Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200-218)



  200. I know what the Home Office's view is. I am asking for your view as professionals who are deep into all of this.
  (Dr Warren) The evidence seems to suggest that refugees and asylum seekers in mainstream schools often experience the same kind of situation that we have described in terms of white working class and other minority ethnic students. However, should the system remain as it is the majority are going to remain in mainstream schools so therefore the concern for us as educationalists has always got to be to make sure that the mainstream system provides the best service possible for all children who will go through it. In terms of my view of whether there should be a separate system of schooling for refugees and asylum seekers, personally I think not.

  201. That would be best for them, the group?
  (Dr Warren) Yes, but were you to say, "Is the experience within the average school, the average secondary school in particular, one that is always beneficial to those students?", I would say not. The answer to that is not necessarily to set up an alternative schooling system. You may want to consider, as some schools and some local authorities have done, how you support the integration of those students into mainstream schooling. In the London borough of Camden, for instance, one secondary school there operates a class where asylum seekers go in order to have intensive English language preparation and then a planned programme of integration. Along with that planned programme of integration is heavy investment by the school into continued support for those students throughout. That seems to me an eminently sensible approach to take because it is a kind of model that is applicable to all kinds of students. Part of the problem in reflecting on that practice, which you might call good practice, is why is there not similar reflection and consideration as to how all children can be supported appropriately to do well within schools? Too often these are seen as being that we need a specialist programme for these children because they are out of the ordinary. Often they are not out of the ordinary. They have faced particular hurdles. We just have to make sure we do not put even more hurdles in their way once they are here. The evidence strongly suggests that once they have an adequate level of English language competency they do as well as, if not better than, many of their peers. They are highly motivated with investment from home.

  202. You did not address the question of whether it disadvantages the host school in particular reference to the George Dixon School which is a school coming out of failure. The host parents might well be worried that another group coming in might not do quite so well. Is there evidence for that and how do you feel about it?
  (Dr Warren) I just wonder why you should make a distinction between the host school and incoming students.

  203. I am asking the question of you.
  (Dr Warren) I need some clarification on why you make that distinction.

  204. If a school is coming out of special measures and is doing well it might be perceived that another group of children with hurdles, as you put it, might well hold that back a little bit and that there might be a perception from the host parents that this group coming in might not be as good for the school as some other kids coming in.
  (Professor Gillborn) I think historically that is a particular fear that has been used against minority ethnic communities very frequently and continues to be mobilised against asylum seeker communities now. There is evidence that in some schools, as Simon was saying, once they get English language fluency up to a particular level those students can become the students who take the schools up the league tables. Very often in this area—and you can trace this back to the Swan Report in 1985—there is a dichotomy made between, "Do we do mainstream or separate?", and there tends to be an assumption that, "If we put them in the mainstream we have done it. We have made the decision, we have put them in the mainstream so they are not disadvantaged", and we leave them to it. Then what often happens is that the students are the victims of some of the most vicious racist harassment and the old contact hypothesis, that if you go in and meet these people you would realise they are okay, does not always work. You have to have, as Simon was saying, specialist support. You have to have proper anti-racist measures. Contact between white working class communities and asylum seekers can explode lots of myths if it is handled sensitively and both sides are talked through it, but if you throw asylum seekers in a classroom and leave them alone you are putting them through even more trauma than they have already experienced. It is not a simple one or the other. You have to identify the particular needs and put real resources into meeting them.

  Chairman: The George Dixon School this morning was the most open, multi-ethnic school with immigrant children doing wonderfully well.

  Mr Pollard: It is a model of good practice.

  Chairman: Absolutely; a first-class example of everything I thought a school should be.

Ms Munn

  205. We have had a very interesting week here in Birmingham because what we have seen is a lot of schools and we have been to ones which are generally improving. In all the headteachers that we have met, admittedly a relatively small number but more than I would have expected, we have seen a culture very much of can do, positive, raising expectations. They are all doing it in different ways but there are some fundamental things about clear leadership, clear standards within schools, clear structures, which are applied, from what we could see, across all students. Some of those schools have been predominantly white, some have been predominantly black. One I think just about reflected the ethnic make-up of the pupil population in Birmingham, but that is less the case; there just seemed to be one school that seemed about that. What you seem to be saying is that in spite of that approach and overall standards going up, what is happening is that the achievements are differential according to race, gender, class, whatever. So what is it that these heads and their teachers and their teams that are in there, because of all the additional staff that are in there, need to be doing differently? I am not disagreeing with you that it is a colour-blind approach in that sense because they have got their systems in place, but it is having those firms systems which seem to be so crucial in setting an atmosphere in which children can learn, so what is it that they need to do differently?
  (Professor Gillborn) I would shift the balance of the question a little. You said what is it that they need to do differently. I think we have to think about what is it that all of us involved in education need to do differently. One of the things that Simon mentioned right at the beginning was this thing about an implementation gap. There is a real "can do" atmosphere around Birmingham, and Birmingham has really embraced a culture of school effectiveness and achievement, possibly in a way unlike any other LEA in the country, and we have seen some of the benefits of that. Where the race equality targets have not been met seems to be because they have not been the key targets. They have not been the thing that has driven what the schools do and that is because of a confluence of factors from the national level and from the local level and from the individual school level. So the factors that you mentioned about clear leadership, about knowing what is happening in the school are actually some of the key factors that we know are associated with good multi-ethnic schools, schools that raise the achievements of the minority ethnic groups as much, if not more, than other groups. We need clear leadership on equity and clear monitoring on who is in the different groups and, if there are disparities, why, how might we address this and make good the issues we see emerging? How do we tackle racism? Are we serious about tackling it or do we leave it to go on until eventually a kid hits another one, in the way of one of the examples in our paper? We know how at the school level we can be serious about race equality but those things tend not to get the focus that they need because they are not highlighted at the LEA level across all its activities and at the national level. The things that are driving the improvement in overall standards tend, if they mention race equality at all, to mention it as an afterthought. All of the evidence suggests that if we are serious about raising the achievements of particular ethnic minority groups, we need to target those groups. What do we need to do additionally to make sure that they share in the improvements? We need to think what are the likely consequences of these policies which they are going to enact. Every single policy whether at national, local or school level, is likely to have differential impacts on working class kids and minority ethnic groups. We know enough to predict what those impacts might be. Some of them might be conscious, some of them might be unintended, but we know enough to predict what they are. We ought to be in a position to predict those impacts and then go down a route which will help to equalise attainment rather than, as seems to be the case at the moment, pursuing strategies and hoping that they will deliver for everyone, even though a lot of the evidence suggests that some of the strategies we are pinning our hopes on are likely to disadvantage precisely the groups that we are worried about in terms of under-achievement. We know what good practice looks like. We know it needs to take place in a context where everyone is serious about race equality because otherwise the individual teachers or schools which are focusing of racial equality are swimming against a very strong current which is pushing them towards actions which work against race equality rather than for it.

  206. Leaving that for a moment because it is getting very complex and beyond my thinking capacity at this time of the afternoon, one of the issues which you raise, which I was very interested in last time you saw the Committee, was about pupils being entered for exams at which they can only achieve a certain grade and, interestingly enough, when we have been going round schools and talking to students that has been raised in two different schools by different pupils saying that they did not think that was fair. Can you talk us through that a bit. One of the discussions that we had was somebody saying, yes, it is not fair, but also if the alternative is everybody does the same paper and then you have got people who just get so disillusioned with it because they find it too hard work, and if it were more geared up to them they would have a chance of getting a pass, that did not seem too unreasonable. Could you reflect a bit more on that?
  (Professor Gillborn) I will not recap fully on the tiering system, suffice it to say that in most GCSE examinations pupils do not sit a common paper from which they can get an A* through to a G. In most GCSEs you are entered for a tiered exam for which there is only a limited number of grades. In mathematics uniquely amongst subjects there are three tiers and if you are entered for the foundation tier, the lowest tier, the very best grade you can get is a D. If you are entered for the foundation tier in other tiered subjects the best you can get is a C. C is the generally accepted minimum you need as a higher grade pass but it is not good enough for entry to the professions or a degree course in that subject. Even for A-level courses, in certain subjects you need higher than a C. Certainly students I have spoken to in research would sooner have the chance of getting the very highest grade rather than somebody else making the decision that they do not even have the possibility of it. In terms of mathematics many students, and particularly parents, simply cannot comprehend why you would have a system whereby the best grade you can get is generally seen as a fail. In terms of the question about progression and the need to have a range of questions, as I understand it, history and music are among the subjects that do not currently have tiered papers. A subject as diverse as history, a subject with such a progression of knowledge like music—if it is within the wit of history and music examiners to design a paper which can adequately identify the difference between a D and an A*, I have to believe that it is within the wit of examiners in other subjects. It may be difficult and costly but if the alternative is to deny the possibility of a higher grade, given what we know about who that denial happens to—

  Chairman: I worry about denying Andrew a question in the last three minutes.

Mr Turner

  207. You and Dr Warren have used a number of phrases almost interchangeably—"deliver equal opportunities", "increase equal opportunities", "equalise attainment", "focus on race equality"; which are you actually talking about?
  (Professor Gillborn) I am talking about all of them.

  208. I can see how some of these are consistent with raising standards for all, but you say we need to target these groups, that is the under-achievers, those groups that fall below the average performance level to raise their performance towards the average. If you are targeting those groups, are you doing so at the expense of other groups?
  (Professor Gillborn) No, you are not taking away from anyone. You are trying to identify where you want to put additional support. That does not have to be taken away from anyone. I do not want to get into a great big complex, philosophical discussion. I think it comes down to a fundamental level. Do we really think there is any inherent reason why on the basis of social class or ethnicity or gender, any group of students is less able to achieve than another one? Is there anything inherent about a pupil, and if there is not then the job of a just education system is to try and help all to achieve what they are capable of. I have not seen any evidence to suggest that there is anything inherent.

  209. But targeting does suggest targeting resources and activity on A and rather ignoring B.
  (Professor Gillborn) It does not mean ignoring B.

  210. It does not mean ignoring B, but you complained at the prospect of targeting those who are just below grade C.
  (Professor Gillborn) If it means that within that model that students who are deemed not capable of meeting the grade are then abandoned—

  211. Yes.
  (Professor Gillborn) So what I am saying is that if you have a system which is trying to deliver a socially just outcome rather than—

  212.—rather than high standards?
  (Professor Gillborn)—rather than simply delivering higher standards for those already advantaged.

  213. Those just below grade C are not necessarily advantaged.
  (Professor Gillborn) They are often advantaged in the sense of receiving additional support inside the school. When you look at who gets into those groups it is usually not the proportion of under-achieving groups you would predict. I am not trying to take away support from anyone. I am trying to say in a context where schools are tailoring consciously different forms of support to different students, one principle of doing that is to try and ensure that at the end of the day, regardless of social background, students have an equal chance of success and failure.

  214. You cannot say you are not suggesting that. You are suggesting that if you are suggesting that it is wrong to target those who are just below a grade C—
  (Professor Gillborn) I am suggesting it is wrong in the wider context of how those decisions are made. There are all kinds of opportunity costs. In everything we do, there are opportunity costs. What I am suggesting is that one alternative approach is to try and ensure so far as possible that students have an equal chance of success or failure at the end of the day. What I am saying is happening currently in many schools is that responding to pressures of league tables, responding to those apparently colour-blind targets, existing inequalities are being re-made within the school system.

  215. I accept that that is an example of how resources can inappropriately be targeted, but I am still not clear whether there is any system of targeting resources that is inherently fairer that is not inherently fairer to some groups than to others.
  (Professor Gillborn) I think it depends on the notion at a basic level of what the goals of the education system are.

  216. Indeed.
  (Professor Gillborn) What do we want from the education system? We do not question, for example, that special education is costly, but we have reached a settlement socially where there is an agreement that certain kids' education will be more costly, and that is not seen as taking away from anyone else, that is seen as an investment by society in those students. Similarly, we should not view race equality as in some way hurting groups who would not be targeted. We should view it as an investment by society in the currently wasted potential of those under-attaining groups.


  217. I think we have to be fair to our witnesses coming on. Much of what you say, David, many members of the Committee will agree with, but one thing we perhaps are a little concerned about is that certain aspects of your conclusions seem to lead to a bit of a blame culture on teachers and the educational process. I will give you an example. When this Committee did a thorough investigation into early years, indeed my own conversations with the Early Excellence Centre here in Birmingham on Monday morning, we found that many children are deeply disadvantaged in the first few months and years, long before they get into education, long before they get into the hands of formal education in schools, and continue to be disadvantaged by the lack of support, encouragement and order in their lives at home. The only concern that some of us have is that it almost ends up as though kids go into education and teachers do not treat them equally, they do not recognise their strengths, they treat them slightly differently, they under-estimate their abilities, where in a sense many people would argue that the early years are the most damaging in terms of a child's development.
  (Professor Gillborn) I absolutely accept what you say. I think in terms of those particular anecdotes of individuals, we all know cases like that. What I think is important, in terms particularly of looking at race and ethnicity but also in terms of social class, is that there is evidence that the inequalities get worse, so these kids have survived the early years and it is often when they get into secondary school that the inequalities are compounded. First of all, I am not suggesting that it is all to do with what happens inside school. Patently that would be a nonsense. What I am suggesting is that the research suggests that schools are an active contributory factor in this. We know that schools make a difference. That is accepted, everybody accepts that now. Unfortunately, sometimes the difference they make is not a good one. Rather than viewing it as simply blaming teachers, a lot of the more subtle research which has happened recently, the work that goes inside schools, tries to understand how is it that this really well-intentioned teacher who is trying to hit the national curriculum targets, trying to keep order, trying to get through the day and wants to help everyone, at the end of the day they have wound up criticising the black students more than anyone else. Why is it that, without realising it, they are sending black students to the deputy much more quickly than a white student who has done the same thing. It is not about blaming; it is about identifying how this happens. Certainly in my experience and Simon's, of not just being a researcher but being a teacher and working with teachers in higher education, the vast majority that I work with view this kind of research as not being negative and blaming but being revelatory. It shows the complexities at work that they do not have the time to see because it is happening through that daily grind. It helps them to understand how it is at the end of the day their school produces a set of exam results which are depressingly similar to the results that they know from past research. Once they see that they start to see ways of breaking that cycle of working differently with different communities and students. When schools find out their own students are saying, "If they treat us with respect, we will treat them with respect", and then when they act on that, they can see some fantastic things happen within their schools.

Mr Pollard

  218. We saw that this morning.
  (Dr Warren) For the category of child that to which you were referring there, those kinds of experiences will obviously affect a certain proportion of children dramatically, but we know that in some cases the interventions always come too late to correct that. As important as a focus on that set of related issues, by particular families or whatever else it is, it does not explain by itself the scale and range of the obstacles to achievement faced by the vast majority of students from minority ethnic communities. While it is an important focus—and I think some of the Government's recent strategies around children in care for instance are really important, and hopefully they will prove beneficial—it does not explain the range and scale of obstacles faced by many students, so it is not a total explanation of what is happening and, therefore, I think what David said is right, that we have got to also focus on normal school-based practices that seem to produce detrimental effects consistently.

  Chairman: We have an open mind and we will continue to take evidence. Dr Warren, Professor Gillborn, it has been a pleasure to hear what you have had to say. Thank you very much.


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