The concept of ‘white privilege’ has become ubiquitous in certain circles. This deeply flawed idea is presented by politicians, academics and social commentators as an incontestable fact.
Though much of our progressive commentariat obsesses about racial equality, one of the most striking facts about modern-day Britain is that poor white teenagers in England’s former industrial and coastal towns are among the least likely to go to university. Chris Millward, director of fair access at the Office for Students, recently described how white working-class communities have missed out: ‘The expansion of educational opportunities, and the belief that equality of opportunity would flow from this, have not delivered for them… so, they are less likely to see education as the way to improve their lives.’
‘White privilege’ doesn’t amount to much when we consider figures for educational performance. For a range of outcomes, white working-class children trail behind their peers in a number of ethnic-minority groups: including those of Indian, Chinese, Bangladeshi and Black African origin. For 2018-2019, the average ‘Attainment 8’ score for Indian and Bangladeshi-origin pupils on free school meals (FSMs) in England was 48.2 and 46.4 respectively. The corresponding figure for white British pupils on FSMs was only 31.8.
The unfortunate reality is that many coastal and former industrial towns have had to deal not only with the decline of their local economies, but also with the collapse of the family unit and the atomisation of their communities. Research from the Centre for Social Justice found that children who experienced family breakdown were twice as likely to fail at school. Against a backdrop of substance misuse and alcohol dependency, responsible and inspiring adult role models are a relatively scarce commodity. And, starved of meaningful public investment for decades, chronically under-resourced schools are bursting at the seams.
Read more: There’s no evidence of ‘white privilege’