• Tikly, Leon P (Principal Investigator)
  • Haynes, Jo (Researcher)
  • Gillborn, Dave (Co-Principal Investigator)
  • Caballero, Chamion (Researcher)
  • Hill, John (Collaborator)

Project Details


The Aiming High: African Caribbean Achievement Project launched by the DfES in November 2003 aims to work with leaders of schools to develop a whole school approach to raising the achievement of African Caribbean pupils. The thirty Aiming High schools were provided with extra resources including funding of up to £16,000 for leadership on the project, support from a consultant, training support from the NCSL and a further grant of up to £10,000 per year. As part of the pilot, the DfES commissioned researchers from the University of Bristol, the Institute of Education and Birmingham Local Education Authority to undertake an independent evaluation.

Layman's description

The overall aim of this evaluation was to establish the effectiveness of this project in delivering whole school change to raise African-Caribbean achievement. In particular, it evaluated how successful the project had been at achieving its agreed outcomes and the process of change as experienced by lead professionals and other school personnel.

Key findings

Performance of Aiming High schools: pupil attainment, progress and inclusion

• There is some evidence to show that results have improved for African Caribbean students attending Aiming High schools. For example between 2003 and 2005, the percentage of Black Caribbean boys achieving Level 5 and above at the end of Key Stage 3 improved by 12% in English, 13% in mathematics and 3.5% in science. These improvement rates were higher than the average for Aiming High schools and higher than the national average for Black Caribbean boys. Black Caribbean girls’ results also improved at an above average rate.

• Results for African Caribbean students attending Aiming High schools also improved at Key Stage 4. For example the percentage of Black Caribbean boys achieving 5 or more A*-C grades improved by 5.4% between 2003 and 2005 for Black Caribbean boys and for Black Caribbean girls it improved by 6.9%. However, these improvement rates were lower than the average for Aiming High schools (7%) and lower than the national average for Black Caribbean students (8%), so gaps have not closed. Improvement rates are better when all grades rather than just A*-C grades are counted. For example the average KS4 capped point score for Black Caribbean boys increased by 12.4 points between 2003 and 2005 compared to an Aiming High school average increase of 4 points.

• Despite these improvements, Black Caribbean boys remained the lowest achieving group in Aiming High schools at KS3 and KS4. Their KS2 to KS3 value-added score showed virtually no change between 2003 and 2005, remaining below average. KS2 to KS4 value-added also showed no real change and remained below average, although contextual value-added (CVA) scores were better. KS2 to KS4 CVA scores in 2005 were within the national average range for Black Caribbean boys and above the national average range for Black Caribbean girls.

• Both attainment levels and value-added scores for African Caribbean students varied significantly across Aiming High schools, suggesting that some schools were more successful than others in improving standards. At best, the results of African Caribbean students improved at a faster rate than average as measured by both attainment and value-added measures. At worst, African/ Caribbean students remained the lowest achieving group and there was no evidence of the gap reducing.

• On the various indices of inclusion (ability setting, test and examination tier entry, membership of gifted and talented cohorts and school exclusions), there was evidence of inequalities affecting African Caribbean students. For example African Caribbean boys were more likely than average to be in the lower ability sets for both Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4 mathematics and more likely to be entered for the lower tier papers. While there, is some evidence of a change over the two years of the Aiming High project with for example a reduction in the percentage of Black Caribbean boys entered for the lowest tier (Foundation) paper in GCSE mathematics, this has not been sufficient to remove the inequalities.

• Inequalities were also evident in the representation of African Caribbean students in Excellence in Cities funded gifted and talented cohorts. For example, 8% of African Caribbean boys were identified as gifted and talented compared to an Aiming High school average of 13.4% of pupils.

• These inequalities in ability setting, test and examination tiers and gifted and talented cohort membership also affected other groups, particularly Pakistani boys. The reason appears to be related to the selection criteria schools use to allocate students to groups. The main basis for allocation is prior academic performance- for KS3 setting it is end of KS2 results and for KS4 setting it is end of KS3 results. Academic performance is also one of the main criteria for identifying gifted and talented pupils.

• Students with low performance at the end of KS2 are more likely to be placed in lower ability sets for Key Stage 3, more likely to be entered for lower tier papers and more likely to get poor end of KS3 results which in turn means they are more likely to be in the lower sets for KS4, more likely to be entered for lower tier examination papers and more likely to get poor end of KS4 results. Although schools appear to be treating all students the same, the selection criteria reinforce the prior underachievement of African Caribbean pupils in primary schools, and in consequence may inadvertently create a feeling of low academic self-esteem for these students, with the danger that students will ‘live up to’ perceived lower academic expectations.

• While the research has not examined the causal relationship, it is possible that the continued over-representation of Black Caribbean and White/Black Caribbean mixed heritage boys in school exclusions is linked to low academic self-esteem which can lead to disruptive behaviour.

Getting the Basics Right: School leadership, systems and structures

• The Aiming High project was conceived as a way of supporting schools to fulfil their general and specific duties under the Race Relations Amendment Act (2000) by specifically tackling African Caribbean achievement. It is clear that when a systematic link is made between schools’ duties to race equality as outlined by the Act and the goals of Aiming High, a noticeable shift in mainstream practices and school ethos is evident.

• All Aiming High schools were expected to conduct an initial audit. The auditing process entailed completion of a survey where respondents (pupils, parents, teachers, Governors) were asked to identify issues and areas of concern that impact on the achievement and experiences of African Caribbean pupils. The auditing process in case study schools was viewed as an invaluable exercise as it helped the schools to identify areas where work needed to be prioritised.

• Most Head-teachers in the case study schools demonstrated strong leadership on addressing African Caribbean achievement by making it clear to staff, parents, pupils and Governors that any underachievement runs counter to the school’s vision, although the extent of Head-teachers direct involvement in the project varied. Head-teachers also varied in their understanding and knowledge about how school factors such as low teacher expectations impact on African Caribbean achievement.

• In case study schools where Head-teachers were able to demonstrate better understanding of these issues, African Caribbean pupils and parents were more likely to express confidence in the school’s commitment to meeting the goals of Aiming High.

• In the majority of case study schools there has been an effective and strategic partnership between the Lead Professional, Head-teacher and the rest of the senior management team. In a few schools, Lead Professionals were isolated and in these cases, progress on the goals of Aiming High was less visible. In schools where responsibility for implementing Aiming High was effectively delegated to middle managers and chains of accountability were established, the process goals of the project were more effectively met.

• The majority of the Governing bodies in the case study schools were eager for the project to be a success. However, it was clear that the overall levels of involvement of Governors differed across the schools and that Governor support was generally not being utilised effectively.

• The strategic use of data to raise African Caribbean achievement emerging as an aspect of school practice was uneven. Whilst some middle managers are using data more effectively to design interventions, schools varied in their monitoring by ethnicity in the following areas: setting, GSCE tiering, Gifted and Talented register, pupil withdrawals, coursework and attendance, exclusions and parents’ evenings. It is clear that where schools were challenging their data, some creative and effective strategies were being established which were having a positive impact on African Caribbean learning and inclusion. Strategic data usage also helped to tackle staff resistance to the dedicated focus on African Caribbean achievement

• Whilst many teachers in case study schools believed setting to be based solely on ability, data indicated that African Caribbean pupils were often relegated to lower sets due to their behaviour, rather than their ability.

• There is an overwhelming perception amongst African Caribbean pupils and their parents that the largest barrier to African Caribbean pupils’ achievement lies in unfair and inconsistent behaviour management within the school. Many case study schools were in the process of reviewing their behaviour management policy and practices.

• Progress is being made in those schools that prioritise both academic and pastoral preventative measures rather than a punitive approach. Successful strategies included challenging exclusion practices, providing training for teachers and mentoring programmes for pupils.

Strategies to raise achievement: targeting teachers, pupils and parents

• Many Heads of English and Maths were beginning to take a lead on developing strategies for their department to target African Caribbean achievement, such as monitoring achievement, rewriting schemes of work and developing the curriculum, creating interventions to target coursework and providing academic mentoring and booster and supplementary classes.

• Some staff are either reluctant to acknowledge the race equality issues underpinning Aiming High or are resistant to a dedicated focus on African Caribbean pupils. Often this was due to the presence of a ‘colour-blind’ ethos within schools, which acted as a barrier to the implementation of Aiming High. Some Lead Professionals and some senior management teams have developed effective strategies to overcome most forms of resistance, such as using performance data broken down by ethnicity to demonstrate the necessity of focusing on African Caribbean pupils.

• Lead Professionals and consultants recognised the need for further training around race equality, specifically with regard to African Caribbean pupils’ needs. All Aiming High schools have made plans for, or already have had, specific INSET days on African Caribbean achievement, such as data awareness, teacher-pupil relationships and developing schemes of work.

• A significant number of African Caribbean pupils noted their invisibility in the curriculum and were exasperated by the white European focus. However, all of the case study schools have made some progress on African Caribbean inclusion in the curriculum although it is an uneven picture. For example, English departments are making faster progress in terms of developing a more inclusive curriculum and schemes of work compared to maths departments.

• An overwhelming majority of both high and low achieving African Caribbean pupils indicated that they were aware of the lower academic expectations that some teachers had of them.

• As an overall strategy, mentoring proved very effective. Some African Caribbean pupils noted how with the correct support from the school, they were able to break out of the negative cycle. Through Aiming High resourcing, schools were able to employ additional mentors, extend the availability of mentoring programmes to more African Caribbean pupils or were able to try new and more creative mentoring strategies including one-to-one and group mentoring programmes, booster classes or supplementary learning after school. Some schools also used the Gifted and Talented programme as a means of providing further academic support to African Caribbean pupils.
• The majority of the parents interviewed identified inconsistent and poor communication with schools as frustrating their attempts to get involved with their children’s schooling. Across the case study schools, it was acknowledged that parental involvement was one of the, if not the most, difficult areas to tackle within Aiming High. However, some positive and effective strategies had been developed as a result of the Aiming High project, such as establishing black parents’ groups, providing curriculum workshops for parents and developing more effective means of home-school communication.

Effectiveness of External Support

• The provision of a consultant for each of the Aiming High case study schools was a successful and effective strategy. Schools welcomed the clear guidance given by consultants in terms of planning, tackling resistance and involving all key groups within the school, particularly parents. Several of the case study schools have made arrangements to continue employing the consultants in the same capacity after the end of the project.

• Several schools were making links with the LEA in order to raise the profile of African Caribbean achievement in the authority, to share good practice with all schools in the authority and to develop a framework of support to enable the goals of the project to be continued after the lifetime of the project.

• The provision and quality of the NCSL support for Lead Professionals throughout the duration of the project was largely praised, not only in terms of the content of the programme but also in terms of its impact on their professional development to manage change and to lead on these issues.

• The support offered by the DfES for the Aiming High pilot project was considered to be of a good standard. There is wide appreciation of the specific targeting of issues around African Caribbean achievement by the DfES as well as their demonstrable commitment to positive change.

Conclusions- Lessons Learnt

• Overall, Aiming High has been highly effective in raising awareness of African Caribbean issues in schools. It has enabled schools to include African Caribbean achievement within mainstream school development plans and fostered the professional development of Head-teachers, Lead Professionals and senior management on leadership on race equality issues. In addition it has helped schools to develop a ‘fairer’ and systematic approach to whole school processes and provided quality academic and pastoral support for African Caribbean pupils through ‘bespoke’ programmes and intervention strategies. Finally, it has helped to mobilise African Caribbean parental support.

• In order to meet the process goals of Aiming High, it is clear that a whole school approach is required. Specifically, the following conditions need to be in place: willingness of the Governors and senior management, especially the Head-teacher, to address race equality issues in the school; commitment to mainstreaming initiatives to raise African Caribbean achievement; Head-teachers that have the vision and commitment to address the needs of African Caribbean pupils and to implement a system of accountability on this issue; recognition of and accountability for the identification and use of African Caribbean achievement and inclusion data; consistent and equitable practice with respect to behaviour management policy, as well as setting and streaming; strategic involvement and support from the LEA;

• By the end of the evaluation Aiming High had yet to ensure full compliance of some schools to meet their legal duty to address race equality and to foster the commitment and professional development of Governors to lead on race equality issues. It had yet to develop whole school accountability and to fully impact across the entire school at classroom level. Finally, it had still to fully ensure consistent and equitable practice with respect to setting and steaming arrangements and to systematically engage parents of African Caribbean pupils in effective partnerships with schools.

• The following factors acted as barriers to the implementation of the Aiming High process goals in case study schools: ‘colour-blind’ approach; incapacity of leadership team to manage change and lack of accountability at different levels.
Effective start/end date1/03/041/07/06

Structured keywords

  • PolicyBristolEducation
  • Ethnicity
  • Achievement
  • SPAIS Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship


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