Friday, June 22, 2007

The 'lost boys' of the white working class

As a group, white working class boys are falling further behind their black and Asian classmates in public examinations. White British boys from poor families perform worse at GCSE than almost any other racial group. Official figures show that only 24% of those entitled to free school meals gained five or more good GCSEs last year, compared with 65% of the poorest Chinese boys and 48% of poor Indian and Bangladeshi boys.

The figures come as research by Manchester University and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation confirms that poor white pupils are losing out in the battle for funding. The Manchester University research centred on a detailed case study in an unnamed, deprived inner-city, which received a "disproportionate" level of funding to tackle inequality. Money was being targeted at pupils with English as an additional language, but "white learners from highly disadvantaged backgrounds were reportedly often overlooked", the report said. One local authority officer told researchers that other much more disadvantaged white areas were losing out because, "white poverty and underachievement aren't as headline grabbing or sexy".

In the past three years, the proportion of poor white British boys attaining top-grade GCSEs has risen by 7% yet the proportion of impoverished boys from other ethnic groups reaching the same target has risen faster. For example, the number of poor Bangladeshi boys achieving five top grades rose by more than 12% while for Pakistani boys results rose by almost 10%. Black Caribbean and black African boys improved their scores by more than 9%. The Manchester research revealed that poor white children may also be losing out because they are not playing the admissions system. "A trend found especially in white working-class areas was for parents to send their children to the local school, even where it had been branded a 'failing' school," the report said.

What is striking, looking at the figures, is the fact that this is not just about being poor. While poverty makes little difference to the achievements at school of some groups, it makes a huge difference to white British children - and particularly to boys. One reason for the recent growth in support for the British National Party in some parts of the country has been its ability to respond to and exploit genuine local grievances. They often have success on the "forgotten" white areas, where people feel no one is listening to them. It is also true to say that the BNP often finds support in a context of significant problems: high unemployment, deprivation, lack of educational achievement, high crime rates, drugs, and people of different ethnic backgrounds living apparently separate lives which encourages the growth of myths and rumour

The BNP tactic will be to use this information to focus on people who traditionally have voted Labour and in many cases feel neglected by this government. Many of these people feel that they have only two places they can go. One is not to vote, the other is to vote for the far right.


JRD168 said...

There must be an element of lack of aspiration here. How "we": teachers, government, whoever, bring that back is a profound worry to me. There are pockets of high second or third generation unemployment, crime, deprivation etc which you mention. Unfortunatly, some of this is obvious in predominatly white areas.

The boys feel that there is no point in education. Their parents look for someone to blame and the BNP step in and take advantage.

It can be beaten, but it's going to take a hell of a lot of work. Jon Cruddas (again!) has the right idea on a lot of this. Let us hope the Labour leadership begin to take it on board.

Mike Ion said...

I have an piece on the Progress website that takes the issue further and suggests some ideas as a possible way forward. I would be interested in your views.