Julie Henry, Telegraph (London), March 1, 2009
Immigrant pupils are overtaking many white children at school because their families place more value on education, a key Government adviser has said.
Rapid progress was being made by children from Chinese, Bengali and Indian backgrounds, while white working-class boys, in particular, were struggling, according to Sir Mike Tomlinson, the former head of Ofsted.
In controversial comments which will raise questions about the focus of Government funding, Sir Mike said that white working-class parents failed to place the same value on education as their ethnic minority counterparts.
As a result, poor white children have low expectations of what they can achieve, leading to lack of effort and low results.
“We are seeing every ethnic group progress rapidly–Chinese, Bengali, Indian,” said Sir Mike. “The results that are being achieved are higher and this has improved the numbers applying to university and entering professions such as medicine, veterinary science, law and accountancy.
“A very high value is placed on education among many ethnic groups, compared with white working-class families. There seems to be different value systems at work.”
Sir Mike, now chief adviser on London schools, said that if parents could not support their children, schools had to raise their expectations.
“Raising aspiration is essential,” he said. “It is difficult to tap in to parents and difficult to get to them as a group.
“We have got to try and get them involved but sometimes it is a losing battle. Which is why the school has to raise aspirations, if it is not coming from home.”
The Government has poured millions of pounds in to tackling boys’ underachievement, yet only 15 per cent of 16-year-old white boys who qualify for free school meals–an indicator of deprivation–leave schools with five GCSEs at grades A* to C, including maths and English.
The figure for black boys from similar backgrounds is 22 per cent and for children from Asian backgrounds, 29 per cent–still low but improving.
Some critics have argued that funding ringfenced for ethnic minority pupils should be redirected.
In a report last year, researchers from Manchester University identified a cycle of underachievement in white working-class families which was endemic in some areas.
The report, which focused on how some schools were bucking the trend, said that teachers had to abandon the mindset that poor white children were doomed to failure because of their background.
Head teachers who made a difference had high expectations and often came from poor backgrounds themselves.