LONDON, Nov 18 — In Britain, like much of Europe, pupils from many ethnic minorities lag behind — but not anymore. Every ethnic-minority group that trails white Britons in GCSE exams is catching up (see chart).
Bangladeshis used to perform worse than whites; now they do better. Indians have maintained a huge lead. Pakistani pupils in Birmingham are doing better, but too many are still driving taxis and running corner shops or cheap restaurants.
Why some fare better than others? One difference is imported social capital, according to a recent report in The Economist.
Indians, who were middle-class when they arrived in Britain, have lots. Bangladeshis and Pakistanis, who often came from rural parts of their homelands, have less. Tenure in Britain matters too. Newcomers have immigrant aspirations but suffer from not understanding the system. Better-established folk know how things work, but may have lost some of their ambition. A few are in a sweet spot in between.
Bangladeshis certainly seem to be. They arrived in large numbers from the 1970s and are now settled, largely in London. Plenty are still poor: half fall into the lowest income quintile. But the parents of many children now in school grew up speaking English and attended British schools. They not only understand the system but are shaping it. In 1987 the Collective of Bangladeshi School Governors was set up in the London borough of Tower Hamlets, where a fifth of Britain’s Bangladeshis live. Shahanur Khan, its chairman, encourages parents to get involved in local schools. Parents are increasingly pushy: one mother recently complained to him that her children were not getting enough homework. 83% of Bangladeshi pupils were born in UK. And, increasingly, parents pay for extra tuition.
That is another reason black and Asian children are doing better. Saturday schools have long been common, but parents are increasingly turning to private tutors. In a survey of 11- to 16-year-olds by an education charity, 45% of Asian children said they received some kind of private tuition compared with 20% of white pupils. Supply has increased along with demand. Karamat Iqbal, director of Forward Partnership, an education consultancy in Birmingham, sees growing numbers of Pakistani graduates, who themselves attended British schools, working as tutors.
Black Caribbeans, a long-established group, are doing better but not dramatically so. They have mostly lost immigrant zeal: many doubt that education will make much difference to their chances in life, suggests Steve Strand, a professor of education at Oxford University. And some teachers may be conflating bad behaviour (last year black Caribbean boys were over four times more likely to be excluded from school than Bangladeshi boys) with a lack of aptitude. Afro-Caribbeans are less likely to be entered into higher tiers for exams where they could obtain the best grades.
Job prospects for ethnic minorities are not yet improving commensurately with their school results. Despite their success in exams, Mr Khan worries that Bangladeshi students are choosing “easy” A-levels, such as sociology and psychology, which limit their options. Pakistani pupils in Birmingham are doing better, says Mr Iqbal, but too many are still driving taxis and running corner shops or cheap restaurants.
Still, blacks and especially Asians are edging their way into the professions. Fully 2,087 British Pakistanis started studying law at university in 2011, up from 478 in 2000. Some of those long-held ambitions are now being realized, the report says.