Study explores possible religious factors underlying the educational attainment gap between Pakistani boys and their White-British counterparts

A study investigating the educational achievement of British Pakistani boys[1] reveals possible factors that underlie variation in educational achievement in Pakistani students, and whether these factors could be considered to contribute to the achievement gap of this demographic relative to White-British pupils[2].

The particularly low levels of attainment by Pakistani boys in Birmingham have long drawn attention[3]. Although the achievement gap between White-British and Pakistani students in the UK reduces as pupils progress through the education system, on average there is still a gap at age 16[4], and Pakistani boys’ achievement is generally behind that of Pakistani girls[5]. There are protective factors within the Pakistani community which support the achievement of low socioeconomic status Pakistani children compared with their White-British peers, but the gap persists[6]. This is in line with the under-representation of Pakistani’s in many sectors within the UK[7].

Undoubtedly, the attainment gap of the demographic depends on how they are identified and on which demographic they are compared to. However the author of the study, Iqbal, notes that “[i]t is likely that this gap [between the Pakistani demographic and the White-British demographic] has widened as a result of the Trojan Horse controversy and its damaging impact on schools’ work”[8].

Iqbal’s study, which was centred in the context of the post-war development of the Pakistani community in Birmingham and the UK as a whole, was based on research undertaken in three secondary school in Birmingham[9]. It used a mixed methods approach, administering questionnaires to year 11 students and conducting interviews with British-born Pakistani boys and their parents and teachers[10].

In accordance with earlier research, the study showed that education is considered important by Pakistani parents and their children[11], with Pakistani pupils’ attitudes comparing favourably with their White British peers[12]. In support of this, Pakistani parents were found to make a significant investment in their children’s education, such as providing them with additional tuition[13].

Religion is also considered important by Pakistani parents and their children[14], and parents were found to view education as comprising “both religion and the education on offer within the British education system”, seeing it as “multidimensional” and including “wider development as a human being”[15].

The main manifestation of the importance of religion among this demographic is the amount of hours which Pakistani boys spend at madrassahs outside of their time spent in school. The study found that the boys experience school and the madrassah as two separate worlds, and that their religion is accommodated by their schools[16]. Attending madrassahs is considered a supplement to the education system by some Pakistani families, which they consider to contain “gaps”[17].

Iqbal’s paper suggests that this attendance at madrassahs might impact negatively on children’s education, however, as it “takes them away from participation in extra-curricular activities” and other educational provisions[18].

For example, homework has been shown to play an important role in children’s education, yet madrassah attendance, combined with some parents’ low education levels, might inhibit Pakistani pupils’ progress with it[19]. However, attendance at the madrassah does have other educational and social benefits[20].

The paper also suggests that family and religious commitments can distract from the pupils’ education, although different families express different views about the impact of these commitments when interviewed. This impact might especially affect Pakistani boys, as they can be expected to attend more family functions than Pakistani girls[21].

Socioeconomic factors also have an impact on the educational attainment of Pakistani boys, according to the study. It notes that, contrary to arguments in other literature, lower socioeconomic status, which is measured by whether a pupil receives free school meals (FSM), “appears to have a more negative impact on Pakistani pupils than their White counterparts as shown by the fact that fewer Pakistani FSM pupils {as well as their families} thought doing well at school was important for their future”[22].

In addition, less Pakistani FSM pupils reported they had someone in their family who could help them with their homework if needed, pointing to “social class as one possible cause of Pakistani educational achievement”. However, the paper says that this assertion is based on the results of a very small number of respondents and a sample which was not randomly drawn, “so it is necessary to be circumspect in the conclusions that can be drawn from the data”[23].

Interview data from the study also revealed that the stereotype that Pakistani boys do not respect female teachers “had no basis”[24]. In addition, both teachers and pupils considered the teachers’ understanding of pupils’ religion to be important in their education[25], and the paper suggests that “[t]eacher understanding of pupils’ background is considered to be important as is the ethnic makeup of the teaching workforce”[26].

Following his findings, Iqbal suggests “the development of a strategy, aimed at different education stakeholders (government, schools and parents), for raising the attainment of Pakistani boys”[27]. He acknowledges that his suggestions “are likely to be contentious and expensive”, such as schools providing language and Islamic studies in the curriculum in order to incorporate some madrassah studies into the curriculum[28]. Suggestions also include an increased presence and contribution of Pakistani and Muslim teachers in education[29], and the need for the Pakistani community to participate more in advocating for their youth’s needs[30]. School-based and teacher-supervision provision of study support would also provide a “clear solution” to the issue of some Pakistani pupils difficulties with homework, as discussed previously[31].

[1] Iqbal, 2017, 2.

[2] Iqbal, 2017, 110.

[3] Hewer, 2001; Warren and Gillborn, 2003; both cited in Iqbal, 2017, 16.

[4] Iqbal, 2017, 109.

[5] Iqbal, 2017, 27.

[6] Iqbal, 2017, 109.

[7] Iqbal, 2017, 18.

[8] Iqbal, 2017, 20.

[9] Iqbal, 2017, 2.

[10] Iqbal, 2017, 2.

[11] Iqbal, 2017, 2.

[12] Iqbal, 2017, 167.

[13] Iqbal, 2017, 167.

[14] Iqbal, 2017, 2.

[15] Iqbal, 2017, 167.

[16] Iqbal, 2017, 189.

[17] Iqbal, 2017, 110.

[18] Iqbal, 2017, 110&2.

[19] Iqbal, 2017, 110.

[20] Iqbal, 2017, 169.

[21] Iqbal, 2017, 160.

[22] Iqbal, 2017, 163.

[23] Iqbal, 2017, 163.

[24] Iqbal, 2017, 215.

[25] Iqbal, 2017, 216.

[26] Iqbal, 2017, 110.

[27] Iqbal, 2017, 217&2.

[28] Iqbal, 2017, 253&256.

[29] Iqbal, 2017, 156.

[30] Iqbal, 2017, 249.

[31] Iqbal, 2017, 161.

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Iqbal, K. (2017) British Pakistani boys in Birmingham schools: education and the role of religion. PhD thesis, University of Warwick.