The forgotten: how White working-class pupils have been let down, and how to change it Contents

Conclusions and recommendations


1.For our inquiry we decided for pragmatic reasons to focus on FSM-eligible pupils. This is an imperfect measure, but data on FSM-eligibility and attainment is available for multiple cohorts at many stages of education, giving a good idea of the journey that disadvantaged White pupils go on. We know that this group does not map exactly on to ‘White working-class’, but this is a familiar term and one which occurred spontaneously from witnesses and written evidence. In this report we will use both ‘White working-class’ and ‘disadvantaged White’ to refer to White pupils who are eligible for FSM. (Paragraph 17)

2.The Department’s current way of evaluating and funding disadvantage, relying on current and historical FSM-eligibility, does not take account of the full range of challenges facing disadvantaged White pupils. It also makes external scrutiny of Government initiatives challenging. To understand what causes the underachievement of disadvantaged White pupils we need to understand their needs and the barriers facing them. (Paragraph 18)

3.Disadvantage is a gradient, not an ‘either-or’ of FSM-eligible or ‘advantaged’. To support disadvantaged White pupils the Government must refine its key measures of disadvantage and widen public access to its statistics. This should be done in a way that protects pupil anonymity as a priority, for example by redacting figures where they reflect very small groups of pupils. Particularly importantly, the Department must consistently publish statistics that are as locally targeted as possible, at least at local authority or constituency level. These statistics must underpin the targeting of all interventions to those communities that most need them. In the short term, the Department should learn from the former Children’s Commissioner’s approach to capturing disadvantage by including statistics on the length of time children are FSM-eligible, and how other forms of disadvantage (for example, SEND, care experience, and local levels of deprivation) interact with this status. In the long term, the Department should work with other parts of Government to build a more sophisticated measure of how poverty affects children. This could draw on initial work by the Social Metrics Commission to develop a metric of poverty that provides a better understanding of the nature of poverty by drawing on lived experience and identifying those least able to make ends meet. (Paragraph 19)

4.Our inquiry has shown that poor White pupils are far from “privileged” in education. (Paragraph 28)

5.Schools should consider whether the promotion of politically controversial terminology, including White Privilege, is consistent with their duties under the Equality Act 2010. The Department should take steps to ensure that young people are not inadvertently being inducted into political movements when what is required is balanced, age-appropriate discussion and a curriculum that equips young people to thrive in diverse and multi-cultural communities throughout their lives and work. The Department should issue clear guidance for schools and other Department-affiliated organisations receiving grants from the Department on how to deliver teaching on these complex issues in a balanced, impartial and age-appropriate way. (Paragraph 29)

The extent of the achievement gap for disadvantaged White pupils

6.Disadvantaged White pupils fall behind their peers at every stage of education. Every year, thousands of disadvantaged White pupils leave school without strong passes in English and Maths GCSE. We recognise the efforts that the Government has made to close this gap, but the Department has fallen victim to muddled thinking, and has shown little interest in exploring why disadvantaged White pupils underachieve relative to similarly deprived peers. As a result, the Department has not been able to target support and tackle specific barriers facing these groups. The Department must acknowledge that its reforms are not producing results, particularly for disadvantaged White pupils. A knowledge-rich curriculum is essential, but with progress on closing the disadvantage gap stalling, it is time to invest in a more targeted approach. (Paragaph 40)

7.Schools have an important role in how well disadvantaged White children recover from the pandemic. This relates to academic progress, emotional development, and good mental health. This is as true for disadvantaged White pupils as it is for other groups, particularly given NHS statistics indicate that around 18% of White pupils may suffer from mental health challenges. (Paragraph 44)

8.The Government must develop a more rounded view of what children need and what positive outcomes for children are as we recover from the pandemic. Specifically, with regard to mental health, we believe that the Department must fast-track its commitments under the 2018 Green Paper, particularly with regard to ensuring all schools have a designated mental health lead or counsellor. All catch-up plans, including enrichment activities and longer school days, must include a specific role for activities that focus on mental health and wellbeing. These plans must also be targeted to those areas of the country where the disadvantage gap is currently greatest, particularly outside London. (Paragraph 45)

The influence of place

9.The Government has committed to ‘levelling up’, but there remain stark differences in educational outcomes in different parts of the country, which seem likely to be exacerbated by the differential impact of covid-19. Education is a part of a larger whole with regard to geographic inequalities. Without improvements to local job markets and infrastructure (including digital infrastructure), education faces an uphill battle to raise outcomes for disadvantaged White pupils in left-behind areas. Equally, creating opportunities is of limited use if education has not equipped local people with the skills to fill them. (Paragraph 57)

10.The Department for Education must make itself central to levelling-up, and ensure that a focus on improving outcomes for children of all ages is a key part of any Government initiative to equalise opportunity and productivity across the country. Publishing all data on attainment measures on as localised a basis as possible, including by neighbourhood, will be the beginning of demonstrating a commitment to levelling-up education by identifying specific communities that are struggling. The Department must co-ordinate its efforts with wider Government in a comprehensive strategy to tackle the root causes of underachievement. (Paragraph 58)

11.We need a better solution to geographic disparities in education. The Government must acknowledge the diversity of challenges facing disadvantaged White communities and develop better ways to target support. We understand that Opportunity Areas are a relatively recent policy and it is difficult to evaluate them. We heard evidence about initial success, but we remain concerned about their value for money. (Paragraph 65)

12.We were disappointed that the Department is investing another £18 million in a policy which is reaching limited numbers of pupils and seems to be generating little return on investment. We urge the Department to set out a clear methodology to define what the programme’s success criteria are. These should emphasise that the funding is not to be spent on “convene-itis” and discussion, but should go to frontline services, using statistics to micro-target struggling communities, with explicit targets for:

i)Improving support for families, through targeting Family Hubs to deprived communities and closing the early years attainment gap

ii)Focussing resource to schools that most need it, through a better measure of disadvantage and funding that is micro-targeted to areas of need

iii)Channelling funding to schools that struggle to recruit and retain the best staff, through more local teacher training initiatives

iv)Ensuring all pupils get the best careers advice, particularly in areas where varied career options are less visible. (Paragraph 66)

13.The free school system has failed to place new schools in areas of highest need and so has failed to reach left behind pupils, and should be encouraged in areas of disadvantage or deprivation. (Paragraph 69)

14.The Department must take a more proactive role in directing the evolution of free schools. It is not enough to suppose that disadvantaged White communities in left-behind areas will have the same resources as inner-city areas to create their own outstanding schools. All future free schools must be established in areas where they will bring a specific benefit to the local community, and the Department should ensure there is a clear focus on targeting disadvantaged areas and should proactively encourage free schools in areas such as ‘challenged white communities’. (Paragraph 70)

Supporting White working-class children and families: from cradle to career

15.Having access to high quality early years provision helps disadvantaged children, including White working-class children. Maintained nursery schools deliver consistently high outcomes for disadvantaged pupils, but they face financial difficulties. (Paragraph 79)

16.The Government’s announcement of continued supplementary funding for maintained nursery schools is welcome, but the underlying issues of short-termism and insufficiency remain and are more acute as a result of the pandemic. It is not enough for the Government to continually push a decision on the long-term future of maintained nursery schools back to the next spending review - the Government must decide how to guarantee their long-term future as soon as possible. The Government must also acknowledge the “threadbare” state of the early years system previous to the pandemic, and outline a long-term plan for the early years accompanied by a funding settlement for at least the next three years. (Paragraph 80)

17.High-quality, joined-up education and health support for disadvantaged White families in the early years of their child’s life is crucial and has demonstrable benefits. The Family Hub model is ideally placed to deliver continuity of support and care, helping disadvantaged White families build relationships with trusted contacts, navigate a complex system of entitlements, and identify problems early on. (Paragraph 87)

18.However, there are areas of the country, including those serving disadvantaged White communities, where families do not have this support. The Government’s work on the National Centre, and investment of £14 million is positive, but children need this support now. (Paragraph 88)

19.The Government must explain how the National Centre for Family Hubs will support the development of Family Hubs and should set out bold targets for every town to have a Family Hub using existing community assets where appropriate. (Paragraph 89)

20.All Family Hubs must have a clear strategy for the early years, with the aim of bringing services, including health visitors and early years educators, together into one place to make it easier for disadvantaged White families to navigate the system, particularly with regard to taking full advantage of their free entitlements. The Government must implement the recommendations put forward by the Early Years Healthy Development Review, particularly around exploring the idea of a “key contact” for families and supporting local authorities to identify how best to introduce families to their local hub. The Government should also follow the example of the Manchester system, where consistent and frequent contact with families enables early intervention. This will create a joined-up, universal early years support system that works for all parents, and most particularly those disadvantaged White parents whose children are falling off the ladder of opportunity from the very first rung. (Paragraph 90)

21.We know that parents who are willing and able to engage with their children’s education have a positive influence on it. But we must not assume that all parents have the knowledge and skills to do so. We also know that the potential of Family Hubs to deliver “universal and non-stigmatising” access to services is clear. Disadvantaged White children are falling behind in their early years and throughout education, and Family Hubs are well placed to provide wraparound help for families to prevent those gaps emerging. (Paragraph 100)

22.Schools are well placed to be trusted institutions that can support and work with Family Hubs to build strong relationships and help disadvantaged White parents and carers help their children. Organisations like Reach Academy Feltham demonstrate the potential of this model, providing support “from cradle to career”. (Paragraph 101)

23.The Department must ensure that disadvantaged White communities are a priority for support. Schools should be an important part of the work of developing Family Hub models, following the example of the Reach Children’s Hub. The Department must help schools emulate this model by inviting applications to open free schools from organisations interested in creating their own ‘cradle to career’ pathway. The Department should explore what support will effectively help existing schools to build local partnerships in this way, as well as what resources schools need to build their own versions of parental engagement strategies such as those at Reach Academy Feltham, including parent-school pledges and home visits. Schools must have autonomy over the form of these parental engagement strategies, to take account of their local area’s cultural nuances. (Paragraph 102)

24.There is an important role for civil society organisations, such as youth clubs and youth services, working with schools and families to build social capital and provide positive role models for disadvantaged young White people. We were concerned to hear that funding pressures are having an impact on how well young people in some areas of the country are able to access these opportunities. (Paragraph 104)

25.The Department must ensure that schools have the capacity to build a triangle of support for disadvantaged young people between schools, youth organisations and families, and consider introducing guidance for a designated extra-curricular co-ordinator in all schools. (Paragraph 105)

26.Given the number of disadvantaged White pupils leaving education every year without a strong pass in English and Maths GCSE, it seems that the impact of parental lack of confidence in learning will continue. Helping disadvantaged White parents with their learning could benefit disadvantaged White pupils. (Paragraph 109)

27.Our report on adult skills highlighted the decline in support for adult learners. Evidence suggested to us that disadvantaged White parents may particularly struggle with their own levels of education, which may impact on their children’s learning. The Department must give more serious thought to how it may implement our previous report’s recommendations to break the cycle of disengagement in some disadvantaged White communities by:

i)Ensuring there is a community learning centre in every town

ii)Incentivising employers to train their staff by introducing a skills tax credit. (Paragraph 110)

The school system

28.Good teachers who understand disadvantaged White students’ needs and who can be good role models are central to raising this group’s outcomes. We know that teaching quality is worse in disadvantaged areas than in wealthier areas, with schools less likely to be rated good or outstanding by Ofsted for their quality of teaching. Schools in disadvantaged areas are also less likely to have experienced teachers, less likely to have teachers in qualified subject areas, and more likely to have higher teacher turnovers. The Department cannot take the current rise in applicants to teacher training during the pandemic for granted. Raising teachers’ starting salaries and the Early Careers Framework are welcome but there is more to do. (Paragraph 115)

29.High quality teaching is particularly transformative for disadvantaged pupils. Over a school year, these pupils get 1.5 years’ worth of learning with high quality teachers, compared with 0.5 years with poorly performing teachers. To support the development of local teachers, we should incentivise highly commended initial teacher training providers (like Redcar and Cleveland TTP or Leicester and Leicestershire SCITT) to work with disadvantaged schools and develop top-class school-led routes. The Department must use its enhanced local area statistics to target recruitment and retention policies to schools that are struggling, particularly those in left-behind White communities. The Department must build on the existing postgraduate teaching apprenticeship scheme to make it more widely available and introduce an undergraduate teaching degree apprenticeship with a specific focus on developing teacher subject specialisms. The Department must introduce bursaries, retention payments and salary bonuses to attract good teachers to challenging areas and prevent flight of local talent. This will encourage a more diverse workforce that reflects the communities it serves, through introducing more local teacher training centres in deprived White communities. (Paragraph 116)

30.School funding has failed to keep pace with where deprivation is in the country, and as a result schools serving disadvantaged communities, including disadvantaged White communities, have suffered financially. The National Funding Formula promises to correct this, but the formula’s changes have not yet been fully enacted, and we have seen concerns that a “levelling up” funding uplift may risk further entrenching disadvantage. (Paragraph 127)

31.Additional funding for disadvantaged students, including disadvantaged White students, is welcome, but is insufficient and insufficiently targeted and does not always reflect true level of need. This seems to have extended to the Government’s “catch-up” funding, with insufficiently targeted formulas and schemes that are not reaching the children, including disadvantaged White children, who need them most. Just 44% of the children who are using the National Tutoring Programme are eligible for free school meals, making this scheme a prime example of a Government initiative that is not getting to the children who need it most. (Paragraph 128)

32.The Department must do more to target funding to address attainment gaps, such as that which persistently affects disadvantaged White pupils. This should begin with reform to the pupil premium, which should be weighted to account for persistent disadvantage, including in disadvantaged White communities, in line with our recommendation on better measures of disadvantage. The Department must also heed recommendations from the National Audit Office and keep its catch-up funding initiatives under close review, and introduce significant reform if take up of the National Tutoring Programme has not improved by the end of the school year. The Department should introduce changes to ensure the schools and pupils that most need the extra resource have access to it. (Paragraph 129)

33.The Department must also acknowledge that due to funding pressures 34% of headteachers are using the premium to plug financial gaps in other parts of their operation. We note the Department’s recent changes to the conditions of the pupil premium grant, but in the light of the Sutton Trust’s findings about the number of schools using their grant to plug other gaps, we want to see more action. We will hold the Department to account for their progress, and should the reforms not be successful in ensuring this funding always directly benefits the most disadvantaged we will expect the Department to consider further measures. This should include ringfencing a percentage of the pupil premium grant to offer activities and enrichment opportunities to disadvantaged pupils, helping them access the same extra-curricular opportunities as their better-off peers. (Paragraph 130)

Destinations for disadvantaged White pupils

34.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. (Paragraph 132)

35.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. (Paragraph 141)

36.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. (Paragraph 144)

37.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. (Paragraph 147)

38.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. (Paragraph 148)

39.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. (Paragraph 152)

40.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. (Paragraph 153)

41.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. (Paragraph 154)

Published: 22 June 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement