What No Institutional Racism in Education?

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The latest report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (2021) stated in response to race issues raised by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement that we owe it ‘a debt of gratitude for focusing our attention once again on these issues’; however, the report also stated that the ‘baton of progress’ is not passed to the next generation by ‘cleaving to a fantastical account that nothing has changed’ nor are ‘bleak theories about race’ helpful in tackling these issues. It went further, stating that having examined the areas in which people of colour face barriers due to their ethnicity, socio-economic background, geography, culture and levels of community integration, the report found that the disparities ‘do not have their origins in racism’. The publication of the report has been met with widespread disappointment from the public, private and charitable sectors. The existence of institutionalised and systemic racism is fundamentally dispelled. Institutional racism is defined by MacPherson (1999:6.24) as ‘The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people’. Sadly, education is not an exception.
Bernard Coard’s (1971) seminal work documented the Black child’s access and experience of education in Britain as being significantly different (and damaging) from the majority population’s access and experience due to institutionalised racism. Fifty years on, the GCSE results (Attainment 8) illustrates that the attainment gap of Black Caribbean pupils, compared to other ethnic groups, is amongst the lowest performance at 44.0% and is only slightly ahead of Gypsy Roma (23.3%) and Irish Traveller (31.8%) pupil achievement. A study conducted by Bhopal and Pitkin (2018) found that similar attainment gaps exist for Black minority ethnic (BME) students in higher education institutes (HEIs). Whilst there has been a significant increase in the numbers of BME students attending HEIs, inequalities continue to persist in terms of access to Russell Group universities, degree outcomes and retention. Add to this, the dominance discourse which prevails through the on-going microaggressions directed towards Black teaching staff and students, and the institutional racism evident in the inaction of mainly White staff and management teams. This is perpetuated through Whiteness as normative behaviour and the othering of that which is not (Macpherson, 1999; Gillborn and Mirza, 2000; Maylor, 2009). Furthermore, education remains a predominantly White space in which Black bodies are often viewed as alien (Joseph-Salisbury, 2019). The current education climate needs to be bold and grapple with the difficult conversations about race. Ladson-Billings’ (2010) question, ‘Just what is critical race theory and what’s it doing in a nice field like education?’, purports that critical race theory (CRT) is a necessary framework through which to evaluate the ongoing cycle of academic underachievement, low employment, poor housing and hostility experienced by the ethnic minority diaspora; CRT offers a lens through which to initiate critical pedagogy and sustained reform. Bonilla-Silva (2002:63) asserts that if there is to be a new racial ideology, education activists must be aware of the ‘arsenal of rhetorical tools’ used to evade the appearance of racism. Conversely, education policy makers must acknowledge the pernicious effects of racism and White privilege and endeavour to develop policy free from rhetoric and colour blindness.

Blog By Dr. Heather McClue is a school based researcher-educator based in the East Midlands. Her research interests include race, equality, social justice and the criminal justice system.


Bhopal, K. & Pitkin, C. 2018, Investigating higher education institutions and their views on the race equality charter. University and College Union (UCU). Bonilla-Silva, E. (2002) The Linguistics of Colour Blind Racism: How to Talk Nasty about Blacks without Sounding “Racist”. Critical Sociology, Vol. 28, issue 1-2. Coard, B. (1971) How the West Indian Child is Made Educationally Subnormal in the British School System: The Scandal of the Black Child in Schools in Britain. London: New Beacon Books. Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (2021) The report of the Department for Education (2021) Ethnicity Facts and Figures. Viewed online on 3/7/21: https://www.ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk/education-skills-and-training/11-to-16-years-old/a-to-c-in-english-and-maths-gcse-attainment-for-children-aged-14-to-16-key-stage-4/latest#by-ethnicity Department for Education (2021) Viewed online on 2/7/21: https://www.ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk/education-skills-and-training/11-to-16-years-old/gcse-results-attainment-8-for-children-aged-14-to-16-key-stage-4/latest#by-ethnicity Gillborn, D. and Mirza, H.S. (2000) Educational Inequality: Mapping race, class and gender. London: Ofsted. Joseph-Salisbury, R. (2019) Institutionalised whiteness, racial microaggressions and black bodies out of place in Higher Education. Whiteness and Education 4(1), 1-17. Ladson-Billings, G. (2010) Just what is critical race theory and what’s it doing in a nice field like education? International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, Volume 11(1), 7-24. Macpherson, Sir W. (1999) The Stephen Lawrence Enquiry (4262). London: The Stationary Office, Cm. Maylor, U. (2009) Is it because I’m black? A black female research experience. Race, Ethnicity and Education (Special issue: ‘Black feminisms and postcolonial paradigms: researching educational inequalities’) 12(1):53-64. Pitcan, M., Park-Taylor, J., and Hayslett, J. (2018) ‘Black Men and Microaggressions at Work’, in The Career Development Quarterly, 66: 300 – 314. Sue, D. W., Capodilupo, C. M., Torino, G. C., Bucceri, J. M., Holder, A. M. B., Nadal, K. L., & Esquilin, M. (2007). Racial microaggressions in everyday life: Implications for clinical practice. American Psychologist, 62, 271– 286.
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