North East schools serving poorer communities are struggling to recruit and retain experienced teachers, leaving children suffering from a poorer education, according to a leading academic.
The warning was issued by Professor Stephen Gorard, Professor of Education and Public Policy at Durham University, as he gave evidence to an inquiry looking into underachievement by white working class children.
MPs on the Commons Education Committee, including North West Durham MP Pat Glass and Gateshead MP Ian Mearns, are looking into why children from white communities on the lowest incomes do worse than youngsters from other ethnic backgrounds.
School results suggest white children from the least wealthy families are receiving lower marks than other pupils from similar economic backgrounds.
A report by school inspectors Ofsted last year found 30.5% of “white British” children eligible for free meals gained five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C including English and maths, below the national average of 36%.
The figure for eligible African-Carribean pupils was 40.2%, for Pakistani children it was 46.5%, for Black African children it was 48.4%, and for Chinese children it was 68.2%.
The idea of white underachievement is challenged by some academics, who argue that it distracts attention from the far more significant gap in achievement between pupils from wealthy backgrounds and those from low-income families.
Speaking to the Committee, Prof Gorard said schools without sixth forms found it harder to attract experienced staff - and these also tended to serve less wealthy communities.
He told the MPs: “There is some evidence that, in areas where you would have a predominance of white working class, you often get high teacher turnover; you get less experienced teachers and so on.”
He added: “Then you have issues like differences in age range. Where schools are 11 to 16 at the secondary age, it is much harder for them to have specialist teachers in individual science subjects, because they are not going to be offering A-levels.
“Where you have 11 to 18 and 11 to 16 schools nearby, historically the 11 to 16 schools have taken more white working class kids, often in the North East. The staff they attract - through no fault of their own, but because they do not have a sixth form - will differ from the 11 to 18, which might be only two miles away.”
A possible solution might involve creating a national teaching service so that teachers could be sent where there skills were most needed, to replace the current system where each school was responsible for recruiting its own staff, he said.
He also called for measures to ensure schools had a mixed intake of pupils from a range of backgrounds - but warned that the schools system was becoming more divided rather than less.
Speaking during the hearing, North West Durham MP Pat Glass said schools needed more freedom to teach skills that pupils would find useful rather than sticking rigidly to a national curriculum.