Recognising the intersectionality of poverty and race is critical to advancing educational outcomes
We must recognise the discriminatory factors that give grave worries to Black parents who are acutely aware that their children achieve better marks when examined blindly and externally.
The educational challenge for our society has never been greater than today given the negative impact the Covid pandemic has had on educational outcomes. Prior to the crisis, students from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller and White working-class backgrounds were often already at a significant disadvantage in relation to educational attainment in primary, secondary and tertiary further education.
Now, after a year in lockdown with intermittent physical teaching and lack of access to basic resources, students from these backgrounds have invariably been hit hardest with many concluding that without urgent intervention, a generation of young people could fall so far behind that it will be impossible for them to catch up.
Dr Angela Donkin, chief social scientist at The National Foundation for Educational Research’s (NFER), highlighted that in their research they found that the learning gap between disadvantaged students and their better-off peers had increased by 46%, worryingly adding that their figure was likely to be an “under-estimate.” Moreover, they found that students from ‘ethnic minorities’ would be worst hit as a result of the pandemic.
Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Caribbean parents in essential low paid jobs, coupled with multi-generational households, makes the learning environment at home extremely difficult for their children
There are many factors that result in ethnic minority and white working class students being more negatively impacted. Over the course of the pandemic, there has been a lot of discussion about the impact of poverty including food poverty, digital access, access to resources and conducive home learning environments on students’ educational outcomes.
When race and class intersect the problems are compounded. For example, the disproportionate numbers of Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Caribbean parents in essential low paid jobs, coupled with multi-generational households, makes the learning environment at home extremely difficult for their children. As we recognise the impact of poverty, we must therefore, acknowledge the link between poverty and racism.
What the APPG for Race Equality in Education will no doubt seek to do, is have that nuanced articulation that finds solutions for this intersectionality, but is also honest enough to recognise the discriminatory factors that give grave worries to Black parents who are acutely aware that their children achieve better marks when examined blindly and externally - rather than by those who teach them on a daily basis.
The APPG will no doubt want to dig into our educational infrastructure and management that sees, for example, so few Black teachers and even less senior managers or heads of schools. Other areas I’m sure we’ll seek to tackle race inequalities in school exclusions; narrowing the attainment gap; and, having an honest conversation about our curriculum that challenges a narrow Eurocentric view of the world.
The thing I love about our new APPG, of which I am vice-chair, is that all members are committed and passionate about seeing students excel in their education, and how that can be used as a springboard for a fruitful adult life.
Getting this education piece right is non-negotiable. Our nation depends upon it. It is also why I have taken my new position as Head of Homerton College at Cambridge University. The opportunity to inspire, guide and support students to fulfil their ambitions is a dream come true.
Lord Woolley is a crossbench member of the House of Lords and vice-chair of the APPG for Race Equality in Education.