Why are schools failing white working class children?

  • @LucyH_J

A report from the Commons education select committee has said that there is a ‘real and persistent problem’ with white working class children performing less well at school that their counterparts from any other ethnic group. Just 32 per cent of poor white British children obtain five A* to C grades, compared to 42 per cent of Black Caribbean children eligible for free school meals and 61 per cent of disadvantaged Indian children.

A debate on London Live today looked at why:


The biggest risk to a child’s education performance is the experience their parents had at school. Many white working class parents who didn’t enjoy school are not just anti-education, but absolutely disengaged with their child’s academic life. Children find that to survive they have to be one person at school and another at home.  Immigrants, some of whom are here as refugees, see their child’s education as a route to a better life, and tend to be far more supportive and involved.  


If a child comes from an unsupportive home, with nowhere that they can do their school work, then their education suffers. Schools should be open for longer after lessons end each day.


London tends to attract better teachers, and this is where migrant populations tend to concentrate. Schools in rural and coastal areas aren’t familiar with how to deal with underachievement, and the children aren't getting the help that they need.


Struggling schools fail to attract the best teachers, mainly because of performance related pay. If you can get paid more for an easier job at a better school, why wouldn’t you take it? This is a self-perpetuating cycle. Teachers often have low expectations of student from socially deprived backgrounds. 


Children often don’t understand how their grades at GCSE will impact the rest of their lives and earning potential, so fail to properly engage. They need better mentors. Even if parents want to help their children, many simply don’t know how. Often what a child needs is better support and confidence, which can come from other areas of school life – like sport, art and music. Schools need to do more to encourage this.