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Why are British Africans better in school than Caribbeans?

BRITAIN’S BRIGHTEST MINDS: The top ten black students in the country at the Rare Rising Stars Awards earlier this year

OVER THE past six years, major steps have been taken to boost the educational performance of black pupils.

In 2006, only 39 per cent of black pupils achieved 5+ A*-C GCSE grades, including the core subjects of maths and English.

It placed the group among the lowest achievers at secondary school when compared with pupils of other ethnic minority communities.
In comparison, 46.1 per cent of white British and 62 per cent of Indian pupils achieved the same feat.

But by 2011/12, the gap had narrowed with 54.6 per cent of black children gaining five or more A*- C grades, although this is still below the national average of 58.8 per cent.

By looking a little deeper, the statistics suggest pupils from a black Caribbean background are dragging down the average.

At the recent Rare Rising Star Awards – an event which celebrates Britain’s top 10 black university students – only one was from a British Caribbean background.

This reflects recent statistics which show 58 per cent of African pupils attaining five GCSEs at grade A*-C including maths and English, which is in line with the national average.

But only 49.8 per cent of Caribbeans managed to do the same. And that pattern goes back to the year 2000.

Data released by the University of Oxford showed that in 2012, British Africans were twice as likely as British Caribbeans to be accepted into one of the country’s top institutions, with 10.6 per cent and 4.5 per cent, respectively.

However, while the trend revealed by the data is cause for concern, raw information, of course, must be viewed with some degree of caution as there is not much context provided such as social class, quality of local schools and parental occupations.

But the unavoidable question remains - why are African children performing substantially better than their Caribbean counterparts?

Heidi Mirza, professor of race, faith and culture at Goldsmiths College, University of London, states that the different migration patterns of African and Caribbean people may be a factor.

“There was a large wave of migrants who came to Britain in the 1940s and 1950s from the Caribbean and they tended to find work in blue-collar positions, in factories and on building sites – living in predominately inner-city areas.

“On the other hand, the majority of African migration occurred decades later, and they tended to be more middle-class migrants, more akin to the ideals of university education,” the professor said.

Mirza, who was born in Trinidad, added that Caribbean parents have become too reliant on the education system and needed to play a more active role.

“We hold schools in such high order that often we defer to education systems. But Caribbean parents need to be more involved. When something is wrong, we need to have a collective voice, to say ‘this is wrong’ - almost in the fashion of a union.”

The academic suggested also that the lack of black teachers across the country means that there could be a lack of understanding of how to motivate and handle black boys, which can lead to difficulties in the classroom.

According to a report by the Children’s Commissioner, 210 pupils of black Caribbean origin were permanently excluded in 2011, making individuals in this group almost three times more likely to be excluded than the rest of the school population.

Experts also say that poverty rates among the black community are among the reasons for poorer-than-average school performances.
However, when comparing African and Caribbean groups, the results are surprising.

In 2009, the Wealth and Assets Survey from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that the average black Caribbean household had about £76,000 in assets, compared to £15,000 in black African households.

Furthermore, found that 45 per cent of black Africans in the UK are currently living in relative poverty compared to 30 per cent of black Caribbean individuals.

Feyisa Demie, head of research at Lambeth Council, discovered in a 2004 study that the high educational aspirations of African parents, inspirational leadership and strong links with their African communities are among the main factors why African pupils tend to outperform their peers.

Moreover, Demie’s research concluded that black African parents and pupils place an extremely high value on education and teachers in the schools are equipped to ensure that the curriculum meets the needs of children.

Joseph Mensah is waiting nervously to receive his GCSE results this month. Joseph’s mother, Iris, is from a Jamaican background and is married to his Ghanaian-born father Isaiah.

The 15-year-old dreams of becoming an architect and is predicted to receive all A* or A grades at his school in Ilford, east London. Isaiah, who is a software engineer, advised that parents should ignore the statistics and just provide the best possible support for their children.

“Whether 50 per cent or 80 per cent of black boys are getting good grades is pretty irrelevant to my son,” he said.

“He’s a clever boy and we make sure he understands the importance of education. He plays football and computer games, but his number-one priority is to do well at school. As a parent you know your child better than anyone else.

He added: “We noticed that Joseph’s grades were falling in Year 8, so we got him a tutor and a mentor to help him out. Such small things make a big difference.”

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