Ethnicity and Education in England and Europe (Studies in Migration and Diaspora)

Law, Ian and Swann, Sarah
Ashgate, Aldershot
9781409410874 (hb)

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Cover of book In 2011 British Prime Minister David Cameron highlighted the low percentage of African and Caribbean students at Oxford University. Set against debates on the unrepresentative background of his cabinet, this underlines contemporary concerns that minority ethnic groups are missing out on educational opportunities, making the publication of Ethnicity and Education in England and Europe particularly timely. Beginning with a useful study of ethnic relations in Britain and Europe that covers both theory and the historical development of ethnic diversity, Law and Swann provide a helpful overview of selected peoples ranging from African-Caribbean, Pakistani, Gypsy and Travellers. Interethnic relations are assessed in the context of educational and educational inequality as the authors consider topics including the impact of government policies on interethnic relations in schools, how streaming children according to their racial or ethnic classification is considered normal in Central and Eastern Europe, the development of minority ethnic schools partly as a result of socio-economic or white flight, and the racialisation of teacher expectations. By presenting such discussions this book becomes a useful text that contributes to current multicultural debates in the United Kingdom.

In a detailed study Law and Swann place particular emphasis on minority disadvantage for those (such as Gypsy / Traveller students) who face the dilemma of living in an environment where in popular terms ethnicity is defined by skin colour. Members of such communities can become an invisible ethnic minority 'unnoticed on the periphery of normal whiteness' (p. 76). While they may be successful in accessing formal education, the historical experience of ethnic groups such as Jews informs us that there is always an underlying challenge confronting those physically similar to the dominant majority population. The danger is that success through formal education can mark a step towards accommodation, and the imperceptible slide towards assimilation. Yet education structures can do much to ameliorate this by incorporation of school curriculum that allows access to education yet celebrates and affirms cultural heritage, all of which might help maintain identity while offering an exciting and new hybridised identity.

Two chapters of detailed empirical research on 'Northcity' show how whites, African-Caribbean and Pakistani students interact with their community and their schools. Issues of class and race are explored, and a particular strength of these chapters is the way the authors give participants an active voice through highly effective quotes. Gender differences appear when the education system attempts to incorporate and valorise nonwhite minority culture, something which is highly regarded by African-Caribbean girls but not boys. The place of the dominant White middle-class curriculum is appropriately explored in depth, although the impact of Islamic day schools and weekend religious schools is only addressed in passing. This would be a productive area of future research given that Islamist voices are currently providing a notable challenge to Western dominated globalisation and as schools become a site of ethno-religious interaction. The final chapter comparing English with European case studies adds strength to what is an interesting and comprehensive book.

The reader is left with an understanding of the tremendous challenges ahead in confronting segregationist tenancies but as issues of dual heritage show, education offers the possibility of the development of a new Britain, which can mean cultural loss for one or more groups but also the emergence of new hybridised British identities. As Olympic fervour subsides, it is ironic that the 2012 London Olympics was presented as a celebration of the success of multiracial Britain, and a multiracial world. While the stylised opening ceremony and participation of athletes presented a positive picture of the United Kingdom and provided affirming role models and images to young children who could positively identify with the brown skin of Mohammed Farah and Jessica Ennis, it is clear from this book that far more needs to be done if the ephemeral images projected by the Olympics are to reflect any real substance.

Richard Gehrmann
University of Southern Queensland