Page last updated at 00:29 GMT, Tuesday, 16 December 2008

'Aspiration gap' for white poor

Boy studying
Working class white boys are too often limited by "low horizons" says report

More needs to be done to raise the aspirations of young people, especially boys, from isolated white working class communities, a government report says.

The Cabinet Office study said young people's hopes for their future varied by gender, ethnicity and social class.

It said living in working class areas, especially in former industrial towns and cities, may stop young people from reaching their potential.

But the problem was not as marked in ethnically mixed urban neighbourhoods.

The report confirmed what official statistics already indicate: that children from deprived backgrounds tend to do worse at school.

It said that poor white boys have the lowest aspirations of all ethnic groups.

Attitudes often form over generations as a rational response to the situations in which people find themselves
Cabinet Office research

Last week, an analysis of the 2008 GCSE results showed that only one in six white boys who are entitled to free school meals obtained the government's benchmark of five good GCSEs.

The Cabinet Office report focused on different types of deprived communities and asked how their characteristics could feed into children's aspirations.

By analysing a long-term study of 14,000 young people in England, it found that youngsters in certain neighbourhoods were less likely to stay on in full time education after the age of 16.

The areas with the lowest educational aspirations, termed "low horizons" by the researchers, were characterised as deprived, close-knit cohesive communities with high levels of social housing and a history of economic decline.

The areas also tended to be inward-looking. with low population mobility, and few wider connections with people outside the immediate area.

'Ethnically diverse'

The report said: "Residents may lack broader links with people places outside their immediate neighbourhood.

"Attitudes often form over generations as a rational response to the situations in which people find themselves, but sometimes they linger on after the circumstances have improved.

"They can infiltrate communities: passed from parent to child, teacher to pupil: from the Job Centre Plus worker to the father who has been out of work for too long."

The areas pinpointed by researchers were mainly those formerly dominated by heavy industry, often in the north of England.

However there were also clusters of neighbourhoods in isolated rural areas of East Anglia and the west country.

But the researchers did find higher levels of aspirations among young people living in ethnically diverse, mobile, urban neighbourhoods.

In these places, about nine out of 10 young people intended to stay on at school after the age of 16, the study found.

'Negative influences'

The researchers suggested recent migrants to Britain might have more positive, optimistic views of what they could achieve compared to those whose families were more deeply entrenched in generational poverty.

They added that targeted work needed to be undertaken in communities particularly afflicted by low aspirations, rather than just by deprivation in general.

They said: "The negative influence of low aspirations on educational attainment and a broader range of life outcome mean that there is a strong case for intervention."

The study also suggested that locally-targeted projects aimed at changing behaviour could be effective in shifting attitudes.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers argued at their annual conference that schools need to be able to vary the curriculum locally to give working class white boys a sense of identity and raise their achievement.

Recommendations on how such projects might work are due to be published as part of the Social Mobility white paper in January.

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