A government commission on race and ethnic disparities has called for “better targeted” funding, extended school days and endorsed calls for reforms to exclusions.
The commission, chaired by Dr Tony Sewell, found Britain has become a “more open society” where children from many ethnic communities “do at least as well or substantially better than white pupils in compulsory education”, though it did acknowledge that some ethnic groups still fall behind.
The report also warned that “overt and outright racism” persists in the UK, particularly on the internet, though it also said phrases like “structural” and “systemic racism” were “confusing” and risk “adding to the problem”.
Here are the main recommendations relating to schools.
1. Set leadership expectations around neutrality
The commission said it had heard examples of “some schools using materials which reflected narrow political agendas or gave a biased picture of historical and current events”.
However, it accepted that without further research it was “impossible to judge how widespread this may be”.
The commission said it would “welcome” the government setting “school leadership expectations around political neutrality and transparency on curriculum design”, and recommended the DfE commission research into “whether schools are teaching in an impartial way”.
The 1996 education act already prohibits the “promotion of partisan political views in the teaching of any subject” in schools.
And existing guidance for school leaders states that all staff have a “responsibility to ensure that they act appropriately in terms of their behaviour, the views they express (in particular political views) and the use of school resources at all times”.
2. Research success of some ethnic groups
The commission considered evidence on the academic performance of different ethnic groups, and warned that black Caribbean pupils still do far worse at school than their white British and black African peers.
It recommended the government invests in research to “understand what factors drive the success of high performing pupils’ communities including black African, Chinese, Bangladeshi and Indian ethnic groups, and how it can be replicated to support all pupils”.
3. ‘Better target’ funding through NFF
The commission found there were “too many funding streams that are not sufficiently addressing need”.
It recommended that government deploys additional funding that is “targeted at measures which specifically aim to tackle disparities in educational outcomes for disadvantaged groups”.
The recommendation is “not an attempt to alter the work of levelling-up funding for schools through the recently introduced national funding formula”, the report said. The full benefits of this work “have not yet had a chance to materialise”.
Instead, the recommendation is that new additional funding should be used to identify disparities, “illuminate geographical variations” and ensure funding uplifts are sustained over time.
The commission said the DfE was still “best placed” to determine how best to target additional funding, but could consider increasing the weighting given to additional needs, geographic funding or other “area-based classifications” in the national funding formula.
4. Extend the school day to ‘build cultural capital’
The commission found that supplementary education – such as out-of-school language and faith teaching – had become a “proud feature” of the educational landscape.
But the model “should not rely on the ability of parents to buy extra hours of education, or solely on the goodwill of communities to organically provide it”.
The commission has recommended that the education secretary Gavin Williamson “urgently considers phasing in an extended school day”.
The phasing of the extended school day “should, in the first instance, prioritise the most disadvantaged areas and communities”, the commission said. Additional hours must provide opportunities for “physical and cultural activities”.
The DfE would need to “secure and allocate the necessary funding” to ensure the longer days could be delivered within teachers’ existing contracted hours.
They also said any change in hours could help “support flexible working arrangements – which could make the profession more attractive to many”.
5. Experts to create ‘inclusive’ curriculum resources
The report comes amid growing calls for improvement to the way schools teach about black history, migration and the British Empire.
The commission said that British history was “not solely one of imperial imposition”, but that the country’s story had “episodes of both shame and pride”.
It has recommended that the DfE work with an “appointed panel of independent experts” to produce a “well-sequenced set of teaching resources to tell the multiple, nuanced stories that have shaped the country we live in today”.
These resources should be “embedded within subjects in the statutory curriculum”, and include lesson plans, teaching methods and reading materials to “complement a knowledge-rich curriculum”.
6. Improve workforce diversity data
The teaching workforce is “disproportionately white”, the commission found, despite a recent “positive trend”.
The commission heard during its call for evidence that teachers from ethnic minorities were “valuable in that they bring their lived experiences to the classroom and push for a broader curriculum”.
But such teachers “can face pushback from other teachers in the ethnic majority”, the report warned.
The commission said all professions should “seek to represent the communities they serve”, but that improved “data collection, monitoring and quality of analyses” was needed.
7. Set ‘clear’ diversity expectations for governors
The commission found that ethnic minorities were also under-represented in school governance, with 94 per cent of governors and trustees identifying as white.
The report said the government should set “clear expectations for governing boards on how to collect and publish data on board diversity as well as how to regularly review their membership and structure”.
8. Drop ‘temporary exclusions’ term, and implement Timpson report
The commission found that in England, white Gypsy and Roma pupils and Irish traveller pupils had the highest suspension rates, followed by mixed white and black Caribbean pupils and black Caribbean pupils.
However, it said the causes for ethnic disparities in the rates of exclusions and suspensions were “complex and multifaceted, and can not be reduced to structural racism and individual teacher bias”.
The commission has endorsed the findings and recommendations of the Timpson review of exclusions. Despite being published in May 2019, and the government committing to implementing the recommendations, just a few have been acted on.
The race report also said it was “important for public reporting on this emotive issue to be much clearer in distinguishing between permanent and temporary exclusions, using the phrase ‘suspension’ instead of temporary exclusion”.
9. Make unis place outreach staff in schools
The report recommended that the Office for Students issue stronger guidance on “funding outreach programmes and placing university outreach staff in schools to help reduce disparities in applications at an earlier stage”.
If the guidance does not lead to strengthened funding for such initiatives, then OfS “should look to regulatory or legal changes to ensure improved access and participation to higher education institutions”.