131.We believe it is possible to reconcile the Department’s justified insistence on a rigorous education for all with the need to ensure that quality and rigour are suited to the abilities and interests of all pupils. This is already the practice in countries such as Switzerland, Germany, Austria, and Norway. Progress on closing the disadvantage gap is stalling and it is time for the Department to rethink its approach.
132.We support the Department’s insistence that all children should benefit from an ambitious and challenging curriculum. A culture of low expectations is damaging for White working-class children. However, too many disadvantaged White pupils are leaving school without essential qualifications, and something needs to change to re-engage these learners in their education.
133.When the Minister for School Standards, the Rt Hon Nick Gibb MP, gave evidence his solution for supporting disadvantaged White pupils was clear:
One of the issues in my view is the curriculum. A knowledge-rich curriculum is absolutely key, certainly up to the age of 16. As I said before, when we came into office only 7.9% of children on free school meals were taking the EBacc combination of those core academic subjects, and that has risen to 25.1%, although that is not high enough.
134.We agree that all children deserve high expectations and a stretching curriculum. That said, the evidence we have received does not convince us that the Department’s current approach will close the disadvantage gap for White working-class students. The statistics that the Minister cited on take-up of the EBacc relate to all pupils. For disadvantaged White pupils the percentage of pupils entering the EBacc in 2019 was 17.6%. In 2019, just 3.7% of disadvantaged White pupils achieved a strong pass in the EBacc. There is also some evidence that other subjects, such as Design and Technology, have been in decline since the introduction of the EBacc. The EDSK thinktank found that since 2010 subject entries to Design and Technology courses have fallen by 65%, and the number of Design and Technology teachers has also fallen.
135.The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report said that the number of young people leaving school without a pass in English and Maths GCSE is a “negative impact of the British system’s narrow view of ability based on generic, cognitive-analytical aptitudes”. In 2019 the then Children’s Commissioner found that the Government’s 2013/14 education reforms “penalised disadvantaged children”. She concluded that the reforms changed “the incentives for schools to offer non-GCSE courses” which gave pupils a chance to gain a Level 2 qualification beyond GCSEs. This “closed off access to further study routes including vocational education and apprenticeships”.
136.Evidence to our inquiry raised similar concerns for disadvantaged White pupils. It suggested that the curriculum may be disengaging this group. It may lead to a “two-tier” system, where schools value vocational, practical and creative subjects less highly. Sammy Wright told us that while he supports the EBacc, it means that there is a “stratification of status to do with the subjects. It is very clear in any school that, if I am to be really blunt, vocational routes are for the thick kids”, and that we need a performance and accountability system that values “outcomes that are not simply narrowly academic”. According to the London and South East Education Group, “academic targets sometimes outweigh the needs of students”, and colleges are working hard to help disadvantaged White students who leave school disengaged in education and without the qualifications they need. As Claire-Marie Cuthbert said:
The main obstacle in raising achievement is the government’s failure to recognise that [the population of White working class pupils] has particular needs that are not being met by the National Curriculum or the school system as a whole.
137.We welcomed the Government’s Skills for Jobs White Paper and Skills Bill. We hope that it will deliver for those who do not go to university, including thousands of disadvantaged White pupils. There are positive recent policy changes, including T Levels, which we hope this will raise the profile of skills-based routes in post-16 education. That said, we are concerned that the Department’s narrow focus on academic subjects as a benchmark for “success” in pre-16 education is a barrier for some schools and pupils, particularly in White working-class areas. This may relate to issues around parental views on education. Some disadvantaged White communities value skills and vocational routes more highly, which may lead to their children disengaging, or not seeing the value in, academic learning or higher education.
138.As Dr Tammy Campbell has found in her research, teacher expectations of a pupil’s ability can affect their attainment, and in some cases pupils from low income backgrounds are “less likely to be judged favourably … by their teachers”. Low expectations are damaging for all pupils, and all pupils deserve a stretching education.
139.The Edge Foundation published a report outlining their plan for a 14–19 phase of education, with a baccalaureate-style award that recognises “achievements in all subjects”. The Foundation cites work with the National Baccalaureate Trust on the National Baccalaureate for England, who are piloting an approach which “is designed to be a single unified curriculum framework for all educational contexts that gives recognition to the full range of achievements, talents and learning experiences”. It blends academic and vocational qualifications, with tiers “from entry level to foundation, intermediate and advanced” to make it suitable for all young people. The National Baccalaureate for England will:
… encompass the development of the wider skills that employers demand most highly–areas like personal development, team working and communication. It will achieve this by breaking down the barrier between ‘curricular’ and ‘extra-curricular’ and including elements of community learning, personal challenges, music and dance grades, outward bound activities and at least 120 hours of experience in the workplace.
140.The University of Manchester has also called for an “Upper Secondary Education and Training Phase” lasting for three years between the ages of 16 and 19. This will bring together “academic and vocational post-16 sub-systems (including apprenticeships)”. This would come alongside changing “accountability measures in KS4” to “promote wider achievement “ and build “clear pathways to Level 2 courses post-16” by extending vocational provision at KS4. The EDSK thinktank have also recommended the creation of a “new Upper Secondary ‘Baccalaureate’”, to take place between the ages of 15–18 involving “courses from a wide range of disciplines” with the option to mix subjects from “academic”, “applied” and “technical” pathways. Without rungs in the technical education ladder below age 16, young people won’t be properly prepared to make fully informed choices post-16. Increasing the number of options before this age is necessary to feed the pipeline to successful technical education post-16.
141.The Department must revisit the benefits of celebrating greater diversity of subjects in the pre-16 curriculum. The focus should be ensuring all pupils achieve the essential level of qualifications they need with academic rigour and high expectations, while acknowledging the value of vocational and skills-based subjects and their potential to engage otherwise disaffected groups, such as some disadvantaged White pupils. We are clear that this does not mean introducing a two-tier system, with practical subjects a poor alternative for children who are perceived to be less able. The Department must reform current accountability measures by widening the range of subjects that can count towards the EBacc to include subjects that have been in decline over the past 10 years, such as Design and Technology, and incentivise schools to celebrate all their pupils’ aptitudes and create a parity of esteem for vocational subjects alongside a rigorous academic offer.
142.We are concerned by reports on a “middle-class grab on apprenticeships”, in which the number of apprenticeship starts in the most deprived areas has fallen year on year since 2015, although as the Social Mobility Foundation found, this may indicate a shift in opinion towards vocational training showing that the “general public believe vocational qualifications to be just as useful and desirable as a university degree–if not more”.
143.We believe that the apprenticeship levy needs to be reformed. According to the Centre for Social Justice, “the number of apprenticeships dropped by a quarter between 2014/15 and 2018/19”, and apprenticeships “lean too heavily towards highly qualified employees, and not enough towards school leavers”. A House of Commons Library briefing paper found that 31% of apprenticeship starts were at intermediate level in 2019/20, a fall from 65% of all starts in 2013/14. According to the Centre for Social Justice, 25.7% of apprenticeships starts at Level 2 came from “the most disadvantaged areas”.
144.Level 2 apprenticeships are a vital stepping-stone for disadvantaged learners. The Department must investigate and address the falling numbers of apprenticeship starts from deprived communities, to ensure disadvantaged White pupils have equal access to the opportunities offered by skills-based routes. As the Centre for Social Justice recommends, the Government should “rebalance the levy so that it supports more young people”, and more of the levy’s funding should be directed to disadvantaged learners or on courses meeting the skills needs of our nation. Skills tax credits, for example, could be introduced to incentivise businesses to retrain workers without high-level qualifications and in our vital skills areas.
145.Good careers education is important for disadvantaged White pupils to plan their future and focus on what they need to achieve in school, and schools should begin educating pupils about the options available to them from a young age. However, as the Government’s Skills for Jobs White Paper admitted, “there is no single place you can go to get government-backed, comprehensive careers information”. The Government committed to improving the quality of careers education for all pupils in the White Paper. Yet we are concerned by reports of low levels of compliance with the Baker Clause. As our predecessor Committee found in its report, The apprenticeships ladder of opportunity: quality not quantity, it is currently unclear how well compliance with the Baker Clause is enforced. According to a written answer in April 2021, the Department plans to consult on enforcement of the Baker Clause, with proposals to “establish a new minimum legal requirement about who is to be given access to which pupils and when”, as well as “making Government-funded careers support for schools conditional on Baker Clause compliance”.
146.The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) responded to the Skills Commission’s call for evidence on the Workforce of the Future and made recommendations as to how the Baker Clause could be better enforced. The AELP call for the Government to “crack down on non-compliance with the Baker Clause by instructing Ofsted to make it a material consideration as part of the inspection process”, making it impossible for schools that do not comply with the Baker Clause to get a higher grade than “Good” in their inspection. The AELP also recommend that school should have “a clear set of benchmarks, which explain in greater detail what compliance and good practice look like. Setting a minimum number of 3 interactions between pupils and representatives of training providers, apart from career fairs or exhibitions, would be a good place to start”. Such interactions are useful, but as David Johnston MP points out they are too often used as little more than photo opportunities, and it is important that pupils have the opportunity for genuine work experience placements too. We also believe that organisations such as Chambers of Commerce and local businesses could play a much stronger role in providing exposure to a range of career options.
147.For too long many schools have failed to fully deliver their obligations under the Baker Clause. This must be more uniformly enforced to prevent many disadvantaged pupils, including disadvantaged White pupils, missing the opportunity to access a variety of careers. We will monitor Ofsted’s review of careers guidance in schools closely, and look forward to hearing Ofsted’s recommendations as to how schools could improve the careers guidance they offer their pupils, particularly with regard to ensuring that disadvantaged White pupils are aware of all their options on leaving school, including apprenticeships and higher education routes.
148.The Government must conduct a significant review of Government-funded careers agencies to identify if they are focused on skills, building employer-school partnerships and helping those from White working class in schools in disadvantaged areas. The Government should bring forward measures to tie Government-funded careers advice support to compliance with the Baker Clause. The Association of Employment and Learning Providers have called for compliance with the Baker Clause to be linked to Ofsted judgements. We believe that a school’s Ofsted grade should be limited to “Requires Improvement”, should the school fail to comply with the Baker Clause.
149.Disadvantaged White pupils have low participation rates in higher education (HE). We acknowledge the challenges faced by ethnic minority groups in terms of progression rates, attendance at higher tariff institutions, degree class and graduate destinations (as highlighted by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities). We note that for 84% of disadvantaged White pupils that do not go to university, the question of continuation and success does not apply.
150.The current access and participation system is not addressing the needs of poor White communities. NEON found that strategic goals for disadvantaged White pupils are lacking, and in 2018/19 “an exploration of access and participation plans across the sector show that less than 20% of 124 HEIs referred to this group specifically”. The OfS’ guidance for providers on access and participation plans defines ‘under-represented groups’ as all “groups of potential or current students where the OfS can identify gaps in equality of opportunity in different parts of the student lifecycle”. The OfS acknowledges that “white British men and women from lower socio-economic backgrounds” are an under-represented group.
151.On 8 February 2021 the Secretary of State for Education wrote to the OfS to outline his strategic priorities, asking the OfS to “continue to consider broader factors, including socio-economic status and geographical inequality”, with a “focus on white boys on free school meals”. The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities included a recommendation on access to HE. The Commission called for “stronger guidance” from the OfS to HE providers on “funding outreach programmes and placing university outreach staff in schools to help reduce disparities in applications at an earlier stage”. Should this guidance not affect application rates, the Commission recommended that the OfS should “look to regulatory or legal changes to ensure improved access and participation to higher education institutions”. In 2019 the Office for Students found that universities were spending around £800 million on improving access and outreach. The Commission’s Chair, Dr Tony Sewell, also told the Committee that the money that universities spend as part of their access and participation plans could be better spent on other initiatives, including boosting access to apprenticeships and initiatives “upstream” of higher education to support younger pupils with their career choices.
152.Accessing higher education is the “end of the funnel” for many pupils’ academic journeys. Evidence suggests that for disadvantaged White pupils the funnel narrows dramatically on leaving school. These statistics represent the outcome of accumulated educational disadvantage starting in early years and persisting through primary and secondary education. We share the Secretary of State’s concern about disadvantaged White pupils’ access to HE and support his directive to the OfS for including this group in its strategic priorities.
153.The OfS should review how it holds providers to account for ensuring all low-participation groups are equally supported into higher education. This should not just be about inclusion, but ensuring disadvantaged White pupils are also completing their courses and progressing on to skilled work and satisfying careers. The OfS should also implement a target for inclusion of pupils from disadvantaged White backgrounds, to ensure that White working-class students’ participation in HE is a key priority for all universities. At least some of the funding that universities currently spend on boosting access and participation should be redirected to where it can be more effective: either through school-based initiatives “upstream” in pupils’ journeys or towards increasing take-up of apprenticeships and particularly degree apprenticeships.
154.The OfS should also commit to a report to Parliament in a year’s time to review progress against this measure and their targets and the Secretary of State’s request for a focus on disadvantaged White boys accessing higher education. The OfS should review how it classifies ‘under-represented groups’ to ensure it keeps pace with the current demographics of the higher education student population.
228 Professor Lee Elliot Major ()
229 Nick Gibb
230 GOV.UK, , see ‘National Characteristics tables (Excel Spreadsheet), 6 February 2020
231 GOV.UK, , see ‘National Characteristics tables (Excel Spreadsheet), 6 February 2020
232 EDSK, , July 2019
233 Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, , March 2021, p100
234 Children’s Commissioner, , September 2019
235 From written evidence, see for example Professor Liz Atkins ()
236 Sammy Wright
237 London and South East Education Group ()
238 Claire-Marie Cuthbert ()
239 Department for Education, , 21 January 2021
240 Department for Education, , 4 September 2020
241 From written evidence, see for example: NEON ()
242 Dr Tammy Campbell ()
243 Edge Foundation, , July 2017, pp25 - 26
244 University of Manchester, , February 2021, pp7 - 8
245 EDSK, , April 2021
246 FE Week, , 20 May 2021
247 Social Market Foundation, , April 2021
248 On 6 April 2017 the apprenticeship levy came into effect with all UK employers with a pay bill of over £3 million per year paying the levy. The levy is set at 0.5% of the value of the employer’s pay bill, minus an apprenticeship levy allowance of £15,000 per financial year. The levy is paid into an apprenticeship service account, and funds in this account have to be spent on apprenticeship training and assessment. See House of Commons Library briefing, , Number CBP 03052 7 September 2020
249 Centre for Social Justice, , 10 August 2020
250 House of Commons Library, , Number 06113, 30 March 2021
251 Centre for Social Justice, , 10 August 2020, p30
252 Department for Education, , January 2021, p45
253 Institute for Public Policy Research, , January 2019
254 Education Committee, Sixth Report of Session 2017–19, , HC 344, October 2018
255 , [on Schools: Vocational Guidance] 23 March 2021
256 AELP, , 24 March 2021
257 The Times, , 25 May 2021
258 Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, , March 2021, pp95–97
259 NEON ()
260 Office for Students, , 5 May 2020, pp16 - 17
261 Office for Students, , 8 February 2021, p4
262 Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, , March 2021, p99
263 Office for Students, , 28 February 2019
264 Dr Tony Sewell