Writing in the Mail, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown offers her insights into the problem with white working class children and how, she believes, learning about aspiration from immigrant families is the answer…
…I am an immigrant — born into the Asian community in Uganda — whose two children have done as well as I wished for them and better. But I am not gloating or triumphant.
As someone of the Left, I find this research data on ethnicity and achievement depressing and troubling.
Of course, poverty is a major factor in how well a child does at school — not eating properly, for example, affects concentration.
But, as Sir Michael emphasises, non-white families still seem able to get their children to strive and get good results.
Many highly successful black and Asian pupils from modest backgrounds who attended large comprehensive schools have gone on to make the very best of what was on offer.
The truth is that aspiration lifted them, made them fly.
Steve McQueen, the director of 12 Years A Slave that won a Best Picture Oscar, for example, went to Drayton Manor High, close to where I live in west London.
I know several high-achieving Caribbean men and women whose single mums taught them to work hard and be the best.
Ten years ago, Bangladeshis were near the bottom of the educational achievements list, yet now the children of waiters and takeaway owners from that community are entering Oxbridge and Parliament.
When I was young, my family was economically insecure, dysfunctional and unhappy. My mother was determined I would have a better, brighter life than she’d had.
‘Education,’ she used to say, ‘is a passport. Sometimes you cannot carry your money and possessions with you if you have to move to another country. But nobody can steal what you know, your exam results, your qualifications.’
Although her English wasn’t good, my mother would often turn up at my school in Kampala, Uganda, to talk to teachers about how I was doing, and discuss my best and worst subjects.
I was useless at maths and physics, so she got me extra lessons and paid for them by sewing shirts and dresses for teachers of those subjects.
Of course it was embarrassing, but I know her fervour drove me. That same spirit of aspiration and hard work is evident here, in Britain.
About ten years ago, a neighbour, a mother of Pakistani origin, begged me to teach her and her son English in the evenings.
In exchange, she made me lovely food and even offered to clean my house — an offer I declined.
She was a fast learner and her son, Akil, is now studying for a degree in medicine.
We migrants are these days resented by many in this country, but as Sir Michael says, we have much to offer this nation.
I have mentored white working-class children whose families had no faith at all in education. They simply didn’t see the point. I can’t understand this indifference, this apparent inability to understand how learning — rather than becoming a celebrity or winning the Lottery — paves the way to a better life…
I have another — more radical — suggestion. As most migrants have a very strong work ethic, ambition and faith in education, we should arrange for white working-class children to live with such families during holidays…
More at: I’ll show you how to teach white working class kids! The irony is devastating. Immigrant YASMIN ALIBHAI-BROWN reveals how Asian values could prevent indigenous British children coming bottom of the class
This under-performance of white working class children is fascinating because the reason must surely come down to attitudes and values rather than anything else because factors such as poverty, schools attended and teaching received apply across all ethnic groups. Is Yasmin Alibhai-Brown therefore right to suggest it is a fundamental lack of faith in education that is causing the problems? If so, how can such a culture be challenged and changed? Please give your thoughts and feedback in the comments or via Twitter…