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Pity the under-achieving white working class


‘I pity the poor immigrant’ was the plaintive cry of Bob Dylan’s somewhat cryptic lament of the 1960s. It was taken up by Joan Baez and other protest singers of his generation. But, in 2018, the times, they are a-changin’, as Dylan also sang.

Today’s protest song would be more aptly entitled, ‘Pity the poor native’. It is the white indigenous working class whom we should now be pitying.

Department for Education data just released shows that immigrant children these days are outperforming non-immigrants at GCSE. This is entirely predictable. Immigrant families across the world have, always and inevitably, been highly motivated to succeed in their adopted country. The USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are full of such examples and, so too, is the UK. To a considerable extent these countries have attracted their brightest and the best to their shores. Small wonder, then, that they succeed.

Above all else, immigrant families tend to place a high value on education for their children. They recognise that it is the passport to future wealth, health and happiness. In contrast, too many native Brits place a higher value on a passport to Majorca, Morocco or Miami. A sense of entitlement to cheap term-time holidays seems far more likely to fire up parental passions than the unappreciated free gift of education financed by the taxpayer.

According to the OECD, the UK has increased educational expenditure by around nine hundred per cent in real terms since the 1950s but experienced a relative decline in attainment compared with other developed countries, many of whom have spent far less. Fortunately, our relative decline has been ameliorated by immigration. There are few, if any, better places on the planet to be an immigrant child than the UK. We should be proud of how well we have accommodated their needs and how much we have benefited from their success.

A particular advantage for immigrant children with English as their second language is that our schools have excelled in helping them master the English language. By the time they leave school, these immigrant youngsters are likely to be bilingual and, consequently, both more employable and more able to make a contribution to our society and our economy.

The impact of highly motivated, bilingual immigrant pupils has been most obviously felt in London where they form a much greater proportion of the school population than elsewhere. London children do better academically, as a consequence, than other parts of the UK. The only exception is Northern Ireland which has the advantage of grammar schools and the boost they give to academic standards in primary schools.

The educational establishment has tried to explain London’s relative success by referencing an initiative entitled the ‘London Challenge’ that involved extra funding and more pooling of resources. At the margins it has probably made a difference but insignificantly so, compared with the impact brought about by the influx of immigrants. Nor should the 25 per cent of London children, many of them immigrants, receiving private tuition be ignored. Immigrants are inclined to find a way of circumventing failures within state schools, whatever the cost and the sacrifices they have to make. Cheap term-time holidays are rarely, if ever, on their agenda.

Whilst the success of our immigrant, English-as-a-second-language pupils is to be applauded, it is short-sighted, morally wrong and foolish to ignore the attendant under-performance of white working-class children. Their needs are not being given sufficient attention. One secondary school in Leeds has decided to address the English language deficiencies of immigrant children by teaching English as a second language to all pupils – native and non-native speakers. This discriminates against children with English as their first and only language. It is taking our education system along a pathway that bodes ill for the future well-being and harmony of our country.

Praise and applaud the achievement of immigrant children, by all means, but it is time we directed our pity towards that twenty per cent of school leavers, mostly white working-class, who are unemployable. They are the casualties of the educational failure inflicted on us by the educational establishment, the Blob.

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Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. A retired head teacher with 35 years’ teaching experience, Chris is a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street under two Prime Ministers.

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