Page last updated at 17:19 GMT, Thursday, 27 March 2008

White working class 'left behind'

groups of boys walking into school
White working class pupils did less homework, the report said

The white working classes are being left behind by England's education system, government research suggests.

Poor white boys and girls do worse compared with other ethnic groups when factors like single parent status and parental attainment are considered.

Children's ability to succeed was also defined by their own academic hopes, how much homework they did and their attitude to school, the report added.

The government said closing the attainment gap was a top priority.

'Negative impact'

The study analysed the results of more than 15,000 pupils in England in national secondary school tests at age 14 and at GCSE.

It looked at achievement by ethnic group and social status.

It found that at GCSE level, pupils from Caribbean backgrounds did significantly worse on average than white pupils, while Pakistani pupils did a little worse.

But the gap was narrower at GCSE than it was for the tests taken at age 14.

However, once pupils' low parental incomes were taken into account the minority groups began to catch up.

And when a wide variety of factors seen as markers of deprivation were also factored in - such as living in deprived neighbourhoods, single parent homes or having mothers with no educational qualifications - white working class pupils came out worst.

We need to get beyond thinking about white pupils as one big group
Dr Steve Strand

"These factors impact negatively on attainment within most ethnic groups, but seem to be associated with disproportionately low attainment among white British pupils," the report said.

Report author Dr Steve Strand from Warwick's Institute of Education told BBC News: "We need to get beyond thinking about white pupils as one big group.

"We have a big spread in achievement across the social classes."

He said white children living on big housing estates were the lowest achieving group but that this had been obscured by a focus on black Caribbean under-achievement.

The study also tried to get to the bottom of what factors led pupils not to succeed.

These included their not doing homework, not actually turning up for school and having social or welfare problems.

'Good progress'

But Dr Strand said the main factors were children's aspirations for their own future, their self-confidence and their parents' aspirations for them.

If parents were not pushing them at home to do their homework or get good marks, then they were more likely to disengage.

White working class pupils were one of two ethnic groups who reported doing the least amount of homework, who had the lowest aspirations and lowest self-confidence.

However, Dr Strand cautioned against seeing white working class pupils as the only problem for the education system.

He said the same factors revealed that black Caribbean, black African and Bangladeshi boys made less progress than expected.

Schools Minister Jim Knight said closing the attainment gap in education remained a top priority for his government.

"We have made good progress and pupils eligible for free school meals are improving faster than the average.

"Between 2003 and 2007, the number of pupils eligible for free school meals who achieved at least five higher level GCSEs rose 11.1 percentage points, while the increase for non-free school meals pupils was 7.6 percentage points. "

"But we know there is much more to do, as these figures highlight. That is why we have introduced targeted policies in The Children's Plan to tackle problems around underachieving boys."

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