Schools shake-up will breed racism, warns professor

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Plans to reform secondary education will increase discrimination against black pupils in schools, one of the country's leading experts on race and education will warn tomorrow.

Professor David Gillborn, of London University's Institute of Education, will say that institutional racism in state schools will be strengthened by proposals in the Green Paper on the future of education for pupils aged 14 to 19.

Among the policies he will select for criticism are plans to set up vocational programmes for lower-performing pupils and to increase the amount of separation of children into sets, as well as the establishment of special programmes for gifted and talented pupils.

"Research shows that when teachers make decisions like these, they generally underestimate the abilities of black youngsters," he will say.

His findings were rejected by the Department for Education and Skills, which said research showed the performance of black pupils at GCSE level was improving.

Speaking to The Independent, Professor Gillborn added: "One of the things I'm raising questions about is the whole focus on gifted and talented pupils and the separation at 14 of vocational and academic routes.

"Evidence from the United States suggests there's good reason to believe that, unless these reforms are introduced with greater care and with race equality as a major issue, they will lead to worse inequalities than we're already looking at."

Professor Gillborn is founding editor of the international journal Race, Ethnicity and Education. He was also a co- author of a recent study on race, class and gender in British schools conducted for Ofsted, the Government's education watchdog.

The report showed black pupils often predominated in the low-ability groups where schools had introduced setting by subject areas. Research also showed the effect was that the black youngsters were taught a restricted curriculum and entered for lower grade exams.

Professor Gillborn will say the Government's reforms could turn the clock back to the kind of selective state school system that existed in Britain after the Second World War.

He will say: "The 11-plus split children into different types of school. These proposals will split them into different types of education in the same school. It could create impenetrable barriers for children thought by their teachers to lack ability or have the wrong attitude."

His views have been backed by Diane Abbott, Labour MP for Hackney North, who on Sturday is staging a conference on black under-achievement. She calls it the "silent catastrophe" of the education system.

A spokeswoman for the Education Department said: "Our proposals for gifted and talented pupils and vocational routes to learning are all about widening opportunities for all pupils – and children from low- income and minority ethnic groups are no exception."

She added: "Latest research shows an 8 per cent increase in the number of black pupils leaving schools with five or more A* to C-grade passes at GCSE, so things are starting to improve already."