Chris McGovern: White working class British parents fail their children

As white British pupils progress through school, they fall behind other ethnic groups. This a key finding of the CentreForum think tank’s first Annual Report into the state of English education. At the age of five, white British children are ranked third in terms of attainment but after 11 years of schooling this plunges to twelfth.

The report notes that non-English speaking youngsters make faster progress than native English speakers:

“… pupils for whom English is an additional language (EAL) are less affected by poverty. Among disadvantaged pupils, EAL pupils perform consistently better than others and the difference between the two groups widens as they become more acutely disadvantaged.”

Recently arrived immigrants are doing especially well:

“Despite having relatively low prior attainment, we find that these pupils go on to achieve close to the national average in terms of overall attainment by the end of Key Stage 4. In some cases these pupils make around 2 years of additional progress over the course of secondary school, compared with their peers, as their English fluency improves.”

Ironically, it seems that the population group best equipped to counter the negative impact of our low aspiring and low attaining education system is the poor immigrant who arrives here unable to speak English:

“… belonging to certain minority ethnic groups is a protective factor associated with greater resilience against low achievement at all levels of deprivation than is observed for white British pupils.”

The extra support provided at school and, above all, by parents at home, for non-English speakers is allowing them to realise their potential. Far from being seen as a problem, as they often are, immigrants and ethnic minority children in this country are a success, as the CentreForum report makes clear:

“Pupils for whom English is an additional language are a success story in educational progress and performance.”

Future immigration may impose unsustainable pressures on schools but, currently, we are doing very well by both immigrant and by ethnic minority pupils in our schools.

An immediate problem facing our education system, however, is how are we going to improve the relative under-performance of the majority ethnic group – the white British? Are their needs receiving less time and attention than minority groups? Evidence that non-English speakers are likely to take up more teacher-time remains largely anecdotal. Common sense tells us that this is likely to be the case. To some extent, however, this may be balanced by the energising and motivational energy that immigrants, in particular, can bring to the classroom and from which all children should benefit.

Just as parental support underpins the success of immigrant and ethnic minority pupils, so, too, does it contribute to the under-achievement of many white British children. Products of a dismal education themselves and, not infrequently, addicted to welfare support, many parents have little interest in education. They see it as the school’s job. Lacking basic literacy and numeracy themselves, some are simply unable to help. Mostly, though, it seems to be a lack of interest and a ‘can’t be bovvered’ attitude.

By chance, as I am writing this blog, an immigrant mum has emailed to me in response to the CentreForum report appearing in the press. She sums up the parent problem rather well:

“Any ‘foreign-to-the-UK’ parent will not be surprised by this [Centreforum report] at all. British working class parents I know simply do not do anything with their children and don't understand why they should.”

Chris McGovern

  • This proves that early schooling in the UK is worse than useless. Migrants who never attended do better than British kids who did.

    The UK education system fails on many levels – the main is that it doesn’t teach the right things and even teaches them badly, the other is that it is designed to ensure parents to not help their children. Methods of teaching change so frequently that parents are scared of trying to ‘help’ their children in case they confuse them.

    UK parents do need to be more proactive – by withdrawing any deference or respect for education ‘professionals’ who have brought this state of affairs about, and working with syllabuses not influenced by the social democratic progressives who destroy everything they touch with their politically correct, Marxist magic wands.

    • klm

      I have also had the frustrating experience of trying to help my children with math homework, only to tell them in the end, “this is how you do this problem, but I don’t know how to do it the way they want you to do it”. My answer is correct, but I can’t follow the new, convoluted way of doing math. In the US, this is part of what is called “Common Core”. It is ostensibly designed to help children reach a deeper understanding of the math they are learning, but it just seems to confuse everyone – kids and adults alike. I’m not sure what was so wrong with the way they used to teach math – which makes me also wonder what the real purpose of the new curriculum is.

      I agree that parents need to be more proactive, and giving parents more choice in schools would be a good start. Money put back in the control of parents (in the form of vouchers or some type of account for educational expenses) might lead to new or better schools, if parents demand something better for their children and have control over where their children attend school.

      • 100% with you – long division etc works, is proven, is mechanical – use it.

        ‘Common Core’ type maths (which UK uses too now) seems to be designed to mis-teach kids and hold them back – hard to believe but its the only rational explanation I have heard.

        Glad we just had enough to get ours to private school (no hols for us, savings destroyed etc… but hey we are their parents and state schools were too, too horrible to keep them at – would have been home schooling otherwise)…

        Oh how I hate the state.

        • Stephen T

          You’re doing the best for your children and credit to you. However, it’s not an option available to the working class, who get what they’re given by those who know better, like Diane Abbot. I wonder where she sent her son to school?

          • Mine are at uni now. LEA’s get about £10k a year per pupil – should go to parents to spend so they are the customer. I’d have clubbed together with others rented space and paid for a curriculum linked to (the free) khan academy or similar. Degree the same – linked to open university or similar. No student debt, real education.

          • klm

            I’m sure your children have greatly benefited from your sacrifices. Sending kids to private school gives rise to some lean years for a while, but an education that provides true academics and is not bogged down with social justice nonsense is, I believe, well worth it. As Stephen notes above, it is a shame that so many children are stuck with only one choice in schools.

            I attended an education seminar a few weeks ago. It was enlightening and among other things, I learned that there is a general trend in establishing more online schools and more specialized schools (schools catering to the seemingly growing number of children with learning disabilities, trade schools, etc.). This trend has both pros and cons, but on the plus side I believe it has the potential to break the education monopoly, especially if education tax money is directed back to families for use as tuition, book and supply money, etc. I also think it is exciting to “think outside the box” and go about getting an education in a way that will best suit each individual – while keeping costs down, as you noted above with your example. After all, the status quo for many in both the US and UK is not working out too well.

          • Phil R

            “catering to the seemingly growing number of children with learning disabilities”

            Is the rise in the number of children with learning disabilities caused by an increasing in disabilities in children or is it caused by a rise in the number of “specialists” dealing with the problem?

            After all if you are a “specialist”, in which direction lies the incentive?

          • klm

            Exactly – I don’t know, but have often wondered that myself. My inclination is to believe that it is some of both. In some cases, it may benefit the parents to have their child diagnosed with autism, for example, in order to get that child in a special educational setting. But it also seems to me that there are a lot more children today that have either physical or psychological problems that I had never heard of before. I think the medical field has certainly identified and described more disorders than there were several decades ago, but I also do believe that so many kids today are anxious and stressed, and that this may be causing health problems.

          • Phil R

            “LEA’s get about £10k a year per pupil – should go to parents to spend so they are the customer”

            Indeed, but I would go further. The £10K should be available to home school, or available to top up public school fees.

            Children should also be free to leave school at 14 and use the money to pay someone to give them practical work experience as an apprentice.

            I would train a young person for £10K a year in my business and give them practical and saleable skills. But I would not be willing to pay them, when people are available who already have the skills to do the work I need, for minimum wage or a bit above.

            Businesses need an good incentive to train young people (free of “college/school” interference to check that the darlings are not being “exploited”) . Businesses cannot afford to be charities.

          • Phil R

            ” the gulf between the genuine working class and the underclass” and

            “The worse you behave, the more we give you”

            Absolutely. But we need a step by step approach to change the mindset.

            Try this to start with.

            If your kids misbehave, you lose benefits.

            If you come to sign on obese (whatever the reason), you lose benefits.

            More controversial. If you work on Sundays and have young children (not prioritising family time), you don’t get tax credits.

          • klm

            Sometimes, fairly simple things can be done to cut the number of people on public assistance. I read an article a while ago about some entitlement changes in the state of Maine. The governor had changed the requirements for receiving food stamps for able-bodied adults without dependents. He changed it so that these recipients either had to have some work, be actively looking for work, take part in a jobs training program provided by the state, or at least do some community service. Within a few months, the number of applicants within this group dropped off by about 80%!

          • Stephen T


  • VioletEyes

    Children in 1 of 3 of poorer families do not have a relationship with their fathers.

    Perchance that has something to do with it?

    Migrant families tend to stick together and have fathers in their children’s lives.

    Research is overwhelming that children with their fathers in their lives, do so much better in all areas.

    • Migrant women in many communities often have little choice but to stay with the fathers. Where women can get away and rely on the state instead they very often choose to do so… They were raised to think it was a reasonable choice.

  • Dougie

    Strangely, the education establishment’s answer to its own failure is to prescribe more of the same. Children are now required to start school at an ever earlier age, a curriculum for two-year olds, for heaven’s sake, and Ofsted for childminders. I’m not sure how we get parents to take more interest in their children’s development but I’m pretty sure absolving them of responsibility by taking their toddlers off their hands for 6 hours per day isn’t the answer.

  • Stephen T

    Some of the working class let their children down, but most of them don’t regard the bad parents you describe as ‘working class’. They are an underclass and have never worked. They are a logical creation of a welfare state that rewards non-workers who have children with more benefits and bigger housing. They see no reason to work, so see no pint in education or playing by the rules. The real working class have to live next door to them and have their children’s education blighted by them.
    Two major factors in employment opportunities for the working class are foreign competition and downward pressure from the middle classes. Business will always take the easy foreign option rather than invest in seemingly less promising material. In the past most businesses would tell you stories of unpromising material that had matured into valued workers, but they no longer receive the chance. As the number of professional jobs has been squeezed, middle-class girls and boys are now applying for jobs that the working class would have previously done. I recently saw applicants for NHS Health Assistants, who will earn the princely sum of £800 during their apprenticeship. Most of the applicants were middle class girls who hadn’t gone to university. They had the full range of advantages over working-class girls that one would expect, including better numeracy and literacy, and they had all passed their driving test. Some of the working-class girls had clear qualities and a more practical attitude, but none could afford driving lessons. It’s easy to see who ticks the most boxes.
    There are those who are trying and those who see no point because they know they couldn’t even dream of a job on a supermarket checkout.

    • timbazo

      There’s a lot of truth in what you say. However, I think you push your arguments too far.

      Firstly, I believe that you have to ask where this underclass came from. It didn’t exist pre-1980. It didn’t exist in the 50s, 60s or 70s, when the welfare state was becoming increasingly generous. It comes from a combination of cultural resistance to the education or training necessary to keep up with a changing labour market, a refusal to do physically hard or unpleasant work and a dissipation in finding pride in working and supporting yourself and your family. The last of these factors may be linked to the welfare state and the second factor possibly. However, the resistance to improving skills is not an inevitable consequence of either the welfare state or immigration. It is a consequence of cultural values that do not value the educational opportunities open to any child in the UK today.

      Secondly, there has never been a sustained period of time when the majority of middle-class women went to university and then found graduate employment. Go back 40 years and over 90% of young women did not go to university. That means the vast majority of middle-class young women found employment that required a decent education but not a degree. What you highlight is that our labour market is no longer so segregated along class lines – not a bad thing in my view. If not having a driving licence is holding capable young women back, then perhaps we should change our view to learning to drive. Perhaps it should be offered as part of a college education for 17 or 18 year olds.

    • Phil R

      “As the number of professional jobs has been squeezed, middle-class girls
      and boys are now applying for jobs that the working class would have
      previously done”.

      Vastly contributing to the squeeze is the fact that middle class boys and girls are both in the labour market (for their entire lives in the most part).

      • gill

        I understand what you mean about the staff but don’t forget that the Eastern Europeans you came across were the ones with the intelligence and get-up-and-go to come here and get jobs. There are just as many drossy ones left in E Europe. You’re not really comparing like with like.

  • Busy Mum

    Immigrant parents are allowed to pass their values on to their children whereas indigenous parents are ‘discouraged’ from doing so by teachers, school counsellors and social workers. These busybodies do not interfere with immigrant families out of ‘respect’ for their ‘cultures’ but actively side with indigenous children against their parents.

  • Colkitto03

    I was raised in the Scottish Hebrides. The place where my folks live, now has a Gaelic medium primary school. All the kids leave speaking fluently in two languages. Bilingualism in itself brings a huge amount of advantages, especially if it is achieved in the ages 5-7. I think that connections are made in the brain (opinion only!) that really help future development.

  • timbazo

    Did someone change the record? I thought it was all the teachers’ fault.

  • Bonce

    A by product of positive discrimination…
    In which the positive discrimination is based on skin colour alone, and not family income or wealth… Which is what it should be based on.
    That’s the whole reason why we had grammar schools….