Doreen Lawrence launches race education centre

Doreen Lawrence Qualifications do not protect against racism, says Doreen Lawrence

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The mother of the murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence is helping to launch a new centre for research into race and education.

Doreen Lawrence says black students are less likely to get top degrees than white students and that qualifications do not protect against racism.

She will speak later at the opening of the Centre for Research in Race and Education at Birmingham University.

It is 20 years since Stephen Lawrence was murdered in south-east London.

An A-level student, he had planned to study architecture at university, but was killed in a racist attack at a bus stop in south east London in April 1993.

At the launch event this evening, Mrs Lawrence is expected to say: "We know that there remains a persistent gap between the number of white and black students achieving a first class degree.

"We know that it will be considerably harder for graduates with names that sound non-English to secure a job compared with their white counterparts. We also know from available research that qualifications and a so-called 'good accent' are not enough to protect you from racism.

"By opening this centre the university has taken a bold and necessary action in a climate where race is no longer on the political agenda."

Black Afro-Caribbean boys are among the lowest achievers in England's education system, alongside poor white working class boys, according to official statistics.

Under-achievement is seen at primary school, where national tests in maths and English show both groups are less likely than others to reach the expected level, and continues up to GCSE level and beyond.

The most recent data on GCSEs in England, published in January, showed that pupils from a black background remain the lowest performing group in terms of how many students get five good GCSEs including maths and English.

The gap had narrowed since 2007-8 however.

Roughly 6% of black British students got a first class honours degree at UK universities in 2011-12, compared with nearly 19% of white British students, data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa) shows.

Just over half (53%) of white British students were awarded upper second class degrees, while almost 40% of black or black British Caribbean students did so. Among black British/Black British African students, 36% made that grade.

'Subtle racism'

Academics behind the new centre for Research in Race and Education say it will provide a "space for debate and high quality research aimed at improving the outcomes and experiences" of black and minority ethnic groups.

The centre will be funded through research commissions, the university says.

Professor David Gillborn, director of the new centre, said: "There is a widespread assumption that racism is no longer an issue in education but across the board in experiences and outcomes in primary, secondary and higher education, there remain significant ethnic inequalities.

"However, race is no longer on the political agenda in the way that it was.

"Despite the lessons of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, too many people still assume that racism only relates to the behaviour of a few obvious bigots but research consistently shows how racism can operate in subtle ways, even when people have the best intentions."

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