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Deprived white pupils bottom of teenage pile

Analysis throws up surprising results in progress by ethnic groups between 14 and 16. Warwick Mansell reports

DRAMATIC new evidence of the under-performance of white pupils from poor backgrounds was published by the Government this week.

White boys and girls who qualify for free school meals make less progress with their learning than any ethnic group in the two years leading up to GCSE, the analysis of 1.7 million pupils' results found.

Throughout their schooling, deprived white children languish at or near the bottom of a "league table" of progress by ethnic group.

The findings come in the first government-backed analysis of how different groups progress through key stage 2, 3 and GCSE.

White pupils achieved better GCSE results overall than Bangladeshi, Pakistani, black African and black Caribbean teenagers last year. But this is the first analysis taking into account socio-economic background as well as race.

The analysis looked at how pupils getting comparable results at 14 fare at 16. It found that, of white pupils on free school meals who achieved level 5 in their KS3 national tests at 14, only a third went on to get five Cs or better at GCSE.

By contrast, the figure for Chinese pupils on free meals was 73 per cent.

For Indian youngsters, it was 66 per cent. The figure for black Caribbean pupils - whose achievements have lagged behind other groups - also beat poor whites, at 45 per cent. The findings were mirrored at GCSE for youngsters who achieved levels 4 and 6 at KS3 - just above or below the expected level 5.

However, the results must be treated with caution. The study found that pupils with English as an additional language made better-than-average progress with their learning. This suggests that Indian and Chinese pupils'

better results in particular could be based on their English improving.

The report backs those educationists who have argued for a focus on poor white boys and black Caribbean pupils in recent years.

Looking at all pupils regardless of socio-economic background, Chinese and Indian youngsters consistently made more progress than white pupils.

Pakistani, black African and Bangladeshi pupils also outpaced their white counterparts at KS4.

However, black Caribbean children continued to struggle: less than half achieving a level 5 at 14 went on to get five good GCSEs.

The analysis confirms that deprivation affects pupils' chances across ethnic groups and genders.

However, it also suggests that classmates may be a more important factor in progress than family background. The analysis found that poor pupils at schools with more affluent rolls (ie most pupils not on free meals) tended to make more progress than richer (non-free-meal) children at schools with many poor pupils.

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