Education and race
On the road
Ethnic-minority pupils are storming ahead, thanks partly to tutors
Nov 16th 2013 |From the print edition
IN APRIL Kumon, a Japanese firm, opened a tuition centre in Small Heath, a poor district of Birmingham. Its lessons are fairly cheap: about ￡55 ($88) a month for twice-weekly English and maths classes and homework. As in many of Kumon’s 680 British outfits, its clients are diverse. Many are south Asian; a few are eastern European; none is white and British.
In much ofEurope, pupils from many ethnic minorities linger at the bottom of the heap, says Chris Hamnett of King’s College London. That used to be true inBritaintoo—but not any more. Every ethnic-minority group that trails white Britons in GCSE exams, normally taken at 16, is catching up. Bangladeshis used to perform worse than whites; now they do better. Indians have maintained a huge lead. All this despite the fact that ethnic minorities are poorer than average. Control for that, by looking at pupils who are entitled to free school meals, and all ethnic-minority groups now do well.
But some fare better than others. One difference is imported social capital: Indians, who were middle-class when they arrived inBritain, have lots. Bangladeshis and Pakistanis, who often came from rural parts of their homelands, have less. Tenure inBritainmatters too. Newcomers have immigrant aspirations but suffer from not understanding the system. Better-established folk know how things work, but may have lost some of their ambition. A few are in a sweet spot in between.
Bangladeshis certainly seem to be. They arrived in large numbers from the 1970s and are now settled, largely inLondon. Plenty are still poor: half fall into the lowest income quintile. But the parents of many children now in school grew up speaking English and attended British schools. They not only understand the system but are shaping it. In 1987 the Collective of Bangladeshi School Governors was set up in theLondonborough of Tower Hamlets, where a fifth ofBritain’s Bangladeshis live. Shahanur Khan, its chairman, encourages parents to get involved in local schools. Parents are increasingly pushy: one mother recently complained to him that her children were not getting enough homework.
Somalis arrived much more recently: just 9% of Somali pupils were born inBritaincompared with 83% of Bangladeshis. And they struggle. Many parents came as asylum-seekers and speak little English. Just one in ten Somalis is in full-time work. But their children are faring better, along with other black Africans. In Lambeth, a borough ofLondon, 61% of Somali pupils got five good GCSEs last year, up from 11% in 2007. Schools employ Somali teaching assistants to help parents and children with their English. The council organises an awards ceremony for outstanding students. And, increasingly, parents pay for extra tuition.
That is another reason black and Asian children are doing better. Saturday schools have long been common, but parents are increasingly turning to private tutors. In a survey of 11- to 16-year-olds by the Sutton Trust, an education charity, 45% of Asian children said they received some kind of private tuition compared with 20% of white pupils. Another study suggests that Somalis are more likely to receive tuition than average, too. Supply has increased along with demand. Karamat Iqbal, director of Forward Partnership, an education consultancy in Birmingham, sees growing numbers of Pakistani graduates, who themselves attended British schools, working as tutors.
Black Caribbeans, a long-established group, are doing better but not dramatically so. They have mostly lost immigrant zeal: many doubt that education will make much difference to their chances in life, suggests Steve Strand, a professor of education atOxfordUniversity. And some teachers may be conflating bad behaviour (last year blackCaribbeanboys were over four times more likely to be excluded from school than Bangladeshi boys) with a lack of aptitude. Afro-Caribbeans are less likely to be entered into higher tiers for exams where they could obtain the best grades.
Job prospects for ethnic minorities are not yet improving commensurately with their school results. Despite their success in exams, Mr Khan worries that Bangladeshi students are choosing “easy” A-levels, such as sociology and psychology, which limit their options. Pakistani pupils inBirminghamare doing better, says Mr Iqbal, but too many are still driving taxis and running corner shops or cheap restaurants.
Still, blacks and especially Asians are edging their way into the professions. Fully 2,087 British Pakistanis started studying law at university in 2011, up from 478 in 2000. Some of those long-held ambitions are now being realised.