ED10b - Ethnicity and Internal Factors


Let us now shift our focus towards internal factors that contribute to ethnic minority achievement and underachievement, particularly the factor of labelling. Interactionists posit that teachers label pupils from different ethnic groups differently due to an unconscious bias. It is important to note that such labelling does not imply its rightfulness or acceptability, as it stems from an unconscious thought process rather than conscious thinking. Gillbourn and Youdell's research sheds light on racialized expectations, specifically pertaining to Black African and Black Caribbean students. Their study found that teachers were more likely to discipline these students compared to their counterparts for similar behaviour. Moreover, teachers misinterpreted their behaviour as anti-authoritarian, which reinforced stereotypes and caused further problems, such as an anti-school subculture. Wright's study focused on Asian pupils in a multi-ethnic primary school. She found that teachers held ethnocentric views, which influenced their interactions with Asian students, such as leaving them out of discussions, using childish language when speaking to them, and marginalizing them. This marginalization implies that Asian students would not understand or are from first or second-generation families, thereby perpetuating racialized expectations of behaviour. Such stereotypes lead to the elaboration and stabilization of the ethnicity of a student, which aligns with Hargreaves' three steps of labelling. These racialized stereotypes perpetuate within the education system and society, negatively affecting educational achievement. Additionally, discipline is another internal factor that contributes to ethnic minority achievement and underachievement.


Gillbourn and Youdell have previously examined the issue at hand. Nevertheless, Ostler conducted an in-depth study that revealed the disproportionate exclusion of black students. These students are more susceptible to permanent exclusion, fixed-term exclusion, as well as unofficial exclusion. The latter refers to scenarios where schools employ strategies such as managed moves, which entail transferring the students to a different school instead of officially excluding them. Moreover, black students are more likely to be placed in a pupil referral unit, which excludes them from mainstream education. Bourne attributes this phenomenon to the racialized expectations of black students, particularly black boys, who are perceived as threatening and aggressive. The mere act of standing up for themselves may trigger sanctions, leading to further disciplinary actions. Such disciplinary measures have been linked to educational underachievement, as Black ethnic minority students, especially black students, are excluded from mainstream education.


Another aspect related to labelling is the setting and streaming process. Foster explored this concept and revealed that the stereotypes surrounding Black and Asian students can influence their placement in specific sets and streams. The perception that Asian students are more academically competent results in their placement in higher sets and streams, providing them with more educational opportunities and enhancing their educational achievements. Conversely, Black students are often viewed as less capable and therefore placed in lower sets and streams. This cycle of underachievement perpetuates a self-fulfilling prophecy for these students.


labels attributed to students within the school environment have a significant impact on their identity formation. This notion is supported by the work of Louise Archer, who asserts that teachers tend to categorize students based on typical ethnic identities and stereotypes. Consequently, this shapes the students' ethnic identity, leading to the development of self-fulfilling prophecies. Archer posits that the dominant way of thinking among teachers plays a crucial role in shaping the identity of the student, and challenging the expected ethnic identities often results in harsher treatment.

Archer identifies three distinct types of pupil identities, with the first being the ideal pupil. This identity is primarily attributed to white, middle-class, and heteronormative students who exhibit expected behaviours and achieve academic success through hard work, abilities, and talents. The second identity is the pathologized pupil, which characterizes students from deprived backgrounds who strive to do what is expected of them, despite lacking natural abilities or talents. These students are often considered invisible and are typically identified as Asian and other ethnic minorities. The third and final identity is the demonized pupil, associated with working-class students who are hyper-sexualized, deemed unintelligent, peer-led, culturally deprived, and perpetual underachievers. This identity is commonly attributed to other ethnic minorities, and students who fall under this label are often treated accordingly, perpetuating the self-fulfilling prophecy.


A significant internal factor affecting pupils and their experiences in the education system is the examination of their responses and the subcultures they belong to. This refers to how students react to the labelling they receive and the discrimination or racism they may encounter. One response that is frequently observed is the rejection of labels. Fuller's study, which pertains to GCSE level, and Mac an Ghaill’ s research, which examines A-Level students, both demonstrate that ethnic minority students do not necessarily conform to the stereotypes assigned to them. Thus, the application of such labels does not necessarily lead to self-fulfilling prophecies. A second response that has been identified is the employment of failed coping strategies, which is highlighted in Mirza's work. Some pupils are not able to develop effective coping strategies in response to labelling and racial stereotypes. Instead, they may avoid certain teachers or subjects to prevent being labelled. While these students may complete the assigned work, they may not fully engage with the lesson material.

In addition, Mirza's work also identifies three types of teacher racism, which are specific to teachers. It is important to note that not all teachers are racist. However, these three categories of racism have been observed among teachers. The first type is referred to as the colourblind. These teachers do not acknowledge ethnicity and believe that all students are the same, which denies the ethnic identity of some students. As a result, they "whitewash" their students. Although these teachers may not believe that they are being racist, their actions constitute symbolic violence. This can lead to ethnic minority students avoiding these teachers as they do not want to have their culture denied. The second type of teacher racism is Liberal chauvinists. They have low expectations of ethnic minorities due to cultural deprivation and do not expect much from them. Again, this can lead to students avoiding certain subjects or teachers. Finally, there are overtly racist teachers. While it is hoped that most of these teachers have been identified and are no longer in the profession, but it is possible that some still exist.

Sewell also contributes to the understanding of subcultures by focusing specifically on the responses of black boys to racism within the education system. According to Sewell, black boys respond by forming one of four subcultures. The first is the conformist subculture, which was found to be the largest group in Sewell's study. These students accept the values of the school and are eager to succeed academically, often denying their ethnic background in the process. The second subculture is the rebels, who reject the values of the school and instead join a peer group with an anti-school subculture. This group is small but influential and reinforces the stereotype of rebellion and anti-authority. The Retreatist subculture is made up of a small minority of students who feel isolated and disconnected from the school, their peer group, and their ethnic group. They tend to keep a low profile and simply plod along. Finally, the innovators are the second largest group of black boys according to Sewell. These students reject the school as institutionally racist, but they still want to do well academically. They find other ways to achieve academic success outside of the school system.


Institutional racism refers to the existence of racist policies and procedures within social institutions such as education, the police force, the criminal justice system, and the National Health Service. It is important to note that the presence of institutional racism does not imply that all individuals within the institution hold racist beliefs. Rather, it implies that the system itself is structured in a way that disproportionately affects individuals from minority backgrounds. There are three types of institutional racism, namely structural, cultural, and individual. Structural racism refers to the rules and processes within institutions that may unintentionally disadvantage individuals from minority backgrounds, such as school uniform or hair policies. Cultural racism pertains to the way institutions operate and the underlying assumptions and values that guide their practices. Finally, individual racism involves individuals within institutions who hold racist beliefs. Although it is imperative to eliminate individual racists from the education system, it is equally important to address structural and cultural racism to ensure equal opportunities for all individuals regardless of their background.

When examining the education system, it is important to note that we are not only referring to individual schools but also the broader system. Daria Roithmayer identifies racism as a pervasive feature of modern society. Racism is so deeply ingrained in the history and culture of an institution that it may not even be recognized as such. This unconscious nature of racism within institutional processes makes it difficult to identify and address. Thus, it becomes crucial to recognize and change the processes that perpetuate racism within the education system. Recent examples, such as Pimlico Academy, have highlighted the need for systematic change within the education system to eliminate institutional racism.

Gillbourn has posited that marketization of education can lead to covert selection processes, which in turn, can result in segregation. In other words, certain schools are marketed in specific areas to discourage students from other areas from applying. Furthermore, these schools may have specific uniform policies that exclude certain ethnic minorities. The Commission for Racial Equality in 1993 observed that covert selection processes lead to ethnic minority students being more likely to attend unpopular or low-achieving schools. This is because they are excluded from attending the more desirable schools in their area due to these covert selection processes. As a result, ethnic minority students are more likely to attend disadvantaged schools.

Stephen Ball (1993) asserts that the national curriculum is ethnocentric, also known as "little Englandism". The curriculum emphasizes the greatness of Britain and England, rather than celebrating diversity. Tronya and Bell further support this argument by highlighting that the curriculum is westernized, with a focus on modern foreign languages such as French, Spanish, and German. However, this ignores the fact that Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world, followed closely by French and its various dialects. Despite this, Asian languages are not commonly taught as part of the standard curriculum and are often only available as extracurricular activities. Moreover, the language choices offered by schools do not always reflect the ethnic makeup of their student body. Consequently, the current curriculum tends to reflect English culture, rather than acknowledging the diversity of the broader community.

Sanders and Horn (1995) take the argument even further by suggesting that the assessment systems used in schools are institutionally racist. They argue that the shift from written tests to teacher assessments, especially in primary schools with Key Stage One and Key Stage Two tests, allows for cultural biases to seep into the assessment process. This issue has resurfaced with the recent use of Teacher Assessed Grades (TAGs) and Centre Assessed Grades (CAGs) for A-levels and GCSEs due to the COVID pandemic. Critics of this method argue that it allows for unconscious biases and racism to influence the grades awarded to certain students, resulting in them not achieving the grades they deserve.

Gillbourn also highlights that the education system is designed to validate the superiority of the dominant culture. For instance, when students take the ALIS tests at the start of Year 12, or the CAT tests in Year 7, the questions are often worded in a way that is very ethnocentric to the white curriculum. These tests can have a significant impact on setting and streaming, which in turn affects access to opportunities. Ethnic minorities are often excluded from gifted and talented programmes and are less likely to be placed in the highest sets and streams. This could be attributed to the cultural biases present in the cat tests or unconscious biases, as well as the ethnocentric curriculum. Ultimately, this results in educational underachievement and limited access to opportunities for ethnic minority students.

The education system is evaluated through various methods, one of which is known as New IQism, as posited by Gillbourn and Youdell. According to their argument, teachers and policymakers make inaccurate assumptions about individuals' abilities and potentials. They perceive potential as fixed and measurable through IQ tests and psychometric tests. However, Gillbourn argues that these tests only evaluate an individual's current knowledge and not their potential to learn more. For instance, students who perform poorly on a cognitive assessment test may have had a bad day, slept poorly, or suffered from exam anxiety. These external factors do not define their potential but only affect their performance on that day. Moreover, these tests can lead to setting and streaming, which can have negative impacts on education, as previously discussed. Additionally, IQ and psychometric tests may favour the dominant culture, thereby exhibiting covert racism. Failure to comprehend the context or scenario presented in the test can contribute to underachievement in education.


Institutional racism within the education system has been identified as a significant barrier to achieving educational success for ethnic minorities. There has been a recent movement to address this issue through decolonizing the curriculum and promoting diversity within educational materials. However, implementing these changes is a gradual process and requires considerable effort from both individual schools and the Department for Education (DFE). One approach to overcoming institutional racism is through teacher training programs that raise awareness of labelling theory and cultural biases. By promoting greater awareness of these issues, teachers are better equipped to address them in the classroom. Furthermore, efforts are underway to recruit more BAME teachers to serve as role models for students and promote diversity within the teaching profession. While the lack of diversity within the staff of certain schools may be due to factors beyond their control, recruiting more ethnic minorities and improving training programs can lead to greater diversity and better educational outcomes for all students.