28th Jun 2021
A new parliamentary report has said the system has failed white pupils from poor backgrounds, highlighting the stark levels of underachievement in this demographic.
The Education Committee report found that white British pupils eligible for free school meals consistently fell short in educational attainment levels compared with their peers in other ethnic groups.
It added that this trend will need specific targeting by policymakers to reverse the poor performance of “this long-forgotten disadvantaged group”.
Among the findings were that, in 2019, only 18 per cent of white pupils on free school meals achieved Grade 5 in English and Maths, compared with 23 per cent of children of all groups combined who were on free meals.
The university figures were worse, with just 16 per cent of white children on free meals getting into higher education, half the number of black Caribbean pupils.
Committee chair Robert Halfon MP 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.”
He added that the problem has not been addressed yet due to “muddled thinking from all governments and a lack of attention and care to help these disadvantaged white pupils in towns across our country”.
Arguing that the report shows these issues can “no longer be swept under the carpet”, he said the findings show nobody can “lazily” say that poverty is the only factor at play, “given that we know free school meal eligible pupils from other ethnic groups consistently out-perform their white British peers”.
However, the report saw a major split down party lines over the use of the term ‘white privilege’. Commonly deployed by proponents of critical race theory, it make assumptions that white people have inherent advantages over people of minority ethnic groups, a view the report said was divisive and also an impediment to action to tackle the real disadvantages working class white pupils face.
While Mr Halfon and other Conservatives on the committee backed this view and called for government funding to be withheld from organisations using the term ‘white privilege’, Labour members claimed this was a “culture war” move aimed at shoring up Conservative support among white working class voters in former ‘red wall’ seats that have switched allegiance.
Instead, Labour members argued, the real problems were caused by “lack of investment” in schools and communities by Conservative governments.
However, the report also focused on other underlying causes of poor white pupil underachievement. These included generational issues of parents with poor achievement and levels of educational understanding themselves, a lack of jobs and a shortage of community assets such as public facilities and transport.
Aside from questions about how racial disparities are discussed, the report suggested family hubs to get parents more involved in teaching their children, using the pupil premium to direct more support, and increased vocational education.
The concept of ‘white privilege’ was first devised by American academic Peggy McIntosh in 1988, who argued there were numerous advantages she enjoyed as a direct result of her skin colour.
Her ideas have been backed by many racial justice campaigners, but critics have argued the concept is flawed, regarding the notion as oversimplified and inaccurate.
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