White working-class boys have become the new “underclass”, a report by Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative leader, has warned. Boys from low-income white families are bottom of the heap in school performance, trailing behind every other major ethnic group. The report argues that family breakdown, parental breakdown and peer pressure that it is not “cool to study” are the key factors in the collapse in educational achievements. It also cites drug and alcohol abuse by parents. The report also highlights international research which shows that simply throwing more money at the problem will not provide a solution.
The bleak findings are spelt out in a study published by the Social Justice Policy Group that Mr Duncan Smith was asked to lead by David Cameron, the Conservative leader. The report stresses that only 17 per cent of white working-class boys managed to gain five or more A to C grades at GCSE.
This contrasts with the 19 per cent recorded by black Caribbean boys from poor backgrounds, who are traditionally seen as the ethnic group with the worst educational achievement.
Other groups have significantly better results. Around seven out of 10 boys from working-class Chinese families get at least five A to C grades at GCSE, while the figure for Indian boys is around 40 per cent.
Mr Duncan Smith said there was a danger that the problem has been disguised because results for white boys were boosted by the performance of boys from middle-class backgrounds.
“If you strip out the results of white middle-class boys, the position really is extraordinarily bad,” he said.“The fact that poor children from Chinese and Indian backgrounds, where family structures are strong and learning is highly valued, outscore so dramatically children from homes where these values are often missing suggests that culture, not ethnicity or cash, is the key to educational achievement.
“The policy-making implications are clear. To prevent the growth of an uneducated and unemployable underclass of forgotten children, we have to get their parents to engage in their learning and schooling from an early age.”
The report stresses that the under-performance of white working-class boys would have profound implications. “Almost every symptom of social breakdown — crime, drugs, alcohol and unemployment — is rooted in educational failure,” it warns.
Three out of four young offenders have no educational attainments, while 37 per cent of adult prisoners have reading skills below those of the average 11-year-old. It also argues that the only way to tackle the problem is to address the collapse of the traditional family in the worst sink estates.
While ministers repeatedly emphasise the increase in spending on schools under Labour, the report warns that there is little evidence that more spending will deal with under-achieving white boys.
The education budget has increased by around 50 per cent over the past decade while academic standards among the poorest pupils have barely risen.
“There is no direct international correlation between high spending on education and better outcomes. . . the problem is deep-rooted and social in character,” the report argues.
A lack of parental involvement during pre-school years creates an “attainment gap” which widens once the children reach school.
The report says that around 26,000 children a year, around five per cent of the year group, leave school without a GCSE pass. Around 75,000 15-year-olds enter their final year “barely able to read and write”. Social mobility is also declining, with a child from a low income family now less likely to get a well-paid job than in the 1970s.
Another issue is the lack of permanent head teachers in inner-city schools. Around 500,000 children are in schools without a full-time head, the report estimates.
Courtesy of Lee Bryant, Director of Sixth Form, Anglo-European School, Ingatestone, Essex