Wednesday 19 March 2008

This says it all really

White working-class boys are being consigned to the educational scrapheap because politically-correct ministers and officials are ignoring their poor performance, members of the ATL claimed yesterday.

They said boys from low-income homes do significantly worse in exams than any other group of pupils but their plight is being "overlooked" by Labour and the liberal establishment.

Initiatives to tackle under-achievement often centre on improving the performance of ethnic minorities, said London-based member John Puckrin.

Fears of playing into the hands of the National Front and BNP are fuelling a widespread reluctance to speak up for the plight of the white working-classes, he claimed.

Figures showed recently that only 15 per cent of white boys qualifying for free school meals leave school having mastered the three Rs. For black boys from similar backgrounds, the figure is 22 per cent while for Asians it is 29 per cent and Chinese 52 per cent.

"All too often diversity is only thought of in terms of ethnicity or faith," Mr Puckrin told the conference.

"I believe we need to restate and recognise the diversity of class.

"The lowest attaining section in education today are white working-class boys; in some of our cities they are also the largest single ethnic minority.

"Why have the needs of this group been overlooked? I suspect it is the law of unexpected consequences.

"The Labour party has ceased to talk the language of class in order to win general elections.

"Liberal-minded people and the media ceased to highlight the particular problems of this group for fear of lending weight to the arguments of the National Front and BNP. This is a self-defeating position to my mind."

He said action plans had been put in place to tackle race and gender divides but "silence then ensued on class".

Mr Puckrin's proposal for a probe into the effects of white working-class underachievement on the economy in specific regions was backed by the union.

He also said schools should be given freedom to set lessons in subjects that could assist community cohesion, such as history.

He added: "It is historical fact that most of the jobs lost in communities destroyed by Britain's de-industralisation have involved male workers.

"It is easy to forget that we once had docks in London and Liverpool, shipyards in Belfast and Newcastle, coalmines in Nottingham and Kent, steelworkers in Sheffield and South Wales.

"Investment capital may have moved on to hedge funds, but the people remain."

Studies have previously identified parental indifference and family break-ups as reasons poor white boys have slipped behind other groups.

Mr Puckrin's claims underline research last year from Manchester University which found that money was being targeted at pupils with English as an additional language.

"White learners from highly disadvantaged backgrounds were reportedly often overlooked," their report said

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