White working class pupils are being left behind their peers, MPs have warned (Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

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Poor white pupils are being condemned to fall behind their peers due to “muddled thinking” and lack of attention from Government, MPs have warned.

The Commons Education Committee raised concern about persistent underachievement from white English children who are eligible for free school meals, compared to their classmates from other ethnic backgrounds.

In a new report, the committee found only 17.7% of poorer white pupils achieved a strong pass at GCSE (grade 5 or above) in English and Maths in 2019, compared with 22.5% of all pupils qualifying for free lunch provision.

Some 47% white British pupils eligible for free school meals did not meet the expected standard of development at the end of the early years foundation stage in 2018/19 – around 28,000 children.

Only 16% of disadvantaged white pupils started higher education by the age of 19 in 2018/19, the lowest of any group except for Irish Travellers and Gypsy/Roma children.

MPs found disparities between attainment from children on free school meals
(Image: Getty)

This compares to 72.8% of Chinese pupils, 59% of children from a Black African background, and 31.8% of Black Caribbean pupils.

The MPs said the disparities were striking as white people are the largest ethnic group in the country – but white pupils on free school meals are the largest disadvantaged group.

And they argued that the term ‘white privilege’ could be “divisive” and urged the Government to avoid pitting different groups against each other.

Their analysis could trigger controversy amid an ongoing row over racial equality in the UK.

A Government-commissioned report was branded a “whitewash” in March for saying the system in Britain was “no longer rigged against ethnic minorities”.

Tory Committee chairman Robert Halfon said: “For decades now white working-class pupils have been let down and neglected by an education system that condemns them to falling behind their peers every step of the way.

Conservative MP Robert Halfon accused the Government of 'muddled thinking' over stamping out attainment issues

“White working-class pupils underperform significantly compared to other ethnic groups, but there has been muddled thinking from all governments and a lack of attention and care to help these disadvantaged white pupils in towns across our country.”

But Dr Mary Bousted, NEU Joint General Secretary, argued that social class was the “biggest determinant of educational success or failure”.

She added: “It is deeply unhelpful to try and make it harder to talk in schools about racism, which seems to be one intention of the report.

“Racism is endemic across society and in workplaces and nearly half of Black children are living in poverty.”

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said stamping out the scourge of child poverty was crucial to helping pupils from all backgrounds.

He said: “We have to do better for all disadvantaged pupils – from all ethnic backgrounds – and this report is right to highlight the factors beyond the school gates which affect educational attainment.

“Many communities suffer from multigenerational poverty, insecure employment and lack of opportunity, and it is extremely hard to raise attainment when children and families experience such factors.”

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The report called for a network of family hubs to boost parental engagement and mitigate the effects of multi-generational disadvantage.

It also said funding needed to be tailored to local needs and good teachers needed to be attracted to challenging areas.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “This government is focused on levelling up opportunity so that no young person is left behind.

"That’s why we are providing the biggest uplift to school funding in a decade – £14 billion over three years – investing in early years education and targeting our ambitious recovery funding, worth £3 billion to date, to support disadvantaged pupils aged two to 19 with their attainment.

“The Pupil Premium is expected to increase to more than £2.5 billion this year, through which schools can support pupils with extra teaching, academic support or activities like breakfast clubs or educational trips.

"Alongside this we are investing in family hubs, transforming technical education and strengthening teacher training in areas that need it most, including our Opportunity Areas, so that every pupil can go to an excellent school.”