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The Committee of Inquiry into the Education of Children from Ethnic Minority Groups was established by the then government in March as part of its response to the report of the Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration on 'The West Indian Community' 1 which highlighted concern about the academic performance of West Indian children.
The present government confirmed the Committee's establishment and completed the appointment of members. The Committee was asked to look at the educational needs and attainments of children from the whole range of ethnic minority groups bearing in mind factors relating to pre-school experiences and prospects for school leavers.
As a first step, however, the Committee was required to prepare an interim report on the particular needs and attainments of West Indian children. In the absence of any nationally agreed definition of 'West Indian' the Committee has dealt in its report with 'children who are black, whose families came originally from the group of islands known as the West Indies, and who are generally speaking regarded as West Indian by teachers and the community at large'.
The report stresses that virtually all these children are British-born. In preparing its interim report, the Committee received written and oral evidence from a wide range of individuals and organisations including many representatives of the West Indian community and between January and July members spent over days visiting schools and other institutions around the country.
The report stresses that 'the education of West Indian children cannot be seen in isolation and must be considered as part of the education of all children'.
As well as discussing the major issues in the education of West Indian children, the Committee's interim report also therefore considers the much broader question of what schools in general should be attempting to provide for all their pupils in today's 'multiracial and culturally diverse' society.
The Committee summarises briefly the various studies which over recent years have appeared to show considerable underachievement by West Indian pupils in relation to their white peers. The results of the School Leavers Survey Exercise show: The Committee concludes that although there will 'always be some children who will underachieve and for various reasons will fail to reach their full potential' their concern is that West Indian children as a group are 'underachieving in relation to their peers, not least in obtaining the examination qualifications needed to give them equality of opportunity in the employment market and to enable them to take advantage of the range of post school opportunities available'.
The report considers in some detail the various factors, both within the education system and outside it, which have been said to lead West Indian children to underachieve: Racism Many West Indians who gave evidence to the Committee saw racism as the major reason for their children's underachievement and other people mentioned this as a contributory factor.
The Committee believes that only a very small minority of teachers could be said to be racist in the commonly accepted sense. However it claims that a teacher's attitude towards, and expectations of, West Indian pupils may be subconsciously influenced by stereotyped, negative or patronising views of their abilities and potential, which may prove a self-fulfilling prophecy, and can be seen as a form of 'unintentional racism'.
The Committee concludes that, whilst racism, whether intentional or unintentional, cannot be said alone to account for the underachievement of West Indian children, it can and does have an important bearing on their performance at school.
The report therefore urges teachers to be prepared to examine and reappraise their attitudes and behaviour, to challenge all manifestations of racism and to playa leading role in seeking to change the attitudes of society as a whole towards ethnic minority communities.
Pre-school Provision The Committee feels that the existing provision for the under fives, both in terms of day care and nursery education, is generally inadequate to meet the needs of the population as a whole, and may be particularly ill-suited to the needs of West Indian families.
It believes that evidence 'points to the cycle of West Indian underachievement having its roots in the pre-school years and The report recommends that local authorities should make greater efforts to ensure that West Indian parents are aware of the pre-school facilities available and that LEAs should do more to help parents appreciate the contribution which they can make to the progress of their child, before he enters school.
Other recommendations relate to the need for better coordination within local authorities of services for the under-fives, the conversion of former primary school premises for nursery use, the extension of the opening hours of nursery schools and units, the need for those who work with under-fives to be made aware of the particular difficulties faced by West Indian families, and the need for there to be more nursery nurses and health visitors from ethnic minority groups.
Reading and Language Reading The report summarises the findings and conclusions of the ILEA Literacy Survey on the low reading attainment of West Indian children and discusses briefly [page xx] the methods and materials used by schools for teaching reading. It focuses on a recent study of the benefits derived by schools from involving parents more directly in helping their children to learn to read and recommends that all LEAs and schools should consider ways of building on this work.
Language The report summarises current views on the nature of the language of West Indian children, the various approaches adopted by schools and teachers to this language and the attitudes of West Indian parents.
It concludes that 'for the majority of West lndian children in our schools, who were born and brought up in this country, linguistic factors play no part in underachievement'.
It feels however that 'the attitudes towards West Indian children's language held by some teachers Curriculum The report argues strongly that a broadly-based, 'multi-cultural' approach to the curriculum should be adopted by all schools, both those with ethnic minority pupils and all white schools, and offers some examples, at both primary and secondary level, of what it sees as 'good practice' in this respect.
The Committee does not 'believe that education should seek to iron out the differences between cultures, nor attempt to draw everyone into the dominant culture' but rather should 'draw upon the experiences of the many cultures that make up our society and thus broaden the cultural horizons of every child'.
The Committee's recommendations to the DES, HM Inspectorate and the Schools Council are designed to encourage a multi-cultural approach throughout education and within schools, head teachers and teachers, especially those from ethnic minority groups, are seen as having particular roles to play in bringing this about.
Books and Teaching Materials The Committee's call for a multi-cultural approach in education is reiterated in relation to the books and teaching materials used by schools. The Committee felt that some of these still presented an inaccurate and negative picture of ethnic minority groups and of other cultures, and calls upon teachers and librarians, with advice from their LEAs, to examine the books they use and to take account of their appropriateness to today's multiracial society.
Examinations The Committee feels that 'examinations have a major part to play in complementing and reflecting a multi-cultural approach to the curriculum in schools and the multiracial nature of today's society'.
It believes that the examining boards have shown themselves inflexible and, in some cases, dismissive both of the particular needs which ethnic minority pupils may have, and of the need for their syllabuses and papers to be more relevant to the actual experiences of the pupils in schools today.
It therefore recommends that all GCE and CSE boards should review their policies in [page xxi] this respect and, looking towards the restructuring of the examinations system, that the DES should take account of these considerations in any new arrangements.Dr Hans W.
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