Discuss an issue of inequality

Discuss an issue of inequality. Explain its importance to educators today. Consider ways in which schools respond to the chosen issue

Within this essay we will explore the relationship between understandings of race imbedded in the learning context and the lived experience of learners and practitioners. It emphasizes the need for collective commitment to engage with the dynamics of difference by taking into account the rapidly changing nature of the primary school workforce, the increasing diverse ethnic profile of our primary children and the reality of underachievement.

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Framework of equality:

We begin by looking at five arguable musts for teaching under this subject, these include; The potential for the future;
Him/herself as a teacher and with his/her background;
The learners and their background;
The curriculum and its background;
The learning and it’s background;

Interaction with and between these aspects enables a learning environment in which teachers engage with, lead, manage and initiate change. Change is the key to running these principles, all teaching is about change. We can teach children to read, write, calculate and think at ever increasingly advanced levels. We change their social and economic skills so that they are better able to prosper responsible members of society. But, we change children in another way; we either prepare them to accept that some ethnic groups are more valued than others, or we prepare them to challenge this at every opportunity.

Principles for equality

The Runnymede Trust has published guiding principles which enable us to gain a more concrete understanding of this very complicated concept, while offering practical approaches to teachers planning (Runnymede Trust 2003). These principles, derived from the National Curriculum (DfEE 1999) and the
Race Relations (Amendment) Act (HMSO 2000). These principles are as follows:

1. Prioritize equality of opportunity and access.
2. Ensure excellence for all.
3. Support the development of cultural and personal identities.

4. Prepare pupils for citizenship.

These principles are also reflected as integral parts of the Standards for Qualified Teacher Status (TDA 2006).

Understanding equality

Our understandings of equality are formed in terms of our personal, professional and academic experiences. Classroom practitioners engage with the understandings coming from a range of sources, including national, local authority and school policies; theories; colleagues; local communities; the children and their families. The interaction of different understandings influences the manifestation of equality in the classroom. Teachers should lead the learning of the class. The leadership role includes taking responsibility for and to other adults who contribute to the learning context. A shared understanding of equality therefore should be an integral part of the learning climate.

Political understandings: government education policy

The most recent changes in educational policy have included a strong move towards closer professional liaison between agencies concerned with the welfare of children. This is explained in Every Child Matters, and the Workforce Reform Agenda (DfES 2003; TTA 2003; OfSTED 2005a). these polices have redefined the everyday structure of schools ensuring that everyone involved in child development is appropriately qualified and has a reasonable workload so that children may benefit from the best possible education. This redefinition means an evolving experience for primary pupils, who traditionally might only have seen one teacher throughout the day. Pupils may now be taught by various different people.

Teaching assistants now have the opportunity to acquire professional qualifications which enable them to support classroom learning more effectively (DfE 1994, cited in Loxley and Swann 1998: 156). Other professionals from outside the school, such as educational psychologists, may also support children in the classroom context. The need for close liaison is very important and paramount to the future of learning.

Theoretical understandings

Four different theories of equality in education are as follows:

Multicultural education which views all sets of cultural values equality; Anti-racist education which challenges privilege, based on (the majority) ethnic, cultural or racial values; Common education which privileges one set (majority) of ethnic, cultural or racial values; Intercultural education which sees values evolving from engagement and negotiation.

Multicultural education
Multicultural education, developed in the 1970s and 1980s, was based on the notion that cultural diversity is to be celebrated as a source of enrichment. Multicultural education aimed to challenge a ‘Euro-centred’ curriculum which continued the idea of Western superiority.

Anti-racist education
This approach was adopted by the Inner London Education Authority in the late 1980’s. It started from the very start that white people in Britain enjoy a position of power and privilege, based on their imperialist colonial heritage. That being the exploration of Europe in the 16th century, European industrial and military supremacy in the 18th and 19th century and the domination of the world by the British Empire in the 19th century (still the biggest empire of all time). Teachers were encouraged to confront their own prejudices and effect a shift in their own mindsets before attempting to challenge inequality in a learning context, for example, Gaine (2001).

A common education
Education should be open to all sections of society who would be adjusted and integrated to the dominant culture as patriotic citizens. The roles of the school and the home, while still working together, would be separate. The school helps children learn the knowledge, skills, language and habits for successful social and economic participation in national society. Part of this approach was to learn a single national history and culture. Differences of custom and ‘folkways’ should belong to the home/church and or local community (Ravitch 1991).

Intercultural education
Intercultural education recognizes that the identity of a nation is to be seen within international and global perspectives. The word has become increasingly inter-dependent. Britain can be seen as a little part of a large world, meaning British people are heterogeneous, representing a range of cultures, religions, languages and ethnic origins. This multifaceted ‘brutishness’ is a dynamic concept which is evolving as a result of interactions between the many differences (CRE 2005, 2006). A good way to look at these interactions is suggested by Giroux’s theory of border pedagogies (Giroux 1991). He argues that education see those from ‘other’ cultures as needing to be helped by members of the dominant culture to cross the borders to integrate within the dominant culture.

Multicultural educators say that is for the dominant culture to cross the border to understand the ‘other’ ethnicities, but the borders remain in place. Border pedagogy says that the new imagined culture of the community, be it national, local or international, will arise form dialogues taking place on the ‘borders’ between cultures. Such dialogues will take place wherever diversity meets, and the quality of the emerging conversations will depend on the commitment of each participating group to create new understandings.

The reality of inequality

The current UK government statistics acknowledge that pupils from different ethnic groups attain at different rates. At the foundation stage, Bangladeshi, African Caribbean, Black African and those who were classified as White Other and Black Other are underperforming (DfES 2005). The children
who underachieve throughout their entire primary school education belong in the main to Black Caribbean, Black Other, Pakistani, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children of Irish heritage. Schools are required to report on the ‘valued-added’ provision of their school. This means measuring pupil progress (e.g. the distance travelled) from individual starting points rather than simply measuring results through SATs. The statistics derived from these reports show that children from all minority ethnic groups make more progress than their white British peers when contextual factors, such as social and economic deprivation, are taken into account. Research shows that deprivation plays a larger role in underachievement than ethnicity (DfES 2005:46).

The statistics also show that there is a changing profile of attainment with, for example, Bangladeshi and Pakistani pupils showing a rising profile of achievement while the attainment gap between White and Black African pupils has widened in every subject and in every Key Stage from 2003 to 2005. It has bee shown that children from some minority ethnic groups consistently out-perform their white British peers at all Key Stages. These are Chinese, Indian and Mixed White British peers (DfES 2005). Although such patterns of attainment are longstanding, it does not mean that lower attainment amongst pupils from minority ethnic groups is inevitable. OfSTED (2005b) research suggests that no single ethnic group is innately less capable of success than any other. Additionally research shows that the attainment of children for whom English is and Additional Language (EAL) rises significantly with the improvement of their English language skills (Gillborn and Mirza 2000;OfSTED 2005b: 7). Changing rates of progress are noted in some minority ethnic groups, a key indicator of potential. The challenge for educators is to develop teaching and learning practises which are more likely to enable all children to achieve.

Hooks talks of multiculturalism and it is again worth just spending a brief moment looking at this concept. As Rattansi (1993) has argued it is often asserted that the 1980s in the UK saw a polarization of two fundamentally opposed educational movements – multiculturalism and antiracism. However, it is not clear to what extent and in what ways this broad division has actually been reflected in the daily experience of educational practice.

To discuss this I want to rehearse the arguments put forward by Ali Rattansi. Multiculturalism as expressed in the Swann Report (1985) is based on the premise that the key issue facing schools (and indeed lifelong learning) is how to create tolerance for black minorities and their cultures in a white nature now characterized by cultural diversity or cultural pluralism. Intolerance is conceptualized basically as a matter of attitudes, and is said to be constituted by prejudice. The basic educational prescription is the sympathetic teaching of ‘other cultures’ in order to dispel ignorance. The overall social project is the creation of a harmonious, democratic cultural pluralism, a healthy cultural diversity.

The classic problems associated with this perspective are that: The focus on attitudes and prejudice tends to draw attention to the individual or the small group, rather than to systematized inequalities, relationships of power and ideology – and to context. As Ratansi put it: radicalized discourses are always articulated in context; in a lesson, a club or project, at work, a street – in this neighbourhood or that. ‘These different sites yield complex and shifting alliances and points of tension. Related to this there is a belief in the power of ‘rational explanation’. All that is needed is that people come to their senses – that through knowing more about other cultures, and by knowing ‘the facts’ they will challenge stereotypes and appreciate others. In reality we know that the ideas we have are not often gained through ‘rational choice’ but become embedded through routine exchanges and Commonsense solutions.

There is very little evidence that simply knowing about another culture has any particular impact. The nature of prejudice is often approached in a very unproblematic way – it can be assumed that prejudices are expressed consistently. In this way the ‘prejudiced individual’ becomes the target for pedagogies that are supposed to cure this pathology (Ratsani: 25). Again evidence is now mounting up to show that the position is complex and contradictory. Those expressing racist ideas may have black friends; there may well be significant differences in the way that different ethnic groups are treated; the significance of place and territory may act to include some people, while excluding others – and so on. Prejudice is portrayed as something wrong and evil. However, to operate in the world there is a sense in which we have to be prejudiced – in the sense that prejudice involves prejudgement. The question is not so much whether we are prejudiced as whether our prejudices or prejudgements are open to change.

Antiracists have pointed to the limited nature of this focus on prejudice and attitudes – and the related strategy of prejudice reduction through teaching about ‘other cultures’. Racism must be tackled head on. That requires a dismantling of institutionalized practices of racism – whether in employment or education or in social welfare. It also entails a direct confrontation with racist ideologies – for example in curricula. However, there are problems also around this view. In some manifestations there can be an emphasis on systems and statements rather than on the lived dynamics of people’s lives i.e. the focus slips away to the state, the institution, the dominant class. There can still a view of racism as a form of irrationalism. The classic expression of this is to see racism as a form of false consciousness. And there are various areas that remain relatively unexplored in this context – for example the intertwining of racism and sexuality – the encounters and fantasies between me or you – and the other.

From past events and current research this essay suggests that engagement with difference can equip all Teachers, including the beginner teacher, to be a catalyst for change. Consciously or unconsciously, we are always engaging with the potential of the future while being cognisance of the past. Teaching for equality means ensuring that this engagement and cognisance are consciously used to lead the transformation from past structures and practices to new understandings based on dialogue with difference. Such cross-border pedagogy considers the learning environment to be the natural context for change. The primary teacher’s role is key in establishing conditions in which all children can participate in change for a fairer future.

Word count = 2336

Donald, J. and Rattansi, A. (eds.) (1992) ‘Race’, Culture and Difference,
London: Sage. 300 + ix pages. Excellent collection of readings. In section on antiracism see especially Rattansi.

SWANN REPORT(1985)’ A response from the Commission for Racial Equality’, CRE.

Runneymede Trust (2003) Complementing Teachers: A Practical Guide to Promoting Race Equality in Schools. London: Granada Learning.

DfEE (1999) All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education, London: DfEE.

Race Relations (Amendment) Act (HMSO 2000)

Teacher Development Agency (2006) Professional Standards for NQTs. http://www.tda.gov.uk

OfSTED (2005a) Remodelling the School Workforce: A Report from OfSTED. HMI 2596. http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/publications/index.cfm?fuseaction=pubs.summaryandid=4115

OfSTED (2005b) Race Equality in Education. London: Her Majesty’s Inspectorate 589. http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/publications/index

DFE (1994) Better Choices, Working Together to Improve Careers Education and Guidance – The Principles DFE

Gaine, C. (2001) If it’s not hurting it’s not working: teaching teachers about race, Research Papers in Education, 16(1): 93-113

Ravitch, D. (1991) A Culture in common, Educational Leadership, (December 1991/January 1992): 8-11.

Giroux, H.A. (1991) Democracy and the discourse of cultural difference:
towards a politics of border pedagogy, British journal of Sociology of Education, 12(4): 501-19

Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) (2005) Citizenship and Belonging: What is Brutishness? http://www.cre.gov.uk/research/britishness.html

Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) (2006) How the CRE is Working towards a Fairer, More Integrated Britain. http://www.cre.gov.uk/polocy/index.html

DfES (2005) Ethnicity and Education: The Evidence on Minority Ethnic Pupils aged 5-16 RTPG01-01. http://www.dfes.gov.uk/rsgateway/DB/RRP/u014488/index.shtml

Gillborn, D. and Mirza, S. (2000) Educational Inequality: mapping Race, Class and Gender. London: OfSTED

Department for Education and Skills (2002) The National Literacy Stategy: Supporting Pupils Learning English as an Additional Language. London: DfES

Gardner, P. (2004) Teaching and Learning in Multicultural Classrooms. London: David Fulton.

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