There must be no segregation in our schools

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Trevor Phillips has come up with an incendiary suggestion. The chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality argues that the only way to tackle the high levels of educational failure among black male children in Britain is to teach them separately from their peers.

Trevor Phillips has come up with an incendiary suggestion. The chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality argues that the only way to tackle the high levels of educational failure among black male children in Britain is to teach them separately from their peers.

That young black men are disproportionately failing in education is beyond doubt. A quick glance at exam statistics confirms this. So what can be done about it? Mr Phillips blames a combination of factors: the failure of many black fathers to take an interest in their sons' schoolwork; an anti-learning culture among young black men; a shortage of black teachers. His conclusion is that these young men need separate lessons that will instil in them a respect for education and also enable them to catch up with their peers. This, Mr Phillips argues, cannot be provided in the present school structure. He cites a similar programme among the black community of east St Louis in America to support his proposals.

But there are fundamental problems with Mr Phillips' argument. Simply because a scheme has enjoyed some success in the US, does not mean it will work here. Britain's black population - a mixture of people of West Indian and African descent - is not directly comparable with that of America. It is not clear that this scheme would achieve what Mr Phillips hopes. What is clear, however, is that it would be extraordinarily divisive. Most people would, understandably, regard segregation based on skin colour - however noble the intentions - as grossly offensive.

It is not just young black men who are failing in our schools. One in three children leaves primary school deficient in writing. And it is important to recognise that failing schools tend to be concentrated in poor, inner-city areas. The root cause of academic failure is economic deprivation and low expectations. A child's ethnicity does not determine his or her capability. That is not to say that schools cannot make a difference. Pupils who need extra help must receive it. There is still too much poor teaching and too many failing schools. Our education system needs substantial reform - but it must remain colour-blind.

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