13th October 2013 at 15:00
Being white has become “the problem” in England’s schools, according to a ministerial advisor, who also described the system as “institutionally sexist”.
Tim Leunig - an aid to Liberal Democrat schools minister, David Laws – has told headsthat more needs to be done to tackle underachievement of the “dominant racial group” if the country is to flourish.
“If your school happens to have a lot of Chinese students you are likely to do well on progress measures. That is the reality,” the economist said.
“The same is true for almost all ethnic groups other than white. If Ali G wants a new comic character in schools he has to say ‘Is it because I is white?’ because that is the reality.
“It is being white that is the problem in schools at the moment.”
Tony Sewell, an academic expert in education in disadvantaged communities, said he was right to draw attention to underachievement among white working class pupils. But he argued it was too simplistic to suggest that all other ethnic groups were doing better.
Dr Leunig (pitured) told the conference: “We as a society have to ask ourselves: ‘Why is it that white kids are doing so much worse?’
“We have to tackle that as a society. For the future of Britain it obviously matters more to tackle white underperformance just because there are more white people.”
“You cannot have your dominant racial group doing badly in school and expect to flourish as a country in the next generation and beyond,” the economist on secondment from the London School of Economics added. “That just won’t hold so we need to tackle that one really explicitly.”
Dr Leunig is working on new secondary league table measures for the Department for Education. But, speaking to an Association of School and College Leaders conference last month, he said that schools could not expect to be compensated in the tables for having a particular ethnic make-up.
He added that the same was true for gender where there was a “huge” bias in results towards girls. Dr Leunig said he wanted accountability measures to “make that absolutely apparent so that we are forced to think more seriously about the question: why boys do so much worse in school”.
“You could perfectly well describe the school system at the moment as institutionally sexist,” he said. “The difference in progress rates between girls and boys is really very large indeed, and if we hide it by being ‘fair’ to boys’ schools by giving boys a bonus we hide a problem that we as society need to face up to.”
Dr Sewell said that white middle class boys and girls were still “dominant” on all indicators of educational achievement from winning places at elite universities to getting good jobs.
He said Dr Leunig’s comments were “too simplistic in some ways”.
“What he hasn’t done is look at the differentiation between black groups,” he said. “For example the top group, outside of Asian students, in London at the moment I would say are girls of a West African background who are doing phenomenally well.
“Yet we still have issues with for example Somali boys and, though it has improved , Caribbean groups still struggle a bit.”