London Metropolitan University Research Institutes


British Chinese pupils' construction of education, gender and post-16 pathways

Funded by:

the ESRC (R000239585)


June 2002 - June 2004

This study sought to explore British-Chinese pupilsí constructions of gender and education in the context of the debate on gender and achievement. It was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (R000239585), running from June 2002-June 2004.

Pupils of Chinese origin stand out prominently as achieving within the British education system. While concerns have been raised regarding the GCSE performance of particular groups of boys, boys of Chinese origin continue to match the educational performance of their female counterparts. However, the Chinese experience of British education, and the possible reasons for (and costs of) their success have not been systematically examined. This study addresses that gap.


Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 80 Year 10 and 11 British-Chinese pupils, drawn from a diverse sample of London schools. 30 parents and 30 teachers of these pupils were also interviewed. Interview responses were analysed according to gender, constructions of Chinese ethnic identity, social class and ability. The research sought to make a theoretical contribution in the area of gender and ethnic identity construction, and applied the findings from the study to the issue of achievement, hence extending the debate on the impact of such constructions of identity on achievement at school.

Summary of significant findings:

  1. All British Chinese pupils and parents strongly valued education. This valuing was constructed through a cultural (and gendered) lens and formed an important cornerstone supporting educational success. Both parents and pupils constructed ëvaluing educationí as a Chinese cultural discourse and a specific aspect of British Chinese identity (Archer & Francis, under review). Pupils were more likely to value education for instrumental reasons than were parents (Francis & Archer, in press).
  2. Both parents and pupils expressed high educational and occupational aspirations for British Chinese pupils and these were found independently of social class, ability or gender. British Chinese pupils’ aspirations were broader than is often assumed by popular stereotypes (Francis & Archer under revision)
  3. The construction and deployment of family capital was a key driver of British Chinese pupilsí educational success as families mobilised personal, social, economic and cultural resources to support and promote their childrenís achievement (Archer & Francis, under review). But achievement often came at a cost (Archer & Francis, forthcoming, Archer & Francis working paper).
  4. The boys’ underachievement debate appears to be filtering into British Chinese boys’ and girlsí perceptions of gender and ability (Francis & Archer, forthcoming).
  5. British Chinese pupils’ subject preferences differ markedly from research with ethnically diverse groups: e.g. British Chinese pupils expressed a clear preference for maths and British Chinese boys liked PE less than other boys (Francis & Archer, under review).
  6. Pupils and teachers differed in whether they regarded Chinese boys as ’laddish‘. Pupils felt the propensity for laddishness applied equally to all ethnic groups, but was manifested in a ’milder‘ form among British Chinese boys (Francis & Archer. forthcoming). However teachers felt either that British Chinese boys are immune from laddishness or they distinguished between the majority of ’normal‘ (unladdish) British Chinese boys and ‘really bad’ minority (Archer & Francis, forthcoming).
  7. Most of our sample described themselves as ‘good pupils’, but girls were particularly likely to regard themselves positively (81%) compared to boys (53%) (Francis & Archer, ref).
  8. Teachers expressed narrow views on British Chinese pupils, positioning them in negative ways, despite ostensibly praising their high achievement (Archer & Francis, forthcoming). British Chinese pupils felt negatively pressurised and stereotyped by teachers’ and peers’ seemingly ’positive‘ assumptions about their abilities and achievement (Archer & Francis, working paper).
  9. Racism was an everyday experience for almost all of the British Chinese pupils but this was often not identified or challenged by schools.
  10. The majority of teachers assumed that Chinese parents are satisfied with their children’s schooling, but parents were often highly critical.


Project Team:

Becky Francis
Louise Archer


Becky Francis -


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