White working-class children are being left behind by the school system, face a lifetime of economic disadvantage and will be hit hardest by the coronavirus crisis, new research reveals.
However, help to raise educational standards is often targeted at ethnically diverse areas and pupils from minority backgrounds – further stacking the cards against poor white boys and girls, academics said.
One Oxford University don said the plight of working-class white children was seen as ‘unfashionable’ and ‘not worthy’. And he suggested that even raising the issue was ‘taboo’, particularly in academic circles, as it was associated with ‘hard-Right political thinking’.
The research, submitted to the Commons Education Select Committee, reveals that white pupils eligible for free school meals are half as likely as their peers from poor ethnic minority backgrounds to achieve strong passes in the eight GCSEs used in school league tables. They are also more likely to attend a failing school and live in struggling communities in the North and Midlands.
Lee Elliot Major, professor of social mobility at Exeter University, warned MPs that these pupils will suffer most from the effects of the pandemic and face ‘permanent educational and economic scarring’.
Despite the weight of evidence highlighting this group as the underdogs of the school system, schemes to raise standards often overlook them.
Researchers at Plymouth University cited a Government-backed tuition pilot targeted at large cities with diverse populations, and charity rules which demand a percentage of participants from ethnic minorities.
They say such schemes effectively exclude predominantly white areas, such as deprived coastal towns. Dr Alex Gibson, senior research fellow at Plymouth, told The Mail on Sunday the lack of help for white working-class children might be explained, in part, by ‘a wish to be colour-blind’ .
Professor Peter Edwards, head of inorganic chemistry at Oxford, said the research left ‘no question whatsoever’ that white working-class children, and boys in particular, were being failed.
‘The plight of white young disadvantaged children is being largely ignored,’ he said. ‘It is still a taboo subject in many areas where it must be addressed.
‘The economic shock of the Covid crisis – and potentially the emerging Brexit situation – brings an urgent need for new thinking and new actions.’
He added that the progressive mantra that being white confers ‘inherent advantage or privilege’ had contributed to poor white British boys being at the bottom of the educational heap.