Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence



Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)

MS SANDRA OLIVER AND MS JOY WARMINGTON

TUESDAY 17 SEPTEMBER 2002

  40. What sort of interventions are you thinking of? Role models and stuff like that?
  (Ms Warmington) It needs to be far more fundamental than that. We are challenging organisations to work in partnership with organisations to be more radical in terms of how they think of solutions. Role models, peer intervention and all those sorts of things are extremely good strategies but we need to ask ourselves "what is happening at the root of this?" What is creating this outcome, time and time again? In some respects, we might know the answer, but it becomes too difficult to deal with and it becomes a challenge that passes on from report to report.

  41. Is this a generational thing? Do you feel that the next generation of Bangladeshi boys in particular will be better because they have been educated in our schools and therefore their children might aspire to be better than the current ones? In my own area, it is the grey bearded men who still call the shots. They want to get the boys out to work as quickly as possible. The girls marry and the boys go out to work. The boys and girls themselves have their own aspirations, so the next generation might be better. Perhaps the next 10 or 15 years might be easier. What is your view?
  (Ms Warmington) In terms of the specifics of your question, we work with a lot of organisations—for instance, the Bangladeshi Youth Forum in Birmingham do a lot of work with Bangladeshi youths. They may have a better understanding of what those communities think and feel but the over-arching sense of what is happening in Birmingham in particular, is that younger communities are being locked out of opportunities. That is not being shifted as time goes by; it is possibly even getting worse. We need to do something about how we can connect people up to opportunities.

Jonathan Shaw

  42. You talk about the number of boys in prison, which is disturbing for the African Caribbean community and the lack of role models, the lack of Afro-Caribbean teachers. What has happened? Has this been a problem that has been growing? It is now something that we are talking about and Diane Abbott has done quite a lot of work on it within her community but what are the reasons? Educate us.
  (Ms Oliver) Some of the reasons I hear from the children and they are saying, "Teachers do not care about us." There are low teacher expectations of pupils in schools, most definitely, I think perhaps around an understanding of the children's culture—where are they coming from?—and an understanding of their social, economic backgrounds in Birmingham. Have they been at home with mum and dad? Have they had a difficult period at home with an argument that they come into school with, to be told, "Sit down. I have told you to do that"? They are carrying quite a lot of baggage with them in schools and I think also it is the lack of support for African Caribbean parents, raising their awareness of the education system; schools opening their doors to parents in order to be able to access schools in order to support their children.

  43. In terms of opening the doors, you need to do a little more. You will not find a head teacher in the city who will say, "I cannot see parents. I am too busy." All of them will say, "Of course I see parents", but I suppose it is how you do that. Are there models? Have you seen examples of where this has worked, or is it across the board. It is pretty damning, what you are saying, is it not?
  (Ms Oliver) There are schools within Birmingham that are helpful. We have worked with a number of schools around the personal academic development of African Caribbean pupils. That was a year 11 programme that we undertook with four secondary schools in Birmingham. The schools that gained the most from the programme were those who were more open, more ready to work with the researchers and the pupils etc., and those coming in. It is difficult to assess at the moment but I think parents are extremely concerned that they do not have access to the schools.

  44. Is this a problem that has grown? Is it family breakdown? Is it economic issues?
  (Ms Oliver) I think there are a number of issues. In some schools, you may find, for instance, in the Atwood Green area, schools with a lot of single parents with young children, perhaps without fathers. There would be issues around how do we support mum; how do we support the children when they come into schools, but you could say that is probably common to all communities because there are single parents in all communities.

  45. Some of the problems you have described are not unique just for the Afro-Caribbean communities. What is it that leads to such under-achievement? What is so unique, because all the sets of circumstances are ones that we could all talk about for any particular disadvantaged group. What is special in this instance and causes us most concern about the African-Caribbean community?
  (Ms Oliver) One of the issues that I am most concerned about is school exclusion, the exclusion of African Caribbean pupils. They are five or six times more likely to be excluded than their white counterparts in schools.

Chairman

  46. In Birmingham?
  (Ms Oliver) It may be the national picture but I am also very concerned about the unofficial exclusions: go into the corner. They are not learning when they are turning away from the teacher. Go downstairs to the head teacher; go out of the classroom and stand outside. How many of those have gone on with schools that parents do not know about and that are not recorded? For how long? This would have an impact on the educational attainment of African Caribbean children.

Jonathan Shaw

  47. What you are saying is teachers' ability to be able to manage some of the behaviour exhibited or to understand and therefore some of the behaviour that is exhibited by African-Caribbean boys, in particular. Is that right?
  (Ms Oliver) I think it is understanding the child. One child said, "We might sound loud but that is not being rude."

  48. That is understanding different cultures etc. In terms of the number of African-Caribbean teachers, are there many?
  (Ms Oliver) There are not many in Birmingham schools and I have spoken to a number of teachers who have left the profession because they feel that they are not being treated equally in the schools. They also feel they are being overlooked in terms of promotion. They do not feel they are able to manage within the system because of issues around racism.

  49. Although teacher recruitment and retention are on your list of bullet points, has there been any attempt to grow your own, taking a group of young, black, African Caribbean students in terms of the city saying, "Go off to university and we will support you and try to inspire you to become teachers and return to your area"?
  (Ms Oliver) We have not done any work in that area. We have encouraged the community to train as teachers and we have encouraged mature students to become teachers, to leave their professions perhaps and turn to teaching. We have not been successful.

  50. How important do you think that is in terms of resolving some of the problems?
  (Ms Oliver) I think it is extremely important, incredibly important, to have role models.

  51. Where would you put it if there was a list from one to ten?
  (Ms Oliver) That is extremely difficult. I think, in terms of male role models within schools, that is a priority, black teachers who can support the school, the community and the children. It is vital.

Ms Munn

  52. I want to talk about composition of schools because we have been told that 43 per cent of children within Birmingham schools are from minority ethnic communities. I just have the statistics for the secondary sector. Although it is obviously not true for all schools there seem to be significant numbers of schools where either there is a predominance of black pupils or a predominance of white pupils. My group that I was with this morning went to two schools which had a significant majority of whites with hardly any black pupils. Tomorrow, the one we are going to is predominantly black with very few white pupils. Is that a problem for Birmingham, that that kind of pattern has emerged? Does it impact on some of the issues that we have been talking about in terms of attainment and attitudes to pupils and teacher recruitment?
  (Ms Warmington) I think it is a trend for Birmingham. Birmingham is very segregated. 70 per cent of the black ethnic minority population live within the nine most deprived wards in the city. They tend to be in the inner cities. What you are looking at is a pattern where, within the inner cities, there are quite a lot of ethnic minorities and as you go out to the suburbs it gets fewer and fewer. It is worrying, but what your other colleague was alluding to, which I wanted to comment on, was the ethnicisation of the problem. I do not think issues that you are talking about are solely found within these groups. One of the things that we debated when I was in education was some of the issues around working class communities in the outskirts of Birmingham White working class communities that were experiencing some of the same sorts of problems in terms of deprivation, attainment and expectations; and how these are realised through their children and the kinds of lives that they have. The danger is, that it is hard to deal with particular issues in communities without labelling those communities, but there is an even greater danger to say that these traits are common only within particular communities and therefore typecasting the strategy. I think there is an opportunity to look at some of these factors and examine how they appear across communities and how they can be dealt with more generically. In doing that, it would help not to reinforce strategies that, by the nature of the way they are devised, ethnicise communities again; I do not think we can carry on like this for much longer. We have a figure here which refers to mixed race children and the increase of mixed race exclusions. How can you explain that in terms of African Caribbeanism or in terms of Asian or Indian people? Ethnicity alone is not an explanation for some of these complexities. Possibly the way to deal with it is to think about how is the system perpetuating low expectations of students; how are teaching strategies being employed to disadvantage groups of students, because that seems to be what is happening. It cannot simply be explained in terms of particular groups and categories of people, not when it also happens to white working class boys.

  53. What Joy is explaining is that it is where the populations live and the segregation in living which is creating the segregation in schools as well. Are there other problems and issues that arise from that?
  (Ms Oliver) Joy has covered most of the issues I would be discussing. I agree with you. In the Atwood Green area, for instance, and the Ladywood and Aston areas the majority are probably African Caribbean and mixed race heritage families. At the moment, we have quite a number of interrelated issues, economic, social and all sorts to deal with.

  54. Taking the general issue of raising attainment generally within schools, there seems to be evidence around that some of the strategies which are coming through the government and some of the things being done around literacy and numeracy are having some effect in raising attainment. Are you satisfied that that is happening equally across schools within Birmingham or do you think there are other things which the government should be looking at in terms of raising attainment generally?
  (Ms Oliver) I do not think it is happening equally across schools. In terms of African Caribbean community, David Gillborn has said in some research that he conducted that African Caribbean children start compulsory schooling above all other children. By the age of key stage two they start to drop off and by 16 they have fallen off totally, so they are coming out with nothing. There must be other factors. I know this new key stage three strategy has just come in place, a bit late for some of our children, I am afraid. The earlier literacy and numeracy strategies have supported some children but it has also gone along with parental support. It is those parents who are aware of the system who will support their children in terms of homework, in terms of follow-up, going to parents' events. If there are exclusions, they will challenge them. It is those children who will get the best out of the system, but single parents who are on low income, for instance, working all hours, who have three children—where do they find time to get to a parents' evening and challenge exclusions? It is difficult.

Chairman

  55. Is it all gloom and doom in Birmingham or are there exemplars? Are there schools where you say, "Wow, they are different. They understand the problem. They work at preschool and reach down to the catchment at primary." Are there schools that are head and shoulders above others and you could say if only all schools were like that, or perhaps there are examples elsewhere in the country, in London. I do not know. Do you know of experience in this? You praised Tim Brighouse and you have said there are some interesting things happening in Birmingham and there is a raising of standards, but are there any institutions? This morning at the faith school we visited, there were wonderful results; a very poor community; a large percentage of single parent families but fantastic results. This is from five to eleven, but can you flag up to us really good practice in Birmingham or elsewhere that we could look at and emulate?
  (Ms Warmington) I honestly cannot, not because there are not any but because we do not have that kind of linkage. It depends on what you think the problem or the issue is in terms of the understanding of good practice, because there are lots of things that are signposted as making a difference. The issue is whether or not you feel it is enough of a difference and whether there are other things to tackle. My sense is that you are trying to unpack some of this to see whether there are some other issues that need to be addressed within the system. What we have not talked about in great depth is how some of the teaching and national strategies disadvantage some groups and appear not to be working to the benefit of particular ethnic minority communities. When you look year on year, you can see some groups achieving and some not. What we are not looking at is differential teaching activities and strategies in terms of race and racism within the city. That, to me, would be a way of ensuring that some of those strategies are more harmonious and addressed very comprehensively, rather than having initiatives that may support the system. There is something fundamental we need to do in terms of our education system.

Valerie Davey

  56. Whereas deprived communities do have quite a lot in common—and you emphasised that—I had always assumed until recently that the parental support was generally there. My dismay over recent years is in having found the lack of parental support in white, working class communities. There has been a complete disenchantment in some white communities certainly. I have not in the Bristol area experienced that same disenchantment amongst ethnic minority parents, all of whom still have, in my experience, generally, a commitment to education. Is that the experience here or have I completely misunderstood? What is the parental commitment concern or are you saying it simply is something that work does not allow because commitment to work does not allow what is still intrinsically support?
  (Ms Warmington) The research that we did with Professor Gillborn was with some focus groups with parents in Birmingham. I do not pretend that they are representative views of all parents in Birmingham, but it did show that there was a high investment by parents in trying to support their children where they could, but they did not feel that there was the acceptance and willingness of the education service—schools in particular—to meet them half-way. In terms of parental strategies, having worked on parental involvement strategies until quite recently, one of the things that is not clear is how this work is to be accomplished. Quite often, there is not the money or the joined up funding to enable you to do work with parents that then helps you to meet directly the needs of community groups. What you try to do is juggle different types of criteria to enable you to run a parent class on an issue or to put something on. What I experienced, especially in the Shard End & Kitts Green area in Birmingham, is that the education system was failing parents, the majority of white parents in particular, and it was in danger of failing their children for the second time round. There was this feeling that the education system was not going to deliver the results because it had not come up with the results for those parents concerned.
  (Ms Oliver) I feel parents are committed, but some parents we have spoken to are not aware of what is happening. Lack of awareness will prevent them supporting their children in schools but there are those parents who have young children, who are not aware, but they are torn between the support they give to stay looking after young children at home and going to a parents' evening. They need to understand the importance of attending parents' evenings, the importance of feedback from teachers, the importance of looking at their children's homework diaries and general training is vital. The city is looking at keeping up with the children, workshops and other things, but how many parents in Birmingham know about keeping up with the children? The BPC, as the strategic organisation, will disseminate information to supplementary schools who will then disseminate information to parents but it will take funding for them to organise classes. I know there is some funding available for keeping up with the children and inspire workshops but when it comes to the immediacy of the problem it takes some time for them to access that money. By the end of a period of, say, four months when they have organised everything, it is often too late for some children. It is very important that funding is also put in place to support training and development of parents to build their capacity to support their children.

  57. We are really talking about communications, are we not? We are talking about communication at many different levels. We have not touched on language which is a special interest of mine. The importance of understanding not just the language but the circumstances you are talking about in which both the parents find themselves and education has now moved on. I think we have to find some breakthrough. The only way I can suggest which would been most effective a couple of years ago in my area would be pirate radio. I have a community that listens to pirate radio and I was told, "If you want people there tomorrow night, you had better get on pirate radio." Radio is in this particular community the way to get the message over. If you did have some money or the opportunity to tell Birmingham, "This is what you have got to do to engage parents", what would you both suggest?
  (Ms Oliver) I would suggest initially working with large organisations such as the faith based churches, supplementary schools that we currently work with. They are able to access a large majority of people. I would use the radio but we did a recruitment campaign for African Caribbean governors in Birmingham using the radio and we found it was not as effective at all. We found that word of mouth was the most effective way of communicating with people, especially in the African Caribbean community. You tell someone, perhaps if you are walking through the Birmingham market, for instance; you mention it to someone and they will go and say, "So-and-so is recruiting for African Caribbean governors. Would you like to turn up at the Council House at such and such a date because we are having a meeting?" Word of mouth is vital within a community. You can also use radio in conjunction with that but I do not feel it is as effective and it depends on the audience you are targeting.
  (Ms Warmington) I have forgotten the question.

  58. If you could influence the city to spend some money or to do something, what would you say in terms of engaging parents?
  (Ms Warmington) It would not be just one strategy. There is a need to look at outreach because some communities, especially younger people having children, are very isolated. Some of the schools that I have worked in have some real problems with parenting and approaches to parenting, especially for younger members of the community. You can advertise and do radio and all the rest of it, but that would not work in particular sections of the community. I think there is something to be said for getting small groups of people together. We took parents through the literacy hour so that they understood it. We did the same with numeracy. We talk to parents around tiering in terms of GCSE. Some of the strategies that are employed by schools, parents do not understand. I have had parents come up to me and say, "I think my child has an opportunity to achieve an A or a B", but they have been put in for an examination where they can only achieve a C or something like that. There are complexities in the tiering system and parents are quite ill informed about that. I think that parents are only one piece of the puzzle, because generally the strategies that are being employed by schools are obviously around safeguarding their achievements. It is not always the parents' fault that they do not understand the way in which the system is employed.

  59. You are saying that both of you and your organisations have been doing this for years and it is still only touching a minority of the ethnic minority groups? I have not got a feel from you as to whether you feel more of what you are doing would be successful or whether it has not been successful quickly enough and therefore a different strategy is needed.
  (Ms Oliver) I do feel what I am doing is successful because parents have said, "We did not know. Now we know about it", but the barrier for us is funding. I have to think: where is the next bit of money coming from for development? Am I secure doing this job? We are not funded on a long term basis so we are doing it year by year. There is a great difficulty around funding.
  (Ms Warmington) There is a stop/start nature. Quite a lot of things I ran in the past I tried to mainstream, but in doing so you have to meet mainstream criteria, which might have said something like, "In order to run a parent education course you need a minimum of 12 people." Those things may be important outputs for particular funding bodies but they are not particularly good outputs if you are wanting to try to do things that really help and support parents in understanding the education system. There is a need to look at appropriate funding sources for some of these strategies to sustain and help, but yes, I think they do help.

 


 
previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 31 October 2002