Darcus Howe checks black boys' school reports

Our black boys do as well in school as the working-class whites, and perhaps better

Black young men and boys have long been at the heart of the immigration issue. The debate about them has intensified during the lives of my sons, two of them now in their mid-thirties, the third just out of his teens. I doubt there will be any escape for my eight-year-old grandson.

The latest debate was provoked by Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality. On BBC1 last Monday, he blamed fathers for black boys' low school achievement and said they should be denied access to their children if they failed to turn up at school evenings for parents. He also wants black boys taught in separate classes - and banned from the football team if they are not doing well at English and maths.

Are black boys really doing so badly at school? We need to compare like with like. The Caribbean communities are overwhelmingly working class; a tiny middle class lurks in the margins. Take a block of council flats in Hackney or Brixton and compare the educational achievements of blacks with those of whites, and I would suggest our boys would do as well or better.

As for other immigrant groups, many Chinese and Indians came here without much command of spoken English. They could not always understand TV or radio programmes. Cocooned in their own communities, they spent hours reading books and thus developed academic habits that would help them get ahead. Caribbean folk, by contrast, could readily participate in the wider community and walk easily into working-class jobs.

In any case, educational certificates are not the be-all and end- all of success. Between prisons on the one hand, and degrees on the other, there is a huge world in which Caribbean people engage with distinction. My two older sons have two O-levels and one CSE between them. Yet they have got to the head of their professions, both in the entertainment industry. They live comfortable lives. They have never been to jail or shot anyone.

A reputation for being rebellious and uncontrollable awaits black boys in classrooms. To segregate them will only confirm the idea that children like my grandson are socially deformed. And Phillips would need a military organisation to keep them off the football pitch. The black middle classes, from which he comes, are socially and culturally as far apart from these boys as middle-class whites are. Hence the nonsense that is so often written and spoken about them.

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