class adds up to half of the reason behind educational achievement. Smith and Tomlinson agreed with this with their study of inner city junior schools and found a large variation due to class but a much smaller discrepancy due to ethnicity. The only problem with this is Asian pupils are primarily working class yet they achieve better that their white middle class counterparts.
Many researchers have looked at the impact a range of school factors; this idea takes the stance that the difference in attainment between the ethnic groups is due to school environment.
In studying school factors researches may have looked at curriculum content, teacher’s attitudes, ethnocentric resources, banding, language and many other things.
Mac and Ghaill found that there was no clearly defined relationship between students who have been the victims of racism and the ones who have been predicted a fail. What he found was how well students did was influenced mainly by the schools they had come from. Pupils from suburban schools did better than pupils from inner city schools.
Most studies showed that teachers were not racist to ethnic minorities. Taylor saw that many teachers were very sensitive in their handling of cultural issues and Hammersley went on to say most racist teachers did not bring this into the classroom.
Wright studied primary schools and noticed how Asian pupils were largely ‘invisible’ to the teacher and was treated insensitively by both staff and peers. Coard said that institutional racism lead to ethic minority children having self-esteem problems, which developed into low achievement. This is extremely apt with Afro-Caribbean students who are seen as ‘a threat to classroom management’ and because they have been treated like this they start to conform to the labels they have been given. The DfEE found in a recent study that Afro-Caribbean pupils were four times more likely be permanently excluded from school than white children.
To conclude, the area of ethnicity is a very delicate one and it is important to view it in the context of individuals and not stereotype people. More research is needed in to the experience of small, specific racial groups, not just ‘Asian’ or ‘White’. It is also important to note that it can never be seen as just one factor, it is always going to be a combination of factors and also age and gender can not be ignored, no one factor can never be measured accurately on its own.