No sacred cows

The facts about race and education

10 April 2021

9:00 AM

10 April 2021

9:00 AM

Judging from the reaction to last week’s Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report, you’d think it had been written by a group of white supremacists who deliberately falsified the evidence about the prevalence of racism in contemporary Britain. Labour MP Clive Lewis tweeted a picture of the Ku Klux Klan alongside the hashtag #RaceReport, while Dr Priyamvada Gopal, a Cambridge University professor, compared the chairman of the Commission to Goebbels. In fact, only one of the report’s ten authors is white and the chairman, Dr Tony Sewell, says in the foreword: ‘We take the reality of racism seriously and we do not deny that it is a real force in the UK.’

So why this grotesque misrepresentation of what is clearly a good faith effort to understand the causes of racial inequalities and come up with some sensible solutions? The reason is that it challenges the dogma, imported from the United States, that every British institution, from Kew Gardens to the National Trust, is beset by ‘systemic racism’. Worse, the authors don’t reject this narrative for ideological reasons, but because it’s just not supported by the evidence. If you bother to look at the data, as the commissioners have done, it indicates that racial discrimination is a cause of the underperformance of some ethnic groups, but not the main cause, and to understand it fully you have to factor in geography, family influence, socioeconomic background, culture and religion.


Take education, the one area covered by the report I know a little bit about. According to the anti-racism cult, our education system is riddled with racial prejudice and needs to be overhauled if students of colour are ever to compete with whites. Virtually the entire educational establishment has accepted this damning verdict and is desperately trying to cleanse itself of this sin. Last week brought news of efforts to overhaul the music curriculum at Oxford because of its ‘complicity with white supremacy’, while this week we learned that a group calling itself the Early Years Coalition wants nursery teachers to be trained in ‘understanding white privilege’ so they can help pre-schoolers ‘develop anti-racist views’.

But as the report makes clear, these are solutions to a largely imaginary problem. There is no evidence that non-white children are being held back by ‘institutional racism’. On the contrary, the performance of children of non-European ancestry in English schools is one of the great educational success stories of the past 25 years. No matter what age group you look at, white students are out-performed by some non-white groups. That’s the main reason students of colour are more likely to participate in higher education. In 2018-19, 38 per cent of white British school-children went to college or university, compared with 45 per cent of black Caribbean students, 56 per cent of Pakistanis, 65 per cent of Bangladeshis, 72 per cent of Indians and 79 per cent of Chinese. The lowest-performing demographic according to almost every metric is poor white boys.

The curious thing is that most people who work in education are aware of this. Why, then, are they so ready to accept that the deck is stacked against students of colour? True, black Caribbean children don’t get as good GCSEs as white Britons, and even though a higher percentage of students of Caribbean and African ancestry go on to university than white children, black students are less likely to get first-class degrees than white ones. But it doesn’t make sense to attribute the poor GCSE results of black Caribbean children to ‘systemic racism’, given that black African children outperform white Britons. And if 45 per cent of black Caribbeans go into higher education, you’d expect them to do less well on average than the 38 per cent of white Britons. The report’s authors call this a ‘selection effect’.

No, the reason teachers and university lecturers have embraced the myth of ‘systemic racism’ — in spite of all the evidence to the contrary — is because it is almost never challenged. It has become the received wisdom. And the reason for that is because whenever anyone — such as the authors of this report — points out the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes they are pounced on by the defenders of the faith and immediately branded Nazis and white supremacists. The irony, of course, is that the blind followers of this cult, who regularly flail themselves for their racist failings as if reciting a religious catechism, pride themselves on being able to teach critical thinking.

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