Ability does not set us apart, opportunities do.
In the midst of the global picture, I felt it necessary to share a perspective for any readers to consider.
In 2015, I briefly worked for a wonderful organisation called Arrival Education that very simply provided opportunities for those from low socioeconomic (significant BAME percentage) communities with academic potential to get experience within the corporate world to promote upward social mobility. I lasted a week in that job, not because of the organisation but I knew that I had a greater passion for working with children who had special educational needs. In that week, I learnt that not everybody has the same opportunities in life and this ultimately affects their trajectory and anybody else they decide to bring into this world. Yes, there are stories of those that make it through adversity and become successful but they are the minority.
In the UK, an inquiry report by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner showed that a black, disabled (SEN) , male child on free school meals is 168 times more likely to be excluded that a white female child without a disability and does not receive free school meals. The report is based on data that is now 10 years old but I suspect if there is another similar report then not much would have changed.
A study by Oxford University looked into the unequal representation of ethnic minorities in Special Education in England. It found that black Carribbean pupils are twice as likely to be identified as having social, emotional and mental health needs.
In sharp contrast, there was a study published in the journal, Autism, that looked how race might influence parental reporting of Autistic Spectrum symptoms. Black parents reported fewer concerns about their child’s ASD-specific behaviours than White parents. One of the things to be considered for further research would be the cultural factors that may influence how these concerns are reported as I grew up in an African household where I see lots of relatives with quite clear social communication difficulties and learning needs which are never acknowledged or addressed.
The examples I have provided you with above highlight some of the ways in which the learning experience and what may affect your experience is different depending on your race. Some are disadvantaged because through poor identification of their needs and others because through lack of knowledge, are unable to robustly challenge the quality of the education their child receives.
Whilst this specific post is not solely related to special education, it is totally relevant to an inclusive educator. Inclusive education is about “levelling the playing field” and closing the gap by breaking down any barriers that affect equality. By definition, a level playing field is a situation in which everyone has the same chance of succeeding. For those from the Black community, I do not feel it is a level playing field and the research will show you that if you take the time to look. I am fortunate enough to overcome adversity and continue the conversation from the other side but it is tough. If you add the complexity of a learning need or disability on top, the potential for inequality is compounded through something that you cannot help or control.
I’d like to give a special shout out to anyone trying to level the playing field. Let’s do more and be more creative.