MPs to investigate underperformance of poor white pupils

The education select committee is to investigate the underachievement of white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

It will form the first part of a bigger inquiry into issues faced by pupils from “left behind groups”, and will run alongside the committee’s COVID-19 inquiry.

The probe will look at the reasons behind difference in attainment of pupils from different backgrounds, and the impact this has on society.

Robert Halfon MP, chair of the education committee, said there is a “worrying trend of white pupils from poorer backgrounds underperforming compared with their peers.

“Such gaps in learning seriously limit young people’s potential to get on in life and more must be done to tackle this very real social injustice.”

The committee pointed to statistics showing the average attainment 8 score for white boys eligible for free school meals in the 2018 GCSEs was 28.5, compared to a national average of 46.5.

Progress 8 scores for white pupils also overall slumped last year, while most other ethnicities saw a rise.

Such statistics have led to calls for performance measures to take into account pupil background. A study last year found half of underperforming schools do better when measures are adjusted to take pupil background into account.

For instance, the progress 8 scores across schools in the North East – which are disproportionately made up of white British pupils – improved from -0.19 to -0.01.

Halfon also added: “While our initial focus is on white working class pupils, we will not forget other disadvantaged groups and the Committee will be looking across the board at those being left behind.

“At this difficult time for families, everything possible must be done to ensure the most disadvantaged children do not fall off the education ladder of opportunity completely.”

He said the coronavirus outbreak – leading to schools being closed for most pupils – will have a “particularly heavy bearing on those from disadvantaged groups”.

“It is therefore vital that we continue to work to ensure they are properly supported and remain absolutely determined that this unprecedented national crisis does not set back efforts in tackling the social injustices faced by too many groups.”

The committee is inviting submissions on a range of questions that can be viewed here. The deadline for submissions is June 5.