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White British boys most persistent low educational achievers

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But practical measures could improve performance across all groups

White British pupils not only form the majority of low educational achievers; they also do worse than children with similar income levels from other ethnic groups according to a new report. If white children do less well at primary school, they are more likely than any other ethnic group to remain low achievers.

Research led by Professor Robert Cassen| of LSE's Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE) and commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation provides a comprehensive review of existing research and public documents alongside new analysis. The report explains why tens of thousands of young people leave school every year with no or very few qualifications.

Nearly half of all low achievers leaving school are white British males. Boys generally outnumber girls as low achievers by three to two and have poorer reading and writing skills in primary school. Children with early reading and writing problems are more likely to become low achievers at the age of 16.

Chinese and Indian pupils are most likely to succeed while Black Caribbean pupils are the least successful, though their results have been improving faster than average. Black Caribbean pupils are also over-represented among the group of children who do well at primary school but who end up with low achievement when they leave school.

In 2006, nearly 5 per cent of all pupils in state schools (28,000) received no GCSE passes and almost 25 per cent (146,000) scored no passes above the 'D' grade. The authors, analysing earlier data, found that 14 per cent of low achievement was attributable to school quality, and that both school quality and expenditure on pupils varied considerably among local authorities.

Lead author Professor Robert Cassen said: 'Disadvantaged children are behind educationally before they enter school and need more pre-school help. Improvements could be made to identify and support children who are late in learning to read and write at primary school and to address their problems before they become entrenched. It is expensive - but even more expensive not to do it. Disadvantaged students are also more likely to attend poorly performing secondary schools. And they can miss out on the best teaching if they are regarded as unable to help their school's league table position. There are practical measures that would significantly cut down the number of low achievers.'

The two-and-a-half year study included visits to schools and colleges and found valuable lessons in turnaround schools such as Preston Manor High School in Brent.

The authors suggest a number of policy changes. These include:

  • improving early years provision to reach the most disadvantaged, especially in parenting and early learning;
    bringing intensive reading help to those behind in learning to read in primary school;
  • reforming features of the secondary school system which contribute to low achievement, particularly league tables and selection;
  • reaching more fully those who most need help (children in public care and those with special educational needs);
  • funding schools more adequately in relation to disadvantage.

'Several government policies have had positive effects,' Professor Cassen said, 'but some have not been implemented as they should be, and others are overdue for reconsideration.'  


Contact: Nasreen Memon, JRF head of media relations: 01904 615 919, 020 7278 9665 nasreen.memon@jrf.org.uk|


The full report, Tackling low educational achievement by Robert Cassen and Geeta Kingdon is published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation is one of the largest social policy research and development charities in the UK. It supports a research and development programme that seeks to understand the causes of social difficulties and explore ways of overcoming them.

An event to discuss the report's findings, chaired by Estelle Morris, will be held on Thursday 28 June at The Work Foundation, 21 Palmer Street, London SW1H OAD. For further information click here| or email Anna Tamas, A.Tamas@lse.ac.uk|

Press cuttings

School low achievers are white and British (22 June)
According to a study by researchers at LSE, published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, nearly half of all pupils who leave school without any or with few qualifications are white British males.

'White boys' most persistent low educational achievers (22 June)

Britain's 'poor white boys'

Daily Mail
Academies have not lived up to their promise
(22 June)

Half school 'failures' are white working-class boys, says report (22 June)
The persistently poor educational achievement of white working-class British boys was highlighted in a report released last night. Robert Cassen, a professor at the London School of Economics, and the report's lead author, said: "Disadvantaged children are behind educationally before they enter school and need more pre-school help. 

BBC News
Low attainers 'poor white boys' (22 June)

ITV News
White boys are 'low achievers' (22 June) 

Manchester Evening News
White boys trail minority pupils (22 June)

Daily Telegraph
White boys 'let down by education system' (22 June)

Metro UK
Poor white boys most likely to fail school (22 June)

22 June 2007