Notes on: Wright, C., Maylor, U., Pickup, T. (2021). Young British African and Caribbean Achieving Educational Success. Disrupting Deficit Discourses About Male Black Achievement. London: Routledge.

Dave Harris


There is an intersection of race, gender, class and community which produces successful education strategies both in school and HE. At the moment, Black students account for 6% of primary age, 6% of secondary age and 7% in post 16 fe in the UK. Much has been written about their negative compulsory educational experience and unequal outcomes, stressing Black masculinity, and racial stereotypes. This has inadvertently pathologised young Black males as disinterested underachievers. Educational achievement has been relatively neglected. This book focuses on educational capability and success and its 'intersectional nature' (2), its 'resilience' in the face of a dominant narrative based on White middle-class cultural social and economic capital. It is not a story of cultural deficit. It is a matter of overcoming stigmatisation and homogenisation of Black identity and requires a more nuanced understanding.

A legacy of slavery explains the under education of Black people [in the UK?] Underpinned by 19th-century European science turning on IQ (Eysenck and Jensen). Colonisation cemented this understanding. Postcolonial understandings discredited this notion but stereotypes persist and are influential especially for Black males, and we find explanations for low attainment in America and England especially for African Caribbeans. They surface in explaining the current epidemic of knife crime and disproportionate exclusions [including government reports on knife crime, p.4]. Similar ones are found in the USA. There is also evidence of [side tracking into sport and music] [lots of references]. Black males are anti-education, committed to the culture of the street, demonised, suffering from intrinsic deficit rooted in the family. These labels are difficult to shift, especially when there has been a lower achievement rate compared to White British groups [lots of evidence]

Evidence has found that families have high aspirations, however and there have been early claims that the education system itself is responsible, since Coard, and later work including Strand [on overrepresentation in 'statistics for moderate learning difficulties and… Social, emotional and mental health… Special educational needs in England' [quoting Strand and Lindorff 2018] (6). They are overrepresented in schools that already are found in high deprivation communities, although the actual explanations are still unknown — Strand and Lindorf suspect '"recency of [African] migration]' (7)

Black African students do better than Black Caribbeans, but that was not always the case in the early 2000's, and there were uneven patterns. Black Caribbeans fall back during the schooling. The type of school attended makes a difference, for example in terms of how they are identified as SEN, and academies do seem to make a difference in attainment, in some cases leading to higher achievements than White British pupils in sponsored academies (8). Gillborn et al. are cited on GCSE results and the negative impact of Ebacc and insist that Black students can certainly attain on a par with White peers — they blame policymakers who keep shifting the goalposts.

Chinese and Indian students persistently achieve highly and outperformed White kids and have become model minorities, and are sometimes used to refute complaints of educational inequality and institutional racism, in the UK and the USA, pointing to families for not providing support and having a low aspirations.

These authors prefer to see a failure of policy as aiming at assimilation and integration while ignoring cultural identity and the inadequacy of measures assessing academic ability. A White teaching profession and its bias, especially low expectations, found in setting and streaming is also responsible [citing a study by Taylor et al. 2019]. Most researchers therefore think in terms of a crisis for Black boys, an example of 'research conducted through western hegemonic lenses', which has actually failed to find any inherent reason for this persistent under attainment.

In HE, BAME students are more likely to enter than White students and currently account for 26% of all university entrants [2018], 8% Black, 11% Asian. Black on students the same grades are still less likely to be offered places at elite universities and tend to be concentrated in the post-1992 institutions. They are also more likely to drop out — 13% -- but are also more likely to study postgrad courses, the reverse at doctoral level.

A study of Oxbridge recruitment found that White students were twice as likely to gain a place [holding qualifications equal?] Which 'points to institutional racism' (11, although data is difficult to same. Kelly thinks 'biased admissions processes' are responsible. Things are improving. It may be that the dominant culture and values is being maintained which includes maintaining racial privilege, which is just ignored. Those who do attend experienced negative impacts, isolation, undermining of confidence.

There is an ethnicity attainment gap in HE with fewer achieving good degrees in the UK and the USA, attributed to a lack of institutional support and higher dropout. The same is found at doctoral level, including lower rates of receiving national funding. There is a suggestion that academic excellence for university research councils 'is aligned with "Whiteness"' (12) [1 of the references is Arday 2018].

There are gender differences, with Black girls desiring more educational success and attaining better outcomes, leaving school with more academic qualifications, establishing a gender gap of 12% of primary level in terms of reading writing and maths, '"one of the largest for any ethnic group"' [better understood as particularly low attainment rates for African Caribbean males]. Disciplinary measures are a key factor, shown in three times the permanent exclusion rates for Black than White students, because they are more likely to be perceived as aggressive and violent.

There have been challenges by parents and community activists who believe more in education as liberatory and a means to advance. They want to know why schools are incapable of eliminating disparities for Black males, and Aker talks of a narrative of blame and the maintenance of Black male under attainment, although Black teachers are better at having high expectations and trying to identify more Black males as gifted and talented: even so, more Black males were still often placed in remedial courses, even in the USA.

Gender and ethnicity are 'key attributes' in attaining a first or upper second honours degree awarded to Black students in UK universities, and there is a lower degree attainment general as we saw, it is similar to the one in the USA, despite initial excellent school outcomes. This might be because Black males 'spent less time studying and often overestimated the likelihood of achieving a "good" degree outcome, compared to other groups' [citing Cotton] (14).

Class plays an important role and Black students are more likely to come from lower class families and to suffer economic deprivation. Even those from middle-class families are not protected entirely, however, and Black Caribbean still underachieve even compared to other minority ethnic groups in the same class. Class alone might not explain the lack of recruitment of Black students to elite universities. An exploration of assets or (Bourdieuvian) capitals they possess [Dumangane 2017], found that some were able to get to elite universities, despite financial pressures.

This raises the possibility of an '"anti-deficit achievement framework"' (15) [originally attributed to Harper 2012]. Many Black male students do achieve high levels of academic qualifications, support and motivation and do succeed, do accrue social capital and are able to activate it. They need encouraging and helpful policies practices and structures.. The central factor is whether they get '"positive messages about themselves, their schools and their communities"', high expectations, positive reinforcement., whether they can negotiate negative perceptions and false narratives, the obstacles, especially racism, they encounter.

Some of the strategies include those based at

School. Demie ( 2013) did a longitudinal study investigating the higher attainment of Black African students rather than Black Caribbean ones, and found differences according to 'individual students, schools and parents higher attainment aspirations' (16). In more detail, this included

high educational aspirations, inspirational leadership, high expectations, diversity in the workforce still racial of cultural diversity, strong parental support, an inclusive curriculum that meets the needs of African students and adds to the growing pride in being African, and strong links with African communities… Black African parents place an extremely high value on education… Teachers in school are equipped to ensure that the curriculum meets the needs and interests of children of Black African origin… Local communities represented well in these schools and they have staff who speak many of the languages the local community.

Higher education. Dumagne's study covered six men, three at Oxford, three at Russell group, the key factor here was '"faith capital"', support based on Christianity, the social capital provided by Black religious communities, the social capital they offer in the form of '"norms values and information"' (17). These protect from destructive behaviours, provide skills and support, and values like patience, discipline and respect, high aspirations, the positive effects of communities and prayer. American research also supports this finding — '"spirituality and faith-based community"' (18) can support people in times of stress and encourage Black people to resist and cope. Faith is buttressed by the family and undergraduate mentors through high expectations. Parents often have their own experience of higher education which can counter feelings of not belonging and being an outsider, the constant need to prove that they belong, especially in graduate school. Finally, mentors seem to be important, supported by research on graduate programs in engineering — academic advisers are not as effective and are more difficult to establish relationships with, and are often the source of discouraging messages. Resilience is under pinned instead by support from a whole '"village"' otherwise known as the family, spirituality and faith-based community and undergraduate mentors' (19). This is like Yosso on '"community cultural wealth"', or '"emotional resilience"'.
In America, there is a useful legacy from the days of segregation with specialist organisations to address the needs of Black students and to challenge White ideology. Some of these openly challenged deficit perspectives and offer alternatives, '"race conscious strategies"', instead of '"race neutral education policies"' (20) and colourblind policies. These can mean that Black students can actually thrive in culturally unresponsive or even racist environments.

High aspirations from parents, even where parents had not had degrees themselves, seem crucial, and college preparation opportunities, in the UK and the US, teachers can help here, as mentioned by Sewell (2009), especially if they develop:
1) the development of a culturally relevant orientation to teaching and learning,2) improve school relationships, and 3) stronger schoolwide commitment to supporting students post secondary goals.
  If students given the chance to discuss their experiences they become more aware of their power to choose to transform thoughts and experiences especially if guided by Black mentors with insider knowledge of racial dynamics. They can become 'critical change agents and challenge dominant and demeaning perceptions' (21). They require adequate tools of critical analysis and personal reflection and a suitable language to identify racism so they can name the problem. Personal reflection helps them understand the complexity and the way race intersects with other aspects of identity. However, they need to be aware that schools do not operate in isolation but within national political systems so they need a greater awareness of wider inequities. Faith in religion may be a key factor, so might 'youth resistance'

An interesting American study reveals that Black boys who were aware of societal racial bias were actually motivated by the experience of teacher discrimination, and saw it as '"a coping resource"' (22), and were able to turn it into positive school engagement rather than 'oppositional defiance behaviours'. Again Yosso (2005) talks about '"resistant capital"', often encouraged by student organisations for Black students, originating in segregated universities, stressing leadership abilities, and supporting those with academic difficulties, promoting postcollege success in graduate employment. Others of talks of developing social capital within school, connecting students to colleges and other educational resources, providing '"brokerage opportunities"', informing students about opportunities, finding ways to get fee waivers for admission tests, access to scholarships, conferences and programmes, connecting students to partner organisations. (23). More general policies aim to develop Black agency and student voice

Shared ethnicity with teachers might be a contributory factor, and there is some research to suggest so (23) although the teaching population is predominantly White. It might be that improvements can be made in the understandings in beliefs about culturally diverse students and instructional practices. One study found that preservice teachers were more interested in mastering teaching skills rather than challenging stereotyped beliefs, for example (24), and that there was a persistence of biased perceptions in strained teachers, together with low expectations and deficit frameworks, in higher education as well.

Yet there is hope, and Arday is an example [!] (25). They want to articulate more stories like his!