WHITE BOYS from poor backgrounds are falling further behind their black and Asian classmates in exams, official figures have revealed.
The breakdown of the 2006 GCSE results has fuelled concerns, already voiced by the Conservative party and by teachers' unions, that a lack of financial support for these pupils could boost racist groups such as the British National Party.
The figures come as research by Manchester university confirms that poor white pupils are losing out in the battle for funding. The Manchester academics conducted a detailed case study in an unnamed, deprived inner city, which received a "disproportionate" level of funding to tackle inequality. Money was being targeted at pupils with English as an additional language, but "white learners from highly disadvantaged backgrounds were reportedly often overlooked", they said.
One local authority officer told researchers that other much more disadvantaged white areas were losing out because, "white poverty and underachievement aren't as headline grabbing or sexy".
White British boys from poor families perform worse at GCSE than almost any other racial group, the Department for Education and Skills figures show.
Just 24 per cent of those entitled to free school meals gained five or more good GCSEs last year, compared with 65 per cent of the poorest Chinese boys and 48 per cent of poor Indian and Bangladeshi boys.
In the past three years, the proportion of poor white British boys attaining top-grade GCSEs has risen by 7 per cent. But the proportion of impoverished boys from other ethnic groups reaching the same target has risen faster. For example, the number of poor Bangladeshi boys achieving five top grades rose by more than 12 per cent, while for Pakistani boys results rose by almost 10 per cent. Black Caribbean and Black African boys improved their scores by more than 9 per cent.
The only group who performed worse than the white British were a handful from traveller families, where the score was 5 per cent.
The Manchester research revealed that poor white children may also be losing out because they are not playing the admissions system.
"A trend found especially in white working-class areas was for parents to send their children to the local school, even where it had been branded 'a failing school'," the report said.
John Bangs, National Union of Teachers' head of education, described the lack of help as "a gift to the BNP". There were specific grants for ethnic-minority pupils, which would rise to pound;178 million next financial year, but no equivalent for the poorest white pupils.
Cameron Watt, deputy director of the Centre for Social Justice and a key figure involved in a report on the subject published recently by former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, said: "There's a political lobby highlighting the issue of underachievement among black boys, and quite rightly so, but I don't think there's a single project specifically for white working-class boys. I don't want to stir up racial hatred, but that is something that should be addressed."
A DfES spokesman said the white boys on free school meals achieving five or more good GCSEs had risen by 3 per cent in the past year, faster than the national average of 2 per cent.
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The Manchester report is published by the university's Centre for Equity in Education