In a climate of austerity and radical change in education, I am concerned about the challenges faced by Black parents to find ways to achieve the best educational outcomes for their children in an ever selective and competitive educational environment. The pace and direction of change is worrying and demonstrates the need for Black pupils to develop greater resilience in order to succeed in an education system set up to increase the purchasing power of the White middle classes to the disadvantage of Black pupils.
Within the coalition government’s education policies there has been a definite shift away from an inclusive agenda. This shift is a move towards the aggressive promotion of competition, individuality and parental choice. However, those with the appropriate financial and cultural capitals to take advantage of the freedom to make a ‘choice’ tend to be White and middle class leaving the poor, disadvantaged, White working classes and those from certain Black and ethnic minority groups behind.
Government commitment to race equality and full inclusion is questionable. Changes, such as schools having new powers to search pupils, the removal of the independent appeal panel for exclusions have specific implications for Black pupils who face the highest levels of surveillance and monitoring in and outside schools and have disproportionately higher levels of exclusion from school. The removal of the OFSTED requirement to inspect for race equality will reduce the evidence based reports which identify good practice in relation to raising the attainment of Black pupils and ensuring race equality.
The new Teacher’s standards emphasise the importance of understanding the needs of pupils with SEN, high ability, EAL and disabilities but fails to mention other key aspects of inclusion and equality such as race and ethnicity, religion and social class factors which are known to impact achievement. The OECD suggests that there is a greater need to ensure that teachers are prepared for teaching a diverse student population in an increasingly diverse society and found that successful schools treat diversity as a valuable resource providing an opportunity for mutual and reciprocal learning. However, the coalition government seems uninterested in these matters.
In earlier research, I identified the importance of resilience in explaining how some Black pupils defied the odds and succeeded at school achieving above expectations in academic results. Resilience is the ability to recover from hardship due to protective factors. It is a process where individuals are able to adapt and change when faced with adverse situations resulting in positive outcomes. I found that Black pupils reported negative experiences at school such as a lack of support from teachers, being treated differently to other pupils and racist incidents not being addressed. These experiences led to school being a place where Black pupils especially needed to develop resilience to be able to cope in such environments. Their resilience had been developed within their homes, extended families and communities but recent research has highlighted the importance of schools also fostering and promoting resilience through providing supportive environments which provide encouragement and build confidence in pupils’ abilities. Caring and nurturing relationships between pupils and teachers is also important.
Schools need to be places where teachers value all pupils as individuals and seek to ensure the variety of cultural, religious and ethnic communities are welcomed, embraced and valued within the classroom. Focussing on resilience building in schools can compensate for risk factors such as social disadvantage and poverty supporting children to achieve when at school.
In a recent government report, the underachievement of white working class children was highlighted as a major education concern it concluded that the government must take steps to ensure that children from these backgrounds succeed in education, through ensuring they have the best qualified teachers, monitoring the pupil premium to ensure it is appropriately used and the introduction of white working class good practice guides to support schools. These strategies are of course important in helping to raise achievement levels but there appears to be an underlying implication that Black and ethnic minority groups do not need additional support, and have, in fact contributed to the underachievement of white working classes by taking attention and resources away from them. The strategies outlined in the report should form part of a holistic and inclusive strategy which includes supporting under-performing Black and ethnic minority groups as well as white working class pupils.
The lack of specific requirements in education policy to ensure that the needs of underachieving ethnic minority groups are considered and met leaves Black children in a greater vulnerable position and schools and parents with less power to challenge unacceptable practices.
Within the current educational policy climate I believe that Black families will find diminishing interest from schools in the progress, welfare and academic success of their children. The slow progress in improving the attainment and achievement of Black pupils over numerous decades leaves little hope for Black parents that relying on the education system will change the situation. In order to secure the academic success and progress of their children Black parents may need to develop and build on the supplementary school system and take advantage, where possible of the opportunity to set up free schools to educate pupils to value all cultures, to promote social and race equality and an appreciation for diversity.
But schools, teachers and teacher training providers need to uphold values of equality of opportunity and race equality in their school and training programmes ensuring that teachers and trainee teachers are equipped to teach in increasingly diverse schools promoting inclusion, race equality and social justice.
 Gillborn, D. (2005) Education policy as an act of White supremacy: Whiteness, critical race theory and educational reform. Journal of Education Policy, 20, 4: 485-505.
 Department for Education, DfE (2012) Teachers’ Standards. London: DFE
 Office for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (2010) Educating teachers for diversity: Meeting the challenge. Educational Research and Innovation: OECD publishing.
 Rhamie, J. (2007) Eagles who Soar: How Black learners find paths to success. Stoke on Trent: Trentham Books.
 Schoon, I. And Bartley, M. (2008) The role of human capability and resilience. The Psychologist, 21,1: 24-27
 House of Commons, (2014) Underachievement in Education by White working class children. HC142 London: HMSO