February 12, 2018

Pupil achievement ‘It’s almost become a struggle over who’s suffering the most’

So, now it’s the turn of poor white boys to be the worst under-achievers at school.

According to research out today by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, British white working-class boys now account for half of all children leaving school with low, or no, qualifications.

Ethnic minority pupils – including black boys who have been the focus of such concern in recent years, educationally speaking – are now less likely to be found at the bottom of the class.

This contradicts widespread perceptions – backed up by research – that African-Caribbean, black or Bangladeshi pupils do worse than white pupils.

That’s not to say that ethnic minorities are doing better generally, just that having made allowances for disadvantages, such as being poor, these pupils are at less risk of low achievement.

The research also found that boys outnumber girls as low achievers and have worse reading and writing skills at primary school, which means they are more likely to be low achievers at 16 too.

And African-Caribbean pupils are still the least successful among ethnic minorities, but their results are improving faster than average and they tend to do well at primary school, if not at secondary level.

The report’s conclusions are likely to stir up opinion.

Tony Sewell, director of Generating Genius, a charity to boost black boys’ chances, told “All these groups are doing badly, does it really matter who’s doing the worst? It’s almost become a struggle over who’s suffering the most and I don’t think it should.

“I worry about this underlying competition. If they are doing badly does that mean we don’t pay attention to the other groups now?”

The kind of work his charity does could easily be applied to help white working class boys, he said.

At least he’ll find a friend in Steve Sinnott, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers. He says grants to boost ethnic majority achievement “must” carry on, but additional funding should be targeted at poor white boys.

“Wherever a group of young people needs extra help then they should receive it,” he said.

Will they and others be reassured by the comments of schools minister Jim Knight that the government’s plans to build 400 academies will help communities “let down for generations” and the £1bn the government has put towards personalised learning should help low achievers catch up and not fall further behind?

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