Teachers in call to aid white working class

Poverty as important as race in tackling poor exam performance, says union

Teachers' leaders are today calling for a new government grant to help white working class children lift themselves from the bottom of the heap when it comes to exam performance.

The call comes in a report by the National Union of Teachers (NUT), which recognises that class is just as important as race in tackling poor exam performance, and has a bigger impact than gender.

The report, entitled Opening Locked Doors, concludes: "While white working class children are not the only underachieving group, they are the largest in number and by many criteria the greatest under-achievers. Thirty years ago a 14 or 15-year-old working class young person could walk out of school and into a decent working class job. That is no longer the case."

The report warns that the education system cannot ignore the plight of white working class children, in case they become prey to far right groups such as the British National Party.

It singles out the Government's new directive to schools making them responsible for promoting community cohesion – saying that this must include the history of the white working class as well as that of ethnic minority groups. In the past, schools have interpreted the new responsibility as meaning that they must put stress of the history of black and Asian migrants in the UK.

The union's recommendations also coincide with a speech made last week by Communities Secretary John Denham, who said that class could be a greater barrier to equality than race.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, said: "Social class has the greatest effect on educational achievement. All over the country, job loss through the collapse of manufacturing has caused problems for working class communities. The NUT is determined that those communities should not be prey to the poisonous attentions of racists and far right parties."

Figures cited in the report show the gap in performance between working class and more affluent pupils is three times as wide as the gender gap in schools.

Children on free school meals are 28 percentage points behind when it comes to obtaining five A to C grade passes at GCSE. Boys are just 9 points behind girls but the gender gap has been the focus of far more attention.

What is needed is a new, ringfenced grant to offer help to all groups of young people needing intensive support "including white working class young people", the report concludes.

However, it argues against any cuts to existing funding for ethnic minority groups, saying that the effect of social class on education for children of all ethnicities "remains a neglected topic".