| 23 February 2024, Friday |

Poorer white pupils neglected for decades in England, say MPs

White working class pupils in England have been “let down and neglected” by the education system for decades, says a report from MPs.

Robert Halfon, education select committee chairman, dismissed “divisive concepts like ‘white privilege’ that pit one group against another”.

Poorer white pupils are falling behind “every step of the way”, he warned. The Department for Education said it was investing in “levelling up”.

The report accuses the government of “muddled thinking” in failing to target support at the “forgotten” disadvantaged white pupils – who underachieve from early years through to GCSEs, A-levels and university entry.

Halfon described it as a “major social injustice” that so little attention had been paid to how white pupils on free school meals underachieved compared with free school meals pupils from most other ethnic groups.

“If you think it’s about poverty, then it doesn’t explain why most other ethnic groups do much better,” he said.
  • At GCSE, in 2019, 18 percent of white British pupils on free meals achieved grade 4 in English and maths, compared with 23 percent for the average for pupils on free meals
  • For university entry, 16 percent of white British pupils on free meals get places, compared with 59 percent of black African pupils on free meals, 59 percent of Bangladeshi pupils on free meals and 32% of black Caribbean pupils on free meals.
  • The committee warned the scale of the problem, affecting almost a million young people, could not be “swept under the carpet”.

    The idea of “white privilege” in education was rejected – and the report suggested schools should consider whether using this terminology was “consistent under their duties” in equality legislation.

    The committee described “white privilege” as the idea of “societal privilege that benefits white people over other ethnic groups” – and said “privilege is the very opposite to what disadvantaged white children” experience.

    Halfon warned its use in education was “divisive” and likely to “promote disharmony”.

    But a Labour MP on the committee, Kim Johnson, rejected the references to white privilege as trying to “stoke the culture war” and said the report was avoiding the “lack of investment” in education and local communities.