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Study Notes

Heidi Mirza (1992): Young, Female & Black


Last updated 7 Oct 2021

This study note summarises a key study relating to ethnicity and education, by Professor Heidi Safia Mirza.

  • Mirza used a mixed methods ethnographic approach to study 198 students between the ages of 15 and 19 – combining observations, questionnaires and follow-up postal questionnaires several years after the original research had been conducted.
  • One of the main findings of Mirza’s research was the creation of a teacher typology which separated teachers into one of five different categories. Each of these had different expectations of pupils and this was reflected in their achievements:
    • Overt racists (Approximately 33% of those observed) who were unequivocal about their racial prejudice and often displayed this to students and other staff.
    • Christians adopted a ‘colour blind’ approach and treated pupils equally, however they often refused to acknowledge the existence of racial prejudice amongst others.
    • The Crusaders amounted for roughly 2% of teachers and actively challenged racism in the education system, although Mirza found this was more likely to occur in staff meetings and in discussions with colleagues.
    • Black teachers were content with getting on with the job of teaching students regardless of ethnicity and suggested that many of the subject areas were of limited use to black pupils (e.g. the teaching of modern foreign languages) and more practical support was required.
    • Liberal chauvinists were common and adopted liberal attitudes towards ethnicity and looked to promote equality. However, they were often ill-informed and made assumptions about cultural deficits in students based upon second-hand knowledge rather than the student’s own experiences.

What does this explain?

Explains the impact of teacher-pupil interactions, particularly on non-white ethnic groups in the education system and how these interactions can shape pupils’ achievements and identities. Mirza found that teachers had limited impact on the self-esteem of young black girls, but did suggest that teachers’ attitudes negatively impacted on career aspirations.

How is this achieved?

Pupils in the research would avoid asking for assistance from those teachers typified as overt racists and react with hostility to the behaviours of teachers and staff that displayed those behaviours.

What evidence is there to support this?

Mac an Ghail (1988) found the existence of negative teacher expectations of non-white pupils, whilst Fuller (1984) also noted the negative interactions between teachers and black-Caribbean girls.

How might we evaluate this idea?

Reactions to teacher racism are more likely to result in exclusion for black-Caribbean boys. Girls are more likely to retain the values of education but reject specific teachers that show hostility towards them.

Key term: teacher typology

The way in which Mirza categorised the attitudes of teachers to black pupils in her observations

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