News: The Underachievement of ‘White Working Class’

-[pullquote]This is not a gender issue.” Wilshaw[/pullquote]

A cross party UK Parliament Education Committee report describes poor white youngsters as “consistently the lowest performing group in the country – performing much worse than disadvantaged black or Asian pupils – and a “real and persistent” problem.

The report found:

  • white British children eligible for Free School Meals are consistently the lowest performing ethnic group of children from low income households, at all ages (other than small subgroups of white children);
  • the attainment “gap” between those children eligible for free school meals and the remainder is wider for white British and Irish children than for other ethnic groups; and
  • this gap widens as children get older.

The committee also explored factors that may contribute to white working class underachievement including: Family and home; Aspirations and expectations; “Social capital” and advice and guidance; Parental engagement and family learning, and; Parenting skills and language in the home. Interestingly, the report also explored school based factors that may be contributing to the problems, such as curriculum relevance, absences and exclusions, as well as cultural clashes and behaviour.

Wider social issues were also factored into the report with analysis of working class engagement with the “marketization” of education, the “immigrant paradigm”, changing labour markets and the effect on engagement, and genetics.

The report explored Ofsted’s 2008 good practice report–”white boys from low income backgrounds”, however concede that this is not an issue solely related to males, quoting Michael Wilshaw’s comments, “Let me emphasise, this is not a gender issue. Poor, low-income white British girls do very badly. So we should stop talking about “white working class boys” as if they are the only challenge.”

In concluding, the report recommends the following actions to help deal with the issues raised:

  • The Government should act to ensure that FSM data (and any future revised indicator) is made available to post-16 institutions to allow effective monitoring of the progress of this group of young people.
  • The evidence we heard related to how the amount of language and breadth of vocabulary used in the home in the early years varies by socio-economic status. It is not clear whether this is a particular issue in white working class homes as opposed to other ethnic groups. We believe that this issue is critical. Further research in this area is needed, given the importance of oracy to child development.
  • The current trend towards longer school days presents an opportunity for schools to provide space and time for students from lower socio-economic backgrounds to complete homework, which may particularly benefit white working class children. We recommend that Ofsted publish a best practice report on this subject to provide guidance for schools.
  • It is essential that the best teachers and leaders work in the areas that need them the most. The Government should publish an analysis of the incentives that influence where teachers choose to work, and use this to design a system that ensures that the most challenging schools can attract the best teachers and leaders.
  • We agree that there is much that schools can do to address white working class underachievement. Broader societal factors also have an enormous role to play, but this should not deflect attention from the central importance of improving school
    and teaching quality.

The full report is available to read (PDF) by clicking here.

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The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

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