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Poor white British boys and girls educationally underperforming

18 June 2014

The Education Committee publishes its report on Underachievement of White Working Class Children.

Poor white British boys and girls are educationally underperforming – but great schools have transformative effect.

Good schools and teachers can make a huge difference to the academic achievement of children eligible for free school meals, MPs argue in their latest report.

Chair's comments

Launching its report, Underachievement in Education by White Working Class Children, the Chair of the Education Committee, Mr Graham Stuart said today:

“Poor white British children now come out of our schools with worse qualifications than equally poor children in any other major ethnic group. They do less homework and are more likely to miss school than other groups. We don’t know how much of the under performance is due to poor attitudes to school, a lack of work ethic or weak parenting. What is certain is that great schools make a significant difference in turning poor children’s education around.

“The problem of poor, white British under attainment is real and the gap between those children and their better off class mates starts in their earliest school years and then widens as they get older.

“However we also know that the effect of attending an outstanding school is transformational for poor children because it doubles their chance of success at GCSE.”

MPs also found that:

  • Good schools greatly benefit disadvantaged children: Twice the proportion of poor children attending an "outstanding" school will achieve five good GCSEs when compared with what the same group will achieve in "inadequate" schools. In contrast, the proportion of non-FSM children achieving this benchmark in "outstanding" schools is only 1.5 times greater than for equivalent peers attending schools that are rated as "inadequate".
  • The problem of white “working class” underachievement is not specific to boys; while girls generally do better than boys poor, white, British girls are the lowest performing major ethnic group.
  • Just 32% of poor white British children achieve five good GCSEs including English and mathematics, compared with 42% of black Caribbean children eligible for free school meals and 61% of disadvantaged Indian children.
  • The attainment of poor children from other ethnic backgrounds is improving faster than the attainment of poor white children.
  • The achievement gap between white British children eligible for free school meals and their better-off white British peers has barely changed over the last 7 years, and this gap is larger for white British children than in any other ethnic group.
  • White British students with lower socio-economic status spend fewer evenings per week completing homework than peers from other ethnic backgrounds.
  • White British students who are eligible for free school meals have a higher rate of absence from school than other major ethnic groups.

Maintain recent focus

The Committee calls on Ofsted to maintain its recent focus on economically deprived white children, to update its guidance on good practice in this area, and to produce an annual report on how the Pupil Premium is being used. In particular, MPs recommend that guidance for schools is needed on how an extended school day could be used to provide space and time for children to complete homework, given that some pupils may not have this at home.

Meanwhile, more work is needed to understand what interventions can be most effective in improving parental engagement, early language stimulus and other home based conditions which can set children up to succeed in school and in life.

Socio-economic status

Eligibility for free school meals is commonly used as a measure of disadvantage, but there are many children just outside this group whose performance is also low. The Committee calls on the Government to look at how data from a range of Departments could be combined to develop a more rounded indicator of child socio-economic status for use when targeting intervention. Action is also required better to understand why some ethnic minorities appear to be more resilient to the effects of poverty on educational achievement.

The Government should also 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.

Further information