White working class children have consistently underachieved and a group of MPs say that is a result of years of government neglect - ITV News Correspondent Dan Rivers has the details of the report
Terms such as "white privilege" may have contributed towards a “systemic neglect” of white working-class pupils in the education system, a Commons committee has found.
MPs on the Education Select Committee said schools must consider the implication of such "politically controversial terminology" and find "a better way to talk about racial disparities", consistent with their duties under the Equality Act 2010.
The committee agreed with the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities that discourse around the term “white privilege” can be “divisive”.
Chair of the committee Robert Halfon warned poorer white pupils are falling behind "every step of the way".
Disadvantaged white pupils have been badly let down by “muddled” policy thinking and the Department for Education (DfE) has failed to acknowledge the extent of the problem, the MPs said in a report.
The MPs made a series of recommendations to improve white working-class pupils’ outcomes, including finding “a better way to talk about racial disparities” to avoid pitting different groups against each other.
The report highlights that 47% of free school meal-eligible (FSM) white British pupils did not meet the expected standard of development at the end of the early years foundation stage in 2018/19 – around 28,000 children.
In 2019, just 17.7% of FSM-eligible white British pupils achieved at least a strong pass (grade 5 or above) in English and maths at GCSE, compared with 22.5% of all FSM-eligible pupils. This equates to nearly 39,000 pupils.
The committee said they found these disparities particularly striking because white people are the ethnic majority in the country – and yet FSM-eligible white British pupils are the largest disadvantaged group.
During its inquiry, MPs heard of many factors which combine to put white poorer pupils at a disadvantage, but they rejected the DfE’s claim that the gap can be attributed to poverty alone.
The report had said a strong network of family hubs should be introduced across the country to boost parental engagement and mitigate the effects of multi-generational disadvantage.
It also added that funding needs to be tailor-made at a local level, initiatives should focus on attracting good teachers to challenging areas, and vocational and apprenticeship opportunities should be promoted.
Chair Mr Halfon 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.
“White working-class pupils under-perform significantly compared to other ethnic groups, but there has been muddled thinking from all governments and a lack of attention and care to help these disadvantaged white pupils in towns across our country.
“If the government is serious about closing the overall attainment gap, then the problems faced by the biggest group of disadvantaged pupils can no longer be swept under the carpet.
The Tory MP accused the DfE of being “reluctant” to recognise the specific challenges faced by the group and urged it to address the issues.
Mr Halfon said the term 'white privilege' was "wrong headed" and "says there is collective guilt among the white community when there should be individual responsibility for racist acts."
He told ITV News: "I’m from a Jewish background, I’m the son of an immigrant to this country - I know all about racism and anti-semitism.
"But the concept of white privilege is wrong, it is wrong for a number of reasons.
Robert Halfon says the term is "wrong-headed":
"It’s wrong-headed because what it does is it says there is collective guilt among the white community when there should be individual responsibility for racist acts.
"It’s wrong because it tells a white disadvantaged family that they are white privileged even though they may come from a very poor background and may be struggling.
"And it’s wrong because, as all the statistics show, white working class boys and girls underperform in the education system compared to most other groups who are on school meals."
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “This government is focused on levelling up opportunity so that no young person is left behind.
“That’s why we are providing the biggest uplift to school funding in a decade – £14 billion over three years – investing in early years education and targeting our ambitious recovery funding, worth £3 billion to date, to support disadvantaged pupils aged two to 19 with their attainment”.
However, not all MPs on the committee agreed with the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities that discourse around the term “white privilege” can be “divisive”.
Labour MPs within it refused to back the report, instead proposing an alternative version which was voted down by the Conservative majority.
"To make recommendations which pit different groups within our multi-ethnic working class against each other in a struggle for meagre resources is to do an injustice to our most disadvantaged children, including specifically White communities that have been ‘left behind’", the Labour MPs said.
"Instead, we must engage with the evidence, which demonstrates clearly that systemic underinvestment and multi-generational deprivation are the primary drivers of educational under-attainment in left-behind communities—where the majority of the White working class reside".
When asked, Labour Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds wouldn't be drawn on whether he agreed with that 'white privilege' was a problematic term.
Nick Thomas-Symonds says the government risks "losing a generation of children":
He told ITV News: "There are deep factors here at play.
"I know from my own constituency about those factors it is about things like poverty, it’s about what expectations are and sometimes expectations are too low.
"These are things we have to tackle but we also have to deal with this urgent issue of the pandemic."
He said the Welsh Labour government was spending more on its school catch up programme, adding if the UK government did not “turn its attention to that…they risk losing a generation of children."
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the committee's comments were not "helpful" and "likely to divert attention from the rest of the report".
“We’re not quite sure why the committee has chosen to enter the debate about the widely discredited report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, and the term ‘white privilege’," he said.
Adding: “Schools are well aware of their responsibilities and do a very good job in providing opportunities for discussion around issues in a sensitive, balanced and measured way”.
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