The Colour of Class: Summary

Russell Haggar

Site Owner

The Colour of Class: Summary

Ethnicity and Educational Achievement:

Summary: The Colour of Class: The educational strategies of the Black middle classes: Nicola Rollock, David  Gillborn , Carol Vincent and Stephen J. Ball

This is  very useful podcast in which Dr Rollock explains the  findings of the study using pertinent examples  to illustrate key points. Very highly recommended

  • Click here for ethnic pay gaps data from ONS and here for BBC summary of this data
  • Click here for Socioeconomic groups by ethnicity

In "The Colour of Class" Nicola Rollock, David Gillborn, Carol Vincent and Stephen J. Ball point out that in 2011   significant percentages of Afro-Caribbeans had occupations in NS SEC categories 1.1 [1.5%], 1.2 [4.7%] and 2 [20.5%] and that they aim to investigate the educational strategies of these upper middle and middle Afro- Caribbean parents  via semi-structured inter views with 62 such parents living mainly but not entirely in London. The study is informed by the perspectives of Critical race Theory which emphasises the continued existence of racial prejudice and discrimination throughout contemporary UK society and by the application of Bourdieusian concepts of cultural capital, economic capital, social capital and social capital to the analysis of middle class Afro-Caribbean experiences of English society in general and the English education system in particular.

In this brief summary I cannot do justice to the detailed and nuanced analysis of the study and interested students may like to consult the above mentioned Podcast by Dr. Nicola Rollock  for further information. However among the key points made in the study are the following

  1. Having provided official statistics on the overall distribution of Afro-Caribbeans  within the NS SEC class categories the authors note that middle class Afro-Caribbeans are an  almost "invisible grouping" within academic research  and they first aim to summarise  the diversity of the subjective attitudes of the middle class Afro-Caribbean parents to their own class situation. Here among the 59 respondents for whom they have data the authors argue that 4 respondents may be described as working class identifiers, 12 respondents are working class identifiers with qualification, 8 respondents are interrogators, 23 respondents are middle class ambivalent and 12 respondents are middle class identifiers. Thus at one extreme some Afro-Caribbeans see themselves as established members of a middle class in which their ethnicity has no bearing on their class situation whereas most respondents  indicate that to varying degrees and for a variety of reasons  they do not feel entirely comfortable in an  English middle class which is predominantly white. Thus they are proud of their ethnicity and in some cases conscious of their original working class background  and continuing to feel a sense of solidarity with  working class Afro-Caribbeans.
  2. From the 1990s onwards it   came to be argued , [for example by Ball, Bowe and Gerwitz in Markets , Choice and Equity in Education 1995 ] that mainly middle class parents would be able to use their economic cultural and social capital as "privileged choosers" to secure entry for their children  to high performing schools in ways which would not be  possible for mainly working class "disconnected choosers".
  3.  In The Colour of Class it is argued that to some extent similar opportunities are available  for Afro-Caribbean middle class parents  although their ethnicity also enters very significantly into their decision making processes. In this respect the authors distinguish between "academic choosers" and "social choosers". "Academic choosers" are likely to opt for the schools which appear to offer their children the best possible academic opportunities even  if the intakes of these schools are primarily white and there are risks that black students may experience at best some social isolation and at worst high levels of racism at such schools. In some cases these black parents use their economic capital to pay for private education for their children. T he parents hope that these schools will be welcoming to ethnic minority pupils and even if they are not that with parental support their children will be able to overcome any such difficulties.  "Social chooser"  also wish to secure good academic opportunities for their children  but also wish to ensure that their children can feel confident and proud in their ethnic identity and are therefore more likely to opt for schools with a more varied ethnic intake. It transpires , however, that these parents have to some extent internalised some of the widespread criticisms of working class Afro-Caribbean students [especially boys]  and their parents as lacking in aspiration and that they hope that their children will in general be able to mix especially with more aspirational middle class pupils whatever their ethnicity.
  4. The Afro-Caribbean parents in the sample  all emphasise that they had experienced extreme racism during the course of their own education; that they believed  that blatant racism was now less prevalent  but that more covert, nuanced variants of racism were still operative within the education system. In particular they believed that teachers were more likely to assume automatically that Afro-Caribbean children were working class; that Afro-Caribbean boys in particular were less interested in education and that these tendencies were accentuated by the lack of interest of Afro-Caribbean parents. They believed also that teachers often held unrealistically low expectations of Afro-Caribbean pupils; that they failed to encourage Afro-Caribbean pupils to aim for the highest standards ; that Afro-Caribbean  pupils were more likely to be inaccurately placed in lower sets ; that teachers were likely to over- react to minor indiscipline by black pupils ; and that Afro-Caribbean pupils were often unfairly denied access to "Gifted and Talented" programmes where such programmes existed.
  5. Very importantly evidence is provided which suggests that schools have not adequately addressed parental concerns that the special educational needs of black children are not being properly met.
  6. The vast majority of parents in the sample believed that the UK is  racist society  and wished to prepare their children to deal with the existence of racism. They emphasised the positivity of  black identity and that their children should  not passively see themselves as victims of racism  but instead do their best to overcome the effects of racism. They were very conscious that black boys might well be negatively stereotyped in various ways and they also worried that their daughters would identify with what is described s n MTV view of black femininity whereby lighter skin and straight hair is associated with greater attractiveness  whereas the parents hoped that their daughters would adopt  more authentic view of black femininity,
  7. These black  middle class families aimed to deploy their economic, cultural and social capital  in various ways in order to improve their children's educational prospects. They would emphasise with their children that educational success would improve their employment prospects in what is still a racist society; they would try to ensure that homework is completed effectively; they might advise their children to modify their speech***a and demeanour   they might provide for private tuition and various enrichment activities such as private music lessons; and they would try to endure that their children were always well turned out so s to create  favourable impressions inside school.  also  these black parents were likely to have several black middle class friends who could  provide positive black role models for their children. [*** Increasingly it is being claimed  that such code switching " is both undesirable and unnecessary as in this Radio 4 Programme ]
  8. With regard to parental relationships with the schools the authors delineate  4 broad, but in some cases shifting parental strategies. Thus there are parents who are "determined to et the best", "watchful and circumspect" , parents who demand  " a fighting chance and parents who are "hoping for the best". Parents who re determined to be the best might well expend their economic capital to secure the best possible academic outcomes for their children by opting for private education or by moving house into the catchment areas of effective state schools and would emphasise with teachers their  aspirations for their children to achieve high level academic success.  Other parents would keep  "watchful eye on the children's progress. They  would contact the school fairly regularly; would aim to demonstrate their professional status by their speech and demeanour  and would respond to apparent racism  by careful, reasonable , restrained consultation with teachers avoiding any accusation of overt racism in the hope that their concerns might be properly addressed. There were also parents who who were likely to challenge  the school directly and explicitly  in the event of racial discrimination   against their child , often believing that they were also taking  stand on behalf of other black parents.  The parents who were" hoping for the best" certainly did hope that their children would in fairly good results but did not pressure them to achieve excellent results and  prioritised their children's overall happiness and were unlikely to contact the schools sometimes because their children did not wish them to do so.  
  9. The key conclusion of the study is that Black middle class parents certainly aimed to deploy their economic, cultural and social capital on their children's behalf but that in most cases when parents did contact the schools they felt  that their possession of economic, cultural and social capital was unrecognised or "misrecognised" because of their ethnicity  which reduced the chances that the schools would deal effectively with their concerns.