Calls have been made this week at the Town Hall for government investment to tackle the local attainment gap in education, with councillors scrutinising in particular how this is affecting Black Caribbean and other Black or minority ethnic communities in the borough.
The challenge to government came against the background of “really worrying” research by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) showing that since 2011 outcomes for Black children in particular have worsened, with the education attainment gap widening by 68 per cent in that time for Black-Caribbean pupils, and for other Black pupils by 77 per cent.
Addressing councillors, Professor Feyisa Demie of Durham University’s School of Education and also head of research for Lambeth Council, said that government policy is “colour-blind”.
He said: “There is no longer ring-fenced funding, or earmarked, which we had until 2010, in terms of raising achievement of ethnic minority children, where this used to get about £210m per year. There was also about £80m allocated to London Challenge which made a huge difference in London.
“More importantly, there was also money which was allocated in terms of raising achievement for Black Caribbean children. This money and that funding was abolished in 2010. So it is no surprise that there is underachieving.”
He added: “As a council, you can try the best you can do. The challenge you are facing in terms of targeted intervention is really huge. A huge amount of investment is needed. What we need to do is convince central government to invest, not only in the council but in the local area and school.”
Councillors quizzed officers over seven main reasons identified as driving the gap, namely poor leadership on equality issues, institutional racism, stereotyping, low expectations from teachers, curriculum barriers and relevance, a lack of diversity in workforce and the lack of targeted support.
Stephen Hall, the council’s assistant director for school performance and improvement, said: “Overall, Hackney schools perform favourably against national averages and have done for a period of time. However those gaps still persist, and in particular for Turkish, Kurdish, Cypriot pupils and Black-Caribbean boys and pupils.
“The work we are doing is to support schools in what they are doing, as they are the key agents here and the ones who are making the difference. It is the aspiration of the school and the effectiveness of the teacher that drives those gaps down.”
Councillors also heard from Orlene Badu, system lead for the council’s Improving Outcomes for Young Black Men programme, with the Town Hall aiming to not challenge “systemic inequality” through this work, focusing not simply on offering interventions but to “challenge the biased perceptions of this particular group,” with Badu underlining that among local schools there remains a “huge appetite” to close the gaps in achievement.
Badu added: “Professor Demie identified that government investment is the way forward in terms of driving profound social change. That is definitely something for us to think about in terms of taking this further into practice and policy, and considering investment.”
Cllr Margaret Gordon said: “It’s obviously no coincidence that this work has stalled or gone backwards because of the lack of investment since 2010 by central government in this area. However, we are where we are. I’d obviously call for further investment from government as a priority in this. Is it time to start setting targets in terms of reducing this gap?”
Officers responded to Gordon that the Town Hall looks at schools’ data and the gap between the attainment of different groups and challenges them where the gaps are growing or larger than they’d expect, or if school leaders are not ambitious enough in enacting change.
While committee chair Cllr Sophie Conway asked for the council to share data on schools in which the attainment gap is being properly addressed in order for best practice to be shared as well those institutions where it is not, Hackney Education head Annie Gammon refused to share in public which schools the Town Hall has concerns about, adding: “Naming and shaming might not be what this is about.”
Cllr Conway said: “As somebody of Black Caribbean heritage, it does grind my gears to keep hearing referencing single parent families and a lack of Black male role models and the usual stuff that gets rolled out, when we have so many Black women doing so well who are coming from the same households.
“I understand that there are gender disparities across the board, but I feel it is more pronounced when it comes to Black Caribbean children. My personal sense is that Black boys’ experiences of institutional racism are considerably different to those of their sisters.”