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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White working class pupils suffer from some of the worst levels of attendance and exclusion

According to Ofsted (2010), “there is a clear link between attendance and achievement since if pupils are not attending school they will be unable to access the opportunities available to them.”

Young people from poorer backgrounds are significantly more likely to play truant than those from richer families at both age 14 and 16, i.e. 24% from the former group compared to 8% from the latter. Young people from the former group are also twice as likely to engage in anti-social activity as opposed to the latter group i.e. 41% compared to 21% (Chowdry et al 2009)

The National Audit Office (2008) found that on average, secondary schools with very high levels of FSM pupils had seven days more absence per pupil per year than secondary schools with average levels of FSM pupils.

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White working class underachievement is an issue across the country

It has to be recognised that disadvantaged pupils are not only to be found in disadvantaged schools. According to DCSF (2009), about half of FSM pupils are to be found in the third of schools who have the greatest concentration of disadvantage while the other half are spread across the other two thirds of schools.

This lack of concentration is a particular issue for white working class pupils compared to other ethnic groups. According to DCSF (2009b), 70% Bangladeshi pupils and 60% of Pakistani pupils live in 20% most deprived postcodes; only 20% of white British pupils do so. The contrast between the ethnic groups is even greater when we look at those who live in the 10% most deprived postcode areas. While the figures for Bangladeshi pupils is 45%, for Pakistani pupils 40%, it is only 10% for white pupils.

Being a minority in a school can additionally disadvantage white working class pupils. According to Sue Hackman, Chief Adviser on School Standards: “Over and above the usual problems faced by pupils who are disadvantaged these smaller minorities lose out even further. Their needs are less likely to be specifically identified and met and inadvertently their culture and expectations are swamped by those of their more affluent peers” (DCSF 2010b).

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White working class pupils fall behind from the early years

22 months: the problems start soon after birth. According to the DCSF, “the social class gap in attainment opens up by 22 months” and “an FSM child has around 3 times worse odds of achieving good school outcomes than a non-FSM child at every critical point in their education after age 5” (2009a).

7-36 months: Risley and Hart researched into the early life of American children by looking at the upbringing of 42 new babies from a wide range of social class backgrounds. They concluded that by the end of their observation, some babies had heard over 33 million words while others only 10 million.

“This was our most surprising discovery: that the size of the differences between families in the amount of talk to babies is so enormous- and that those differences add up to massive advantages or disadvantages for children in language experience long before they start school”

Age 3: DCSF point out that “at age three, children from lower income households have lower vocabulary scores” and that this continues through the various Key stages. For example, compared to FSM pupils, non-FSM pupils have three times the odds of achieving the expected level in reading and writing at Key Stage 1 in English; 3.5 times the odds of achieving the expected level in science at Key Stage 3 and 3.2 odds of achieving an A*-C grade in maths.

Research from Australia (Smart et al 2008) provides evidence that working class children suffer from poor school readiness. The effect of this stays with them throughout their schooling and leads to them underachieving at the point of school leaving. I wonder how many of our NEET (not in education, employment or training) young people have a similarly poor start in life!

More discouragement

In the context of this paper, it is necessary to point out that the poorer and disadvantaged families were the ones who not only had spoken fewer words but were also more likely to speak discouragement to their children. Risley and Hart (2006) found that some babies had heard over 500 thousand affirmative statements about their actions from their parents while others would have heard less than 60 thousand.

The film Precious provides a depressing tale of an obese black teenager who is pregnant with a second child by her own father while living in poverty with her violent mother. What stood out for one reviewer was not the film’s ferocity and sexual abuse, but the mother’s constant haranguing; she told her daughter that she would never succeed in anything beyond claiming welfare. “She did not just chip away at her self-esteem, she bulldozed it to dust” (Perry 2010).

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White working class children are largest underachieving ethnic group across the country facing deep seated disadvantages

“It is important not to forget that while White British FSM boys are the worst performing ethnic group (out of boys); White British girls are the worst performing ethnic group (out of girls)” DES ‘Gender and Education’ 2007
“… White working class are not the only underachieving group, they are the largest in number and by many criteria the greatest underachievers” Mongon and Chapman 2008

“White British FSM pupils are the lowest attaining group … with only 17% achieving 5+A*-C (including English and maths), compared to the national average of 45%” DCSF ‘Deprivation and Education’ 2009

“At GCSE (using the 5+ A*-C measure), being eligible for FSM depresses scores by 32 percentage points for white British boys and 34 percentage points for girls. “The effect of FSM is huge for white British children” href=”http://www.education.gov.uk/research/data/uploadfiles/DFES-00389-2007.pdf”>DES ‘Gender and Education’ 2007

“White British pupils are the lowest attaining ethnic group” whether we look at low socio-economic status , mothers having low educational qualifications, entitlement to FSM, living in single parent households, living in rented housing or neighbourhood deprivation. They are also the group who “made the least progress over the course of secondary school” Minority ethnic pupils in the longitudinal study of young people in England Strand 2008

All ethnic minority groups are found to be making greatest progress on average than white students between ages 11 and 16, leading to “poor white students as the lowest performing of all groups at age 16”. The improvement for ethnic minority pupils happens despite English being their second language and despite the fact that they are even more likely to go to poor quality schools (Wilson et al (2005)).

“The great majority of low achievers – more than three quarters- are white and British and boys outnumber girls. Eligibility for free school meals is strongly associated with low achievement but significantly more so for white British pupils than for other ethnic groups…We have one of the highest associations of social class with educational performance” (Cassen and Kingdon ‘Tackling low educational achievement’2007).

“After controlling for socio economic variables, the groups for whom low attainment is the greatest concern are: white British boys and girls and black Caribbean boys from low socio economic class homes. These are the three lowest attaining groups”. (Independent Commission on Social Mobility 2009)

Callanan et al 2009pointed out that “the characteristics most associated with underachievement are being male, being white British, entitlement to Free School Meals, having Special Educational Needs (particularly the category School Action Plus) and living in a deprived area”. She also pointed out that that “Asian pupils were the least likely to be underachievers”.

In relation to achievement in English in particular, according to Ofsted (2009), White FSM British boys were amongst the lowest performers in the country. The standards attained by them were “amongst the lowest.”

Local situation

The picture at the local in one large urban authority is no different. The data points out that “the largest underachievement is amongst pupils from poorer families, the largest cohort of which are white disadvantaged pupils”. The situation has not improved for many years. in the City, with some exceptions, white boys and girls on free school meals are generally the lowest achieving group in terms of 5 A*-C GCSE results. This has been the case for such a long time that everyone has come to see the situation as ‘normal’. Also, White FSM boys and girls, combined continue to make up a larger group than all other ethnic groups put together.

The picture for the past few years in terms of 5 A*-C GCSE results is as follows:

• 2006: White FSM boys were at the bottom and white FSM girls second from the bottom
• 2007: White FSM boys were at the bottom and white FSM girls third from the bottom but least achieving of all girls
• 2008: White FSM boys at the bottom and white FSM girls second from the bottom

It is likely that the above picture is also true for many other areas across the country.

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White Working class underachievement – a case for Positive Action?

Introduction

The focus of this paper are white working class young people. Normally, and especially in official education documents, they have come to be referred to with a range of labels which focus on their disadvantaged circumstances. However, I have decided to use the term ‘working class’ which I believe is much more positive. As will become clear, it is also necessary to stress the racial identity of these young people in order to distinguish them from other working class young people. This does not mean that they don’t have anything in common with others of their social class. Far from it.

Working class

Like others (Demie and Lewis (2010), Mongon and Chapman (2008)), I have used the term ‘working class’ to refer to those young people whose families qualify for free school meals (FSM).

It is not my purpose to discuss, in detail, the term ‘working class’ here. That has been done much more ably by others. By far the most comprehensive discussion on this was by EP Thompson (1963) and which has come to inform much of the subsequent debate on the subject of social class. In his book, Thompson talks of class happening “when some men, as a result of common experiences (inherited or shared), feel and articulate the identity of their interests as between themselves and as against other men whose interests are different from (and usually opposed to) theirs… Class consciousness is the way in which these experiences are handled in cultural terms: embodied in traditions, value-systems, ideas, and institutional forms”. Others (Dennis et al 1956, Jackson 1968, Collins 2004 and Evans 2007) have also provided their own focus on the subject. In due course I shall make reference to some of their works.

Aim

The aim of the paper is to raise awareness amongst education practitioners and policy makers in relation to socio economic disadvantage generally and the specific needs of the white working class young people in particular. Mongon and Chapman (2008) point to the paucity of literature with a direct white working class focus. Gray (2001) quoted in Whitty points out that ” .. we don’t really know how much more difficult it is for schools serving disadvantaged communities to improve because much of the improvement research has ignored this dimension- that it is more difficult, however, seems unquestionable”.

Reay D: 2006 states that this is a much needed area, given the demise of sociology from education courses. She points out that in spite of there being a moral panic over underachieving boys, “most of today’s teacher trainees have not heard of Paul Willis’ ‘Learning to Labour (1977).

Gazeley and Dunne (2005) have also stressed the need for increased understanding of social class by teachers. They found that “teachers often did not feel comfortable talking about the social class of pupils”. People who participated in their research said that there should be input in teacher training courses on social class:
“Those who have developed some ‘social class awareness’ are likely to be more inclusive and tolerant practitioners and less likely to make assumptions based on their own experiences”.
“Further work needs to address the deficit views held by many teachers and student teachers/trainees about working class pupils and their homes.”
“Promoting more positive and diverse images of working class pupils and families would help to raise expectations and promote change”.
Frankel in the TES 2009 points out that it is necessary for practitioners to have a degree of cultural knowledge in order to empathise with the “baggage of many working class pupils”. She quotes the author Gillian Evans saying: “A well-educated middle class person who knows nothing about working class life is not a well-educated person at all”. Reay draws attention to the wider context and points out that social class continues to haunt the English education system; “the area of educational inequality on which education policy has had virtually no impact” (2006).

The DCSF 2009 also stress the importance of staff to be knowledgeable about their working class pupils in their daily context and spell out the kind of knowledge which is necessary. “To be effective when working in schools in deprived communities, staff need to be particularly attuned to the pupils’ experiences outside school. Staff pupil relationships need to be based on mutual respect. This means that to be effective and successful staff need to:
• understand the nature of the locality the children live in;
• empathise with the local community and its values; and
• be aware of the barriers to achievement but not to allow these to lower expectations” (2009)

This is further reinforced in the DES document which outlines the headteacher standards (2004), under the section, ‘’Strengthening Community’: “Schools exist in a distinctive social context, which has a direct impact on what happens inside the school. School leadership should commit to engaging with the internal and external school community to secure equity and entitlement”.

At a general community and societal level there is also a need for greater attention to be paid to the situation of the white working class. With a particular focus on three neighbourhoods within Birmingham, a recent report from the Barrow Cadbury Trust has made a similar plea to policy makers: “…there remain disadvantaged neighbourhoods with a largely white British population, typically suburban areas with much social rented housing. These are often overlooked in discussion of poverty in Birmingham” (Fenton et al 2009).

My hope is that this paper will help to shape the necessary policy and bring about positive change in education outcome for those disadvantaged by social class, especially the white working class. I would also hope that the paper would enable the wider community to have a little more empathy with and respect for those working in our challenging schools.

As for working class young people from other ethnic groups, the “common starting point” for discussion on their underachievement is usually their ethnicity (Fenton et al 2009). However, it is likely their social class is a more significant cause of the problem. This point was well made by Haque and Bell (2001) when they stated: “It is worth noting that when we breakdown the demographic profiles of minority ethnic groups (by parental occupations, parental education type of housing, length of stay in Britain etc) we find that educational achievements and qualifications largely reflect the social class and recency of immigration of minority ethnic families in Britain”. This paper could, therefore, make a contribution to the situation of ethnic minority underachieving young people too especially if the starting point for educational policy development was to shift from ethnicity to social class.

What follows is a series of headings as statements. These are substantiated with reference to published information from government and other authoritative sources. The paper concludes with a series of recommendations; much of this also draws on others’ contribution.

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Pakistani-British – ‘changing the script’: Ambassadors programme

Ordinary people with extra-ordinary stories and achievements to share with the wider public. Social entrepreneurs, community builders e.g. public / community servants

Project overall: MY HOMETOWN

‘Britain is our own country; it’s very dear to us’
Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Councillor Chauhdry Abdul Rashid

Aim

Our aim is to ‘change the script’ about the Pakistani-British community by presenting a more positive image of their contribution amongst the wider British society. This would help to compensate for, and provide an alternative to, the current negative image of the community.

We also hope to encourage the community to develop a greater sense of ownership of their hyphenated identity and see Britain as their ‘hometown’.

Who we are

We are people who work in diversity and education. We carry out voluntary community work where individuals cannot pay for it. We are committed to charity work whereby any profits are devoted to education and community work including work in Pakistan.

At a personal level, as parents of dual-heritage children, we have a deep level commitment to promoting inter-cultural understanding amongst all groups.

Our Values

We are keen to:

– Take a holistic view of success; it’s not just about making money but investing in ‘our home town’ and making a difference to the world we will leave behind for future generations

– Encourage our communities- Pakistani-British and White- to be inter-cultural

– Promote equality with a particular focus on providing opportunities and celebrating Pakistani-British women’s contribution

– Be inclusive regardless of people’s political and religious affiliations

– Promote inter-generational understanding within the Pakistani-British community

– Promote active participation of the Pakistani-British community especially those who are not a part of a ‘literate’ tradition e.g. Mirpuri dialect speakers

Area covered by the project

Our initial focus is on Birmingham as that is where we are based. Also, in the UK, the city has the largest concentration of Pakistani heritage people.

However, in recognition that the need is a national one, we will, where possible, try to reach a wider audience. Initially, this broader focus will be achieved through the website we hope to establish.

Pakistani-British – ‘changing the script’: Happy Endings

This project is focussed on telling the stories of Pakistani-British individuals for whom things have gone wrong but have a happier ending. It includes a focus on those who have found themselves on the wrong side of the law.

Project overall: MY HOMETOWN

‘Britain is our own country; it’s very dear to us’
Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Councillor Chauhdry Abdul Rashid

Aim

Our aim is to ‘change the script’ about the Pakistani-British community by presenting a more positive image of their contribution amongst the wider British society. This would help to compensate for, and provide an alternative to, the current negative image of the community.

We also hope to encourage the community to develop a greater sense of ownership of their hyphenated identity and see Britain as their ‘hometown’.

Who we are

We are people who work in diversity and education. We carry out voluntary community work where individuals cannot pay for it. We are committed to charity work whereby any profits are devoted to education and community work including work in Pakistan.

At a personal level, as parents of dual-heritage children, we have a deep level commitment to promoting inter-cultural understanding amongst all groups.

Our Values

We are keen to:

– Take a holistic view of success; it’s not just about making money but investing in ‘our home town’ and making a difference to the world we will leave behind for future generations

– Encourage our communities- Pakistani-British and White- to be inter-cultural

– Promote equality with a particular focus on providing opportunities and celebrating Pakistani-British women’s contribution

– Be inclusive regardless of people’s political and religious affiliations

– Promote inter-generational understanding within the Pakistani-British community

– Promote active participation of the Pakistani-British community especially those who are not a part of a ‘literate’ tradition e.g. Mirpuri dialect speakers

Area covered by the project

Our initial focus is on Birmingham as that is where we are based. Also, in the UK, the city has the largest concentration of Pakistani heritage people.

However, in recognition that the need is a national one, we will, where possible, try to reach a wider audience. Initially, this broader focus will be achieved through the website we hope to establish.