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Pakistani boys’ education in Birmingham schools

Karamat Iqbal Karamat Iqbal

Pakistani children make-up a quarter of Birmingham’s school population and will soon become its largest pupil ethnic group. A large number of them leave the local schools each year without the benchmark qualifications.

The issue of ethnic minority underachievement in England has been acknowledged since the 1970s (Swann 1985). However, much of the focus has been on Black Caribbean children (Gillborn 2008). Consequently, information about the particular achievement of Pakistani pupils continues to be sparse (Gillborn and Gipps 1996, Hamashita 2007).

Using a mixed-methods approach, my research was conducted in three diverse Birmingham state secondary schools. The study explored Pakistani student and parental attitudes to education. Also investigated were importance of religion and meaning of education. Data were gathered about teacher understanding of the distinctive heritage of Pakistani boys as well as the make-up of the teaching workforce.

Findings showed that education was highly valued by parents and the boys. Amongst the 40 boys and their parents interviewed, there were over one hundred references to the word ‘respect’; respect for education and school teachers. Religion was equally considered as important. To be educated meant achieving good grades in national benchmark qualifications and to have become a fully rounded human being, based on the multi-dimensional concept of education within Islam, which includes knowledge (ilm), development (tarbiyya) and Islamic ethics (tadib) (Yasin and Jani 2013).

The teachers interviewed were found to have ‘tabloid knowledge’ (Bloom 2011) of Pakistani heritage and the pupils religion. Consequently, the boys’ school and home lives were separate worlds (Coles 2004). A related problem was the serious shortage of Pakistani teachers in the schools investigated – Community, 8%; Academy, 3.8% and Grammar 0.6% respectively.      

The boys were found to spend much of their time, after school, in learning the Quran and about Islam, something many had done throughout their school lives. This took them away from completing their homework and participation in extra-curricular activities. The latter also meant the boys were not able to spend informal time in the company of their non-Pakistani peers, with clear implications for community cohesion. Many of the boys, especially those from poorer families, also reported not having anyone to turn to for help with their homework.

There was considerable support amongst the boys for what they learnt at the mosques to be taught at school

The policy implications of the research are clear, especially for areas such as Birmingham. There was considerable support amongst the boys for what they learnt at the mosques to be taught at school. Parents similarly supported this idea and suggested that one way to accommodate this would be through an extended school day (Cummings 2007). This could also be a way also to provide the boys with appropriately supervised opportunities for completing their homework, with time to spare for ‘downtime’ activities.

There is a need to reduce the time the boys devoted to Islamic religious instruction, by delivering the content more effectively and efficiently and through increased accommodation of Pakistani and Muslim heritage within the school curriculum. The time thus freed could be used for completing homework and participating in extracurricular activities. The schools need to employ more Pakistani teachers and to equip their staff with knowledge of Pakistani and Islamic heritage in order to help bridge the school and home lives of the boys.    


Bloom, A. 2011. The teachers with a tabloid grasp of Islam. Times Educational Supplement. 16 September.

Coles, M. 2004. Education and Islam: a new strategic approach. Race Equality Teaching.

Cummings, C. et al. 2007. Evaluation of the full Service extended Schools Initiative. London. DCSF.

Gillborn, D. & Gipps, C. 1996. Recent research on the achievements of ethnic minority pupils London. Ofsted.

Gillborn, D. 2008. Racism and education – coincidence or conspiracy? London. Routledge.

Hamashita, M. 2007. Ethnic Minorities in Britain: The Educational Performance of Pakistani Muslims Journal of History for the Public (4) 77-94

Swann Report. 1985. Education for all. London. HMSO.

Yasin, R.F, Jani, M.S.2013. Islamic Education: The philosophy, aim and main features. International Journal of Education and Research. 1 (10)