Education: Too 'special' for the mainstream?: The case of Frederick suggests that our system is failing young black boys by stereotyping them as stupid and troublesome. Emma Lindsey reports

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The Independent Online
Four years ago, Frederick Charles, now 15, was sent back home to Grenada after being repeatedly excluded from British schools. Frederick, who was described by a London local authority as a child with special needs, is now in the top stream of a highly academic school in Grenada.

His mother, Alice Charles, lives with her husband, mother, daughter and two foster children in a Victorian semi, in a quiet west London street. She fostered the two girls because she loves children. But she felt compelled to send Frederick back home to Grenada to live with her sister's family, because she was convinced he was being damaged by the British education system.

'Frederick was reading before he went to school. But from when he started I was getting complaints about him misbehaving, answering back and refusing to do as he was told. I was having to go into his school practically every week. I couldn't believe it was my child they were talking about; he was fine at home but apparently turned into this monster at school.'

The head of his primary school was worried that Frederick had severe behavioural problems. This was entered on his school records, which Mrs Charles was unhappy about. He was later given a statement, describing him as a child with special needs.

'Frederick and I met social workers, his headteacher and people from child guidance, and they said that a mainstream school could not cope with him. They advised me to send him to a diagnostic unit within a special school. I reluctantly agreed because they said it would help him. I only wanted what was best for my child.'

But the special school did not help, according to Mrs Charles. 'He was there for three years and things got worse. He was with other children who really were disturbed and there was no continuity of teaching. He was being excluded for a week at a time but having a home tutor only two days a week.'

It was then proposed that Frederick should go to a residential special school. 'I put my foot down; he was eight and there was no way I was going to have him marginalised.'

Mrs Charles managed to get him transferred to a mainstream school on condition that he would get extra support. But the difficulties continued.

'He seemed to be singled out because he had been labelled. I was told simply that he had a knack of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

'When I started to ask more questions I discovered that his teachers objected to him finishing his work first. One teacher admitted to sending him out of the room because, having nothing else to do, Frederick was distracting the other children. He was being punished for being too bright for the class.'

Mrs Charles took her son for an independent assessment with a child psychologist who concluded that he was of above-average ability and was disruptive because he was bored and frustrated at school and was rapidly losing confidence in himself. Off the record, she advised Mrs Charles to send him home to Grenada, on the grounds that whichever school he now attended in Britain, his label would follow him.

At his school in Grenada Frederick's school reports and exam results - with marks of 85 per cent and above in all subjects - chart the rapid transformation of an under- stimulated unhappy child, into a bright, sparky young adolescent. But the price has been the sacrifice of his former family life.

A spokeswoman from Ealing Borough Council said: 'We deny that the local authority failed this child. The authority worked very closely at all times with the mother who was going through a difficult period. There are several aspects to a child's well-being: home circumstances are equally, if not more, important than the school's. The improvement in this child's performance in Grenada could reflect the change in his home circumstances.'

Lennox Thomas, director of the inter-cultural therapy centre Nafsiyat, which specialises in problems facing members of ethnic minorities, said Frederick's case was all too common.

'I see older versions of Frederick all the time. Black males have particular difficulties within Britain's education system that stem partly from a negative self-identity - which means they believe the only means of self-

expression available to them is to be tough and bad - and partly from entrenched societal racism, which means educationalists cannot easily recognise that black children are bright. Black boys are considered to be aggressive and frightening; it's collective stereotyping.

'But more black parents must ask questions, demand second opinions rather than accept what they're told. White males do well in our schools, but generally speaking the opposite is true for black males. This is an imbalance parents, teachers and the Government must tackle.'

Some names have been changed.

(Photograph omitted)