White working class boys achieve lowest GCSE grades, analysis shows

Attainment in UK schools among disadvantaged pupils varies dramatically between different ethnicities, with white working class boys achieving the lowest GCSE grades, according to new analysis.

The analysis, published by the Sutton Trust, focusses on the attainment of pupils at aged 16 and found Chinese pupils from disadvantaged homes are almost three times as likely as white working class pupils to get five good GCSEs.

Bangladeshi, Indian, black African and Pakistani pupils from poorer homes were also found to perform ‘well above’ the national average, while white working class boys achieve the lowest grades at GCSE of any main ethnic group.

The ‘attainment gap’, categorised as the difference in performance at GCSE between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged pupils, is the largest for Irish and white British teenagers, standing at 46 percentage points and 32 percentage points respectively. This drastically larger than the gap for Chinese students (three percentage points) and Bangladeshi students (9 percentage points).

In light of this analysis, the Sutton Trust is calling for a renewed effort to close the attainment gap, recommending that:
- Schools implement targeted improvement programmes for those students at particular risk of falling behind, including white working class children.
- Schools use evidence from the Education Endowment Foundation’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit to improve outcomes.
- The government should consider incentives to encourage more highly-qualified teachers to teach in deprived schools.
- Government and schools create more opportunities for disadvantaged ethnic groups to supplement core lessons, including through enrichment vouchers.
- The government should introduce a dedicated fund to support highly able pupils, particularly those from less advantaged backgrounds who fall behind at school.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust and of the Education Endowment Foundation, said: “The fact that Indian, Bangladeshi and Chinese pupils from poor homes are performing better than the national average is in itself a great achievement.

“This may reflect a strong cultural appreciation of education from which we can all learn. But it is worrying that there is such a disparity in the achievement of different ethnic groups at GCSE and particularly concerning that white working class boys and girls continue to perform so poorly.

“Harnessing that same will to learn that we see in many ethnic minority groups in white working class communities should be a part of the solution to the low attainment of many boys and girls. We need a more concerted effort with white working class boys, in particular.

“This should ensure that every pupil, regardless of family income, gender or ethnicity has the chance to succeed.”

Read more