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'Team GB' approach urged to transform education for poor, white children

Published 31/10/2016

The report states of all pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, white British children are least likely to do well in school.
The report states of all pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, white British children are least likely to do well in school.

Poor, white working class children are bottom of the class and will stay there without a major overhaul of education including new grammar schools targeted at them, according to a major report by a think tank.

New selective schools for the working class and an Olympic style "Team GB" approach of "marginal gains" should be adopted to transform the performance amongst an ethnic group which has the lowest level of educational attainment, the report recommends.

The study by think tank ResPublica, was commissioned by Knowsley Council, Merseyside, which has set up a £1 million Education Commission to tackle its dire education performance.

The report states of all pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, white British children are least likely to do well in school.

Knowsley, on the outskirts of Liverpool, is the second poorest borough in England, and over 95% of the resident population is white British.

The area has a white, working class "mono culture", with strong bonds of extended families but little contact with others from different social backgrounds or ethnicities and "narrow horizons" for local youngsters, the report states.

It is the lowest performing authority in England for pupils achieving the Government's benchmark of five A*to C grade GCSEs, including English and maths.

But authors of the report say while the study focuses on Knowsley, wholesale change is needed across the education sector nationally; from the way teachers encourage pupils to achieve, to how heads work collaboratively and how schools are funded and run at local and national level.

Director of ResPublica Phillip Blond said: "For too long white working class children have been left behind by an education system which is not working properly.

"With a new education secretary we have the chance to implement change, not only in Knowsley where we know that improvements need to be made but across the whole of the country.

"Re-introducing grammar schools is potentially a transformative idea for working class areas where there are little or no middle classes to game the admission system. We know that selection improves the performance of those white working class children selected - the trouble is too few of them are.

"We recommend that new grammars in the first instance are exclusively focused on the needs of white working class children."

Theresa May announced plans to bring back grammars and in her very first speech as Prime Minister, pledged to fight "burning injustice" which means that: "If you're a white, working class boy, you're less likely than anybody else in Britain to go to university."

ResPublica say for grammar schools to contribute the Government should ensure they are focused on the most disadvantaged areas, where there are no existing local schools rated Good or Outstanding by Ofsted.

It cites research that found for "poor but bright" pupils, grammar schools can boost their performance by nearly 10 percentage points compared to non-selective schools.

The report, Achieving Educational Excellence In Knowsley: A Review Of Attainment, claims limited sixth form provision, a lack of diversity, a "start-stop" syndrome of new initiatives and poor use of resources to help struggling pupils is holding pupils back in areas like Knowsley.

Among its recommendations, the report outlines plans for a "Northern Teaching Premium" of higher wages and other inducements to attract good teachers.

Other proposals include adopting a "Team GB" approach that identifies success both in and out of the classroom, concentrating not only on pupils' individual academic achievement but also targeting the performance of teachers, the curriculum and the school leadership and management.

This would follow the "marginal gains" strategy of the British Cycling Team where small increases in performance across the board lead to overall success.

Report author and principal research consultant at ResPublica Mark Morrin said: "Setting higher targets for schools and encouraging them to achieve more has been shown to work. This does not mean putting all the pressure on teachers - government, councils and parents all have a role to play and must be involved in the education process from start to finish."

Neil Carmichael MP, chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee, said: "For some time there has been a feeling the white working class have been left behind by the education system.

"Much more must be done to support these deprived communities, and I welcome ResPublica's call for a renewed focus on both local and national solutions."

Press Association

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