UK scheme helping black students reach Oxbridge extends to preschools | Schools

One of the UK’s most successful programs to help students of black background gain entry to Oxford and Cambridge universities is expanding to help children as young as three reach their academic potential.

Target Oxbridge has worked with over 800 black UK students, of whom over 350 have secured Oxbridge offers. In 2021, program alumni made up 24% of black UK students entering universities.

But program founder Raphael Mokades, looking back on a decade of personal stories from Target Oxbridge attendees, saw evidence that black British children were experiencing racism and unconscious bias from teachers at such a young age. that the program needed to be rolled out to a much younger cohort.

“Not all three-year-olds will be Oxbridge potentials, but every three-year-old deserves the same chance,” Mokades said. “Right now, while talent can be distributed equally, opportunities are not. We want to change that.”

According to analysis by the Guardian, exclusion rates for black Caribbean pupils in English schools are up to six times higher than for their white peers in some local authorities. Some experts say racism in schools is so rampant it should be treated as a safeguarding issue, pointing to research that shows most black children have experienced racism in school.

Mokades points to the Sewell report as further evidence that racism is a significant factor in black student underachievement. The 2021 report, accused of downplaying structural racism, nonetheless found that black children receiving free school meals (FSM) starting Key Stage 1 were ahead of their white and Asian FSM peers. But, at 16, their achievement is as low as that of white FSM children and lower than that of Asian FSM children who started school behind them.

“If you combine this data with what our students tell us about their school experience, it’s pretty clear that while poverty is a major issue, it’s not the only issue. Race matters,” Mokades said.

The new project, Hemisphere Education, uses resources such as government data, academic research and student life stories to help preschool, elementary and secondary school teachers recognize how they might be unknowingly harming black children’s educational prospects. for which they are responsible.

The one hour online Hemisphere course explains how unconscious bias can affect even those who think they are inclusive and the impact it can have on children. Analysis of the program’s pilot revealed that over 90% of users found it useful, while on average each user committed to doing seven things differently as a result of the training.

Nawal Filali, deputy head teacher at College Green Nursery School in Brent, asked some of her staff to test the program. She said she was surprised by the positive reception he received. “I was amazed at how this program enabled staff members to engage in really honest self-analysis about unconscious bias,” she said.

Wendy Yianni, the school’s principal, said the program has given staff the confidence to recognize that certain racial groups are more likely to have specific challenges. “We realized we don’t have to pretend to be color blind – we can talk about race,” she said.

Wendy Yianni (left), headmistress and Nawal Filali (right), deputy headmistress at College Green Nursery School in north London. Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

“We have learned that it is okay to say that black children might face specific challenges, and so we will approach all black children with the intention of reaching beyond for them until until they have reached a place of equity with children who have none. not address these challenges,” she added.

Silas Edmonds, headmaster of Ewell Castle’s school for children aged 3 to 18, also piloted the program. He said it was vital to teach unconscious bias to all teachers and to children as young as three years old. “It’s about giving staff the confidence and the tools to say these kinds of things and teaching children how they can say it before they internalize it and start to be affected by it,” he said. he declares.

Edmonds said some of his teachers found the class difficult. “There was a level of guilt from those who went through the training and then they said ‘I can’t believe I used to think that or do that’,” he said. he declares.

It’s critical to start these conversations with teachers of young children as well, Edmonds said. “We need to have explicit conversations with children from an early age to help them, as they grow, identify when unconscious biases are creeping in, either in themselves or in others.”

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