UK scheme to support black pupils to reach Oxbridge extends to nursery schools | schools | Daily News Byte

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

Target Oxbridge has worked with over 800 Black British students, over 350 of whom have received Oxbridge offers. In 2021, 24% of black British undergraduates starting at universities were alumni of the scheme.

But the scheme’s founder, Raphael Mokadese, when looking back over a decade of personal stories from Target Oxbridge participants, found evidence that black British children were experiencing racism and unconscious bias from teachers at such an early age that the scheme needed to be implemented. A very small group.

“Not every three-year-old has Oxbridge potential, but every three-year-old deserves an equal opportunity,” Mokades said. “Right now, while talent may be evenly distributed, opportunity is not. We want to change that.”

A Guardian analysis found that exclusion rates for black Caribbean pupils in English schools are six times higher than their white peers in some local authorities. Some experts argue that racism in schools is so endemic that it should be considered a safety issue, pointing to research showing that most black children have experienced racism at school.

Mokades points to the Sewell Report as further evidence that racism is a large factor in the underachievement of black students. A 2021 report, which was accused of downplaying structural racism, found that black children on free school meals (FSM) outperformed their white and Asian FSM peers. But, by age 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 huge issue, it’s not the only issue. Race matters,” Mokades said.

The new project, Hemisphere Education, uses resources including government data, educational research, and students’ own life stories to help teachers in nursery settings, elementary, and middle schools identify how they may be inadvertently harming the academic prospects of the black children under their care.

The one-hour, online Hemisphere course explains how unconscious bias can affect even those who think they are inclusive and how it can affect children. An analysis of the scheme’s pilot project found that more than 90% of users found it useful, while on average each user committed to doing seven different things as a result of the training.

Nawal Filali, deputy headteacher at Brent’s College Green Nursery School, asked some of her staff to trial the programme. She said she was surprised by how positively it was received. “I was amazed at the way this program empowered staff members to engage in really honest self-analysis about unconscious bias,” she said.

The school’s headteacher, Wendy Yianni, said the program had given staff the confidence to acknowledge that some ethnic groups were more likely to have particular challenges. “We’ve realized that we don’t have to pretend to be color-blind — we can talk about race,” she said.

Wendy Yianni, headteacher and deputy headteacher at College Green Nursery School, Naval Filali, North London.
Wendy Yianni (left), head teacher and Nawal Filali (right), deputy head teacher at College Green Nursery School in North London. Photograph: Alicia Kantor/The Guardian

“We’ve learned that it’s okay to say that black kids may face certain challenges, and so we’re going to approach all black kids with the intention of going above and beyond for them until they get to a place of equality with kids. Don’t face those challenges. ,” she added.

Silas Edmonds, head of Ewell Castle School for children aged three to 18, has also experimented with the programme. He said it is important to teach unconscious bias to all teachers and children as young as three years old. “It’s about giving staff the confidence and the tools to call this stuff out and teaching kids how to call it out before they internalize it and start being influenced by it,” he said.

Edmonds said some of her teachers found the curriculum difficult. “There was a level of guilt from those who trained and said ‘I can’t believe I was thinking that or doing that’,” he said.

Edmonds said it’s important to start this conversation with teachers of young children, too. “We need to have clear conversations with children from a very young age, so that as they grow up, they can recognize when unconscious bias is creeping into themselves or others.”

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