Page last updated at 12:48 GMT, Thursday, 28 January 2010

Poor white boys 'not catching up'

By Hannah Richardson
BBC News education reporter

Child writing
Children's development is assessed repeatedly in the early years.

Efforts to help poor white boys catch up with their peers in the early years of school appear to have stalled.

Official data on assessments at age five show three-quarters of the poorest white boys in England are still not achieving a good level of development.

White British boys on free school meals were 26.8 percentage points behind the national average - the same as in 2008.

Ministers said a £25bn investment in early years was showing improvements, particularly in deprived areas.

The data takes in results of a range of controversial assessments taken by young primary school pupils at the end of the "Early Years Foundation Stage".

Gender gap

The tests cover areas such as communication, language and literacy, problem solving and numeracy as well as personal, social and emotional development.

Children's Minister Dawn Primarolo pointed out that children in the poorest postcodes were improving at a "faster rate than all others".

Looking at the breakdown of results by area, 39.3% of pupils in the most deprived 10% of areas achieved a good level of development compared with 66.5% in the least deprived 10% of areas.

The difference in achievement between the most and least deprived fell by two percentage points to 27.2 in 2009.

However, this still leaves the most advantaged nearly one and half times more likely to have a good level of development than those from the most disadvantaged areas.

The figures do show some improvements in poor white boys' performance on the previous year when 22.3% achieved the required level in the tests.

We are continuing to target children who may be struggling with personalised support and early intervention
Dawn Primarolo
Children's Minister

But they have not continued the improvement against the national average that occurred in 2007-8.

White British boys from the poorest homes in England had the same achievement level - at 24.8% - as Bangladeshi boys also eligible for free school meals - a much smaller group, many of whom may speak English as an additional language.

Poor white boys are also out-performed by black Caribbean boys on free school meals.

Meanwhile 42.1% of white British girls on free school meals reached the required level - only 9.5 percentage points behind the national average of 51.8%.

Overall, girls outperform boys in 11 of the 14 assessment areas.

Some 61.1% of girls were working comfortably in each area as opposed to 42.8% of boys.

This is a slight widening of the achievement gap between the genders of one percentage point from 17.3% to 18.3%.


At the same time 24.7% of boys are classified as being in the lowest 20% of pupils in all areas, compared to 15.1% of girls.

Ms Primarolo said overall the results showed 23,000 more five-year-olds were achieving a good level of development than in 2008.

"However, we are not complacent and I know that more work needs to be done to make sure that all children, regardless of background, gender, ethnicity or where live, receive a strong grounding in the basics.

"That's why we are continuing to target children who may be struggling with personalised support and early intervention to make sure they have the help they need early on."

New guidance on how child carers and teachers could better support boys and help children under five to develop their writing skills would be published soon, she added.

Liberal Democrat schools spokesman David Laws said: "These depressing figures reveal that the gap between poorer children and the better-off is clear when they are only five years old.

"Labour's shameful failure to give children from disadvantaged backgrounds extra support means that this gap grows wider as children grow older."

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