Saturday, 21 October 2017

Social apartheid: it's not just Oxbridge

'Nearly one in three Oxford colleges failed to admit a single black British A-level student in 2015'.

Are you surprised? Are you surprised that a minority group that is hideously under-represented across top schools, top professions, top companies, top government roles is also under-represented in top universities? Because you probably shouldn’t be.

This week’s headlines have served to remind us that black British people are fighting a system which fails to include them. And it doesn’t begin at university. I’ve spent the past three weeks working at a school in East London which, as you’d imagine, has an extremely diverse student population. Many of the students come from disadvantaged backgrounds, many don’t see university as something that is ‘for them’ and many feel disenchanted with a system that they don’t feel like they’re part of. So how are we supposed to help them become ‘elite’, and qualify for an application to Oxbridge, let alone a place?

Yesterday a student said to me “teachers judge me for what I look like, they say I’m ghetto and they don’t respect me”. And if that’s how you’re addressed by some of the primary authority figures in your life, what chance do you have of proving them wrong? Every so often we see the ‘stop and search’ statistics and the disproportionate likelihood of being approached (or accused) by the police if you’re black – and we’re all shocked, and then we change nothing. Because black people are in gangs, and black people commit knife crime, and we can blame Muslims for everything else. If that’s how you feel like society sees you, why would you want to be part of it? Similarly, if you go to a school that’s chronically under-funded, you’re not given the support you need despite teachers’ best efforts, then your opportunity to change that perception and have the voice that challenges it is limited too.

The problem is not with Oxbridge, it’s with social mobility and discrimination. Black male graduates are twice as likely to find themselves unemployed a white male graduates, and I’m pretty sure it’s got nothing to do with their degrees. In my previous two jobs, there were some excellent graduates from some top universities – but none of them were black. Lots had been to the same university, or the same school; as much as we try to ignore it, people hire ‘their own’ and those they think are similar to them. By having white men running all our top organisations, unfortunately, we are perpetuating the problem. Diversity still feels like a ‘tick box’, something which is a product of positive discrimination, and treats the symptoms not the problem. For many, it’s too late by then. No one’s been ambitious for them at school, or they’ve an intrinsic sense that school isn’t for them because college isn’t really for them because university definitely isn’t for them; and all the positive discrimination in the world cannot justify hiring a black British person with 3 GCSEs over a white British person with 10 GCSEs, 3 A Levels, a handful of internships and a 2:1 from a Russell Group university. The cycle continues, it remains ‘us’ and ‘them’ and black Brits are unrepresented in society, politics and the economy.

Next time you blame Oxbridge for social inequality, or say ‘aren’t the police awful, falsely accusing all those young black men’, look at yourself in the mirror because you’re part of the problem too.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Student to Teacher: Why Teach?

Everyone remembers at least one teacher from school. Whether they taught your favourite subject, or helped you conquer one that didn't come naturally to you, or supported you outside the classroom - were more than just a teacher - you remember them. 

4 year old Laura adored her Reception teacher. My childhood memory book states that when I am older, I would like to be a teacher and I love literacy; and if that fails, I'll probably work in the Post Office. Over my next 13 years of education, I met lots more teachers - good and bad - and I remember and am so thankful to a handful of them. The one who introduced me to drama, and became the focus of my extra-curricular life for at least 9 or 10 years. The one who came to my house when I was too ill to go to school, just to offer some support. The one who I may not have made it through my Maths GCSE without. The one who taught me how to channel all the things I wanted to say into Public Speaking and Debating. The ones who inspired my love of literature, and pushed me to read more, think more and write more. One day I hope to be one of those people. 

But that kind of idealism didn't seem like reason enough to teach.

So what was? A genuine interest in education: a belief in its it incredible value, what things are taught, how they're taught and how people learn. A fear for the education system, and wanting to try my best to give people the opportunity to have an education as rounded and engaging as my own. Feeling like you're doing something worthwhile. The opportunity to do something different every single day. To be challenged, by the variety, the system, the students. 

But with all that comes fear and uncertainty. You can't get away with having a slow day in the same way, there's a lot more that can go wrong, and you have a different kind of responsibility. Some people were unsurprised when I said I was going to go and teach - I can imagine you as a teacher and you'll be quite scary, they won't mess about with you. But others exacerbated the fear - they'll walk all over you, why would you do that to yourself, and my personal favourite, kids have guns now. And it's that kind of madness that you're getting yourself into, but that you hope will be rewarding, and satisfying, and that you'll help someone find their thing, or exceed their expectations, or really love something. 

3 weeks of university training down, I feel like I know why I want to teach and what kind of teacher I might want to be. But next week is when it all becomes real, when I go to school for the first time, and when I start to find out if I'm really cut out for this. I know why, but let's see if I know how... 
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