The Benefits of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in educational research


MED002 Methods of Enquiry


This research report will be looking into how Critical Race Theory (CRT) plays a part in Education Reform. The first part of the research report I will be conducting a literature review on a research paper written by David Gillborn with regards to CRT and Education Reform. The second part of the report I will be demonstrating knowledge and understanding of the purposes of educational research. I will also be researching 10 other journal articles related to CRT which links back to the main research journal written by David Gillborn. One of the journal that I researched which was particularly significant was ‘Critical Race Theory’ by Chakrabarty et al. This journal was of a few journals that looked at CRT with a UK stance. I will be looking at 3 main questions during this research report; Priorities – Who or what is driving education policy?; Beneficiaries – Who wins and who loses as a result of education policy priorities?; Outcomes – What are the effects of policy?

The following are definition of keywords used in this report: BME – black and minority ethnic (used to refer to members of non-white communities in the UK). White Supremacy – is a form of racism centred upon the belief, and promotion of the belief, that white people are superior in certain characteristics, traits, and attributes to people of other racial backgrounds and that therefore white people should politically, economically and socially rule non-white people. Whiteness – is defined as a set of characteristics and experiences that are attached to the white race and white skin. Affirmative action (USA term) – action favouring those who tend to suffer from discrimination; positive discrimination. Positive action (UK term) – the provision of special opportunities in employment, training, etc for a disadvantaged group, such as women, ethnic minorities, etc.

Literature Review: Education policy as an act of white supremacy: whiteness, critical race theory and education reform by David Gillborn

There was a clear statement of the aims of the research. David Gillborn (2005) laid down the aims of his research in the journal paper’s abstract. The paper presents an empirical analysis of education policy in England, UK. Gillborn drew on ‘whiteness studies’ and the application of CRT. CRT and ‘whiteness studies’ offers a new and radical way of conceptualizing the role of racism in education. Gillborn then applied this approach to recent changes in the English educational system. In the second part of his journal Gillborn touches on the question of racism and intentionality. Gillborn in his journal summarized that education policy is an act of white supremacy. He concludes following the CRT tradition that the most dangerous part of ‘white supremacy’ is not the obvious but rather than the routine white privilege in the political mainstream.

Qualitative research methodology is appropriate for Gillborn’s research because he is investigating a theoretical paradigm – CRT in the UK education system. This theoretical paradigm affects participants in different ways and a quantitative research such as a survey can be quite limiting in the results collected. Ethical issues have been taken into consideration by Gillborn in his journal ‘Education policy as an act of white supremacy’. (2005) Gillborn’s research into CRT and education reform as an act of white supremacy is valuable as it contributes knowledge from the USA and applies it to the education system in the UK.

The most recent example of this is the far-reaching changes made to race equity legislation (affecting all public institutions and every state-maintained school) in the wake of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry (Macpherson, 1999). Gillborn (2005). For education reform (especially in BME communities) to occur, Gillborn states that BME communities had to go through direct resistance and protest in other to effect change. After the Brixton uprisings in the 1980’s ‘multicultural’ education enjoyed a brief boost.

‘This is a vital point. Critical scholarship on whiteness is not an assault on white people per se: it is an assault on the socially constructed and constantly reinforced power of white identifications and interests.’ Gillborn (2005) page 488. Applying CRT to whiteness, Gillborn states that CRT or critical scholarships is not an attack on white people however it’s an assault on the socially constructed and dominance of white people also known as White Supremacy. A central identifier of whiteness is a process of ‘naturalisation’ that ‘whiteness’ is the norm whilst non-white races stand apart and in relation to which they are defined.

‘One of the most powerful and dangerous aspects of whiteness is that many (possibly the majority) of white people have no awareness of whiteness as a construction, let lone their own role in sustaining and playing out the inequities at the heart of whiteness.’ Gillborn (2005). As a social construction, whiteness has developed, over the past two hundred years which has been taken for granted and is structured upon a varying set of supremacist assumptions. Non-white races in contrast have been denied privileges enjoyed by the white race and therefore seen as marginal and inferior.

Race as a social construct means that other races considered at outside ‘whiteness’ such as the Jews and Irish have been brought into the privileged position of whiteness. ‘One of the most powerful and dangerous aspects of whiteness is that many (possibly the majority) of white people have no awareness of whiteness as a construction, let alone their own role in sustaining and playing out the inequities at the heart of whiteness.’ Gillborn (2005). Whiteness is often seen as the ‘norm’ in society, from schools to the media, whiteness history is taught as the ‘history’ often omitting BME people from history. Over the last 200 years whiteness has developed into a taken for granted set of supremacist assumptions. Non-whiteness in contrast has been marked in society as marginal and inferior and being denied the privileges of normality.

‘Critical race theory (CRT) offers educational researchers a compelling way to view racism in education by centering issues of race and using counter stories to challenge dominant views in both research and practice.’ Bergerson (2003). Whilst researching relevant journal paper regarding CRT, I found that the main bulk of the research has been done by academics in the USA. ‘CRT is emerging as a focus point for work on race in the educational context, although compared to its birthplace in the USA it is in its infancy.’ ‘In some cases there is little different between CRT as practiced in England and the United States (perhaps because of the prevalence of structural racism in both countries) but in other ways the different are evident whether that is to do with different histories or European theoretical inflections.’ Chakrabarty, N., Roberts, L. and Preston, J. (2012).  Chakrabarty et al confirms that CRT was originally developed in the USA and although the CRT practiced in both countries are very similar, however both countries have different racial histories and terminologies.

The USA racial history stems from slavery, then ‘Jim Crow’, then civil rights movement in the 60’s which led to ‘affirmative action’. However, the UK racial history stems from Black Caribbean immigrants been invited to the UK to help build the economy and more recently immigration from Commonwealth countries such as Nigeria and Jamaica. Whilst researching and reading, I noticed that terms used in the USA journal papers were different to the UK journal papers even though they had the same meaning. In the USA the term ‘people of colour’ is referred to in the UK as ‘Black Minority Ethnic’ (BME). Both countries (USA and UK) have range of measures allowed under law which can be lawfully taken to encourage and train people from under-represented groups to help them overcome disadvantages in competing with other applicants. The USA referred to this as ‘affirmative action’ and the UK refers to it as ‘positive action’.

‘The paper presents an empirical analysis of education policy in England that is informed by recent developments in US critical theory. In particular, I draw on ‘whiteness studies’ and the application of CRT.’ Gillborn*, D. (2005). Gillborn is basing his research on CRT on the developments occurring in the USA as CRT research is still in its infancy in the UK.

‘One of the salient differences between the UK and the North America context in which Critical Race Theory (CRT) first emerged is that in the USA black public intellectuals are a long standing, if embattled, feature of national life.’ Warmington (2012) In Warmington’s journal he also confirms that CRT first emerged in the USA and it’s now been applied to the UK via UK academics and researchers. In this journal Warmington applies CRT to a broader context of black British intellectual production. ‘Critical race theory promotes a different perspective on white supremacy than the limited and extreme understandings usually denoted by the term in everyday language.’ Gillborn*, D. (2005)

‘Critical Race Theory (CRT) offers educational researchers a compelling way to view racism in education by centering issues of race and using counter stories to challenge dominant views in both research and practice.’ Bergerson (2003). ‘As a bourgeoning and widely recognised critical-emancipationist program, critical race theory retains its commitment to treating the social construction of race as central to the way that people of colour are ordered and constrained in society.’ Treviño, A., Harris, M. and Wallace, D. (2008). CRT gives educational researchers a powerful way to research racism in education by focusing on issues of race and counter stories to challenge views from the dominant society. It also looks at the social construction of race as how BME people marginalised in society. By focussing on issues of race and challenging the dominant views of society, CRT could improve education policies and outcomes for BME teachers and students.

‘Critical work on race in the US has moved beyond the ‘common-sense’ superficial readings of white supremacy as solely the preserve of obviously extreme racialised politics.’ Gillborn*, D. (2005). Gillborn in his journal claimed that the system of white supremacy permeated into al aspects of mainstream political parties and government departments/agencies including particularly the Department for Education. These parties and agencies are implicated in maintaining and extending the grip of white supremacy in Western capitalist societies.

‘Gillborn, Rollock, Vincent and Ball demonstrate an intersectional approach to CRT through a large-scale study interrogating Black middle-class parents’ experience of racism as it impacts on their children in UK schools.’ Chakrabarty, N., Roberts, L. and Preston, J. (2012). Chakrabarty et al were demonstrating how CRT can be flexible and can be applied intersectional to other issues of race such as classism within the BME population. ‘CRT begins with a number of basic insights. One is that racism is normal, not aberrant in American society. Because racism is an ingrained feature of our landscape, it looks ordinary and natural to persons in the culture.’ Gillborn*, D. (2005). Gillborn applied CRT to work from a critical perspective to explore how the ‘status quo’ English education policy plays an active role in supporting and affirming racist inequities and structures of oppression.

When critically assessing the English education policy, Gillborn decided to ask simple questions to look beyond the superficial rhetoric of policies and practices to focus on race inequality research. Gillborn narrowed it down to three simple questions: Priorities – Who or what is driving education policy?; Beneficiaries – Who wins and who loses as a result of education policy priorities?; Outcomes – What are the effects of policy?

Priorities: Over the last 50 years issues of race and racism have featured differently in education. Over this time race and racism has never been a major feature in education policy and it is often side-lined. There have been measures in education policy which have changed from to time, which were meant to address ethnic diversity. ‘Running to more than 100 pages, the document set out Labour’s proposals for the next five years of education policy. The word ‘racism’ does not appear at all; neither do more sanitized concepts of ‘prejudice’ and ‘discrimination’. In contrast, ‘business’ and ‘businesses’ appear 36 times, ‘standards’ appear on 65 separate occasions: the latter equates to an average reiteration of ‘standards’ once every page and a half.’ Gillborn*, D. (2005). The government is driving education policy however it would seem that the government is driving policy to suit its own agenda. This particularly apparent when the government in 2002 published it’s 5-year plan policy the word ‘racism’ never appeared once in the document however the word ‘business’ appeared 36 times with the word ‘standards’ appearing 65 times. The government would seem to be aware of the ethnic challenges within schools however its not fully invested in making changes to policy to cater for BME teachers and students. I believe that for changes to occur in education policy, it must begin with the government making those changes. CRT could be used to critically assess education policy and the results of the findings could be lobbied forcing the government to amend policies to benefit BME teachers and students.

Beneficiaries: Since the 80’s government education policy has been driven by the assertion that ‘standards’ are too low and must be raised. Standards were measured through quantitative data with SATS exams at the of primary school then with GCSE’s exams at the end of secondary school. Due to government reforms in that schools are judged on the students results, a premium was placed on subjects that count on the school’s league table. ‘However, students of minority ethnic backgrounds have not always shared equally in these gains. In fact, of the five principal ethnic categories monitored continuously since the late 80’s, only one group – whites – have enjoyed consistent year-on-year improvements.’ Gillborn*, D. (2005). Because of education policy priorities, it would seem that white students were the main beneficiary of education reforms. Other minority students from Black and Pakistani ethnic group are behind compared to white students. However, Indian students have generally enjoyed greater success than white students: 72% 5 A*-C’s compared to 55%. Often in the case in the USA, certain minority are held up as ‘model minorities’. Due to the success of Indian students in attaining the higher grades, the government uses Indian students as evidence that the system rewards effort and hat under achievement can have nothing to do with racism.

Outcomes: Due to the pressures of government education policy, schools have responded by ‘getting rid of’ the ‘problem’. ‘There is anecdotal evidence, for example, which suggests that some schools have sought to limit the proportion of minority students they admit and to expel disproportionate numbers of Black students. By their very nature, such practices elude official documentation and scrutiny…’ Gillborn*, D. (2005). Aside from excluding minority students, schools are also using ‘setting by ability’ to separate students into ability teaching groups. The government have advocated ‘setting by ability’ by introducing measures such as ‘gifted and talented’ and allowing specialist schools to be set up.

The problem with this is that certain minority groups as Black students under represented in the special provision for the so-called ‘gifted and talented’. When ‘setting by ability’ white teachers tend to place disproportionate numbers of Black students in low ranked ability groups. ‘We have to ask whether such discriminatory process would be permitted if their victims were white, and especially, middle class whites.’ Gillborn*, D. (2005). In the English education system, the structured system and beliefs encode a deep privileging of White students and the promotion of Black inequity. The greatest beneficiaries of policy are White students and Black students position is no better than it was when the whole education policy reform began in the 80’s.

‘CRT argues that one of the reasons racism persists is that policies and structures built on notions of individual merit and colour-blindness perpetuate the dominance of whites.’ Bergerson, A. (2003). Education policies are often designed to benefit the dominant society often marginalising ethnic minorities. Ethnic minority students are often blamed for the fact they are achieving or progressing rather than blame the policy that favours White students. ‘Significant numbers of white candidates are locked into individualistic and meritocratic view of education. There is a clear sense that if people work hard enough they will overcome the myriad obstacles. There is limited interrogation of the way in which the ideals of meritocracy and individualism are also impacted by social conditions.’ Solomona, R., Portelli, J., Daniel, B. and Campbell, A. (2005). The above although stemming from the USA, can be applied to the UK education policy in that it is often the case if you work hard you would obtain good results. However, the exam results tell a different story in which White student achieve far higher grades than minority students.

‘A priority must be made to increase the number of teacher educators of colour, and an effort also must bee made to recruit more pre-service teachers of colour, including but not exclusive to beginning in high schools in the communities that have been labelled hard to staff.’ Picower, B. (2009). In Picower’s journal paper although USA centred, she suggested recruiting ethic minority teachers into high schools in a way to reduce the effects of race and racism issues in education. I believe this could a very good way as often the ethnic minority teachers tend to better understand the needs of ethnic minority students. In turn would allow ethnic minority students to perform better and achieve higher grades comparable to White students.


In this research paper I have researched the importance of CRT as an education research tool, it’s origins from the USA, how CRT has been applied by scholars such as Gillborn into the UK education system. In his journal paper, Gillborn critically analyse the English education policy as an act of White supremacy using CRT as a critical tool.

‘Critical race theory and critical work on the nature of whiteness offer a potentially important new way of viewing familiar issues with a fresh eye.’ Gillborn*, D. (2005) (White supremacy | Definition of white supremacy in US English by Oxford Dictionaries 2018) The belief that white people are superior to those of all other races, especially the black race, and should therefore dominate society. CRT uses the word ‘White supremacy in a particular way that readers find shocking and it might be useful to add a few words on the question of intentionality. A deliberate intention to discriminate is by no means the only way for an activity or policy to be racist in its consequences.

The government know well and fare that the school performance tables and selection by ‘ability’ is knowing to affect Black student detrimentally however policy makers have decided to ignore this and have placed race equity at the margins – thereby retaining race injustice at the centre. ‘Shaped by long established cultural, economic and historical structures of racial domination, the continued promotion of policies and practices that are known to be racially divisive testifies to a tacit intentionality in the system. The racist outcomes of contemporary policy may not be coldly calculated, but they are far from accidental.’ Gillborn*, D. (2005). Gillborn confirms here that education policy is long established ingrained with historical structures of racial domination which often brings racial intents into policy with unforeseen racist outcomes.

‘Racism is a vast system that structures our institutions and our relationships. Second, racism adapts to socio-cultural changes by altering its expression, but it never diminishes or disappears.’ Vaught, S. and Castagno, A. (2008). Racism will always affect education policy despite government reforms as it structures and underpins the government and educational institutions. Education policies might change; however, the outcomes still carry racial overtones.

In this research paper, I broke down my research into Education policy and CRT into: Priorities – Who or what is driving education policy?; Beneficiaries – Who wins and who loses as a result of education policy priorities?; Outcomes – What are the effects of policy?

To summarise, the government is driving education policy however it would seem that the government is driving policy to suit its own agenda. White students have benefitted from education policy that have marginalised ethnic minority students. The outcomes of education policy are that schools often get rid of the ‘problem’ so it doesn’t affect schools furtherly marginalising ethnic minority students. I believe that CRT is a particularly good tool when critically applied to education policy as it allows a researcher to examine the topic from a very different view point.


Gillborn*, D. (2005) Education policy as an act of white supremacy: whiteness, critical race theory and education reform. Journal of Education Policy, 20 (4), pp. 485-505.

Bergerson, A. (2003) Critical race theory and white racism: Is there room for white scholars in fighting racism in education?. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 16 (1), pp. 51-63.

Chakrabarty, N., Roberts, L. and Preston, J. (2012) Critical Race Theory in England. Race Ethnicity and Education, 15 (1), pp. 1-3.

Gillborn, D. (2006) Critical Race Theory and Education: Racism and anti-racism in educational theory and praxis. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 27 (1), pp. 11-32.

Knaus, C. (2009) Shut up and listen: applied critical race theory in the classroom. Race Ethnicity and Education, 12 (2), pp. 133-154.

Leonardo, Z. (2004) The Color of Supremacy: Beyond the discourse of ‘white privilege’. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 36 (2), pp. 137-152.

Picower, B. (2009) The unexamined Whiteness of teaching: how White teachers maintain and enact dominant racial ideologies. Race Ethnicity and Education, 12 (2), pp. 197-215.

Solomona, R., Portelli, J., Daniel, B. and Campbell, A. (2005) The discourse of denial: how white teacher candidates construct race, racism and ‘white privilege’. Race Ethnicity and Education, 8 (2), pp. 147-169.

Treviño, A., Harris, M. and Wallace, D. (2008) What’s so critical about critical race theory?. Contemporary Justice Review, 11 (1), pp. 7-10.

Vaught, S. and Castagno, A. (2008) “I don’t think I’m a racist”: Critical Race Theory, teacher attitudes, and structural racism. Race Ethnicity and Education, 11 (2), pp. 95-113.

Warmington, P. (2012) ‘A tradition in ceaseless motion’: critical race theory and black British intellectual spaces. Race Ethnicity and Education, 15 (1), pp. 5-21.

White supremacy | Definition of white supremacy in US English by Oxford Dictionaries (2018) [Internet]. Available from [Accessed 1st June 2018].


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