We need to talk about white low-income pupils

Cast your mind back 18 months ago to July 2016, to Theresa May’s first speech as Prime Minister. In setting out her priorities for government and personal mission to tackle our country’s deep seated social mobility problem – she highlighted one shocking stat: “If you’re a white, working-class boy, you’re less likely than anybody else in Britain to go to university.” Russell Hobby, chief executive of education charity Teach First reports in the Huffington Post

And while last week’s GCSE data showed some small improvements in results for poorer pupils, the figures shone more light on the struggles of the white pupils from low-income communities.

This year is the first time pupils with English as an additional language (EAL) did better than native speakers on every measure reported by the Department for Education. For those pupils on free school meals – generally used as an indicator of poverty – white boys had the lowest Attainment 8 scores, a new measure of GCSE success, of any ethnic group.

It is important to state here that above all else, the inequality in our education system is to do with family income. The attainment gap between pupils on free schools meals and their peers is 13 points. This compares to just half a point for the attainment gap between pupils with English as Additional Language (EAL) and their peers, for example. 

What’s behind this trend of poor, white pupils falling behind? In the second half of the last century, white working class families typically moved from poor quality housing in inner cities and onto estates on the edge of cities or smaller towns.

At the same time, the government’s focus and resources were directed at improving education within inner cities that were becoming more and more diverse. It was right to do so– these areas had the greatest levels of poverty and deprivation in the country, and inner-city children were being let down an inadequate school system.

Our research repeatedly tells us that young people from poorer backgrounds have the same aspirations and dreams as their richer peers. But often it’s much harder for a young person growing up in somewhere like Hastings, Blackpool or Fenland to plot a path to success and realise those dreams.

There needs to be more support for careers education, so pupils can make decisions about their future. And while not everyone wants to go to university, we also need our elite institutions to look at the effectiveness of the vast sums of money they’re spending – £725 million in the academic year 2015-16 alone – on improving access from underrepresented communities.

Read the full article We need to talk about white low-income pupils

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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