Underachievement in education by White working class children – submission to the Parliamentary Select Committee


I welcome this opportunity to make a submission to the Education Select Committee inquiry into the educational underachievement of white working class children. 

In summary, the submission

  • ·         Provides information on my background, how I became involved in the needs of the white working class, referring to a number of my research reports and publications;
  • ·         Uses data from Birmingham, as a case study, to highlight the extent of white working class educational underachievement.
  • ·         Calls for a number of possible interventions, namely, greater investment through Positive Action, inclusion of whites into any discussion of multiculturalism and diversity including through the possible convening of a working group of people who would be able to take an anti-racist approach on white identity

My background

I am a practitioner in education and equalities, with over 30 years of involvement. During this period, I have worked in a range of roles including youth worker, teacher, community relations officer, FE lecturer. Since 2000, I have worked as a Consultant for the Forward Partnership, providing support to a range of local and national organisations, including the Department for Education[1] and the Cabinet Office. Between 2001-2011, I was also employed as a Schools Adviser for Birmingham local authority. 

My current work, also focussed on Birmingham, is concerned with the needs of the Pakistani community. This has resulted in the publication of a book: Dear Birmingham[2], which draws attention to Pakistani exclusion. Since 2011, I have been engaged in doctoral research, through University of Warwick, into Pakistani boys’ achievement in the city. The findings are being made available to key stakeholders and will be launched at a national conference on 28 April 2014. 

My involvement in the needs and issues facing the white working class goes back to when I was commissioned by Birmingham Local Authority to produce a report [3]. Later, I had brought the report to the attention of Richard Burden, MP for Birmingham Northfield. His efforts resulted in an Adjournment Debate, on 19 May 2009, one of the few times when Parliament has specifically debated the underachievement of the white working class.


Birmingham as case study

Much of my work has had been focussed on Birmingham, treating the city as a case study. It has been one of the few authorities which has commissioned research and initiatives aimed at the white working class. It is also necessary to point out that Birmingham continues to be a high performing local education authority. For example, in 2012, its pupils achieved 88% 5 A*-C and 60% 5 A*-C with English and Maths which was two percentage points higher than the core cities average. 

Extent of white working class underachievement

Of the tens of thousands of young people who leave school each year, without the benchmark qualifications, the great majority continue to be white. Boys always outnumber girls. The large majority come from poor families and live in deprived neighbourhoods. In the education system they are usually identifiable by the FSM (free school meals) label.

In Birmingham, for the white working class young people, the picture is a typical one. Each year, the Report to the Scrutiny Committee shows white FSM pupils to be the least achieving, with boys at the bottom and the girls second from the bottom. While each year they improve on the previous year, so do most other pupil groups. Therefore, the gap between White FSM and their city peers continues. In fact, it is now getting bigger, as shown in Table 1 below:

Table 1: Gap between white FSM boys and girls and their Birmingham peers, in terms of achievement of 5A*-C at GCSE, including English and Maths

  2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
White FSM boys 27 28 26 26 30
White FSM girls 18 22 24 18 20

                Source: Birmingham City Council[4]

When one looks at 30% White FSM boys leaving school with the benchmark qualifications, it is not difficult to work out that 70% did not. The problem takes on a particular seriousness when one considers the human count, after all that is what parents send to schools, not percentages. In Birmingham, in 2012, out of 4934 pupils leaving school without the benchmark qualifications, the largest group, at 2191, were white (with the second largest, at 1133, being Pakistani).

One does not need to wait until end of their schooling to find out the extent of the problem. According to the Birmingham Scrutiny Report:

Key Stage 2 remains a weakness for white disadvantaged pupils. Although boys in the group made more improvement than the LA in the proportion of pupils achieving level four or above in English (9 percentage points compared to 7 percentage points), they are still 16 percentage points below the LA average   

In summary, white working class:

          are the largest underachieving ethnic group across the country”[5]

          fall behind from the early years

          tend to have the lowest aspirations of all groups[6]

          often attend schools that face additional cost pressures[7]

          do not have sufficient opportunities to participate in extra-curricular and enrichment activities[8]

          are not always included meaningfully in discussion of identity and diversity[9]

Interventions and responses

There is much that needs to be done to address the educational underachievement of white working class. Overall, I have made a case for the development of a strategy which is based on principles of Positive Action[10] in order to address their needs. 

Acknowledgement of the problem: in my 2005 report I recommended that the ‘White’ category should be sub-divided to highlight separately the white working class. While some progress has been made, much more needs to be done when disseminating data and in the subsequent analysis and policy responses.

Investment in schools serving disadvantaged communities: while Pupil Premium has begun to make a difference, much more is needed in terms of investment to help schools meet their resource pressure. They need to be helped to recruit and retain the best quality teachers, through financial and other incentives.

Parenting and family learning: many parents do an amazing job at providing ‘good at home parenting’[11] but need further help. Many of them are the same people who were failed by the education system in the past and now would benefit from second chance education. This calls for greater investment in localised adult education and FE provision as well as universities doing more through their widening participation for mature students.

Inclusive multiculturalism: Schools and others have made a significant contribution on multi-cultural education, resulting in greater societal inclusion and tolerance. But much more needs to be done to bring white communities into the picture when recognising and celebrating diversity. Otherwise, in major towns and cities such as Birmingham, talk of diversity and even super-diversity has the potential of excluding whites and pushing them even closer towards the extremist and racist groups. Since this issue was recognised in the Government-commissioned Ajegbo Report on Diversity and Citizenship, little follow-up action appears to have been taken. I would recommend the convening of a top level working group to advise and guide how an anti-racist approach can be taken within the education system on white identity. At the same time, I would want to guard against the kind of parochialism being promoted through the newly revised curriculum on subjects such as history. In areas such as Birmingham, it is important for young people, across all ethnic groups, to learn local history with a wider backdrop- to learn about British Empire, how their parents and grandparents – across all ethnic groups and social classes – made their contribution.


It is worth stating that we have been here before. We have many years of experience in the education system of responding to underachievement of ethnic minority young people. Much of it, in my view, has the potential of being transferred to the white working class[12]. Furthermore, there are a number of schools across the country who have shown how to effectively respond to the needs of white working class. One such, Colmers School and Sixth Form College, in Birmingham, deserves a particular mention as it was extensively researched by me and other colleagues[13]

It is important to point out that not all white working class pupils underachieve. Some, with right intervention and levels of resilience, do manage to succeed against the odds. But for the thousands of low achievers the prospects can be very bleak indeed:

Consequently many of them have few prospects in the job market. Not surprisingly, they may end up unemployed and vulnerable, and a proportion will become single parents or involved in drugs and crime. For many of them being full members of society will be difficult. Young offenders and the prison population generally are disproportionately those who were excluded from school or had poor educational results. Low achievement is a misfortune for the individuals concerned and a considerable social problem. The costs to society of not addressing the issues discussed here are high.”[14]



[1] Iqbal K (2000). Consultations with Black and Minority Ethnic Voluntary Organisations about the New Connexions Service Home Office and DfEE; Iqbal K (2009): Equality and diversity issues within Family Intervention Projects – some observations on advice in publications, and from Key Workers DfE

[2] Iqbal K (2013). Dear Birmingham – a conversation with My Hometown Xlibris Publishing

[3] Iqbal K (2005). Underachievement of White Disadvantaged Pupils in Birmingham

[4] Overview and Scrutiny Committee (2013). Examination and Assessment Results 2013 Birmingham City Council

[5] Cassen R and Kingdon G (2007). Tackling low educational achievement Joseph Rowntree Foundation

[6]Strand, S. & Winston, J. (2008). Educational aspirations in inner city schools.  Educational Studies, 34, (4), 249-267.

[7] Ofsted (2000). Improving City Schools

[8] DCSF (2009). Deprivation and Education

[9] Maylor U et al (2007). Diversity and Citizenship in the Curriculum: Research Review DFES

[10] Iqbal K (2010). White working class underachievement- a case for Positive Action, Forward Partnership

[11] Desforges  C, Abouchaar A (2003). The Impact of Parental Involvement, Parental Support and Family Education on Pupil Achievement and Adjustment: A Literature Review DFES

[12] Iqbal K (2010). White working class needs the minority treatment Times Educational Supplement 5 November   

[13] Iqbal K (2012). Addressing white working class underachievement – its not rocket science Amazon Kindle

[14] Cassen R and Kingdon G (2007). Tackling low educational achievement Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Working class young people lack the character capabilities necessary for success in the modern world

Life was fairly predictable for young people in the past. They would attend school and then follow one of a number of options upon leaving school. What they did at this point depended on a combination of their social class and educational achievement. Many went into a range of differently paid and differently statused jobs while others pursued further or higher education. But the situation has radically changed during the past few decades. Getting a job upon leaving school is no longer a certainty. And if they do get one, unlike before, they are more likely to have to leave it and seek another. The process may continue at a regular frequency as there are few jobs for life. In between work, the person may have to cope with periods of unemployment, work flexibly, work part-time etc.

The modern life journey young people are increasingly likely to pursue requires them to have certain personal and social skills. Those who have such skills are at an advantage in the competitive world around them. “Our basic needs are ones for sustenance and care. But we also need capabilities- skills, knowledge, and wisdom- to help us navigate through life. These capabilities are the means through which we meet our other needs – finding a job, earning a living and coping with challenges.” The report goes onto refer to Amartya Sen who talks of “capability as a kind of freedom”.

The capabilities concerned are developed in early life but they have long lasting impact for the individual. Many are also developed through activities and learning beyond school. This has particular implications for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

According to Lexmond and Reeves “a substantial research literature shows that the development of … skills is influenced by socio-economic background with children from poorer families faring worse that children from middle class families” (2009).

According to Phil Parker, a senior teacher with many years of experience in White working class schools, “this is reinforced by the findings in our PASS survey, though not against these criteria explicitly. Our findings in 2005 showed self esteem, self confidence, readiness to learn (and to some extent attitudes to teachers) featured heavily”.

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For the White working class young people, home and school can be worlds apart leading to a clash of cultures

“…(disadvantaged) children may not experience the benefits at home which more advantaged children take for granted, for example access to a wide range of books or educational software” (DCSF 2009a)

In the second half of the last century, our schools began to develop strategies on multicultural education. There was recognition that home and school for some of the ethnic minority were two separate worlds. The Bullock Report (1975) was perhaps the most well known document in this respect. It pointed out that home and school should not be separate worlds for children and that efforts should be made, by schools and others in education, to reflect the child’s life at home. Although, the focus of this report was ethnic minority pupils and their needs, it equally applies to White working class children for whom home and school are two separate worlds as the academic Gillian Evans has shown. In her research into the lives of working class families she found a world very different from that which middle class people are used to. Talking about one family she visits, she writes:

“..The contrast between Sharon’s household and my own is revealing. I become self-consciously aware that, at least on school days, my daughters have to make sense of all the prohibitions and special routines to do with the cultivation of self-discipline: learning how to eat healthily, happily do homework and music practice (not so happily), before relaxing and doing as they please. I realise that this is also what probably makes the transition from home to school easier for middle-class children: they are already used to following instructions, doing as they are told, and may have some awareness that those rules and regulations are for their own good”. (Evans 2006)

Demie and Lewis (2010) spoke of assumptions made by the education system about different groups of pupils. It is expected that immigrants will not understand the education system and the wider services available in a given area around them and that White working class pupils will have such knowledge. So everyone sets out to work with the former while ignoring the latter and yet it is they who need bit of an ‘immigrant treatment’- to be pointed out where services are; what their purpose is, how they can benefit the user etc.

According to the DCSF, cultural and social factors are implicated in the association between deprivation and poor educational outcomes. They have acknowledged the possibility that working class children may have “different background knowledge, skills and interest which are not reflected in the school curriculum and are less likely to have the kinds of social connections which offer inspiration and opportunities” (2009b).

It has been shown that the way middle class children are parented, both before and during their school life, has greater continuity with what they experience at school. According to Lareau (2003), through their upbringing they develop a ‘sense of entitlement’. They expect the world and its systems to revolve around them and when it doesn’t they know they can complain. This is often not the case for working class children (Evans 2007, Lareau 2003). For them home and school are two separate worlds, given the “middle class values” of the education system (Evans 2007).

Reay (2006) talks about working class pupils feeling worthless within the ‘classed’ environment education is. They can feel “..not really valued and respected within education” and there was a feeling of inadequacy – “inadequate cultural backgrounds, looked down for their ‘stupidity’ and ..positioned as less than human”. On the other hand, there are numerous schools who give respect to such working class young people and their parents and get respect back.

Thrup also talks about social class discrimination in the education system. He points out: “..research has indicated that teachers and principals can advantage the middle class in lots of ways in the day to day life of schools: in their use of language, in what they choose to teach about and assess, in their support for segregated and stratified school programmes, in their assumptions about student behaviours and world views, the so called ’hidden curriculum’ and so on” (2007). This sounds like ‘classism’(ala institutional racism)

According to Lupton (2003a), middle class teachers do not always recognise class differences between themselves and their working class pupils in the same that they recognise ethnic and cultural differences. They were also less likely to adapt their practice to accommodate the needs of white working class students in the way they were for ethnic minority students. Of course, their ability to adapt is also limited, given the constraints of school organisation and the curriculum as well as unavailability of training and resources.

Becky Francis, RSA Director of Education, was quoted as making a similar point when she said: “Academic research…has shown that there is often a huge gulf between the values that working-class children grow up with and those they encounter at school. Middle-class children, by contrast, face far less dissonance… . Already, working-class kids feel like fish out of water,” she says. “Those differences come into play even at a very young age. If you’re told you’re a failure, why would you bother?” (Bloom 2010)

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Parental involvement in children’s education can be a significant influence on working class young people

“Parents, even if their income is low, can help young people to stay in school and gain some qualifications if they are interested in their child’s progress, show that they believe their child is capable of succeeding and wish her/him to do so” (Bartley 2006)

“Parents in deprived families are less likely to be involved in their children’s education. Of particular importance is the provision of a stimulating home learning environment, which is found less often in deprived contexts” (DCSF 2009b)

“Young people who perceived their parents to be monitoring their activities had higher levels of achievement” (Wilson 2009)

It has been pointed out that parents can make a major difference to their children’s education (Desforges and Abouchaar 2003). Firstly, this can involve ‘at home’ parenting i.e. provision of a secure and stable environment, parent-child discussion, good models of constructive social and educational values and high aspirations. Secondly, in relation to home-school links, this can involve contact with school to share information, participation in school events and participation in the work of the school including governance.

White working class parental involvement is not rocket science. There is plenty of good practice which needs to be replicated. For example, government’s own National Strategies has produced case studies (2009) which recorded that “all the schools worked hard to develop positive relationships with parents/carers”. Desforges and Abouchaar have also pointed out that:

According to Strand (2007), White young people were the least likely to have paid-for private tuition and least likely for their parents to know their child’s whereabouts. He also points out that parents were most likely to report quarrels with their child more than once a week which meant that whatever social capital the parents had was not transferred to the children (Coleman (1988).

Evans (2007) agrees that working class parents are committed to education of their children and want them to do well but don’t always know how to help in the process. “For example, children may regularly be told to ‘go and pick up a book!’ but parents aren’t necessarily likely to sit down with their children to show them how to read and enjoy it ..”. They often also lack the confidence to critically engage with the school if they disagree with something the school is doing. Unlike middle class parents they are more likely to look up the teachers as having superior knowledge. “Many parents left the child’s education to the school “(Demie and Lewis 2010)

Lott (2001) presents a depressing picture about how poorer parents are treated by the education system and the barriers they face in relation to their contact with schools.

Lareau (1989) also reported that schools established home-school liaison arrangements based on middle class norms, knowledge and expectations, and interpreted parental non-participation as a lack of interest in education rather than as a deficit of cultural capital.

Both Lott and Lareau based their research on American schools. It is tempting to think the picture is a lot better in the UK though I have my doubts. What is the situation in your school? Are there hard-to-reach parents or is yours a hard-to-reach school for working class parents? Are there working class parents in your school community who face some of the barriers and problems highlighted above?

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Teacher attitudes and low expectations can further disadvantage pupils from working class backgrounds

A recent study from Bristol University (Burgess and Greaves 2009) into teacher assessment outlined how young people are disadvantaged by teacher stereotyping. Although the focus of the study was mainly on ethnic minority young people, it also found the White working class young people equally suffer from low teacher expectations. Reay found teachers treating students very differently on the basis of their social class. “For example, over the course of four weeks’ observation the middle class students were given almost twice the amount of positive feedback provided to working class students” (2006).

This confirmed previous research which had pointed out that teacher attitudes, assumptions and behaviours which were influenced by pupils’ socioeconomic background were disadvantageous for pupils from deprived backgrounds” (DCSF 2009b). This compounded the disadvantage for these pupils which resulted from being placed in low ability groups which had poor quality teaching (DCSF 2009a).

The above was also confirmed by Gazeley and Dunne whose research pointed out that “teachers hold stereotypical views and attitudes about pupils and their parents which favoured the middle class …and blame underachievement on the pupils’ social class”.

They also found when teachers referred to a pupil’s home; they made greater proportion of positive references about pupils identified as middle class:

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White working class young people are disadvantaged by ‘neighbourhood effects’

But the White families, nothing binds them, some are cousins I suppose but they are not seeking anybody out, I can’t think of anything that would bind them together (Demie and Lewis 2010)

In the Caribbean community there is an ethos of hard work, with Church and music providing a strong focal point for families. Whereas the White I probably have nothing but the pub…there is no pride in the White community, no strong sense of a cultural identity. (Demie and Lewis 2010)

There has been on-going debate about whether neighbourhood disadvantages have an adverse effect on educational achievement. A number of area based policy initiatives were implemented in the recent past which were based on the assumption that this was indeed the case: Health, Education and Employment Action Zones, Excellence in Cities, Sure Start and New Deal for Communities. Also in recognition of this, it has been argued that “both school-level and wider interventions are needed to close the gap in educational attainment” (Lupton 2003).

In explaining how the ‘neighbourhood effect’ works, Ainsworth (2002) has pointed to collective socialisation as a process which has by far the most significant impact on young people. Children living in advantaged areas are more likely to have modelled for them value for education, adherence to school norms and hard work. On the other hand in neighbourhoods (and families) where many adults do not work life can become “incoherent” for young people because what they see in their community outside of school does not complement what school may talk about in terms of values such as ‘work for a living’ or hard work leading to success. Instead, the ‘oppositional’ nature of the messages they get in the outside world may actually undermine what the school says.

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Working class pupils’ disadvantage is compounded by poor or lack of internet access

A study of internet access amongst children, by Ofcom, pointed out the important role such access plays in children’s education. It pointed out that by far the highest category of internet usage (75%) amongst 12-15 year olds was for school related work. The study also pointed out the disadvantage suffered by poorer children as only 31% of such children i.e. those in C2DE socioeconomic groups do not have internet access at home and rely on schools and friends for such access, while only 12% of children in ABC1 socioeconomic group do so (2007).

A recent report from Becta (2008) highlighted some of the benefits for children of having home internet access which goes beyond simply being able to do their homework.

Social exclusion caused by lack of internet access

According to Communities and Local Government (2008), those most deprived socially are also most likely to lack access to internet access. “Three out of four of those ‘broadly’ socially excluded lack a meaningful engagement with the internet”. In addition, they were the group categorised as ‘deeply socially excluded’ whose lack of internet access is even greater. They account for some 10 % of the UK population.

Another study into broadband adoption acknowledged that while such access was increasingly a prerequisite for social and economic inclusion, “limited availability, poor quality service, hardware costs, hidden fees and billing transparency” were major issues for low income communities (SSRC 2010). The report went onto point out the critical role played by ‘third spaces’ such as libraries who provide a safety net for access and as providers of training and task based assistance for their communities.

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White working class children face inequality in participating in extra-curricular activities

At a general level, home environment in poorer families can have an adverse effect on education in a variety of ways. “Homes which are overcrowded, cold or in general poor condition can affect education through lack of quiet space for study, disturbed sleep and a general negative influence on emotional well-being” (DCSF 2009b)

Overcrowding can have an adverse impact on education, “directly through a lack of space to do homework and in other more indirect ways such as illness which can result from such overcrowding” (ODPM 2004).

Sutton et al (2007) interviewed 42 children in order to understand their lives. 19 of these were referred to as estate children (the term was chosen by the children themselves); all of whom were White. The other 23, private, children attended a fee paying independent school; 20 were White and 3 were from ethnic minority groups. Although both groups of children viewed education as one of the most important aspects of their lives, their actual experience of education was very different. One way this showed up was in the length of their learning day.

They found that the private school children “had long school days (typically 9.00 am to 6.00pm; some stayed at school until after 6pm), put a greater emphasis on homework and were involved in a wide variety of after-school clubs and activities”. In contrast the estate children had “shorter school days (typically 9.00 am to 3.30 pm), were not as focussed on their homework and were involved in fewer after-school clubs and activities”. This is also confirmed by other research.

Lareau (2003), provides many examples of middle class parents who ‘supplement’ their children’s education through paid-for activities as well as through the many conversations they have with them and teach them knowledge, skills or particular way of seeing the world. Evans (2007) makes a similar point about middle class children whose “every minute of their spare time inside and outside of schools (is) filled with structured activities oriented towards learning valuable skills in art, music, sport and drama and so on”.

Free time- organised activities: Sutton et al (2007) in their study of poverty found that the estate (the term chosen by the poor children to define themselves) children took part in fewer organised activities than the private children and could not always afford to take part in them. “Their ability to travel to and from activities was also limited by cost and lack of transport. By contrast, the private children took part in a wide range of activities organised by the school and their parents”. Compared to the estate children, “for private children their free time retains an emphasis on learning”.

The challenge for school is clearly what opportunities to provide and how for young people whose parents are less well off; to compensate for what their parents cannot provide.

To ensure the cost of activities does not act as a barrier for participation of the most disadvantaged pupils, the extended schools subsidy was being rolled out during 2009. The aim of this was to enable the most disadvantaged young people to participate in activities of their choosing. Unfortunately, as distribution decisions were left to local areas, a number were taking the easy option of dividing the money equally across their authorities instead, as was intended to happen, targeting inversely according to the level of disadvantage.

Benefits of education outside the classroom

It is well known that in order to gain the maximum benefit from their education, young people need to form good relationships with their teachers and fellow pupils. For this, they need well developed interpersonal skills and understanding. However, often these skills are developed outside of the school through participation in activities and programmes. Sadly, this is where poorer children miss out as they don’t have as many opportunities for such participation. Therefore, this calls for compensatory measures so that these essential skills for life in school and beyond could be provided in other ways. Otherwise, the young people in question are unlikely to achieve their full potential in school and go on failing to benefit from many opportunities in life generally.

Ofsted have stressed the importance of education outside the classroom (2008). They point out that it leads to “improved outcomes…including better achievement, standards, motivation, personal development and behaviour. It also provides extra depth to pupils’ learning and experience”. They confirmed that many schools relied on contributions from parents and carers to meet the costs of residential and other visits and had given very little thought to alternative ways of financing them. In the schools visited there was a long tradition of asking parents to make a considerable financial contribution to learning outside the classroom, for example, by covering transport costs and entrance fees.

Chowdry et al et al (2009) points out that “young people who participate in positive activities at age 14 tend to have higher test scores at Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4 and are significantly less likely to be NEET at age 17 than young people who do not participate in positive activities”.

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There are major disparities between middle and working class young people in relation to homework and other OOHL activities

“There was a significant boost to progress for pupils who reported they completed homework on three, four or five evenings a week, relative to those who reported they never completed homework. The more homework done, the greater the impact on their progress.” (Strand 2008) He goes onto point out that “homework was one of the two, out of the eight, variables with by far the largest impact on attainment; academic self-concept was the other one.” …. “White I pupils were one of the two ethnic groups who reported doing the least amount of homework.” (2008)

Wiggins et al (2009) pointed out there are clear associations between parental occupation and educational level and children reading for pleasure. In relation to homework, they found that there are disparities in setting and doing of such work as well as doing extra work. For example, 23% children of unskilled parents reported that homework was not set compared to only 12% for children of professional parents; 49% of the former did all the work set compared to 61% of the latter. In addition, 9% of the former did extra work compared to 13% of the latter. “This suggests that the children of less educated parents are much more likely to be either in classes or schools that do not set much homework (almost half as much). Overall it shows that children whose parents are from higher socioeconomic groups …are more likely to complete all of their homework.. “

It has been recognised by the DCSF that children from deprived backgrounds may find it harder than their peers to complete their homework (2009b). “This can be due to lack of space for study; lack of educational resources in the home such as books, encyclopaedias and other reference material; lack of internet access and parents inability to help with the homework tasks”. Elsewhere, it has been recognised that “parents want to help their children succeed, but do not necessarily know the best way to do this” (DCSF 2009a)

Jonathan Milne pointed out in his TES article (1.2. 2008): “homework falls victim to the economic divide”. This was based on a survey by Kirkland-Rowell which gathered views of more than 75,000 parents whose children attended either a school in the most deprived 20 per cent of neighbourhoods, or one in the 20 per cent of most prosperous neighbourhoods. It showed that on average, pupils in the wealthier areas did 5.66 hours a week of homework, while those in poor areas did 4.35 hours. The gap was most pronounced at Year 11 – the GCSE year – when the better- off pupils did two hours more than those from poorer backgrounds. Those extra two hours added up to 78 hours a year, equivalent to three 25-hour school weeks. In both rich and poor areas, girls did at least an hour more homework than the boys in their classes.

In another article in the TES on homework, (3 July, 2009), it was pointed out that many of the homework tasks were assumed to need resources of time, space and basic materials such as textbooks, pens, pencils and paper which are often not available in poor homes.

Lindy Barclay, an experienced practitioner with White working class young people has also drawn attention to the life outside school of such children. In an article in the TES (9 October, 2009) she drew attention to what goes on during the summer holidays for many of the working class children.

“During the summer, some of the teenagers on our estate live a kind of feral existence. They roam wild and, in some instances, lawless. No rules about being in at night, no restrictions on who they hang around with, no prohibitions on drinking and smoking. They are generally nice kids, but live with few boundaries”.

She does mention the few lucky ones whose time is taken up with hobbies “- fishing, skateboarding, swapping computer games, playing football every day in the park –“ as well as the small “minority whose parents are able to afford to take them on holiday, about 8 per cent according to a recent survey of our students”.

Barclay then draws out the implications of this. “Those students who experience a very different life outside of school are often the most challenging”. Demie and Lewis (2010) point out the life many working class young people lead out of school: “The children are out on the streets in their uniforms after school. The mothers don’t do anything with their children, they don’t go anywhere as a family. There is no family structure.”

Wiggins et al (2009) point out that poorer children are also less likely to: Borrow books from library other than school; Be asked at home almost every day about what their time at school; Attend daytime clubs once a week; Attend after-school clubs once a week; Read for pleasure or Do maths and English homework.

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White working class children are more likely to be NEET than other ethnic groups

“Growing numbers of working class young men in British cities ..will find themselves numbered among the ‘unexceptionally disadvantaged’” (McDowell 2003). It is likely that the vast majority of these are White.

According to the National Audit Office (2008), Year 11 students who were FSM were “twice as likely to be NEET AT 16/17 as those who did not have free school meals”. Using figures for 2007, it was found that while percentage of families where the 16/17 year old was NEET was 7, for families in receipt of FSM the figure was 16. The report also stated that “a higher proportion of White young people are NEET than is seen among most ethnic minority group”.

The above report stated that although the parents strongly wanted their children to have a better education than they had received themselves they tended to have less social capital. This meant that the parents were less likely to be confident in their abilities to advise their children about educational choices. Many of the families were found to be headed by a female lone-parent. The families of NEET young people also tended to report poorer home relationships.

Implications of being NEET

The National Audit Office (2008) has pointed out that being NEET is a major predictor of unemployment at age 21 and is strongly correlated with early parenthood. 71% of women who experience a significant spell of NEET (6 months or more between 16 and 18) are parents by the age of 21 compared with 16% of other young women.

Being NEET has clear financial cost implications for the individual and society at large. According to Godfrey et al (2002), in research conducted for the DES, “life time cost of young people NEET at 16 to 18 was £7 billion in resource costs and £8.1 billion in public finance costs.

According to the Prince’s Trust (2007), “for 16 to 24 year olds, the productivity loss to the economy from youth unemployment has been estimated at £10 million every year in addition to approximately £20 million each week in Jobseeker’s allowance for 18 to 24 year olds”.

The picture painted by the Bow Group (2007) was even more depressing. They pointed out that “out of the proportion of those earning less than £6.50 per hour, 53% have no qualifications”. They pointed out that the impact of educational failure is “dramatic and lasting” through extremely limited life chances and behaviour which presents major social problems. They found 71% of young people NEET had admitted to using illegal drugs compared with 45% who were in education, employment or training while 29% of NEETs had committed a crime compared with only 11% non-NEETs.

Consequently, for these young people being full members of community will be difficult. Many will have few prospects in the job market. Not surprisingly, a proportion will become single parents, involved in drugs and crime and possibly end up in prison. “Low achievement is a misfortune for the individuals concerned and a considerable social problem. The costs to society of not addressing the issues..are high”. (Cassen and Kingdon 2007)

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