Local difficulties: The problems of poor white children in school

Underachievement is not just an educational problem

Share

The observation that “it is being white that is the problem in schools at the moment” is, perhaps, rather unfortunately phrased. Even more so given that the policy adviser who made the remark has controversial form; Tim Leunig once caused a storm with the recommendation that regeneration efforts be scrapped because many northern cities were “beyond revival”. Notwithstanding the messenger’s communication skills, however, his central message is a sadly accurate one.

Except, of course, that the problem is not all white children; it is white, working-class children – in particular boys. Nor will Dr Leunig’s analysis come as a shock to the educational establishment. Official statistics repeatedly bear out the suggestion that, while children from many ethnic minority groups are steadily improving their performance, white Britons are too often going the other way.

Over the past five years poor white pupils have dropped to the bottom of the educational league, their qualifications advancing at barely half the rate of, say, their Bangladeshi counterparts. And earlier this year David Willetts, the minister for universities, suggested that white, working-class boys should be classed alongside other disadvantaged groups when encouraging applicants to tertiary education.

Attempting to tilt university admissions to redress social imbalances is to be resisted. But there is more to be done to address the question before it arises. Some of Britain’s better inner-city schools, for example, now set half-termly targets for under-performing boys, monitoring their progress and trying to identify and address problems in a systematic way.

Finding mentors and role models, particularly from among schools’ alumni, can also help to inspire children who lack such support from home. Equally, wrenching the education system’s focus away from purely academic achievement is crucial if children of all aptitudes and propensities are to be engaged in their schooling. With the opening of another 12 university technical colleges last month, progress is being made. But a total of 17 institutions offering vocational education to secondary-school-age children is far from enough to ensure access for all.

Ultimately, however, for all that schools can do their bit to counter the under-performance of sub-groups of pupils – of whatever ethnicity – the problem is a social, more than an educational, one. Poverty may be the single most determinant factor in education. But it affects indigenous white children more than their ethnic-minority peers – pointing squarely to cultural factors and family backgrounds of poor schooling, low aspiration and, in the worst cases, multi-generational unemployment. As teachers often note: “There are no problem children, only problem parents.”

Dr Leunig is, then, highlighting a very real issue. But it is a symptom of a much larger problem that schools alone may not be  able to address.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul falls: Talk of Iraq retaking the town, held by IS since June, is unconvincing  

Isis on the run? The US portrayal is very far from the truth

Patrick Cockburn
 

General Election 2015: You’re welcome to join us on the campaign's final straight

Lisa Markwell
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk