Ethnic identity and equality issues in urban children: historical case studies in the context of a review of British policy and practice 1968-2008

Alice Sawyerr

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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At the core of this thesis are two pieces of empirical work. The first is a case study of a multicultural day nursery in a deprived area of an inner-city London Borough. The purpose of the case study was to explore perceptions of ethnicity, and prospects for identity enhancement. Research methods included filming of interactions between staff and 22 children aged 1.5–5years, interactions between the children and interviews with 11 staff members. The social context of this nursery’s operation is placed within the context of political changes in the Borough, and the evolution of the national Sure Start centres.
The second is the issue of ethnicity and self-esteem among 11-18 year olds which are examined in detail, as well as the multiplicity of factors, including child abuse, which may depress self-esteem in children and adolescents from all ethnic groups. The literature examined shows that “race” appears to be no longer a negative factor in self-esteem development. These ideas are explored in data from 2,025 students aged 11-18, attending English secondary schools, using the Rosenberg Self-esteem Scale (RSES). The face validity of this scale is established through correlation with reliable and valid mental health measures, and the RSES was found to have structural validity across age and gender groups. Results showed (as did American and international research) that boys had significantly higher levels of self-esteem than girls. Using a validated measure of physical and sexual abuse I found that up to 10 percent of girls (varying by age group) had experienced severe and prolonged physical or sexual abuse (sometimes both). When experience of abuse was controlled for, gender differences in self-esteem failed to reach statistical significance. This finding has not been reported in any previous research, and provides an alternative to convoluted and seemingly untestable post hoc theories that have been advanced to account for gender differences in self-esteem. The English schools sample showed that self-esteem had no significant variation between ethnic groups within males. In females, those of African-Caribbean origin had significantly higher levels of self-esteem than their female peers.
The third strand of this thesis involves placing the results within the changing context of equality, education and ethnicity in the period 1968 to 2008, showing change and evolution in the progress of “race relations” and “multiculturalism” in British society, and focuses on specific episodes in this history. The overarching issue of equality is addressed in terms of power and alienation, and the “unmasking” of powerful forces which oppress the lives of children and adolescents, using a critical realist model of analysis.

Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Bagley, Christopher, Supervisor, External person
Award date1 Feb 2017
Publication statusUnpublished - 2017


  • Multicultural Nurseries
  • Child Abuse
  • Social Class
  • Poor Whites
  • Dialectic Critical Realism
  • Multi-ethnic communities
  • Nursery practitioners
  • Critical Realism
  • Equality Issues
  • Gender Identity
  • Ethnic Identity
  • Self-Concepts
  • Self-esteem
  • Adolescents
  • Black and Mixed-race children
  • Education
  • Early Learning Goals
  • Foundation stage curriculum
  • Sure Start Nurseries

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