From Phillips's alma mater, a lesson in teaching black boys: Don't segregate
Tuesday 08 March 2005
At Trevor Phillips's old school, a group of Caribbean pupils were taking part in a motivational class. It was designed to build their confidence and switch them back on to learning - and reject the notion that it is "uncool" to enjoy school.
The lesson was one of two special sessions laid on for the 200 Caribbean pupils at the 1,220-pupil White Hart Lane School in Tottenham, north London. But its head teacher, David Daniels, was at pains to point out that the special class was a far cry from the suggestion by Mr Phillips, the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, that black students could be taken out of class and taught separately for some subjects to overcome years of underperformance.
"We couldn't do that," he said. "We have pupils with 60 different languages at the school. Once you started down that road where would you stop? He's looking for a single solution - segregated education - for a complex problem. We've tried it for girls - for some it worked beautifully, for others it didn't. Pupils are individuals."
The special sessions for the Caribbean pupils do appear to work, however. Firstly, the school puts on mentoring sessions in which specially selected older black pupils act as mentors to those approaching their GCSE years and encourage them to start taking their education seriously.
The older pupils have to apply for the mentoring posts and be interviewed. They are given special uniforms, maroon jumpers, which they forfeit if they fail to take the task seriously.
One 15-year-old in the mentoring class said: "They tell you the consequences of what would happen if you don't decide to take education seriously - and there are consequences but you have the choice to avoid them. It's helped me to concentrate and given me more confidence."
Martin Johnson, the school's deputy head, added: "There is this focus on the street culture and on the school culture. The idea that learning is not cool is one that we have to address. We work with the students and change their perception."
The classes are organised by Delroy Rhoden, who was hired by the school as a mentor under the "excellence in cities" scheme. One member of staff said: "He can communicate with the youngsters in a way that others can't."
In addition to the mentoring sessions, there are special classes aimed at raising the boys' self-esteem. Staff have arranged for role models from the black community - including David Lammy, the MP for Tottenham who became the youngest MP to serve as a parliamentary private secretary in the Blair Government.
Since the sessions started, there has been a remarkable improvement in the standards of English of the Caribbean pupils. In 2003 only 11 per cent reached the required standard in English national curriculum tests for 14-year-olds. Last year this rose to 45 per cent.
The school is also looking at which other groups of pupils need help. Mr Daniels said there were two other areas of concern: white working-class boys and Turkish-speaking pupils.
Similar mentoring and self-confidence sessions are laid on for the Turkish pupils - the biggest ethnic group in school. They are also taught science in Turkish until they have mastered English.
So far there has been no special provision for the white working-class boys - they are a much smaller minority in the school - but it is an area that Mr Daniels is seeking to address.
One of the pupils in the mentoring session did think that Mr Phillips was right to suggest that Caribbean children should be taught separately: "Other guys discourage us from working," he said. "We tend to play around in bigger classes."
But Mr Daniels was adamant. "It's not a viable solution in a school like this," he said. "You can put on limited activities to solve limited issues for different groups but segregation is the wrong road to go down."
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