WHITE BRITISH boys and girls are more likely than any other ethnic group to get stuck in a rut of low achievement, says a report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
White British boys make up nearly half of all low achievers in England, outnumbering the girls by three to two. African-Caribbean children are still the least likely to perform well but researchers said their results were improving faster than the national average.
Researchers highlighted poor reading and writing at primary school as a reason for low achievement later in life. They warned that low achievers often lost out at secondary schools, where resources were concentrated on children more likely to boost GCSE league table results.
The Rowntree report, summarising previous research, was put together by economists - Professor Robert Cassen, of the London School of Economics, and Dr Geeta Kingdon of Oxford University. Professor Cassen concluded that low achievers often missed out on the best teaching as schools rushed to improve league tables. He suggested that schools should get extra money for obtaining successful results with low achievers.
After Knowsley in Merseyside, Bristol was identified by the report as the local authority with the highest proportion of low achievers. Marius Frank, head of Bedminster Down secondary in a white, working-class area of Bristol, said he believed the biggest hurdle for his teenagers was low expectations.
He said: "There is a common feeling that they will drift into low level vocational jobs in the building or hairdressing trades. They don't aspire to better jobs because they don't think they can acquire the skills." Mr Frank criticised existing English and maths GCSEs as not suitable for most of his children. He said around 50 teenagers sat an additional adult literacy and numeracy exam after their GCSEs. "Algebra and poetry are not necessarily relevant in the workplace," he said.
"Passing the additional exam has given some of those who failed the GCSE the confidence and self-esteem to go on to college."
Angela White, head of Brentry primary school in Bristol, said her biggest challenge was white British children starting school with limited language skills. "Children are sitting by the TV and they're not out and playing with friends," she said. "We have put lots of emphasis on social interaction and providing opportunities for children to talk, combined with a sound approach to reading and writing."
Mrs White said the intensive, one-to-one Reading Recovery programme was successful but needed to be properly funded.
Professor Cassen welcomed the Every Child a Reader scheme announced by Gordon Brown. It aims to extend the Reading Recovery scheme to 30,000 children a year by 2010.
"I can't understand why this is going to take so long, given the number of teachers who have been trained," he said. "The scheme costs pound;2,000 per child, but it is even more expensive in the long run not to spend the money."