White working-class girls need urgent help to boost results, MPs warn

Richard Vaughan

The chronic underachievement among poor white children is not specific to boys and a greater focus must be placed on the performance of girls, an influential panel of MPs has warned.

Poor, white British children perform worse than any other major ethnic group at every stage of their education, a report published by the Commons Education Select Committee says, but the problem is not specific to boys.

According to the report, white girls in receipt of free school meals edge boys in the same group, but are outperformed by both sexes in every other ethnic group.

Both boys and girls in the "white working class" group were more likely to do less homework, play truant and leave school with worse qualifications than any other ethnic group, the committee's report adds.

Just 37 per cent of poor white girls achieve five good GCSEs, including English and mathematics, compared with 48 per cent of African-Caribbean boys eligible for free school meals and 74 per cent of disadvantaged Chinese boys.

The attainment of poor children from other ethnic backgrounds is improving faster than the attainment of poor white children, the report adds.

Graham Stuart (pictured), chair of the education committee, said good schools could be "transformational" for poorer pupils, saying they can double their chances of success at GCSE. 

“We don’t know how much of the underperformance is due to poor attitudes to school, a lack of work ethic or weak parenting,” Mr Stuart said. “What is certain is that great schools make a significant difference in turning poor children’s education around.

“The problem of poor, white British underattainment is real and the gap between those children and their better off classmates starts in their earliest school years and then widens as they get older.”

Becky Francis, professor of education and social justice at King's College London, who gave evidence to the committee, said: “Working class underachievement is a scandal. Recent attention has been focused on the achievement of working class boys, today's report highlights this is an issue for girls too.

"The recommendations include some sharp suggestions for promoting good practice in schools to raise working class attainment, including tighter accountability and leadership on the way in which the pupil premium is spent."

Among the recommendations from the report were for longer school days, greater incentives for teachers to be deployed in schools serving disadvantaged areas and a fairer funding formula.

Another proposal to come from the committee was for the government to explore ways to increase parental involvement. 

Earlier this week, Ofsted's chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw called for parents to be fined if they do not read to their children. 


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Richard Vaughan

Richard has been writing about politics, policy and technology in education for nearly five years after joining TES in 2008. He joined TES from the building press having been a reporter and then later news editor at the Architects’ Journal. Before then he studied at Cardiff University’s school of journalism. Richard can be found tweeting at @richardvaughan1

Find me on Twitter @RichardVaughan1

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