Why Are White Working-Class Boys Still Failing Their GCSEs?
Government education committee findings reveal that white working-class boys are the lowest performing demographic in schools. Only 18% of them achieve a grade 5 or above in their GCSEs (Parliament, 2021). In this context, white working-class boys are defined as those on free school meals.
A recent issue? Not really.
Every administration has swept this issue under the carpet since this question was raised by the 2010-2015 education committee. Only recently has the government decided to take action. A second education committee in 2020 found that this issue has been ongoing since 2004. The committee identified several reasons for this issue including cultural, socioeconomic, geographic and inter-generational.
The socioeconomic and geographical issues put forward included low household income, poor neighbourhoods, and poorer funded schools, particularly in rural areas and in the North. In these areas, where the majority of disadvantaged white working-class boys live, there is less annual funding than for schools in London. For a government that prides itself on education, it is risible that these disparities still exist.
It’s been found that disadvantaged children experience cultural and multi-generational barriers with regards to education. Their parents frequently had negative educational experiences with little input from their own parents, perpetuating the view of education as offering little value or benefit. As a parent stated to a Guardian reporter in 2016, “We’re not going to spend the only youth we have joining in a vast, grinding societal pantomime in which we pretend that we can transcend our place in the world when the odds are fatally stacked against us” (Lotts, 2016). Unsurprisingly, given this view, only 13% of disadvantaged working-class boys currently go on to higher education (Snowdon, 2020).
Are there solutions?
One possible solution to a multi-generational disbelief in education would be a bottom-up response. A community approach to knife crime has had some success. Could it not also be the case for this issue: communities would engage more in their children’s learning, with parents holding homework sessions in their homes and liaising directly with teachers.
A new look at the viability and funding of technical colleges, developing apprenticeship schemes, and funding vocational training are all possible routes forward for those of whom a standard education feels irrelevant. But judging from the past, the outlook is bleak - education has always been a political football, and the reality is that this vexed question will not be resolved any time soon.