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Inquiry on white disadvantaged pupils launched

17 April 2020

The Education Committee investigates the issues faced by disadvantaged groups, with an initial inquiry into the underachievement of white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Committee's call for written evidence will run alongside the continuing work on how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the education system and the implications for the most vulnerable in society.

This is an initial step in a series of inquiries that the Committee will undertake on the issues faced by disadvantaged and left behind groups and how they can best be supported.

This work will be all the more important given that these groups are likely to be disproportionately impacted by the implications of COVID-19 on education and children's services.

In addition to the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak, the inquiry will focus on the reasons behind the differences in attainment and the impact this has on society. It will also look at what the priorities should be for tackling underachievement.

The Department for Education's 2018 GCSE performance statistics show that while the national average Attainment 8 score is 46.5, white boys who are eligible for free school meals score an average of just 28.5.

The inquiry fits into the Committee's theme of supporting disadvantaged groups and the ladder of opportunity.

Chair's comments

Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Committee, said:

“Everyone's current focus is rightly on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and how we adapt to the challenging new circumstances faced by our dedicated learners of all ages and hardworking teachers and staff.

The outbreak will have a particularly heavy bearing on those from disadvantaged groups. It is therefore vital that we continue to work to ensure they are properly supported and remain absolutely determined that this unprecedented national crisis does not set back efforts in tackling the social injustices faced by too many groups.

There is a worrying trend of white pupils from poorer backgrounds underperforming compared with their peers. Such gaps in learning seriously limit young people's potential to get on in life and more must be done to tackle this very real social injustice.

While our initial focus is on white working class pupils, we will not forget other disadvantaged groups and the Committee will be looking across the board at those being left behind. At this difficult time for families, everything possible must be done to ensure the most disadvantaged children do not fall off the education ladder of opportunity completely.”

Terms of reference

The Committee is  inviting submissions on the following questions:

1. The extent of underachievement for white pupils who are eligible for FSM (free school meals), and how well the DfE's statistics (including Progress 8 measures) capture that

2. The variation within the cohort of white pupils who are eligible for FSM (including regional variation, and variation between the five specific ethnic groups that sit under the broad ‘White' category), and how well the DfE's statistics capture that

3. The principal factors that contribute to this underachievement, with reference to: 

  • The availability and quality of early years provision
  • The role of place (reflecting regional variations)
  • The home learning environment
  • The impact of role models

4. The effects of COVID-19 on this group

5. The impacts of this underachievement, both for individuals and for communities

6. Priorities for the Government in terms of tackling this issue, with reference to:

  • The value of locally-tailored solutions, including youth groups and community organisations
  • The school system

The deadline for submissions Friday 5 June.

The Committee last month launched  an inquiry on the impacts of COVID-19 on education and children's services.

Further information

Image: PA