White British school children 'worst hit' by poverty

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The Independent Online

Poverty has a far greater influence on the performance of white British pupils at school than any other ethnic group, according to research published today.

Figures show a 31 percentage point gap between rich and poor white British pupils obtaining five A* to C grade passes at GCSE compared with just five percentage points for Chinese pupils and seven percentage points for Bangladeshi youngsters.

The findings will be unveiled at the British Educational Research Association conference at Warwick University later this morning.

The reasons, according to the report’s author Professor Steve Strand, are twofold: *better off white families often have more money to lavish on their children’s education.

*immigrant families - particularly from Portugal, Pakistan or Bangladesh – are more likely to see education as a route out of the poverty trap.

“White families of high socio-economic status have more resources to be able to invest in education, such as buying tutors for their children, and they might be a bit more savvy about ensuring that their children go to schools with similar pupils and good results,” he said.

“In terms of low socio-economic status, more recent immigrant groups such as the Portuguese, Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities often see education as the way out of the poverty they have come from.

“By contrast, if you’ve been in a white working class family for three generations, with high unemployment, you don’t necessarily believe education is going to change that.

“All of these factors may combine to make the effect of socio-economic status remarkably strong for white British kids.”

The picture is the same amongst different ethnic groups in national curriculum tests for 11-year-olds. While white British pupils from well-off families were the top performing group at age 11, those eligible for free school meals had among the worst results.

The figures showed 62.8 per cent of better off white youngsters got five A* to C grade passes at GCSE whereas only 30.9 per cent of those on free school meals did.

For Chinese pupils, the figures were 83.8 per cent and 79.1 per cent respectively.

Meanwhile, Brighton and Hove Council’s controversial plan to adopt a lottery system for school admissions has had little impact in getting more disadvantaged youngsters into its top performing secondary schools, according to a separate study to be published at the conference.

Under the new system, parents go into a lottery to determine places if they live in the catchment area of the school, Previously, admissions were based on proximity to the school.

“The main lesson of our analysis is that the introduction of a lottery on its own is not enough to equalise access to the high performing popular schools,” said Rebecca Allen, of London University’s Institute of Education, which helped carry out the research.

The reason is that the catchment areas surrounding the top performing schools still attract better off parents.