Sarah Harris, Daily Mail, April 4, 2016
White British pupils are being overtaken at school by students from ten other ethnic groups by the time they sit their GCSEs, an alarming new report reveals today.
At the age of five, white British students are among the top three highest achievers, and their shocking slip down the rankings by the time they reach 16 was last night blamed on the education system and their parents.
The trend will renew concern about the under-achievement of white working-class pupils, in particular, which MPs have previously labelled as ‘staggeringly low’.
Researchers from the CentreForum think-tank said pupils without English as a first language often made faster progress because teachers helped them catch up and their families were more supportive.
Education experts said white British children were being ‘let down’ by schools and also by parents who did not fully support their education. In contrast, immigrant children were ‘keen to make use of the educational opportunities’ on offer and received huge support from their aspirational families.
Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said the results were ‘concerning’.
He added: ‘On the face of it, the education system is letting down white British children and we must examine the reasons with great urgency. The children of immigrants are improving much faster. In part this is because the parents and children are very keen to make use of the educational opportunities which are readily available to them. But also, the extra attention they receive may inadvertently be diverting attention from the needs of the poor white British pupils.’
Referring to white British pupils, he added: ‘Too often, parents in low-income homes have been turned off by having to attend school and those attitudes are passed on to their children.’
The Government has toughened up GCSEs and will launch a more rigorous grading scale of one to nine next year, which is pegged to international standards for the first time. A five will be considered a ‘good pass’–between a current C and B grade–and a nine will be gained by only the highest achievers.
Ministers are also introducing a new measure of school performance across eight ‘academic’ GCSE subjects including English, maths, science, languages and the humanities.
Researchers from the think-tank, which is chaired by former schools minister and Lib Dem chief secretary to the Treasury David Laws, analysed last year’s GCSE results and calculated the proportion of teenagers who would have gained a ‘good pass’ in all eight subjects. They also compared the data to test results in primary schools.
At the age of five, white British children were narrowly beaten on assessments–known as the Early Years Foundation Stage Profiles–by only two other ethnic groups: Indian and mixed (white and Asian).
However, they start to fall behind in primaries and by the time they reach Key Stage Four (age 14-16), they have been overtaken by ten other ethnic groups, including Chinese, Bangladeshi and black African pupils.
The study found that 73 per cent of Chinese students in English schools were achieving eight good GCSE passes in these ‘tough’ subjects, compared to 37 per cent of white British pupils. Separately, outside of the ethnic groups, the report compared the performance of pupils with English as a first language, to pupils with English as an additional language (EAL).
The report found that pupils with English as a second language made ‘significant strides’ throughout their education. Some 40.2 per cent of these EAL students achieved eight good passes at GCSE compared to 37.6 per cent of native speakers.
They make the equivalent of around half a grade’s extra progress in each subject between Key Stage Two (ages seven to 11) and Key Stage Four as teachers help them ‘catch up’ with speaking, reading and writing in English. Jo Hutchinson, associate director of education data and statistics at CentreForum, said previous research had shown that ‘higher educational aspirations’ were associated with certain ethnic minority groups.
She said: ‘Also, what’s bigger than aspirations is parental engagement, so we’re talking about things like parents attending parents’ evenings at school, talking to their children about subject options, supervising homework, ensuring that the family eats together and has regular meal and bedtimes.
‘Some of those factors are less likely to occur’ among poor white British families, she said. In 2014, Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted’s chief inspector of schools, claimed that immigrant parents appeared to care more about their children’s education. Overall, the think-tank estimates about 60 per cent of secondary pupils and more than 40 per cent of primary pupils are ‘still failing to achieve a world-class benchmark’.
A Department for Education spokesman said the new GCSE ‘good pass’ is set in line with the average performance in high-performing countries such as Finland, Canada, the Netherlands and Switzerland.
He added: ‘Over time we expect to see more pupils reach this new higher standard and the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers continuing to narrow.’