Page last updated at 08:00 GMT, Thursday, 22 January 2009

White working class 'losing out'

White boys studying
White boys need targeted help, some have argued

White working class people are losing out on several fronts, from education to housing, a report argues.

The current school system is skewed in favour of giving more opportunities to middle class children, the report by the Runnymede Trust says.

It says white working class children are considered more likely to fail and face more barriers to high achievement.

The government says it is increasing targeted support for poorer white boys and giving them more one-to-one help.

The report says class and economics are still central to aspiration in Britain.

Working class children still do not have access to the material or psychological support that better off children have, the report says.

And it says class, rather than being white or non-white, makes discrimination more likely.

The experiences of white working class children are influenced by those of previous generations, who are likely to have felt marginalised and under-achieved at school, say researchers.

Current patterns of testing in schools may be entrenching inequalities which have always been there, as failure may make young people feel less worthwhile
Dr Robert Berkeley, Runnymede Trust

They studied the treatment of white working class people across a range of sectors and concluded that they are discriminated against in several areas.

New Labour's "Respect" agenda could give a negative expectation of working class behaviour, while the government also tried to encourage higher aspirations, they said.

The report suggests that the white working classes are losing out in areas from housing to health.

Housing is distributed unequally, it says, with the richer taking more of the stocks of good quality housing.

'Lagging behind'

Dr Robert Berkeley, of the Runnymede Trust, said it was important to have a progressive debate about class and race in the 21st Century, but that that had not happened so far.

He said it was not justified to stop targeting resources at the inequalities experienced by ethnic minorities.

"It would be fair to say that resources should also be targeted at white working classes, who face discrimination," he said.

"Current patterns of testing in schools may be entrenching inequalities which have always been there, as failure may make young people feel less worthwhile," he added.

The research, commissioned by the Department for Communities and Local Government, says state schools have bred a sense of inferiority among the working classes.

Middle class children learn that "failure is intolerable", it says, but working class children find they are permanently associated with failure.

Poor white boys still lag behind at school.

This year, five out of six did not achieve five good GCSEs at grades A*-C, including English and maths.

This compares with 25% of black boys and 32% of Asian boys of similar backgrounds.

Only gypsy and Romany pupils entitled to free school meals performed worse at GCSE level.

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said the government was committed to enabling every child to achieve its potential, regardless of background, and that its focus on early years education would help prevent certain children falling behind.

"We know that through the personalisation agenda, teachers are identifying those in the most need and giving them one to one tuition and catch up classes," he said.

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