Wednesday, 9 November 2011

'London Schools & the Black Child' Conference gets hijacked by Boris Johnson

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Education is the key to success. That is the well-worn mantra promoted by parents throughout the ages. The responsibility of any parent is to secure, by any means, the future of their children.

That future for young people from black and poorer areas of London looks very grim indeed. The combined effects of long term poverty, increasing levels of black youth unemployment, inner city schools desperately underfunded, parental choice that has resulted in “white flight” of middle class families who can afford to move, has resulted in London’s majority-black schools in a state of permanent crisis.

London mayor Boris Johnson’s office is organising a “whitewashed” version of what was the London Schools and the Black Child  conference this Saturday. As part of the Mayors' ongoing campaign to “culturally cleanse” London of all major race policy specific initiatives, the title of the conference has now been changed to the London Schools and Our Children.

He has invited a range of eminent right wing keynote speakers people like Tony Sewell and Lindsay Johns, alongside the Mayor Boris Johnson and Education Secretary Michael Gove. All of these speakers are notable because they share a dangerous consensus about the reasons why the majority of London’s black children continue to fail in school.

This entire panel is of the view that institutional racism does not exist. They argue that the real explanation for the poor educational performance of black children can be found in dysfunctional black single parent families and a delinquent black youth culture that scorns education.  

This is the typical response of those on the Right who seek to dismiss the reality of racism and place the blame on the victims. Institutional racism is systemic in the British education system, wider society, and the labour market.

Racism continues to place barriers of prejudice in the path of success for many black young people. Such discrimination is both pernicious and devastating in its effects. For example Black boys continue to be disproportionately excluded from schools, attain one of the lowest levels of GSCE results of any ethnic group and there are just 30 black male head teachers in England's 21,600 state schools.

According to research commissioned in 2004 by Ken Livingstone whilst the Mayor of London, 70% of African-Caribbean boys in London left school with fewer than five or more GCSEs at the top grades of A*-C or equivalent, while African-Caribbean men are the least likely of any group to have a degree.

Boris Johnson's conference is an attempt to move the debate about race and education in London, away from notions of institutional racism and discrimination and onto to the terrain of parental failure, dysfunctional black culture and military style boot camps.

The disparity could not be greater. His children will have gone to expensive private schools and will no doubt get to go to Eton or Oxbridge. Whilst too many of London’s black children as a result of both poverty and racism, will end up in a failing school or one of those dreaded pupil referral units or even worse a quasi military boot camp or  jail .

No doubt there will be some at the conference that in response to these facts will say that white poor children fail as well, and that is undoubtably true. I just want to state here that I want a good quality education for all London's children not just the wealthy elite. However the comparator is false.

Dr. Nicola Rollock compared black pupils who are disadvantaged or from poorer backgrounds with black pupils who are not: there is not much overall difference in their results. When you do the same for white pupils, those from poorer backgrounds are four times less likely to do well at school than those from wealthier backgrounds.

This led Dr. Rollock, to conclude that racial tolerance and classlessness is a fallacy and that black pupils are still associated with low achievement and educational failure. This is what some researchers call an “ethnic penalty”, whilst other call it “racism”.   

This conference is a world away from the more balanced debates held at this once important annual event. The London Schools and the Black Child conference organised annually by Diane Abbott MP since 2002 has always had a political balance of speakers, some who agreed with the proposition that race and racism was the predominant explanation for failure and those who disagreed. Labour ministers attended and to a man and woman rejected the “institutional racism” analysis argued by some.

This year Diane Abbott was ruthlessly forced out by the Mayor Boris Johnson and his policy adviser Munira Murza. Anyone who knows Diane must know this would have been a huge political battle.

Despite creating the original concept for the conference which was hugely popular, Diane will not be attending Saturday’s conference.

On a broader point it will be interesting to see who does attend and whether the conference audience that was predominantly black in the past now changes.

The economic and political context is also important to note here. During the last year of the Tory-led Coalition Government we have seen massive cuts to local authority education budgets across London, the ending of Education Maintenance Award grants, increases in University fees and rises in youth unemployment.

The summer riots erupted and there is massive anger about the number of black deaths in custody and the shooting of Mark Duggan. Rates of stop and search have increased by a massive 300% under Boris, and the number of young black people in jail is skyrocketing.

Serious youth violence is on the increase despite Boris's manifesto pledges to tackle these issues. He has even failed to deliver his much-lauded mentoring scheme which has become massively delayed and is mired in deep controversy.

London’s black families and their children are already facing increased levels of adult unemployment as public sector cuts throw thousands of low income black parents onto the dole.  The reality of racism in education and the labour market make this one hell of a disaster.

That’s why we are calling a protest, at 9am, outside the conference centre – to show that we want a real future and a holistic approach to raising achievement of black children. We cannot afford to waste another generation.

The voice of those who believe that institutional racism in terms of policy and curriculum and that the allocation of resources and employment in education needs to be tackled, is missing from Saturday’s one sided conference, This year looks like an exclusively Right Wing affair.

We should not be surprised, however, as this is just the latest attempt by the mayor to turn back the clock: from axing the RISE anti-racist festival to slashing funding for Africa Day and Black History Month. He failed to deliver on the important sectors of both the economy and housing. He has had nothing to say about the savage decimation of front line youth services across the capital.

He has failed to invest properly in schemes to tackle gang crime, tackle black youth unemployment, failed to have a cultural programme that reflects London’s black cultural diversity and has now added insult to injury by hijacking this important conference.

We need a balanced agenda that creates opportunities, removes barriers and combats racism. The Mayor is in deep denial about race and racism - and it is our job to ensure that he understands that, in a city where the majority of school children are non-white, this state of affairs simply cannot be tolerated.

That is why we will be attending the conference and I invite you to join us in a small and peaceful demonstration.

Date: Saturday 12th November 2011

Time: 9am

Location: Institute of Education, Bedford Way, London, WC1H 0AL (near Russell Square tube, Piccadilly Line)

More Info: Email or call Lester on 07527 216 829