Raising Black Caribbean and BAME* Achievement: An introduction – focusing on equity

“It is our moral obligation to give every child the very best education possible” as the great Desmond Tutu, sadly no longer with us, has said. Surely no one committed to the moral purpose of education could demur.

And so, when outcomes are so manifestly different for some of our children and young people, we need to do everything we can to address the equity gap and change what we do so that all have the opportunity to thrive.

Haringey Data

So far so obvious. But it was deeply painful when 5 years ago in Haringey we ran the data and saw that we had the biggest gap in the country at GCSE between our high-attaining White British students and our lower-attaining Black Caribbean students.

Exclusions and behaviour are equally disproportionate, with Black Caribbean students four times more likely than White British ones to experience a fixed term exclusion between Years 7 and 11.

Our Turkish and Kurdish young people face many similar outcomes, with very low average attainment levels at Key Stage 2 (especially in reading) and also a heightened risk of exclusion.

Looking beyond ‘disadvantage’

Of course disadvantage is a key factor. Haringey is a divided borough – a richer West (Highgate, Muswell Hill, Crouch End) and a poorer and more diverse East (Wood Green and Tottenham).

In a way though, looking only to disadvantage would be to take the easier position that the reasons for these gaps are economic in nature. We understand why a child (from any background) would be less likely to achieve as much when excluded from educational and wider opportunities.

What the data undeniably tells us – and anyone can see from experience – is that there is more going on, and, that some communities face significant additional barriers.

Discussing ethnicity and the reasons for these different outcomes can feel uncomfortable, but we have to acknowledge it or we are destined to repeat the same outcomes for our children and young people.

This is why the media spin surrounding the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities was so damaging, even though the report was actually slightly more nuanced in substance.

Taking action in Haringey

We have worked extremely hard over the past 5 years in Haringey to develop our work on Black Caribbean and BAME Achievement. And when I say ‘we’ I mean a real collective effort between school leaders, governors, Haringey Council and HEP, driven and catalysed by an entirely voluntary steering group.

We have by no means ‘solved’ the issues. We continue to approach this with all humility as the issues are complex, systemic and different for each community.

If anyone had a full answer we would all implement it.

Instead, we work together with a collective focus and responsibility and are developing tools and resources to support our schools.

The Aims

We will focus more on some of these in future blogs, but in short we aim to:

Strength in working together

We are far from alone in our focus.

Other London boroughs including Lambeth, Hackney, Brent and Lewisham among others have all come together to share and learn from each other.

We are infinitely stronger together in tackling barriers as deep rooted and long-term as these. This unity in action is essential, with no positive action coming from central government and cuts to the Ethnic Minority Achievement Grant and the Black Caribbean Achievement Project, which saw the attainment gap reduce by around half.

In all modesty, we welcome conversations with anyone who wants to develop their own approach and offer any of the resources and support we have developed freely.

This is about our moral purpose – recognising, valuing and raising up our children and young people from every background.

Or as Desmond Tutu said, “inclusive, good-quality education is a foundation for dynamic and equitable societies.”

*Note on Terminology

The term ‘BAME’ is an imperfect and problematic acronym used to describe peoples of Black, Asian and minority ethnic heritage.

We know this term encompasses a hugely diverse population, both culturally and socio-economically, whose lived experiences cannot be defined by a single word, and we endeavour to acknowledge these differences in the work we do.

We know that language is not neutral and we are continuously working with our family of schools and partners in the community to question and develop the language we use.

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About the Author:

James Page

James is Chief Executive of HEP. He was previously joint Assistant Director for schools and learning in Haringey Council and has worked in DfE and extensively in central government and consultancy. He is also a parent governor in the Borough.

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