Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 29-39)




  29. Can I welcome Sandra Oliver and Joy Warmington to our deliberations? We are very grateful not only for the help and cooperation we are having from everyone we meet in Birmingham, particularly from the education sector, but we are now into our second day. We visited between us four schools today and we will be on the road again in the morning. We particularly are interested not just in Birmingham but we want to look at education in one big, vibrant, changing city. Birmingham also has this record of improvement and meeting many of the challenges and we want to learn the lessons, but also the background is we are conducting all this year an investigation into secondary education. We will be looking at four topics: diversity, whether the government hopes are pinned on the fact that diversity, specialist schools, foundation schools, city academies and much else, will drive up the standards in the way they expect. Then we will be moving on to recruitment and retention of teachers. We will be looking at pupil achievement, particularly at those pupils who do not achieve their full potential and looking at some of the myths and stereotypes of white working class boys, the real problems in schools in under-achievement. Is it African Caribbean young men? Is it young women from particular sections of the Asian community? There are a lot of myths around and our job is to look at the hard facts to see what is the reality. Fourthly, a subject I am sure the government is less happy about, is school admissions. I hope that sets the context for our inquiry. This is formal and on the record but please relax. We have asked you to be here because you are extremely knowledgeable. Can you start by giving thumb nail sketch, a kind of overview, of how you see Birmingham education in respect of the work that you do?
  (Ms Oliver) In terms of the city, I think that Tim Brighouse in particular has been cooperative and sensitive to the work that Birmingham Partnership for Change is doing. There are challenges presented to us around achievement, particularly of African Caribbean boys, and girls are also affected by under-achievement. I also feel that we have an important role to play as a strategic organisation in Birmingham working alongside the Education Department and school advisers. We ought to be recognised as an important organisation in Birmingham. At times, we may not be taken as seriously as we would like to be. I am concerned about the lack of black teachers, African Caribbean teachers, because we are an African Caribbean organisation working in Birmingham. I am also concerned about the recruitment around governors in schools. I am concerned about the African Caribbean supplementary schools and lack of support that there is currently.
  (Ms Warmington) Birmingham has some unique challenges. The demographics alone present significant challenges to the city in terms of patterns of achievement and attainment of pupils. What we are looking at over the next ten years is a significant growth in the Bangladeshi population but they are one of the lowest achieving groups in Birmingham, especially Bangladeshi boys. Where we are getting improvement in terms of girls, we are seeing some retrograde steps in terms of certain particular ethnic groups in Birmingham. Overall, it creates a very dissatisfied feeling about the state of education, especially when you get to secondary school education. Having worked in a previous life looking at parents and partnership work, I have worked in about 50 schools in Birmingham over four years or so, delivering a programme called School Wise which was designed to help parents understand the national curriculum and support their children in terms of their education. At primary school level, there are obviously lots of opportunities for participation and opportunities for real partnership working. That is borne out in terms of the achievement but when you get to secondary schools you get the same in lots of other big cities, where parents are at a loss as to where to direct their child to. Can you be confident that if you send your child to X or Y school they are going to get a good outcome at the end of the day? That is where you see the mirroring patterns of deprivation and school achievement in Birmingham being borne out. It is a very mixed city. We have some very high achieving schools and we also have schools that, although making progress, are not making progress quick enough in terms of the needs and aspirations in the communities that they predominantly serve.

  30. We were impressed by the percentage of pupils from ethnic minority backgrounds, 43 per cent in Birmingham. This morning, the Committee split up and half of us went to the Moslem faith school in Sparkbrook. The message I took away was that the head teacher there, who I thought was a very inspiring head, said that very often what parents want is for their child not to be looked at as a Moslem but as an individual. I thought that was one of the most profound things that we were told this morning. Do you think that there is a problem, that many kinds from ethnic minority backgrounds find their ethnicity comes first rather than their individuality?
  (Ms Warmington) Yes. The organisation I represent has done a small scale survey called Beyond Racial Identity of 17 to 30 year olds in Birmingham. We deliberately wanted to look at the views of that particular group of people. We looked at African Caribbean communities, people from mixed communities, Vietnamese, Irish and there were some extremely diversely mixed communities. One of the things that came out quite strongly was that they constantly felt that ethnicity was more of a problem for other people than it was for them and that they were being defined within their ethnic boundaries and the packaging, whatever that may be, that went with it. It is certainly something that has come across from our research but we do tend to operate to reinforce those boundaries.
  (Ms Oliver) Pupils have expressed recently at a meeting I attended that they are treated differently. Teachers do not care for them is what I was hearing, and they are concerned and want to be treated as individuals rather than as black children in a school. I think that is very important. They recognise themselves as being black in a white society. They want to be individuals within a society rather than being black children in that society.

Jeff Ennis

  31. I wonder if you could say a few words about the differing roles of the two different agencies you represent and what is the overlap, if any, between the two agencies?
  (Ms Oliver) Birmingham Partnership for Change is a strategic organisation in Birmingham. It was established in 1995 after a piece of research by the then TEC, currently the Learning and Skills Council, looking at the issues around employment and education for African Caribbean people and the reasons why they were disadvantaged in the education and employment arenas. It is still a strategic organisation. It is currently working alongside the local education authority. It works with the community, with faith groups and with the DfES and various agencies.

  32. The LSC?
  (Ms Oliver) Yes. We are still working in partnership with a lot of other agencies. Joy and I work in partnership and we have collaborated on a report.

  33. What about your organisation, Joy?
  (Ms Warmington) Birmingham Race Action Partnership is I suppose the equivalent of a race equality development agency for Birmingham. We focus primarily on race and racism and how it manifests itself within some of the key institutions of Birmingham. We work with the institutions to try to put together practical interventions that can help to bring about mainstream change. We have been established since 1999 so we are a relatively new organisation but what you will know about the Race Relations Amendment Act is that it talks about mainstream. That is where the change has to be. In 1999, when Birmingham Race Action Partnership was developed, it was also talking about mainstream and saying that in order to really bring about some lasting changes in intervention we need to look at how we can work with key institutions to get them to change their policies and practices within the mainstream. We do not just work in education. Education is one of our themes, if you like. We have a joined up strategy around race equality so we work in health, looking at issues of health and equality. We connect with the four primary care trusts as well as some of the acute trusts. We work with the ISC on their strategies around some very innovative ideas about how they try to address some of the systemic disadvantage of being in the communities. The partnership is made up of some of the institutions that also are concerned about delivery. We are funded and supported by them to challenge them. We are not owned by any one partner. We do not get embroiled in the politics of having to bow to the master or the person funding us.

  34. Do you have an action team for jobs policy in the employment service in Birmingham?
  (Ms Warmington) We work quite closely with Job Centre Plus. Job Centre Plus are one of the organisations we are working with strategically—so that they can make their services relevant to communities. We are looking primarily at how institutions interpret what they do and how they tackle that; because unless you can get that right you can consult all the communities and you can listen to them and commission research or whatever, but it is the responsiveness that counts. That is where the intervention is needed and that is where we try to make that change. In terms of the work that we do with Birmingham Partnership for Change, I know you will be hearing from David later on, we commissioned him to examine the LEA policies with regard to race equality and education in Birmingham. We work with Birmingham Partnership for Change, because of their specialism around African Caribbean communities. We work across communities, not just with one ethnic group.

Mr Pollard

  35. I am curious as to why you chose the African Caribbean community. In my area, Bangladeshis are the lowest. Whatever marker you put up—housing, jobs, achievement at school or whatever—the Bangladeshis come out worst and that seems to be the national statistic as well. You seem to have focused on African Caribbeans. Was there a particular reason for that?
  (Ms Oliver) I am the one focusing on African Caribbeans.


  36. Yours is an African Caribbean organisation.
  (Ms Oliver) Yes.

  Mr Pollard: I do not see Bangladeshis mentioned and I am curious as to why.

  Chairman: Sandra works for an African Caribbean organisation but Joy has said a moment ago that she covers the whole piece.

Mr Pollard

  37. Bangladeshis have not been mentioned though.
  (Ms Oliver) We work with the African Caribbean communities. I do not know whether the paperwork you have in front of you refers specifically to the African Caribbean community. That is probably my bit of paperwork. In Birmingham, the African Caribbean boys in particular are the lowest achievers, 17 per cent A* to C grades.

  38. Far lower than Bangladeshi boys?
  (Ms Oliver) Far lower. Hence we have a need in Birmingham to address the African Caribbean community, specifically African Caribbean boys. We work with an organisation called Black Boys Can which has recently been established. I met them yesterday with another member from one of your departments. They are working with children who could become disaffected, taking them from the streets. They are intending to keep them on target, to pull them back on task, getting them motivated, raising their self-esteem empowering them. They have four pillars, one called empowering boys, then empowering communities, working with schools and there is a fourth one which I do not recall at the moment. That organisation was started up not with funding but because people had a passion for the work. They felt there was a necessity to do something about these boys on the streets. Far too many of our boys are in prison. If you look around Birmingham you will find that some African Caribbean boys are on the street but the majority of them are in prison. It is extremely disturbing for our community; hence, there is a real need to address the issue of under- achievement among African Caribbean boys in the schools and to do it extremely early rather than leaving it until later.

  39. Is there a restaurant culture still? That is what I get in my town. The boys come out and straight into a restaurant.
  (Ms Warmington) There are some more acute issues. One of the things that you will know that has been developed from work that the Learning and Skills Council is doing is that Bangladeshi communities on the whole are lower in terms of key levels of achievement. That means that their ability to access jobs that progress them into whatever, is also diminished. When you couple that with under-achievement in schools, you have a recipe for disaster because you are not in a position to move those base lines along very much. In Birmingham, this will be an acute problem because there will be a decline in white communities of working age over the next ten years, and an increase in the Bangladeshi community and population of a working age. So there will be a significant increase in a community where their skills levels do not equip them at the moment - unless we do some serious intervention, to enable them to access the jobs that are necessary within Birmingham and its communities. These are the real tensions and challenges.


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