White working class pupils falling behind in school, warn North East MPs

North East needs to attract the best teachers to give poorer pupils a fair chance, Commons inquiry says

Ben Birchall/PA Wire School pupils sitting an A-level exam
School pupils sitting an A-level exam

Attracting the best teachers and heads to North East schools is essential in order to improve results for white working class children in the region, MPs have warned.

Gateshead MP Ian Mearns said teachers must be encouraged to believe that every child can make progress, regardless of their background.

He is a member of the Commons Education Committee, which is warning in a new report that white working class youngsters were falling behind other ethnic groups in terms of their GCSE results.

The Committee carried out the investigation after a report by inspectors Ofsted described how white British children eligible for free school meals were now the lowest-performing children at age 16 other than children from Irish traveller or Gypsy or Roma backgrounds.

Only 31% achieved five or more GCSEs at A*–C including English and mathematics.

And the gap is getting wider, with results improving each year for children from most ethnic minority backgrounds faster than for white British youngsters.

The committee, which also includes Durham MP Pat Glass, warned that youngsters who left school with few or no qualifications might once have found manual work but were now more likely to end up unemployed.

MP Pat Glass
MP Pat Glass

The MPs highlighted an Ofsted study which found there was significant regional variation in the supply of good secondary school leadership in deprived areas.

Ofsted last year said that leadership was good or outstanding in just over a third of the most deprived secondary schools in the North East compared with over four-fifths in London.

The Committtee also suggested longer school days could help boost the results of poorer children by giving them somewhere to do their homework, and urged Ofsted to advise schools on providing space for pupils to use once the school day was over.

“The current trend towards longer school days presents and opportunity for schools to provide space and time for students from lower socio-economic backgrounds to complete homework, which may particularly benefit white working-class children,” the committee said.

Mr Mearns said: “I am glad that we have done the inquiry because it has highlighted an under-regarded issue.”

He added: “This is an important issue for the North East of England.

“I remember over 20 years ago when I was working as a councillor in Gateshead and a member of the education committee, we had to get over attitudes towards youngsters from poor backgrounds that you get poor results with kids like this.

“If you can imbue within a school and the teaching community that we are going to add value to these kids’ education and give them something to leave that they can be proud of, that makes a difference.

“That means changing those attitudes and saying success is possible even with youngsters with low levels of prior attainment, as long as we can enthuse them and aspire them and show them that there is a real value to them engaging in the learning process.”

Some academics and teachers have said that the inquiry risks sidelining the difficulties faced by pupils from ethnic minorities, such as racism in schools.


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