18 Jun 2014

White working-class pupils ‘unseen’ & underperforming

White working-class pupils perform worse in their GCSEs than any other ethnic group. Now a new report from MPs says that a longer school day will help improve their academic results.

Longer school days would give pupils from poorer backgrounds somewhere to do their homework, and could in turn boost their grades, a cross-party group of MPs has suggested.

In a new report, the Commons Education Select Committee said that new guidance is needed on whether to extend school days to help youngsters from disadvantaged communities.

It also said that these pupils need better teachers, and called on the government to look at how to incentivise teachers to disadvantaged schools.

The report came as Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw warned that the gap between white British children from poorer families and those from other ethnic groups must be closed to catch up with the world’s leading nations. He said that poverty should not be used as an “excuse” for under performance.

The gap between those children and their better-off class mates starts in their earliest school years and then widens as they get older Graham Stuart

The MPs report on the under-achievement of white working-class children, said that schools serving poor white communities “need a better chance of winning”.

It warns that these youngsters are falling far behind their classmates and their potential will be left “unlocked” if fast action is not taken to improve their achievement in school.

The proposal for longer working days follows from the fact that white British students from poorer families spend fewer evenings a week doing their homework, and have a higher absence rate from school than many other ethnic groups.

Figures show that just under a third (32 per cent) of white British children from a poorer background got at least five C grades at GCSE, including English and maths last year, compared with 61.5 per cent of children from an equivalent Indian background and 76.8 per cent of children from a socio-economically disadvantaged Chinese background.

Poor white children ‘unseen’

At the same time, the gap in results between poor white children and their richer classmates has hardly changed in the last seven years, the report said, and the attainment of poor children from other ethnic backgrounds is improving faster than that of poor white children.

The report said: “Poor white children in rural and coastal areas have been ‘unseen’ for too long; unless such steps are taken, the potential of white working-class children will be left unlocked, and the effects of the current trend will continue to be felt beyond the school gates.”

The report calls for Ofsted to publish a best practice report on longer school days to give schools advice on how extended hours can help poorer children.

“The current trend towards longer school days presents and opportunity for schools to provide space and time for students from lower socio-economic backgrounds to complete homework, which may particularly benefit white working-class children,” the committee said.

Committee Chairman Graham Stuart said: “We don’t know how much of the under-performance is due to poor attitudes to school, a lack of work ethic or weak parenting. What is certain is that great schools make a significant difference in turning poor children’s education around.

“The problem of poor, white British under-attainment is real and the gap between those children and their better-off class mates starts in their earliest school years and then widens as they get older.”


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