TALE OF TWO CULTURES: Black African pupils are achieving well, while Black Caribbean remain below par
A growing gulf in attainment between pupils of Caribbean heritage and their African counterparts has highlighted a lack of "insufficient interventions" to help all black pupils achieve their potential.
At the end of the 2013/14 academic year, 56.8 per cent of British African students achieved A*-C grades, including maths and English - slightly above the national average of 56.6 per cent.
It places them with Indian and Chinese pupils as the country's highest ethnic achievers. But on the other end of the spectrum are black Caribbean pupils who, with a dismal 47 per cent pass rate, are trailing by nearly 10 percentage points.
The under-achievement of black Caribbean pupils is not a new phenomenon but the fact that it is yet to be addressed is "deplorable", said an academic and experienced teacher who has researched the anomaly.
Dr Janet Graham, author of An Exploration of African-Caribbean Boys' Under-achievement, told The Voice: "There is no justification for the failure by the government to address these major problems which were highlighted as early as 1971. It is deplorable, and unacceptable, that this group of students continue to underachieve without sufficient interventions to address the problem."
Black pupils on the whole achieved the least in the five top GCSE grades out of all ethnic groups, but it is the performance of Caribbean pupils who are dragging down the average of 53.1 per cent.
When the groups are broken down, Caribbean pupils are the least successful of ethnic groups, with the exception of travellers of Irish heritage and Roma Gypsy pupils. White British pupils also fall just below the national average of 56.5 per cent.
Graham added: "Last year, the government said that boys were making progress. The results this year have shown that this is not the case. It is upsetting for parents who I have spoken to; it is upsetting for the Caribbean community in Britain who have formed part of society for decades, pay their taxes yet their children are not achieving the examination results that they should meaning they do not go on to do A-levels or go on to university."
In her thesis for her PhD, Dr Graham questioned whether black Caribbean boys, whose performance is significantly worse than black Caribbean girls, were 'their own worst enemies'.
Her research challenged this theory and found the reasons for their under-achievement - that not living up to their own potential - were complex and she criticised schools for taking a one-size-fits all approach and not taking on broad cultural needs of particular groups.
Dr Graham said that Caribbean pupils had inherited a false legacy of being less intelligent and stereotypes such as being failures, disruptive along with challenging behaviour.
And even though the boys she interviewed admitted that friends could distract them from learning, as could a 'hip-hop' subculture and issues of masculinity (lack of role models), these factors were not the primary causes of their under-achievement.
Graham wrote: "The evidence from the study shows that African-Caribbean boys want to learn and do well academically, because they understand the value of educational qualifications in helping them to achieve success in their lives.
"I argue that it is teachers' perceptions of these boys that are a main reason for their underachievement.
"There is a lack of understanding of the boys' subculture... it is perceived to be negative and even threatening."
In her interview with The Voice, she called on the Government to consider injecting funding into additional lessons for African Caribbean children, to employ teachers who can support their learning and ensure they are given individual attention.