BAME students will fall further behind without crucial help


Today’s National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) report has in effect made an unequivocal statement to our Government: without comprehensive and targeted intervention, a generation of students particularly those from BAME communities and poorer backgrounds – sometimes both – will dramatically lose out in the most important moment of their young lives.

If the warning sounds stark it’s because it is.

This ground breaking report has laid bare the challenge – not just for the Government, schools and all parents – but also it is a societal challenge that demands we get this right and sooner rather than later. Those on the front line of nurturing, guiding and developing a generation of young minds - teachers -have made it clear. As a result of this deadly pandemic that has forced schools to be closed for a considerable amount of time for most children, the vast majority of students will have lost crucial academic ground.

My own 15-year old son who’s had all the digital facilities and parental support one could expect, which is not afforded to everyone, articulated the reality of the lock–down schooling.

“Dad, this is so unnatural. If I was in my class the teacher would explain for 10 minutes or more what was to be learnt from that lesson. Then we’d get on with it, asking questions if we didn’t understand. Often we’d get into small groups and work together. The classes went by pretty quickly. And now you’re asking me to start at 9am finish at 4pm virtually on my own every day. Come on Dad, cut me some slack!”

And that’s one of the best case scenarios. What about the thousands possibly tens of thousands of young people without sufficient internet access, or laptops, supervision or the right environment to study? When some students did finally return, the report highlights that take up was less than 60% and those figures got much worse in schools with high numbers of BAME or those from poorer backgrounds.

There’s another critical aspect that must also be confronted as matter of urgency. The report has highlighted that parents in schools with high BAME populations were twice as likely to say that they were concerned about safety, and was the reason for not sending their children back to school in July. These parents have seen the devastating impact that Covid-19 has wrecked in BAME communities, with socio-economic and inequalities of heath being significant factors, according to the Public Health England BAME report into Covid-19. Parent’s are therefore saying; will my children be safe, and will our family be safe?

So we’re facing a situation like no other; many BAME students and those from poorer backgrounds already face inequalities in attainment, exclusions and grades. Due to a myriad of reasons their teachers are extremely worried about them falling further behind, which could be exacerbated if BAME parents are reluctant to send their children to school when they open this week.

As a member of the House Lords, and as Chair of the 10 Downing St Race Disparity Unit Advisory Group - which has just ended, I’ve been calling for the Government to have a Covid-19 Race Equality Strategy covering three main areas; Employment, Education and Health.

In regards to confronting the already racial educational disparity, this NFER report demands urgent targeted action. I hope that the Government will finally act with a clear plan. If they do, they will find partners in schools, civil society, community groups and above all parents.

Lord Simon Woolley