Go-getter Asians flock to grammars
AMBITIOUS immigrants and ethnic minority families are challenging the stranglehold* of the white middle classes on grammar schools as they use selective education to move up the social ladder.
New government figures have shown that in big cities some groups, particularly Indians and Chinese, have far higher numbers of children in grammar schools than would be suggested by their share of the overall population.
Experts believe immigrants and ethnic-minority parents are far more likely than their white working-class counterparts to see education as a way to advance themselves in society.
While white grammarschool children, who remain the biggest group, are more likely to be middle class, those from minorities often come from far poorer backgrounds. The government analysis — which covers Greater London, the Black Country and Greater Manchester — shows that, in the capital, 12% of grammarschool children are of Indian origin, twice the proportion of Indians in the capital’s schools overall. Children of Chinese origin account for 4% — four times their overall proportion.
The difference is similarly striking in the West Midlands, excluding Birmingham, where 19% of those bright enough to win grammar-school places are ethnically Indian, although they make up just 9% of all children in the region. Only in Manchester are Indians slightly under-represented.
In all three areas children from African and Caribbean families are the most underrepresented group in grammar schools.
Schools with high proportions of ethnic-minority pupils include Queen Elizabeth’s, a boys’ grammar in Barnet, north London, one of the country’s top-performing schools. There, just 16% of children are white British, 32% are Indian and 9% are Chinese. Only about 8.6% of the borough’s population is Indian and 2% Chinese.
At Queen Mary’s, a grammar in Walsall, 47% of children are Indian; in a nearby comprehensive their proportion is just 5%.
The ambition of ethnicminority parents is typified by Sally Chiu, 47, from north London, who came to Britain in the 1970s when her parents worked in a Chinese restaurant. She sends her son Michael, 15, to Queen Elizabeth’s.
“In China we don’t have a benefits system* like in the UK, so the value of education and moving up in the world is drummed* into us. That is why we chose a grammar school for Michael,” said Chiu.
“We went without a lot. We stopped going out to save money for books and things like that. He travels for more than an hour to get to school, but it is worth it.”
Alan Smithers, professor of education at Buckingham University, said: “For many ethnicminority families, it is part of the culture to be aspirational. All the children are expected to work hard — it doesn’t matter if they are a doctor or a waiter.
“With the white British, there is a relationship with social background. The more prosperous families tend to be the more aspirational ones, as they know the value of education, but some of those from low-income groups don’t see it as the route forward. Some are too reliant on benefits; others want to follow their parents into blue-collar occupations.”
Upwardly mobile ethnicminority families have also established a strong presence in selective schools outside the big cities, for example in the home counties. Bharti Varia, a clerical assistant, and her husband, Mukesh, a computer technician, who are of Indian Gujarati origin, send their son Vivek, 13, to Aylesbury grammar in Buckinghamshire.
“We were sure we wanted him to go to grammar school,” said Bharti. “We had a choice of that or the local comprehensive. We made sure he did a lot of work and preparation for the 11-plus. For a while before the exam we had him doing two papers a day. We also hired a tutor to help with coaching.”
Leonard Ngemoh, 10, the son of immigrants from Cameroon, hopes to win a place at Queen Elizabeth’s in tests this autumn.
His mother, Bernadette, a midwife in east London, said: “Children born here have a lot of resources like technology and school trips that are not available in Cameroon. I definitely appreciate it.
“Maybe if I had been born here, I might have done something with a higher salary, as I would have been exposed to more opportunity.
Source: The Sunday Times of July 31, 2011
* stranglehold - Würgegriff, Schwitzkasten
* benefits system - Unterstützungssystem
* drummed - eingetrichtert
1. Why do educationally conscious parents choose grammar schools for their children over comprehensives?
2. What are the most intriguing figures the government has found as to the share of Indian and Chinese pupils at grammar schools?
3. What reasons are Chinese people likely to name for their choosing grammar schools for their children?
4. From what you have read or learnt in your class, what are the main differences between the German and the British school systems?