Page last updated at 12:34 GMT, Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Aim school help 'at poor whites'

Boys working
Help needs to be targeted at the groups which need it, says the NUT

White working class pupils should be given the same focused help as ethnic minorities have received, a study says.

The poorest white boys and girls are the lowest attaining group in England, save for gypsy and traveller children.

A study into how to break the cycle of white working class underachievement suggests more resources should be targeted at pupils from these families.

Currently schools get significant extra funds for a range of things, including the number of ethnic minority pupils.

The research commissioned by the National Union of Teachers and government agency the National College of School Leadership looked at how leaders worked in 10 schools where white working class pupils did significantly better than the national average for their group.

It's absolutely right to support kids from ethnic minority groups but head teachers want also the flexibility to support kids from white working class backgrounds
John Bangs

It found these head teachers did not accept social class as an excuse for failure.

As one head put it: "It's an attitude. We simply don't accept the estate as an excuse for second best; we have high expectations, every day, everybody."

Head teachers were "creative in their use of funding" but that they wanted even greater flexibility.

The report called for school funding to be "reconfigured and used sensitively" in deprived areas, in part to "recognise the impact of deprivation on the achievement of white working class pupils".

Schools are given extra cash on top of their per pupil funding, for a range of things including the number of pupils they have from ethnic minority groups and those with English as an additional language. This can amount to significant sums.

Head of education at the NUT John Bangs said: "There's a gap in terms of the support and funding streams that are available.

"It's absolutely right to support kids from ethnic minority groups but head teachers want also the flexibility to support kids from white working class backgrounds, particularly those coming from tough and deprived areas."

Mr Bangs said he was aware the issue could be a sensitive one, but said white working class underachievement and deprivation should not be the territory solely of the far right.

'Sensitive issue'

It should be down to government, schools and other agencies to seek "equality of outcome"

"The sensitivity is that in the past this has not been the focus of government," he said.

"Underachievement of ethnic groups has been the focus and the issue of social class hasn't been."

There had been some good work done by government, he said, but extra targeted funding had not yet emerged.

"The sensitivity shouldn't be about, 'They're getting it and we are not'," he said.

"It's not about the racial divide, it's about class and this is an area that we have got to tackle if we really want to reduce the gap between rich and poor."

Chief executive of the National College of School Leadership Steve Munby said the head teachers featured in the research were demonstrating "courageous leadership in their unremitting commitment to improving the lives of the most disadvantaged children and young people in our society."

'Changing aspirations'

The government does not explicitly fund white working class boys and looked-after children through its general school grant, but it estimates that 10.5% of the 27 billion paid to local authorities in (2006-07) was targeted on deprivation.

Within that it was estimated that 1.8 per cent was specifically targeted at black and minority groups with the remaining 8.6 per cent on general deprivation.

The government has also allocated significant funding to support personalised learning within schools' core budgets.

A Department for Children, Schools and Family spokeswoman said: "We know underachievement, regardless of background or ethnicity, can only be tackled by changing the aspirations of young people, their parents and the education system.

"But we firmly believe that with all the support on offer for parents and schools, no child is on a pre-determined path to low results - whatever their ethnicity and wherever they go to school."

She pointed out that the attainment gap between children on free school meals and those who are not has narrowed by four percentage points at Key Stage 2 for English, and a similar amount at Key Stage 4.

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