Legitimate players? : an ethnographic study of academically successful Black pupils in a London secondary school
The low educational attainment of Black (notably African Caribbean) students has seldom been absent from the achievement debates of at least the last forty years. Yet, despite consensus amongst academics and policy makers that Black pupils do not attain equally in relation to their white peers there has been, to date, no single coherent governmental policy which has successfully closed the gap in achievement. Black pupils have become associated with a language of failure and disadvantage. Research that examines the opposite side of the equation - Black pupils and academic success - is rare. This research adopts an ethnographic approach to explore how staff and successful pupils at an inner-city London secondary school conceptualise academic success and seeks to understand the processes that might lead to the increased educational attainment of Black students. Findings indicate that while pupils perceive academic success to be within the grasp of all, staff regard it as unquestioningly dependant on a range of factors such as gender, individual characteristics, ability, social class, home environment and family background. In addition, the reported display by mainly Black boys of what is defined as "Black street subculture" is reconstituted as a threat to school norms and at odds with the portrayal of the academic profile. Using a Bourdieuian analysis, it is argued that pupils seen to fit the academically successful profile are regarded as having legitimacy within the school context and therefore encouraged to succeed. Black pupils, due to their lack of "appropriate" capital, are not regarded as having legitimacy and are less likely to be encouraged to succeed. Black male pupils in particular are disadvantaged by their positioning by female staff as conspicuous, sexualised objects of threat. It is therefore argued that academic success remains a challenge for Black (male) pupils, even for those originally defined as achieving.