Underachievement in Education by White Working Class Children - Education Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations


1.  Statements relating to the underachievement in education of white working class pupils often use eligibility for free school meals as a proxy for working class. Entitlement to FSM is not synonymous with working class, but it is a useful proxy for poverty which itself has an association with educational underachievement. (Paragraph 15)

Trends over time

2.  Overall, the evidence from analysing free school meals (FSM) data is that:

·  white British children eligible for FSM are consistently the lowest performing ethnic group of children from low income households, at all ages (other than small subgroups of white children);

·  the attainment "gap" between those children eligible for free school meals and the remainder is wider for white British and Irish children than for other ethnic groups; and

·  this gap widens as children get older. (Paragraph 30)

The general link between economic deprivation and educational achievement

3.  Measures of economic deprivation and socio-economic status both suggest that white "working class" children are underachieving, and that the performance of some other ethnic groups is improving faster. But they also show that similar problems persist in a number of other minority groups. (Paragraph 34)

4.  Some other ethnic groups appear to be more resilient than white British children to the effects of poverty, deprivation and low-socio-economic status on educational achievement. Further work is needed to understand why this is the case. The Government should commission a project to assess why some ethnic groups are improving faster than white British children, and what can be learned from steps taken specifically to improve the achievement of ethnic minorities. This research should include, but not be limited to, the effects of historic funding and strategies, parental expectations, community resilience and access to good schools. (Paragraph 35)


5.  The problem of white "working class" underachievement is not specific to boys; attention to both sexes is needed. (Paragraph 37)

Data quality and availability

6.  Data relating to combinations of ethnicity and free school meals status is not always readily available in Government statistical releases. The Government should ensure that data relating to white FSM children is included in its statistical reports. (Paragraph 40)

7.  The Government should consider how data from a range of Departments can be combined in future to develop a more rounded indicator of a child's socio-economic status than FSM eligibility alone can provide for the purposes of targeting intervention. (Paragraph 41)

8.  The Government should act to ensure that FSM data (and any future revised indicator) is made available to post-16 institutions to allow effective monitoring of the progress of this group of young people. (Paragraph 43)

Will school improvement alone close the gap?

9.  Twice the proportion of poor children attending an outstanding school will leave with five good GCSEs when compared with the lowest rated schools, whereas the proportion of non-FSM children achieving this benchmark in outstanding schools is only 1.5 times greater than in those rated as inadequate. (Paragraph 47)

Parenting skills and language in the home

10.  The evidence we heard related to how the amount of language and breadth of vocabulary used in the home in the early years varies by socio-economic status. It is not clear whether this is a particular issue in white working class homes as opposed to other ethnic groups. We believe that this issue is critical. Further research in this area is needed, given the importance of oracy to child development. (Paragraph 63)

Absences and exclusions

11.  We welcome the reduction of the school absence rate in recent years. The Government must continue to focus on encouraging reduced absence from school. (Paragraph 68)

"Closing the gap"

12.  We welcome the introduction of the pupil premium and the recent announcement of its extension to early years. The Government should continue to monitor the impact of this policy. (Paragraph 85)

13.  We welcome Ofsted's 2013 report on the use of the pupil premium and recommend that a similar report be produced annually to highlight how effective schools are in using this money, focusing on the impact and highlighting case studies of schools where the greatest progress is being achieved. (Paragraph 87)

14.  We welcome the Minister's willingness to investigate whether other measures of disadvantage may be more appropriate for allocating disadvantage funding and tracking the performance of disadvantaged groups. The Government should move quickly to do this. (Paragraph 90)

15.  We see the EEF Toolkit as a positive development which will help schools to make informed decisions about how to make best use of pupil premium funding. This will be particularly important to support the roll-out of the pupil premium to early years settings. (Paragraph 92)

Tackling regional variation

16.  The improvements in London's educational performance suggest that the problem of white working class underachievement in education can be tackled. In determining future policy in this area the Government must carefully assess what positive impact the London Challenge may have had and what its key features were. (Paragraph 99)

17.  Given the changing distribution of educational underachievement across the country, the Government must develop a new funding formula for schools which better matches allocation with need. (Paragraph 103)

Best practice in schools

18.  We welcome Ofsted's recent focus on the issue of economically deprived white children underachieving in education, and its 2008 report on good practice in this area. We recommend that this continues to be a focus for Ofsted, and that an updated good practice report is produced. (Paragraph 105)

19.  The current trend towards longer school days presents an 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. We recommend that Ofsted publish a best practice report on this subject to provide guidance for schools. (Paragraph 109)

20.  Good leadership and school cooperation are critical to school improvement. We warmly welcome the Minister's commitment to encouraging system leadership and look forward to examining the Government's proposals in due course. (Paragraph 112)

Deployment of teachers

21.  It is essential that the best teachers and leaders work in the areas that need them the most. The Government should publish an analysis of the incentives that influence where teachers choose to work, and use this to design a system that ensures that the most challenging schools can attract the best teachers and leaders. (Paragraph 120)

22.  We welcome the Government's plans to enable the analysis of data on teacher mobility, and where newly qualified teachers choose to work; this will allow for better monitoring of the effects of incentives in the system. (Paragraph 122)

Parental engagement

23.  We recommend once again that the Government commission research into what kind of engagement with parents in their children's learning makes the difference in narrowing the gap between the most economically disadvantaged children and their better-off peers, and in particular, identify from specific schools and local authorities examples of best practice that could be shared more widely. (Paragraph 129)

Aligning social and education policies

24.  We agree that there is much that schools can do to address white working class underachievement. Broader societal factors also have an enormous role to play, but this should not deflect attention from the central importance of improving school and teaching quality. (Paragraph 141)

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