A landmark report has found that white working-class pupils have been ‘let down’ for decades by England’s education system – and that promoting ideas of ‘white privilege’ makes the situation worse.
The Tory-dominated Commons Education Select Committee, which is chaired by Robert Halfon MP, said white working-class pupils are one of the worst-achieving groups in the country, and ‘feel anything but privileged’.
It said they are behind many of their similarly disadvantaged peers of other ethnicities at ages five, 16 and 18 – and that ‘politically controversial’ and ‘divisive’ phrases such as ‘white privilege’ may have contributed to poor white pupils being forgotten by the system ‘for decades’.
The MPs also warned against ‘pitting different groups against each other’ and suggested that schools which promote ideas of ‘white privilege’ could be in breach of the Equality Act 2010. Their report includes two maps of England which indicate that white working-class pupils live in poor areas, are not eligible for free school meals and underperform to a greater extent than their similarly disadvantaged peers in other ethnic groups – particularly outside London.
It concluded that disadvantaged white pupils have been badly let down by ‘muddled’ policy thinking and the Department for Education has failed to acknowledge the extent of the problem.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Halfon said there are a number of factors at play, including geography – where white working-class pupils live in towns that have been ‘left behind because all the money, all the focus has been spent on the big cities’. He also warned that some families were ‘disengaged from education’ in areas where ‘there is often a lack of community, a lack of social capital as well’.