Tracking of ethnic groups in school. Why?


This is a question to teachers or anyone in education.  Primary schools are doing great work, as I see it, tracking individual pupil progress and making sure that they do not plateau.  I’ve discovered, however, that there is a government objective for schools to group children according to ethnicity and to track how ethnic groups perform in school.  I can’t see how this will benefit the pupils concerned nor the school, as precious resources are spent analysing yet more data.  Am I missing something?  Can someone give me a good reason why a school should spend time and resources tracking ethnic groups when it already tracks individuals?

I am concerned that this policy is essentially racist.  Say we have a class of 30 children with 5 ethic groups of 6 pupils in each.  Individual tracking identifies which of the children are progressing and which have stalled in their learning.  The situation of each child is understood as far as is possible by the teacher.  The child’s family background and attitude towards learning, friendship groups and peers, language skills and ability.  If 5 children are found to have plateaued, one from each ethic group, then measures can be taken individually or as a group to bring them all up to speed.  If, on the other hand, the individual tracking data shows that all the individuals who have plateaued are from one ethnic group, the teacher still knows the background of each child and what measures must be taken to bring the children up to speed.  The fact that all the kids are from the same ethnic group does not need a computer processor or data analyser to tell the teacher which group of kids are stuck in their learning.   The computer analysis is necessary for individuals but not for ethnic groups.  Furthermore, to suggest that the individuals concerned are lagging behind because of their ethnicity is racist, isn’t it?

I also have concerns about the accuracy of the data on ethnicity.  Parents are asked on a form to identify the ethnicity of the child.  If the parent chooses, for whatever reason, to attribute the wrong ethnicity to the child and, after consultation from the school, refuses to change the designation, then the school is powerless to change it.  Some families tick the wrong box and want it that way.  This renders ethnic tracking meaningless and so a waste of school time and rescources.

Have I missed something?

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2 Responses to Tracking of ethnic groups in school. Why?

  1. KnittingVicar says:

    The concern is that particular ethnic groups may have difficulty accessing education whether that’s because the institution is racist or there is some sort of disconnect culturally between the staff and a particular ethnic group- this may not be intentional but can lead to confusion and poor performance. Those things are often hard to pick up on a case by case basis but become very obvious if you look at statistical data and addressing those issues is far more economical to do by producing policies that tackle the wider issues than it would be by devoting attention to each individual on a one to one basis when the issues are not unique to that pupil or school.
    I wouldn’t say it’s racist but rather one of the ways in which racism can be combated.
    For example- in the University (as DH has most experience at that level) it had become obvious that Chinese students often had significant difficulties on their courses because of the cultural gulf between their expectations and those of the institution. A staff training course aimed at highlighting these cultural issues for the benefit of university tutors was a far more economical way of tackling the problem than it would have been for every tutor to figure out what the problem was and address it by themselves.

    I hope someone with more school experience can give you an example in that context but hope that my example demonstrates something useful too!

    • neilrobbie says:

      Hi Knitting Vicar, welcome to TG and thanks for your comment. It’s helpful to see this as a potential problem with the institution. There is a point, like ours perhaps, where there are 22 language groups in school, when the group size in any year is so small that ethnic tracking becomes meaningless because of scale.

      I’d also still question the centralisation of policy. What can the state teach teachers who make the time to get to know individual children and their families and ask them what the problem is? If we didn’t spend time analysing data we could use it to form healthy working relationships in the school commuinity.

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