The University of Birmingham's new Centre for Research in Race and Education (CRRE) is remarkable for several reasons, not least its establishment at a time when many people (in politics, the popular media and the education profession alike) seem to assume – erroneously – that racism and race inequality are things of the past. Official statistics, for example, consistently highlight the fact that children and young people of Black Caribbean ethnic heritage, and their peers of Dual Heritage backgrounds (where one parent is White, the other Black Caribbean) do not enjoy an equitable chance of success in the education system: they are less likely to achieve the highest levels of GCSE success but are significantly more likely to be permanently excluded. Commentators frequently assume that this must reflect a bad attitude on the part of the young people themselves but the overwhelming verdict of detailed research, that has examined the day-to-day life of schools through interviews and classroom observation, suggests that the patterns actually reflect widespread, though often unintended, bias in the way that these children and young people are perceived by adults. Similarly, a government study found that in order to secure an interview, job applicants with names that signalled their membership of a minority ethnic group had to make over 70% more applications than equally qualified White people. And it remains the case that, although minority ethnic young people are more likely to attend university, they are over-represented in low-status institutions and less likely to emerge with first class degrees. CRRE's launch, at one of the country's leading universities (a member of the research-intensive Russell Group) is, therefore, highly significant.

Based in the School of Education, the Centre's mission is to pursue race equality and social justice by working to close gaps in educational achievement and improve the educational experiences and career outcomes of Black and minority ethnic people. To this end the Centre will:

  • undertake rigorous critical research of the highest empirical and ethical standards;
  • encourage collaborations between researchers, policy-makers, activists, and the wider community;
  • initiate and contribute to informed debate about race inequalities in policy and practice internationally.

This is not an Ivory Tower enterprise – CRRE brings together academics with a long track-record of combining scholarly research with real world interventions that aim to make things better. The centre is establishing a wide-ranging network of partner institutions that share its aims and hope to build ever-closer working relationships over time. Founding partners include internationally renowned research centres (such as the Center for Multicultural Education at the University of Washington, Seattle), networks of scholars working for race equality in education (e.g. the US-based Critical Race Studies in Education Association) and leading British race equality organisations, including the Runnymede Trust and the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust.

In addition to conducting its own original research, the centre will also host an annual public lecture and a series of seminars addressing new developments in race equality and education. In this way the centre will provide a focal point for debate and stimulate work on race equality that blends research and practice in new and innovative ways. We hope that this will provide a catalyst for new work in the field nationally and internationally.

CRRE will be formally launched, on 21 February, by Doreen Lawrence OBE – the single most influential campaigner for race equality in this country. This is especially fitting because the centre's first major research project marks the 20th anniversary of Stephen Lawrence's murder and explores the advances in race equality that have been achieved in the intervening years. Funded by the Society for Educational Studies ( the project will examine a series of key questions;

  • How have Black and minority ethnic groups fared in the education system over the last 20 years?
  • How significant is race inequality alongside the influence of other factors, such as class, gender and disability?
  • What role does an awareness of race and racism play in the formulation and implementation of education policy?

This ambitious project will provide a landmark account of how race equality in education has fared over the last twenty years, identifying both the progress that has been made, and the areas where further attention is still required.

Professor David Gillborn (Director, CRRE) and Dr Nicola Rollock (Deputy Director, CRRE)
The School of Education
University of Birmingham