The use of terms like “white privilege” may have contributed towards a “system neglect” of white working-class pupils in the education system, MPs have said.
A report by the Commons Education Select Committee said that disadvantaged white pupils have been badly let down by “muddled” policy thinking and the Department for Education (DfE) has failed to acknowledge the full extent of the problem.
Finding a better way to talk about race
MPs on the committee said that schools need to consider the impact of such “politically controversial” terminology on youngsters and find a “better way to talk about racial disparities” to avoid pitting different groups against each other.
The report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities recommended that a strong network of family hubs should be introduced across the country to help boost parental engagement and mitigate the effects of multi-generational disadvantage.
MPs also recommended the need for tailor-made funding at a local level and initiative to focus on attracting good teachers to challenging areas.
It said vocational and apprenticeship opportunities should also be promoted.
The report highlighted that 47 per cent of free school meal-eligible (FSM) white British pupils did not meet the expected standard of development at the end of the early years foundation stage in 2018 to 2019, which equates to around 28,000 children.
In 2019, just 17.7 per cent of FSM-eligible white British pupils achieved at least a strong pass (grade 5 or above) in English and maths at GCSE, compared with 22.5 per cent of all FSM-eligible pupils, amounting to nearly 39,000 children.
The committee found such disparities particularly concerning because white people are the ethnic majority in the country, yet FSM-eligible white British pupils are the largest disadvantaged group.
Poorer white pupils most disadvantaged group
During its inquiry, MPs heard of many factors which combine to put white poorer pupils at a disadvantage, but dismissed claims by the DfE’s that the gap can be attributed to poverty alone.
Committee chairman Robert Halfon said: “For decades now white working-class pupils have been let down and neglected by an education system that condemns them to falling behind their peers every step of the way.
“White working-class pupils underperform significantly compared to other ethnic groups, but there has been muddled thinking from all governments and a lack of attention and care to help these disadvantaged white pupils in towns across our country.
“If the Government is serious about closing the overall attainment gap, then the problems faced by the biggest group of disadvantaged pupils can no longer be swept under the carpet.
“Never again should we lazily put the gap down to poverty alone, given that we know free school meal eligible pupils from other ethnic groups consistently outperform their white British peers.”
Mr Halfon accused the DfE of being “reluctant” to recognise the specific challenges faced by the group and stressed that the issues need to be addressed.
He added: “We also desperately need to move away from dealing with racial disparity by using divisive concepts like white privilege that pits one group against another.
“Disadvantaged white children feel anything but privileged when it comes to education.
“Privilege is the very opposite to what disadvantaged white children enjoy or benefit from in an education system which is now leaving far too many behind.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “This government is focused on levelling up opportunity so that no young person is left behind.
“That’s why we are providing the biggest uplift to school funding in a decade – £14 billion over three years – investing in early years education and targeting our ambitious recovery funding, worth £3 billion to date, to support disadvantaged pupils aged two to 19 with their attainment.”