'Scandal' how white working class kids 'let down and neglected' by education system, damning MPs report finds

Poorer white kids fall behind 'every step of the way', a damning report criticising successive governments has found

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White working class pupils in England have been "let down and neglected" by the education system for decades, the chairman of the Education Select Committee has said in a damning new report.

The new report said it was "nothing short of a scandal", and dismissed what it calls "divisive concepts like 'white privilege' that pit one group against another".

Robert Halfon, who chairs the select committee, said poorer white pupils are falling behind "every step of the way".

He accused the government of "muddled thinking" in failing to target support at the "forgotten" disadvantaged white pupils - who underachieve from early years through to GCSEs, A-levels and university entry.

The proportion of pupils attending state schools in England last week dropped slightly as more children were forced to self-isolate at home, Government figures show. Issue date: Wednesday May 5, 2021.
The proportion of pupils attending state schools in England last week dropped slightly as more children were forced to self-isolate at home, Government figures show. Issue date: Wednesday May 5, 2021.

Committee chairman Robert Halfon said: “For decades now white working-class pupils have been let down and neglected by an education system that condemns them to falling behind their peers every step of the way.

“White working-class pupils underperform significantly compared to other ethnic groups, but there has been muddled thinking from all governments and a lack of attention and care to help these disadvantaged white pupils in towns across our country.

“If the Government is serious about closing the overall attainment gap, then the problems faced by the biggest group of disadvantaged pupils can no longer be swept under the carpet.

“Never again should we lazily put the gap down to poverty alone, given that we know free school meal eligible pupils from other ethnic groups consistently outperform their white British peers.”

Teachers may tend to award higher grades to pupils with positive personality traits, new research has suggested. Issue date: Thursday May 20, 2021.
Teachers may tend to award higher grades to pupils with positive personality traits, new research has suggested. Issue date: Thursday May 20, 2021.

The Tory MP accused the DfE of being “reluctant” to recognise the specific challenges faced by the group and urged it to address the issues.

Mr Halfon added: “We also desperately need to move away from dealing with racial disparity by using divisive concepts like white privilege that pits one group against another. Disadvantaged white children feel anything but privileged when it comes to education.

“Privilege is the very opposite to what disadvantaged white children enjoy or benefit from in an education system which is now leaving far too many behind.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We’re not quite sure why the committee has chosen to enter the debate about the widely discredited report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, and the term ‘white privilege’.

“This does not seem helpful and is likely to divert attention from the rest of the report. “Schools are well aware of their responsibilities and do a very good job in providing opportunities for discussion around issues in a sensitive, balanced and measured way.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “This Government is focused on levelling up opportunity so that no young person is left behind.

“That’s why we are providing the biggest uplift to school funding in a decade – £14 billion over three years – investing in early years education and targeting our ambitious recovery funding, worth £3 billion to date, to support disadvantaged pupils aged two to 19 with their attainment.”

  • What do you think - is the education system letting down white working class kids? Let us know in the comments below