Black pupils’ education ‘dumbed down’ due to incorrect SEMH identification

The BBC has reported that Caribbean children of colour have been receiving a watered-down version of the correct education due to mistakenly being identified as having special needs

A study undertaken by a team at Oxford University has discovered that many black pupils in England haven’t been receiving the same level of education as many of their peers.

This is because they have been wrongly identified as having one of a range of special needs.

According to the study, black Caribbean pupils had double the chance of being identified as having social, emotional and/or mental health (SEMH) needs compared with white British pupils.

The study leaders couldn’t find an explanation as to why, beyond systematic bias.

Previous research on this topic has indicated that cultural differences, teacher racism and ineffective classroom management form part of the answer.

Professor Steve Strand analysed data on six million children in England’s schools between 2005 and 2016. He said:

“Black Caribbean children may be suffering an inappropriate and narrowed curriculum, from unwarranted over-identification, particularly [in] secondary schools.

“This might mean they get less academically challenging, more vocationally orientated work perhaps,” he said, “like being shifted from maths to motor maintenance, or experience a lowered expectation of what they can do.

“From the factors that we have measured – socio-economic background, poverty and neighbourhood deprivation, and children’s development on entry to school – we can’t explain why, in particular, black Caribbean children and mixed-black-Caribbean-and-white children are more likely to be diagnosed with SEMH.”

Strand said it was clear some children had been “misidentified” by schools.

He added that, while factors such as higher levels of crime, violence and gang culture and the negative impact of other disaffected pupils may be part of the issue, disciplinary policies could also be having an unintentional impact on some children.

He asked: “Is it that these young people from this ethnic groups are more confrontational with their teachers because of gang culture or is it a perception of their behaviour?

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“It’s important for schools to look at their policies and see that there isn’t anything that would cause a systematic bias in the way special needs and SEMH is identified.”

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