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The University of Southampton

Family, community involvement and resilience are keys to success at school for black children

Published: 16 June 2008

New research by the University of Southampton throws light on the educational experience of African Caribbean children in the UK.

Statistics confirm that African Caribbean pupils' attainment in examinations is low and their exclusion rates and statements of special educational needs high. However, many black children do very well at school and many others achieve academic success later on in life.

University of Southampton lecturer in primary education Dr Jasmine Rhamie has examined the differences in the experiences of young people who did well at school and those who did not and identified key factors necessary for academic success. 

The influence of family, friends and the community are all revealed as important in helping to break destructive patterns and overcome challenges to succeed.

Her research is based on in-depth interviews with people with a range of academic achievements from London, the Midlands and the south east of England about their school experiences.

High-achieving black children typically came from homes where education was valued.  Parents were described as giving explicit verbal messages to their children about the importance of education.

Successful children are those who develop resilience which is strengthened by a strong, supportive home environment, as well as involvement in challenging, supportive community activities.  This resilience is key to overcoming challenges such as low social class status, economic problems faced by their parents, families and communities, and negative encounters with teachers and other pupils.

Trent's story is one of the individual case studies highlighted in Dr Rhamie's research.  His mother was a single parent and worked in a menial job, but she valued education and was determined that her children would get a good education.  While he attended a state primary school, she worked hard to pay for him to attend a private Christian secondary school where the teachers were positive and encouraging. As with other high fliers, the positive influence of church, home and school enabled Trent to develop the necessary resilience to go on to university and attain a science degree.

Marcus recounts growing up in a large family where his father worked long hours and his mother had to look after 8 children.  However, both parents made it clear that homework was to be completed.  Marcus got involved in setting up a community club for young people in his area when he was 15 and, despite experiencing low teacher expectations, a lack of encouragement at school and negative reactions when he was placed in the top stream in school, he went on later in life to succeed academically, becoming a chartered certified accountant.

"It appears that the positive influence of parents and the support of the community - particularly the black church - engenders resilience in young African Caribbean people which helps them to counteract the impact of negative school experiences," comments Dr Rhamie.

"This interaction between the home and community provides children with what they need to succeed in school.  If the school also provides a supportive, achievement-oriented environment, success is even more likely."

She adds: "These findings highlight the importance of developing resilience in African Caribbean children to enable them to cope with the challenges they face in school and wider life.  The school system must continue to work towards providing safe, secure, accepting, achievement-focused learning environments that will ensure all pupils have optimal opportunities to succeed."

Dr Rhamie's research is published in a book entitled 'Eagles who Soar - how African Caribbeans achieve academic success' which will be launched at the University of Southampton on Thursday 19 June.

Notes for editors

  • 'Eagles Who Soar - how African Caribbeans achieve academic success' by Dr Jasmine Rhamie is published by Trentham Books.

  • Dr Jasmine Rhamie lectures in primary education at the University of Southampton. She has worked as an educator, researcher, and educational and community consultant. Her research interests are in academic achievement within underperforming ethnic minority groups, home-school relationships and emotional literacy.

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