'Schools have let down black pupils'

Education » Part of the blame for the rise in street crime by young blacks can be laid on government inaction, says Livingstone
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The Independent Online

The Government's failure to tackle the underachievement of black pupils has contributed to the rising tide of street crime and shootings in London, the capital's Mayor warned yesterday.

London was now reaping a "bitter harvest of street violence and gun crime" partly because of the impact of low attainment, exclusion and racism on black pupils, Ken Livingstone told a conference of black parents and teachers.

He said urgent government action is needed if the "silent catastrophe" of underachievement of African-Caribbean students is to be addressed. He added that black pupils who are at risk of underachieving should be taught in smaller classes than students in wealthier areas, and school funding must be overhauled to redistribute more money from rich areas to poor London boroughs.

Mr Livingstone suggested that refugees who worked as teachers before they arrived in the UK should be allowed to teach in British schools to ease the teachers shortage and provide role models for children from ethnic minority backgrounds. He was speaking at a conference organised by the Greater London Authority and the left-wing labour MP Diane Abbott. It aimed to investigate why black students, who do as well as their white classmates at primary school, fall behind as teenagers. Nationally, African-Caribbean pupils are now nearly three times more likely to be excluded from school as white students, with 84 per cent of those expelled pupils being boys. They are also twice as likely to leave school without five good GCSE passes as their white classmates, the Education Minister Baroness Ashton told the conference.

Other speakers included Trevor Phillips, Deputy Chairman of the GLA, and Lee Jasper the Mayor's adviser on race. Mr Jasper sparked a row last summer when he called for black-only schools to be established so African-Caribbean children could be taught away from the institutionalised racism of the school system.

Mr Phillips called for black parents to be tougher on their children's teachers and more assertive in their dealings with schools. He said it was "time to get tough with teachers" and that the failure of black boys was "a disaster in every way". He demanded more black involvement in the running of schools. "Too often we see schools with a majority of black children taught by white teachers and run by white governors," he said. However, a leading black head teacher and a parent governor called on African-Caribbean parents to give the schools more support and be less confrontational with teachers. William Atikinson, head teacher of Phoenix High School in west London, warned that some black students failed at school because they were more concerned with "street culture rather than the culture of the school". He said: "Young black boys need to take responsibility for their actions. Those who are just concerned with the here and now are going to find it has a dramatic affect on their life chances."

Ngozi Headley-Fulani, a mother of four, urged parents to teach their children respect for teachers by setting a good example themselves. She told the conference: "If my child comes home with a complaint about a teacher then I should show by my example. If you tell off the teacher in front of your child they are going to learn the wrong message."