Publication - Research and analysis

Scottish Government Equality Outcomes: Ethnicity Evidence Review

Published: 30 Apr 2013

This evidence review was prepared to support the production of the Scottish Government's Equality Outcomes, with regard to ethnicity.

76 page PDF

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76 page PDF

1.2 MB

Scottish Government Equality Outcomes: Ethnicity Evidence Review
3 School Education

76 page PDF

1.2 MB

3 School Education

3.1 This section addresses the composition of the school population, academic attainment, exclusion, and post-school destinations.


3.2 Data on the ethnicity of pupils in publicly-funded schools in Scotland from the Pupil Census in 20127 (see Table 3) show that 89.5 % of pupils were recorded as being white Scottish or white other British. The largest other ethnic backgrounds include white other (3.2 %), Asian Pakistani (1.7 %) and mixed (1.0 %). It also shows that the number of Gypsy/Traveller pupils in 2012 had gone up by 17% from 737 in 20118, although this could be due to improved recording rather than an actual increase(a). The Pupil Census shows a higher proportion of ethnic minority pupils in schools than would be expected from the ethnic minority share of the population at large: this is mainly explained by the younger age profile of the ethnic minority population, and with this a higher proportion of households with dependent age children9.

Table 3: Pupil characteristics: ethnicity by gender, 2012 (Source: Pupil Census, 2012)

Female Male Total
White - Scottish 284,211 294,925 579,136
White - Other British 10,402 10,761 21,163
White - Gypsy/Traveller 447 417 864
White - Other 10,512 11,047 21,559
Mixed 3,461 3,495 6,956
Asian - Indian 1,865 2,065 3,930
Asian - Pakistani 5,564 5,866 11,430
Asian - Bangladeshi 357 357 714
Asian - Chinese 1,379 1,258 2,637
Asian - Other 1,618 1,626 3,244
Caribbean/Black 337 371 708
African 2,054 2,203 4,257
Other 1,449 1,585 3,034
Not known / not disclosed 5,375 5,955 11,330

3.3 In recent years, a number of studies in Scotland have explored the experiences of ethnic minority groups in education, either as a single issue or as part of wider studies on ethnicity/ race in Scotland10 11 12. These studies suggest that there are important issues that affect the educational experiences of ethnic minority young people, including bullying and discrimination, language barriers and differences in experiences of children from different ethnic groups. However, at present the research evidence remains patchy, with localised and small scale studies dominating.

3.4 The (then) Scottish Executive's High Level Summary of Equality Statistics reports that, in 2005, 4.9 % of pupils in special schools were from ethnic minority groups13(b). As only 3.8 % of pupils in all publicly-funded schools in Scotland in the same year were from ethnic minority groups, this indicates a relatively high representation of ethnic minority children in special schools. Netto et al (2001)14 suggest that there is a marginalisation of ethnic minority parents when children have special educational needs, with parents lacking representation in educational decision-making, while de Lima (2003)15 suggests that there may be a level of misdiagnosis in relation to special educational needs, as a result of language and cultural differences. At present, however, there remains an absence of robust evidence on the learning needs and experiences of ethnic minority young people in Scotland.


3.5 In their study of the experiences of ethnic minority pupils in schools in Scotland, Arshad et al (2004)16 found that arriving at valid and reliable data on the educational achievements of ethnic minority pupils was not possible because of limitations in available data. In part, data on ethnicity remain incomplete as it is not compulsory for parents to disclose ethnicity information. It is therefore difficult accurately to compare attainment levels of pupils based on ethnicity. At present, there is also no analysis of educational achievement that takes account of the length of time each pupil has been resident in the UK or the pupil's fluency in English.

3.6 The Scottish Government's Pupil Census figures include pupils' academic attainment17 (2012). These use average tariff scores, and show the relative performance of the ethnic minority groups within Scotland. For the year 2010/11, white UK, white other, black and other pupils did worst. Chinese pupils performed best by a wide margin, followed by Asian other, mixed, Indian and Pakistani pupils.

3.7 The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (2011)18 reports an argument that strong educational attainment among ethnic minority pupils may have been facilitated by active promotion of race equality in schools, and by improving teachers' ability to respond to specific individual needs (e.g. teaching of English as a second language, and intolerance of racial bullying). A study modelling attainment in three Scottish local authorities (Edinburgh, Fife and North Lanarkshire)19 found that attainment at Standard Grade and at Higher Grade improved in proportion to the number of pupils from a non-white background in a school.

3.8 The Scottish Qualifications Authority's Attainment and School Leaver Qualifications in Scotland: 2008-09 report20, showing stronger performances in S4 by children from Chinese, Bangladeshi and Indian groups than white UK children, and weaker performances by black African and black Caribbean children. For Highers, all identified groups do better than white UK, but results for black Caribbean (the lowest attaining group at S4) are not listed.


3.9 Scottish Government statistics on exclusions (2010)21 show that 78 of the 87 permanent exclusions (90%) related to white pupils; six were not disclosed or not available, leaving one exclusion (1%) each for Indian, mixed and other pupils.

3.10 The EHRC Triennial Review22 gives data on permanent exclusion from school in 2008/09 for the UK. White pupils comprise the majority of permanent exclusions in Scotland and Wales; in England the rates for white and non-white pupils are very similar, though there are clear differences between different ethnic minority groups.

Post-school destinations

3.11 The Scottish Government's School Leavers Destination Report 2010/1123 shows that school leavers from ethnic minority backgrounds appear to have slightly higher levels of positive post school destinations than white young people (89.9% compared to 88.9%). It also shows that a larger proportion enter Higher Education than white young people (49% compared to 36.9%).

3.12 National Indicator data from the School Leaver Destination Return reported in Scotland Performs24 show that school leavers who identify as Chinese consistently have the highest proportion in positive destinations. The greatest increase between 2008/09 and 2011/12 was seen in the mixed ethnic group and the largest percentage decrease was seen in the Chinese group. However, the report warns that it is difficult to track changes over time owing to the small number of leavers in some ethnic groups.

Experiences of Gypsy/Traveller pupils

3.13 The EHRC report, Inequalities Experienced by Gypsy and Traveller Communities25, finds evidence of racist attitudes and non-inclusive policies in public services including education. The Commission for Racial Equality report, Common Ground, stated that "the services Gypsies and Travellers receive from their local authority are manifestly less favourable than those the wider public enjoy" 26. The report says that "sometimes this takes directly discriminatory forms, as in parts of the criminal justice system. Sometimes the problems arise from assimilatory rather than discriminatory policies, practices and institutional cultures, as in education. In other services, indirect racism through a lack of acknowledgement and pathologisation of cultural issues is influential, alongside direct discrimination, in denying appropriate access to services, as in aspects of health and social services".

3.14 The EHRC Inequalities Experienced by Gypsy and Traveller Communities report specifies that Gypsies/Travellers have the same rights to appropriate education under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child as all other children. Under the 1996 Education Act, schools (in England and Wales) are required to be open for 190 days or 380 sessions, and parents are required to ensure that children of compulsory school age receive full-time education; however, Gypsy/Traveller parents whose livelihoods involve travel have a legal defence if the child has attended 200 sessions27. Rather than reducing a child's entitlement, this is intended to protect families from unreasonable prosecution while travelling for work.

3.15 The EHRC's Triennial Review reports that, in Scotland, it has been estimated that only 20% of Gypsy/Traveller children of secondary age regularly attend school (although it does not explain how "regularly" relates to the requirement that Gypsy/Traveller children attend 200 sessions as reported above), and this percentage may be even lower in more remote areas. It echoes Inequalities Experienced by Gypsy and Traveller Communities in pointing out that even those who attend school experience unequal access to an appropriate curriculum and cultural support.

3.16 In qualitative studies of educational inequalities28, common themes in relation to the barriers encountered by Gypsy/Traveller pupils include: enforced mobility and interrupted learning; consistent experiences of racist harassment and bullying; excessive exclusions linked to these experiences and to inadequate school responses; the lack of validation of Gypsy/Traveller culture in schools; the limited relevance of the curriculum for some pupils; cultural barriers that children have to negotiate between home and school; teachers' low expectations; and the impact of national targets on schools' readiness to admit Travellers.


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