Racial Inequalities and Institutional Racism in the UK Schooling System: A Critical Examination

In the UK, race is an important factor for differentiation between students within the schooling system. In that sense, a sense of inequality may exist in context of race of students and teachers and other staff. Indeed, racism is considered to be a factor for creating inequality and there is also a belief that institutional racism may exist within the schooling system as well. This view was also raised earlier in the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry (Macpherson, 1999), where the institutional racism context was particularly also mentioned with respect to schools. Although inequalities in the UK, are not limited to race, race remains an important factor in fostering or continuing inequalities, which may also be seen in education institutes (Gillborn & Mirza, 2000).

The 1999 Stephen Lawrence Inquiry was an important event that brought issues of racial inequalities to the forefront of public discussions and also mentioned institutional racism within the education system (Macpherson, 1999).The report was very critical of the state of racism in English schools, and pointed out that racism was so widespread that even small children were reported at times for making racist comments or indulging in racism (Macpherson, 1999). The following paragraph from the report is relevant:


There is evidence that there are difficulties in getting some schools individually or locally to acknowledge and tackle racism even where local education authorities have sought to persuade them to do so. The lack of powers available to local education authorities and the fear of negative publicity by schools clearly combine to make anti-racist policies, even where they exist, ineffective (Macpherson, 1999, para 6.56).

The presence of racism in schools, even primary and pre-primary schools is indicative of a deep rooted racism that may be institutional in nature. The recent findings in the Runnymede report of 2015 are relevant at this point as they show that even at present time, institutional racism does exist (Alexander, et al., 2015). The Runnymede Report went so far as to say that institutional racism has disrupted the ability of the Black and Minority Ethnic students to attain their potential. The report says that

“Research exploring inequalities in mainstream education has outlined the discrimination and exclusion that individuals, particularly those from Black Minority Ethnic (BME) backgrounds, face with regards to marginalisation within the UK education system, and a curriculum that has consistently failed young BME learners” (Alexander, et al., 2015, p. 48).

There are some points of interest in the above given statement. First, research indicates that Black and Ethnic Minority students are at times marginalized and even excluded under the education system. Second, the present curriculum fails the Black and Ethnic Minority students and is unable to respond to the needs of these students. Third, and importantly, these students encounter institutional racism within the school set up.

The Runnymede report showed concerns about the under-achievement shown especially in the case of Black and Ethnic Minority and Pakistani students and related this to the fact that the present education system and curriculum somehow fails these students and therefore is indicative of institutional racism (Alexander, et al., 2015). However, even if that is true, still institutional racism cannot be understood from there being underachievement in certain racial groups. If that were so, Indian and Chinese students would not be consistently outperforming White students as shown clearly in the Runnymede report (Alexander, et al., 2015). The fact that Indian and Chinese students are consistently outperforming White students could mean: (a) there is no institutional racism in education system, as evidenced by the achievements of Indian and Chinese students; (b) achievement is not the sole criterion of assessing the prevalence of institutional racism; (c) Indian and Chinese students have more effective cultural, parental or socio-economic indicators and may come from middle class, professional, or business family background that may help them perform better in schools.

Undoubtedly, the differences that are seen in schools, in terms of students’ attainment do definitely evidence marked differences on the grounds of race and class (Gillborn & Mirza, 2000). These distinct patterns of inequality are consistently evidenced in schools across the UK (Gillborn & Mirza, 2000, p. 27). With respect to Caribbean African students, there is the most concern. As pointed out in a study, the gap between Black and white pupils grew considerably during the early to mid 90s. However, in the recent periods, the gap fell from 8.6 % points in 2006-7 to 3.8% points in 2010-11 (Gillborn & Rollock, 2009, p. 147). It can be said that Black students are during better as per the recent statistics.

This gap is seen on the basis of GCSE exams, which are seen as an indicator of measuring inequalities amongst different categories or groups of students based on their ethnicities and race. The GCSE exams do show that there are inequalities of attainment within the African- Caribbean, Pakistani and Bangladeshi groups. However, it is also important to note that other groups have also evidenced such inequalities. In particular, social class and gender differences are seen in attainment differences (Gillborn & Mirza, 2000). Therefore, there may be other factors that are responsible for the under achievement of students in education and race is not the sole criterion (Gillborn & Rollock, 2009).

With regard to underachievement, national debate, discussion and policy revolves around three ethnic groups: Carribean-African, Pakistani and Bangladeshi (Gillborn & Rollock, 2009). With respect to Carribean-African group, an interesting discrepancy has been noted in the attainment levels at entry, which have at times been higher than average and the attainment levels at the time of leaving school, which has been found to be lower. This is as per the data published by the Local Authorities, where they have noted the entry baseline attainment levels of groups as per the ethnicities (Gillborn & Rollock, 2009). Due to this discrepancy, it can be said that schools have failed to add value to the Caribbean- African students (Gillborn & Rollock, 2009, p. 143). Moreover, the GCSE examination itself is conducted in a tiered manner, so that students can only attain A or B grades if they entered for them and were taught in the top sets or the higher tiers, where Black students are seen to be underrepresented (Gillborn & Rollock, 2009, p. 160). With respect to the Bangladeshi students, recent data has shown that there is an improvement in performance indicators (Alexander, et al., 2015).

The Runnymede Report points out that over the past five decades African-Caribbean underachievement has become entrenched within the English education system. Such entrenchment has been attributed to institutional racism in the school system and the absence of educational equality for Black students (Alexander, et al., 2015, p. 27). On the other hand, it is argued that the underachievement of some communities in schools has been subjected to much misunderstanding and the ascertaining of underachievement of some groups leads to the stereotyping of members of that group and that is oversimplifying the matter (Gillborn & Rollock, 2009, p. 139). It is argued that such stereotyping also impacts policy making (Gillborn & Rollock, 2009, p. 140). At the very least, such stereotyping leads to differential labelling of students (Coard, 1971). The disproportionate number of West Indian students being placed in schools for the “educationally subnormal” also led to the discrimination within the school system (Coard, 1971). The labelling also leads to the policy of exclusions and suspensions and it is seen that Black boys are more likely to be permanently suspended than White boys. According to one study “over-representation of African Caribbean students is the result of harsher treatment by schools rather than simple differences in behaviour of students. Twice in recent years Ofsted found that Black students are treated somewhat more harshly than their peers” (Gillborn & Rollock, 2009, pp. 152-53). Also, it is important to mention the Traveller children, for whom the statistics are even more bleak (Derrington, 2015). In 2013, only 13.8 percent of Gypsy and Roma children nationally gained 5 or more GCSE grades at A to C (Derrington, 2015, p. 41). This in spite of more Traveller families being permanently resident in one place allowing children consistent access to schools. Research points to Traveller children facing racism at schools, which includes name calling by other students (Derrington, 2015).

Institutional racism may even be seen from the perspective of the race dynamics within the teaching staff and the members of the school administration. Here, the Runnymede report says that the UK school system “remains normatively White with regards to teaching staff and the values portrayed within the classroom with aspects of this reinforcing prejudices and stereotypes” (Alexander, et al., 2015, p. 49). This was also attested to by another research by McNamara et al (2009), who surveyed the career aspirations of Black and Minority Ethnic teachers and found the existence of an “endemic culture of institutional racism” (McNamara, et al., 2009, pp. 79-81). As per the study 50 percent of the Black and Minority Ethnic teachers reported incidence of discrimination. 80% of African teachers reported incidences of some form of discrimination, but for Indian teachers the number was smaller at 48%. Senior leaders reported significantly more experience of discrimination than teachers at other career stages. Discrimination was reported more at senior levels although recruitment process was also perceived to be impacted by discrimination (McNamara, et al., 2009, pp. 79-81).

The discrimination in recruitment process, which is the entry point into the school system is a problem because it may lead to the lesser recruitment of teachers from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds. This is a problem because, it inevitably leads to institutional racism, with leadership roles occupied by predominantly White teachers, who may be unable to respond to the particular needs of Black and Ethnic Minority students (Alexander, et al., 2015). At the same time, a different viewpoint is also worth mentioning, with Tony Sewell, saying that Black pupils don’t do badly because of racism. Sewell is against the structural analysis of Black boys’ underachievement and he identifies other relevant factors that may be responsible for underachievement, such as peer pressure to not act ‘White’ by doing better at school, cults of anti-intellectualism among Black boys (Sewell, 2009). As per this viewpoint simply putting the entire blame for underachievement on institutional racism leads to an ignorance of other equally important factors for underachievement of Black boys in school.

The impact of ‘the school effect', is also important as underachievement and the school effect are both partially linked to underinvestment in 'inner city' schools where minority ethnic groups are more likely to live (Smith & Tomlinson, 1989).

The Education Reform Act (ERA) 1988 freed schools from the local policy making and politics and then the schools became more independent in these respects. Ultimately, the schools developed a more competitive quasi-market. In particular, the secondary schools came to be driven by parental choice which was usually informed by league tables of school performance and Ofsted reports. The outcome is to widen the inequalities between schools, which reflect the ‘race’ and class inequalities in the wider society. London’s ‘education markets’ are thus created and they become as important as housing and employment markets in shaping gentrification (Butler & Hamnett, 2014). Black and Minority Ethnic families are trying to achieve this gentrification by their educational aspirations for their children and they try to achieve this by moving into suburbs or more affluent areas with better schools (Butler & Hamnett, 2014).

Order Now

To conclude, the problem of racism in institutions including in schools, is not something that can be ignored. At the same time, there are many relevant factors that are to be taken into account when comparing the educational experiences of people across communities. Racism may be an important factor but it is not the only factor that may be relevant to levels of achievements across different communities. This is borne out by the achievements of Indian and Chinese pupils and now the rising levels of attainment for the Bangladeshi and African-Caribbean students.


  • Alexander, C., Weekes-Bernard, D. & Arday, J., 2015. The Runnymede School Report Race, Education and Inequality in Contemporary Britain, London: Runnymede.
  • Butler, T. & Hamnett, C., 2014. Ethnicity, class and aspiration: Understanding London's new East End. Bristol: Policy Press.
  • Coard, B., 1971. How the West Indian Child is made Educationally Subnormal in the British School System. London: Beacon Books.
  • Derrington, C., 2015. Supporting Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Groups. In: G. Richards & F. Armstrong, eds. Teaching and Learning in Diverse and Inclusive Classrooms: Key Issues for New Teachers. Oxon: Routledge, pp. 41-51.
  • Gillborn, D. & Mirza, H., 2000. Inequality: Mapping Race, Class and Gender: A synthesis of research evidence. London: Office for Standards in Education.
  • Gillborn, D. & Rollock, N., 2009. Education. In: A. Bloch & J. Solomos, eds. Race and Ethnicity in the 21st Century . London: Palgrave Macmillon, pp. 138-165.
  • Macpherson, S. W., 1999. THE STEPHEN LAWRENCE INQUIRY, s.l.: The Stationary Office.
  • Alexander, C., Weekes-Bernard, D. & Arday, J., 2015. The Runnymede School Report Race, Education and Inequality in Contemporary Britain, London: Runnymede.
  • McNamara, O., Howson, J., Gunter, H. & Fryers, A., 2009. The Leadership Aspirations and Careers of Black and Minority Ethnic Teachers. Birmingham: NASUWAT.
  • Smith, D. & Tomlinson, S., 1989. The School Effect. s.l.:Heinemann.
  • Sewell, T., 2009. Generating Genius: Black Boys in Search of Love, Ritual and Schooling. Stoke: Trentham.

Google Review

What Makes Us Unique

  • 24/7 Customer Support
  • 100% Customer Satisfaction
  • No Privacy Violation
  • Quick Services
  • Subject Experts

Research Proposal Samples

It is observed that students take pressure to complete their assignments, so in that case, they seek help from Assignment Help, who provides the best and highest-quality Dissertation Help along with the Thesis Help. All the Assignment Help Samples available are accessible to the students quickly and at a minimal cost. You can place your order and experience amazing services.

DISCLAIMER : The assignment help samples available on website are for review and are representative of the exceptional work provided by our assignment writers. These samples are intended to highlight and demonstrate the high level of proficiency and expertise exhibited by our assignment writers in crafting quality assignments. Feel free to use our assignment samples as a guiding resource to enhance your learning.

Live Chat with Humans
Dissertation Help Writing Service