White working-class boys fall further behind

The Times is reporting claims from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in its latest five year report that white working-class boys have slipped farther down the educational ladder.

The report says the gap between poor and middle-class white boys is the biggest for any ethnic group, and suggests that it is not income, but cultural or other factors that are holding them back. It also points out that their GCSE results are poorer than every ethnic group.

The paper looks for insights from several sources with Sir Michael Wilshaw blaming the problem on  “a culture which is often anti-school and anti-learning”.

The Sutton Trust suggests relevant issues include “low parental expectation and a lack of discipline and role models”.

Some figures are given including the fact that only 28.3% of poor white boys on free school meals got five GCSEs at A to C (including maths and English) while 59.1% of other white boys achieve the same (a gap of 31 points). By contrast, for Chinese children, 77% on free school meals hit the benchmark, 78% for the rest. For black and Asian children, the gap was 14 points.

The EHRC report also notes that Pakistani and Bangladeshi children have made particular progress over recent years and is reported as saying it is disappointing that although so many other sources of inequality had been identified and addressed, a new one had emerged.

It is quoted:

“Being poor now has a far more negative impact on the education of white children than it does for any other ethnic group,”

“Poor white boys suffer higher rates of exclusion from school and achieve the lowest academic results, making them less likely to enter higher education and therefore more likely to end up in lower-paid, insecure jobs…”

More at: Poor white boys are bottom of the class (subscription may be required)


UPDATE: Here is a video summary of the report from EHRC and below is the full report to view or download as a pdf:


[pdf-embedder url=”https://4cpa373vsw6v3t1suthjdjgv-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/EHRC_IBF_MainReport_acc.pdf”]


Your reactions to this latest analysis suggesting significant issues with the attainment of white working-class boys in schools?

The figures above only show a snapshot now, but the suggestion is that the situation is also deteriorating – although it is not clear if that is in absolute terms, or relative to improving performance in other groups (the report from the EHRC – Is Britain Fairer? – is not publicly available at the time of writing this). 

Please give us your insights, feedback and suggestions in the comments or via Twitter…


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  1. mrmwardphd

    GarthStahl SchoolsImprove indeed! as our books show, these are historic issues interlinked with acceptable displays of masculinity.

  2. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove The only surprise in this news story is that Michael Wilshaw and the various “think” tanks don’t blame schools or teachers

  3. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove Even though this should be a worry for everyone it will always be difficult to tackle when this “group” refuse to engage

  4. snowdropbooks

    andylutwyche SchoolsImprove the ‘refusal to engage’ response is a big message to service providers. Get it right and contact is good.

  5. snowdropbooks

    SchoolsImprove and exacerbated by not having ‘pushy parents’ who know how to get what their offspring need in terms of SEN interventions

  6. The_Data_Adonis

    SchoolsImprove would be interesting to look at performance of working poor and non working poor before and after tax credit changes

  7. andylutwyche

    snowdropbooks SchoolsImprove Working with the child to get them to engage is a must; a curriculum they can access is important too

  8. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove I’m pretty sure that curriculum changes in recent years and that are to come will worsen this issue significantly

  9. Dai_James1942

    SchoolsImprove How much use is a knowledge of the Causes of the English Civil War to such a boy? #GreatEducationHoax

  10. brighton118

    andylutwyche SchoolsImprove – Was having this exact conversation with a teacher friend of mine yday. One yr BTEC courses in particularU0001f61f

  11. LaCatholicState

    SchoolsImprove More family breakdown and more fatherless families combined with a loss of their Christian Faith and culture. Very sad

  12. The BBC has a fuller and more nuanced take http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/34667100/poor-white-boys-get-a-worse-start-in-life-says-equality-report
    For example, it points out that while ‘poor’ Chinese pupils seem to be doing particularly well, there were only 168 of them which may be too small a sample to come to definite conclusions. 
    BBC quotes an MP’s report which found three possible reasons for the poor achievement of such boys: family and home life; quality of teaching (but only a bit) and a suggestion that newly-arrived immigrants see education as a route out of poverty (implying white boys do not).
    ‘Poor’ white girls do better than white boys – so it can’t all be down to family background as some comments below suggest.

  13. brighton118

    GarthStahl SchoolsImprove mrmwardphd – Had to read Marsden’s book back in 70’s prior to teacher trainng college abt white wkg class boys

  14. Research done in Lambeth, 2010, suggested several reasons for the poor achievement of working-class boys including low parental expectations, marginalisation, poverty, low literacy and language development, curriculum barriers and lack of targeted support.
    Again, this suggests it’s more complex than assigning just one cause.

  15. helentheroberts

    GeoffreyPetty this comes up time and time again in FE STEM departments. More effective practice needs to be shared.

  16. nrcantor

    SchoolsImprove EHRC A symptom has been identified; it’s time to spend real time and effort identifying the cause, & not presupposing it.

  17. enablerbro1

    SchoolsImprove It would be very interesting to read what their families think of education, its purpose and value etc.

  18. LaCatholicState

    SchoolsImprove EHRC The main cause is that which no one dare speak its name….high rate of family breakdown and fatherless families.

  19. Simon Foster

    I feel that in some cases the learning styles, specifically for Kinaesthetic Learners are not catered for within a school setting.

  20. The_Data_Adonis

    peterabarnard SchoolsImprove would think that the non working families have lower attainment than working low income

  21. SchoolsImprovement_Tony Janet2 Thanks.  It’s clear from the report’s conclusion that the report is not just about the poor achievement of ‘poor’ white boys but covers such things as recruitment practices, living conditions, democratic participation and prevention of abuse.

  22. btsback

    snowdropbooks SchoolsImprove 1/2 Agreed. Isn’t that a government issue? All comes down to funding. Schools cut corners due to funding.

  23. snowdropbooks

    btsback SchoolsImprove agreed however in a competitive ‘field’ those who know the system do best… we need to educate parents on systems

  24. btsback

    snowdropbooks SchoolsImprove or make it so that if a child meets a threshold of need they get it and it’s not fudged in house to cut costs

  25. Davis77Alex

    enablerbro1 SchoolsImprove difficult to persuade a child that doing well at school will improve their life if parents don’t see the point

  26. snowdropbooks

    btsback SchoolsImprove the challenge is when pupils are borderline that’s when parental pressure comes into play …

  27. btsback

    snowdropbooks SchoolsImprove The whole system needs reviewing. At one end children getting more. At other end children being let down.

  28. snowdropbooks

    btsback SchoolsImprove the gap gets wider under universal provision …targeted interventions required but ‘unfair’

  29. bluebirdanielle

    SchoolsImprove DadAndTwo I may be biased coming from a poor background, but I’ve never known class to make a difference in intelligence.

  30. DadAndTwo

    bluebirdanielle SchoolsImprove Class has no bearing on intelligence. Access to the Internet & books, a quiet space to study, parental…

  31. DadAndTwo

    bluebirdanielle SchoolsImprove …support & ambition, & many other factors do & they are linked to income/ class. They affect results.

  32. bluebirdanielle

    DadAndTwo this is true, but certainly not in all cases. It just annoys me that “poor people fail” is thrown about all the time.

  33. DadAndTwo

    bluebirdanielle I don’t think that’s how much of it is phrased. Poorer kids on average do less well than their richer peers. If we don’t…

  34. bluebirdanielle

    DadAndTwo if only they would address it though! I don’t disagree, it’s just a subject that makes me prickly

  35. successcvs

    SchoolsImprove poverty is killing good all round education in England, having Tories in charge of things a bit of a disaster as well

  36. Angry_Teacher_

    SchoolsImprove Sadly a belief that stardom, sport & a gangster lifestyle are stronger pulls than education for gaining a step up the ladder

  37. Classcharts

    SchoolsImprove kennygfrederick I am white and was poor as a kid. Did not do well at school. Not the schools fault. Made a success of life.

  38. pauljmartin2009

    SchoolsImprove kennygfrederick How many of them are being taught in secondary moderns in, say, Kent or Lincolnshire?

  39. pauljmartin2009

    SchoolsImprove kennygfrederick How many of them are being taught in secondary moderns in, say, Kent or Lincolnshire?

  40. Dai_James1942

    SchoolsImprove they are the ones to whom the #GreatEducationHoax offers least. Don’t interest suburban progressives because they are white

  41. WendyC116

    SchoolsImprove this isn’t new, simply an unaddressed existing problem. Don’t bring problems, suggest solutions! Work together to solve!

  42. CherylSalmon

    Having worked in many
    schools in disadvantaged areas, it’s pretty obvious to me that:
    a) there are often
    parents who don’t value education and pass on this attitude to their children
    (school is a nuisance, teachers are authority figures to argue with, I can’t be
    bothered to listen to reading/helping with homework etc). This obviously doesn’t help boys do well at school.

    b) boys who don’t have
    regular access to their fathers or an alternative positive male role model are
    often emotionally damaged, leading to behavioural and other learning problems.

    c) parents don’t always
    support their children’s development before they arrive at school. We currently
    have a crisis in speech and language development which affects boys
    disproportionately and large numbers of children on the high functioning autism
    spectrum (Asperger’s syndrome- also affecting boys disproportionately) without
    proper provision in the education system – often exclusion is the response.
    d) we have a crisis in
    young men’s mental health leading to a terrifying suicide rate  – anyone
    see the programme about Professor Green looking into the reasons
    for his father’s suicide? Powerful stuff and very connected to how we
    are failing to meet the needs
    of young men in our society.
    e) we need to recreate
    social means of building self-esteem for boys and men, now that street fighting
    isn’t acceptable. The Haka in New Zealand is one
    powerful example and martial arts is another.

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