White Working Class Underachievement

A recent parliamentary report has found that poor white boys and girls do worse in schools than children in other ethnic groups.

How much worse do poor white children do?

The report uses students who received free school meals (FSM children) as an indicator of poverty:

  • 32% of FSM white British children get five good GSCEs, compared to…
  • 42% of FSM Black Caribbean children
  • 62% of FSM Indian children
  • 77% of FSM Chinese children

The achievement gap between poor white children and rich white children is much larger than the corresponding gap between poor and rich children from other minority groups, and the gap widens as white children get older.

How has educational performance changed over time?

The achievement rates of poor white kids has actually improved signficantly in the last decade – in 2008 only 15% of white pupils on Free School Meals got 5 good GCSEs, which has now doubled – the problem is that pupils from more affluent backgrounds have also improved, meaning the ‘achievement gap’ has stayed the same for white kids – today 65% of better off white children get 5 good GCSEs compared to only 32% of FSM white children, meaning a and achievement gap of 33%.

This trend is different for ethnic minorities – poor minority children have closed the gap on their wealthier counterparts. For Indian and black students the gap between rich and poor is only 15%, and for Chinese students it is 1.4%.

This has led some to conclude that there must be cultural differences influencing the way poor white British children approach their education.

Do Cultural Differences Explain why White Working Class Underachievement?

The cliche is that the children of immigrant parents are put under greater pressure to study, and the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England suggests some supporting evidence for this view:

White working class boys and girls are more likely to have anti-school attitudes than other minority groups, they play truant less, and they spend less time doing homework – an average of 2.54 evenings a week compared to 3.13 for black African and 3.29 for Indian children.

There is less support for the idea that white working class parents and their children lack aspiration – For a start, 57% of British people identify themselves as working class, while it is only the 12.5% on Free School Meals who are doing very badly at school – so it is more a case of there being pockets of underachievement rather than the whole of the working class underachieving.

There is also evidence that working class children, especially young children, have high ambitions.

Schools (and leadership) Can Make a Difference

There are plenty examples of academies which have been set up in deprived areas which have helped local working class kids get good GCSE results.

In 2003 New Labour launched ‘The London Challenge’ to drive up standards, and invested £80 million in leadership, targeting failing schools – about 80% of schools in London now have ‘outstanding leadership’ according to OFSTED and 50% of children in London on Free School Meals get 5 good GCSEs, irrespective of ethnicity.

The problem is that this initiative might not work outside of London – London has a prosperous economy which makes it easier to attract the best leaders and teachers, and also benefits from the positive impact of immigrant families.

The Geographical Aspect to Underachievement 

In 2013 the chief inspector of schools, Michael Wilshaw, identified a geographical shift in educational underachievement – away from big cities and crowded, densely packed neighbourhoods, to deprived coastal towns and rural, less populous parts of the country.

Such towns suffer from fragile, seasonal economies, an inability to attract good staff, a lack of jobs for young people, and scant opportunities for higher education – all of which contributes to a vicious cycle of underachievement, perpetuated further by the ‘brain drain’ – anyone that does get qualifications leaves because there are no opportunities to use them in the local area.

In such areas, simply building swish new academies don’t seem to be enough to improve results – In 2005, the so-called worst performing school in the country, Ramsgate School, was transformed into the new, £30 million Marlowe Academy. SIx years later, it fell into special measures.

Summarised from ‘The Week’, 2nd August 2014. 

 

 

Advertisements

Official Statistics on Educational Achievement in the U.K. – Strengths and Limitations

How useful are official statistics for understanding differences in educational achievement by social class, gender and ethnicity?

How do GCSE results vary by social class, gender and ethnicity?

The data below is taken from the Department for Education’s document – GCSE and Equivalent Attainment by Pupil Characteristics 2014

Firstly – GENDER –  Girls outperform boys by about 10 percentage points. 61.7% of girls achieved at least 5 A*- C GCSEs (or equivalent) grades including English and mathematics compared to 51.6% of boys; this is a gap of 10.1 percentage points.

Girls Outperform Boys in Education
Girls Outperform Boys in Education

Secondly – ETHNICITY – Chinese pupils are the highest achieving group. 74.4% of Chinese pupils achieved at least 5 A*- C GCSEs (or equivalent) grades including English and mathematics. This is 17.9 percentage points above the national average (56.6%). Almost half of Chinese Pupils are achieving the English Baccalaureate (49.5%); 25.4 percentage points above the national average (24.2%).

Children from a black background are the lowest achieving group. 53.1% of pupils from a black background achieved at least 5 A*- C GCSEs (or equivalent) grades including English and mathematics; this is 3.4 percentage points below the national average (56.6%). However, things are also improving: 75.5% of black pupils are making the expected progress in English and 68.4% in mathematics; both above the national average of 71.6% for English and 65.5% for mathematics.

educational attainment by ethnicity 2014
educational attainment by ethnicity 2014

 

Thirdly – SOCIAL CLASS – Here, instead of social class we need to use Pupils eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) (meaning they come from a household with an income of less than £16000) – FSM pupils are nearly 30% points behind non FSM pupils. 33.5% of pupils eligible for FSM achieved at least 5 A*- C GCSEs (or equivalent) grades including English and mathematics compared to 60.5% of all other pupils. This is a gap of 27.0 percentage points. 36.5% of disadvantaged pupils achieved at least 5 A*- C GCSEs (or equivalent) grades including English and mathematics compared to 64.0% of all other pupils, a gap of 27.4 percentage points.

Educational attainment by social class
Educational attainment by social class

 

The government stats also include achievement data by ‘disadvantage’:

Disadvantaged pupils are defined as pupils known to be eligible for free school meals in the previous six years as indicated in any termly or annual school census, pupil referral unit (PRU) or alternative provision (AP) census or are children looked after by the local authority for more than 6 months.

Educational achievement by disadvantage
Educational achievement by disadvantage

 

Other statistical data included in the pupil characteristics report

The Department for Education also collects data and reports on educational achievement by English as a second language, and special educational needs. Look it up if you’re interested, I’m limiting myself here to educational attainment by ‘social class’, gender and ethnicity.

Some Strengths of Official Statistics on Educational Achievement by Pupil Characteristic 

ONE – Good Validity (as far as it goes) – These data aren’t collected by the schools themselves – so they’re not a complete work of fiction, they are based on external examinations or coursework which is independently verified, so we should be getting a reasonably true representation of actual achievement levels. HOWEVER, we need to be cautious about this.

TWO – Excellent representativeness – We are getting information on practically every pupil in the country, even the ones who fail!

THREE – They allow for easy comparisons by social class, gender and ethnicity. These data allow us to see some pretty interesting trends – As in the table below – the difference between poor Chinese girls and poor white boys stands out a mile… (so you learn straight away that it’s not just poverty that’s responsible for educational underachievement)

Educational achievement varies hugely by class, gender and ethnicity
Educational achievement varies hugely by class, gender and ethnicity

FOUR – These are freely available to anyone with an internet connection

FIVE – They allow the government to track educational achievement and develop social policies to target the groups who are the most likely to underachieve – These data show us (once you look at it all together) for example, that the biggest problem of underachievement is with white, FSM boys.

Some Disadvantages of the Department for Education’s Stats on Educational Achievement

ONE – We need to be a little cautious about the validity of some of these results, especially when making comparisons over time. This is because until last year schools could count any one of 3000 ‘soft’ subjects as equivalent to a GCSE, which could make the results look better than they actually are. Also, with coursework subjects there is a potential problem with ‘grade inflation’ within schools, and not to mention the fact that with coursework we are least partially measuring the degree to which parents have helped their children, rather than their children’s actual personal achievement.

TWO – comparisons over time might be difficult because of recent changes to the qualifications that are allowed to be counted towards attainment measurements. In 2014 the following changes were made:

1. The number of qualifications which counted towards ‘GCSE or equivalent’ results were drastically reduced – around 3,000 unique qualifications from the performance measures between 2012/13 and 2013/14.

2. The associated point scores for non-GCSEs was adjusted so that no qualification will count as larger than one GCSE in size. For example, where a BTEC may have previously counted as four GCSEs it will now be reduced to the equivalence of a single GCSE in its contribution to performance measures.

3. The number of non-GCSE qualifications that count in performance measures was restricted to two per pupil.

All of this has had the effect of making the results look worse than they actually are:

Effects of Wolfes review on GCSE results

THREE – These stats don’t actually tell us about the relationship between social class background and educational attainment. Rather than recording data using a sociological conception of social class, the government uses the limited definition of Free School Meal eligibility – which is just an indicator of material deprivation rather than social class in its fuller sense. Marxist sociologists would argue that this is ideological – the government simply isn’t interested in measuring the effects of social class on achievement – and if you don’t measure it the problem kind of disappears.

FOUR – and this is almost certainly the biggest limitation – these stats don’t actually tell us anything about ‘WHY THESE VARIATIONS EXIST’ – Of course they allow us to formulate hypotheses – but (at least if we’re being objective’) we don’t get to see why FSM children are twice as likely to do badly in school… we need to do further research to figure this out.

No doubt there are further strengths and limitations, but this is something for you to be going on with at least…

Related Posts 

Official Statistics in Sociology

Assessing the Usefulness of Using Secondary Qualitative Data to Research Education

Ethnicity and Differential Educational Achievement – In School Processes

1. Teacher pupil relationships

Cecile Wright (1992) Found that teachers perceived ethnic minority children differently from white children. Asian children were seen as a problem that could be ignored, receiving the least attention and often being excluded from classroom discussion and rarely asked to answer questions. Teachers assumed their command of the English language was poor but they were highly disciplined and well motivated. African Caribbean children were expected to behave badly and received considerable attention, nearly always negative. They were seen as aggressive and disruptive. They were often singled out for criticism even in action ignored in other children.

David Gilborn (1990) Found that while vast majority of teachers tried to treat all students fairly, they tended to see African-Caribbean children as a threat when no threat was intended and reacted accordingly with measures of control. Despite the fact that teachers rejected racism their ethnocentric perceptions meant that their actions were racist in consequence. African-Caribbean children experienced more conflict in relationships with pupils, were more subjected to the schools detention system and were denied any legitimate voice of complaint.

Tony Sewell (1996)– Black Masculinities and schooling He was primarily interested in the experiences of black boys in education and he found that some black students were disciplined excessively by teachers who felt threatened by these students’ masculinity, sexuality and physical prowess because they had been socialized into racist attitudes. He also found that the boys in the study found that their culture received little or no positive recognition in the school.

2. Pupil subcultures

A culture of anti-school black masculinity – Tony Sewell (1997) observes that Black Caribbean boys may experience considerable pressure by their peers to adopt the norms of an ‘urban’ or ‘street’ subculture. More importance is given to unruly behaviour with teachers and antagonistic behaviour with other students than to high achievement or effort to succeed, particularly at secondary school.

Fordham and Ogbu (1986) further argue that notions of ‘acting White’ or ‘acting Black’ become identified in opposition to one another. Hence because acting White includes doing well at school, acting Black necessarily implies not doing well in school.

Mac an Ghail (1998) Young, Gifted and Black – Mac an Ghail was a teacher in two inner city colleges. He looked at three subcultures – the Asian Warriors, the African- Caribbean Rasta Heads and the Black Sisters. He used mainly participant observation both in the school and through befriending the students and socializing with them outside of the school. What he found was that the African Caribbean community experienced the world in very different ways to white people – namely because of institutional racism in the college and he argued that any anti-school attitudes were reactions against this racism. He mainly blamed the school rather than the students for this. See Stephen Moore page 172 for more details

3. The organisation of teacher learning

Banding and Streaming disadvantages the working classes and some minority groups -Gilborn and Youdell point out that Black Caribbean children are overrepresented in the lower sets and talk of how those in the lower sets get ‘written off’ because they have not hope of achieving A-Cs.

4. School can be seen as Institutionally Racist- The Hidden Curriculum

The Ethnocentric Curriculum – In education this refers to the ways in which what happens in schools can seem irrelevant to ethnic minority pupils. The curriculum is described as Ethnocentric – for example students having to study British history from the European point of view, out of date textbooks that racially stereotype and some subjects having a narrow, white British focus.

Crozier (2004) – experiences of Racism amongst Pakistani and Bangladeshi pupils

Bangladeshi and Pakistani pupils are often seen as ‘keeping to themselves’ in school, this research found that if they do so it is because they feel excluded by their white peers and marginalized by the school practices. The researchers discovered that Pakistani and Bangladeshi pupils had experienced the following – Anxieties about their safety; Racist abuse was a lived experience of their schooling; Careers advisors at school believed South Asian girls were bound by tradition and it was a waste of time advising them; Not being allowed off during Ramadan; Not feeling that assemblies were relevant.

Tariq Modood (2005) says – If we look at the best universities Whites are more likely to get an offer than other identical candidates. For example, while a White student has a 75% chance of receiving an invitation to study, a Pakistani candidate, identical in every way, has only a 57% chance of an offer.

Material Deprivation and Differences in Educational Achievement by Ethnicity

Material Deprivation can prevent a child gaining a good education because parents are less able to meet the Hidden costs of education such as finding money for school trips and home resources such as computers. Material Deprivation also means a family is more likely to live in a deprived area with worse schools. Lack of money impacts negatively on family dynamics, especially parental involvement in education, and have the effect of lowering educational aspirations.

Most ethnic minority groups experience higher levels of material deprivation than the national average. According to the Labour Force Survey 2004/05 20% of White British households are in income poverty compared to 25% of Indian, 30% of Black Caribbean, 45% of Black African, 55% of Pakistani and 65% of Bangladeshi households.
42% of White British students are from homes in the top two social classes, compared to 37% of Black Caribbean, 36% of Black African, 29% of Indian, 19% of Pakistani and only 9% of Bangladeshi students.

At the other end of the scale, the proportion of students from homes where the head of the household has never worked or is long term unemployed is 3% for White British but 7% for Indian, 8% for Black Caribbean, 23% for Pakistani, 26% for Black African and 40% for Bangladeshi households.

Limitations of material deprivation explanations

Children from the majority of ethnic minority groups, especially those of Indian and Bangladeshi origin, suffer higher than average levels of poverty yet do better than average in education, suggesting that there must be other factors that explain their achievement.