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Now schools admit white working-class pupils are rapidly being left behind

By Julie Henry

WHITE working-class pupils are rapidly falling behind other children and are the group that top school leaders are the ‘most concerned’ about, according to a new Government report.

The bosses of the top academy trusts, which run nearly 300 schools across England, were surveyed by Department for Education (DfE) chiefs for a new study about how to improve results for groups of ethnic-minority children.

But the discussions revealed that the bosses’ main worry was the dire progress of poorer white pupils, rather than their non-white classmates, according to the report.

It said: ‘For the majority of trust and school leaders to whom we spoke, the group of pupils about which they were most concerned was white British working-class pupils. This message was consistent across trusts and schools working in ethnically diverse areas, where white British pupils did not represent the majority of pupils, and for schools and trusts where the majority of the pupils were from white British working-class.’

The report said these pupils were hit by a ‘combination of issues linked to deprivation, inter-generational poverty, attitudes to and experiences of education, and aspirations’.

The study echoes the findings of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, which was blasted by anti-racism activists when it was published in 2021.

The ‘Left Behind’ inquiry by MPs also questioned the concept of ‘white privilege’ when data shows that white boys eligible for free school meals are getting the worst grades. GCSE results show that white students were outperformed by all major ethnic groups on the proportion achieving at least grade 4 in maths and English last year. For the first time ever last year, official data revealed that white students were the cohort least likely to attend a top university, following a national drive to make intakes more diverse.

Last night, Professor Matthew Goodwin, from Kent University, said: ‘White working-class pupils have consistently been overlooked or ignored outright by much of our education establishment. It is good to see, finally, some in the sector taking this challenge seriously.’

Steve Chalke, chief executive of Oasis Community Learning academy trust, which runs more than 50 schools, warned some white working-class families had histories of educational failure going back generations.

He contrasted the troubled Oasis Academy Isle of Sheppey in Kent, where the vast majority of pupils are white and where bad behaviour has prompted some teachers to go on strike, with Oasis schools in more ethnically diverse areas of inner-city London, where pupils get better grades across the board.

‘It’s wrong to say that all white, working-class pupils are struggling but the problems on the Isle of Sheppey go back 50 to 70 years,’ he told The Mail on Sunday.

‘There is inter-generational unemployment, poverty, family breakdown and neglect.’ A spokesperson for the Harris Federation, which runs 54 schools in London and Essex, said that it had hundreds of examples of students from white British working-class backgrounds progressing to elite universities.

A DfE spokesman said: ‘We are focused on closing the disadvantage attainment gap and supporting all children to succeed through highquality teaching, a knowledge-rich curriculum and targeted support.’

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