Ethnic minority pupils outclass white British pupils


There are some interesting nuggets of information in CentreForum’s Annual Report on Education which was published today.  Amongst other things, it identifies a north/south divide in attainment at secondary school and notes that there is still a significant gap between the achievements of disadvantaged pupils and their peers.

I am particularly pleased to see how well London pupils are doing. It wasn’t that long ago that London secondary schools were seen as failures. The London Challenge was an ambitious programme set up in 2003 to combat this and as a result some inner London local authorities went from being amongst the worst performing to the best performing nationally.

But the finding that has been picked up by the media relates to the performance of white British children. It seems that when they start school these children are ahead of their fellow pupils, but by the time they reach 16 they are well below average compared with other ethnic groups.

David Laws now heads CentreForum as its executive chairman and he is quoted in the Guardian:

I don’t think we know all the answers to this. We know that we’ve got this very bad performance of white pupils versus other ethnic groups. We know from this analysis that it’s not embedded in the beginning of education because actually they appear to be doing relatively well at the beginning of their journey. So something is clearly happening about their ability to take advantage of the opportunities that other ethnic groups do manage.

This reminds me of some similar findings some years ago when I was the portfolio holder for Children and Schools in Kingston upon Thames – in the days when the local authority was still responsible for most of the local schools.  Kingston was usually near the top of the secondary school league tables. A local report showed that at GCSE level ethnic minority pupils were outperforming white British, so I took the opportunity to make the point that the borough’s success was thanks to (not in spite of) the BAME children and their families.

Years later and it is still the case that we do not recognise enough the added value that immigrants bring to this country – you only have to look at the anti-immigrant rhetoric being spouted by the Leave campaign. The CentreForum report also reminds us that children with a BAME heritage, even where that goes back several generations, seem to have the edge when it comes to school achievement.

The report does not attempt to explain this finding, but Jo Hutchinson, CentreForum’s associate director for education, linked it to parental engagement, claiming that this was more powerful than aspiration alone.

We are talking about things such as parents attending parents’ evenings at school, talking to their children about subject options, supervising homework, ensuring that the family eats together and has regular bedtimes.

Those sorts of things appear to be more associated with this effect than pure aspirations. It’s not just aspirations but behaviours that support the aspirations.

Most parents actually want their children to continue in education and be successful in education. What sometimes differs is the extent to which they have the knowledge and the tools and resources to help them to make that aspiration real.

* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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  • “A local report showed that at GCSE level ethnic minority pupils were outperforming white British, so I took the opportunity to make the point that the borough’s success was thanks to (not in spite of) the BAME children and their families.”

    I’m sorry if it’s an obvious question, but as you haven’t mentioned anything about it can I ask what action was taken to address the problem and did it have any success?

  • Eddie Sammon 4th Apr '16 - 4:26pm

    I read the BBC article this morning and thought the Centre Forum response was weak. Do they have any evidence that white families are not engaging with their children as much as ethnic minority ones? At least David Laws admits they don’t know all the answers to this.

  • Tony Greaves 4th Apr '16 - 4:31pm

    It is almost certainly to do with factors outside the schools. Who said British (white English) society is broken? Oh yes, well..

    Tony Greaves

  • Helen Tedcastle 4th Apr '16 - 7:46pm

    I agree with John Marriott. Centre Forum seems to have picked up something that educationalists had already identified up to thirty years ago.

    Back then underachievement was found in working class boys, white British and Afro-Caribbean. Asian pupils, boys and girls, outperformed both massively.

    While the London Challenge has improved academic success in London, the north is still left behind the rest of the country. Is London typical of the rest of the country?

    Government spending per pupil is far higher in London than on the predominantly white British pupils of rural Shropshire for example.

    It is not a level playing field.

    Glad David Laws is finally catching up with what we already know. Is he consulting the teaching profession in his new role?

  • Peter Watson 4th Apr '16 - 7:58pm

    “but by the time they reach 16 they are well below average compared with other ethnic groups”
    While not wanting to downplay the problem, I feel obliged to point out that the report states that “white British pupils are overtaken by ten other ethnic groups to just below average when compared with other ethnicities” rather than “well below average”.

  • Helen Tedcastle 4th Apr '16 - 8:13pm

    I would also add that this report by Centre Forum has been welcomed by the Tory Government as confirmation of their policies and drive to ‘raise standards’ as they see it.

    In other words, because Chinese and Indian children do comparatively well in school to White British, the Tories are using this report to back up their narrow curriculum and restructuring plans.

    Clearly, this is more a cultural issue and the high value Chinese and Indian parents place on education than anything to do with continual government interference.

    Centre Forum: ‘ We are talking about things such as parents attending parents’ evenings at school, talking to their children about subject options, supervising homework, ensuring that the family eats together and has regular bedtimes.’

    So what is the solution? Invite schools to teach White British parents how to be like Chinese or Indian parents now?

    How exactly do Centre Forum envisage making white British parents do these things?

    Does this think-tank really imagine that schools are not advising parents on the basics when their children start school?

    And why is it that once again OECD ‘league tables’, not intended to be used to compare one jurisdiction with another (so they claim) are being used to drive wholesale policy objectives?

  • To what extent does the Centre Forum have any democratic legitimacy ?

  • Helen Tedcastle 4th Apr '16 - 8:57pm

    There are three endorsements for its self-styled ‘evidence-based’, ‘data-led’ research on the Centre Forum website from: David Cameron, Nicky Morgan and Michael Gove. The only other endorsement is from Lord Adonis.

    Speaks volumes.

  • Tony Greaves 4th Apr '16 - 10:09pm

    David Raw: none.

  • Simon McGrath 4th Apr '16 - 10:24pm

    @helen “So what is the solution? Invite schools to teach White British parents how to be like Chinese or Indian parents now?”

    that would be a good start: committed aspirational and interested in their childrens education. What’s not to like ?

  • Tony : you know that, I know that, but I’m not sure D.Laws knows that.

    Anyway there’s nothing new about this. It’s been doing the rounds of academic education research for years. Ofsted reported it in 1999 and since then there’s been a host of work done. All D.L. Had to do was a bit if Goggling.

    Helps to pay the rent though ,

  • I’m sure he can google as well !

  • Apologies for not responding earlier but I have been busy campaigning…

    @Chris_sh: I did not frame this as a problem. The fact that BAME children do so well is something to celebrate and emulate.

    @Eddie: The CentreForum report itself does not offer any explanations for the disparity in achievements, so I think those comments were made on the hoof. What this report should do is excite some academics into doing some detailed research into the causes – but that may well exist already?

    @Helen Tadcastle: Yes, it is true that these findings echo results that have been known for many years, but it is interesting that many of the BAME groups are still out-performing white British. When the pupils being studied were the children of first generation immigrants it was often assumed that their parents must have been ambitious and self-reliant in choosing to migrate; now that they are second or third generation and are part of the great British melting pot you might expect those differences to be less pronounced. So something else is at work.

    @Peter Watson: I admit I was not as accurate as I could have been in glossing over quite complex findings.

    @David Raw: CentreForum is a thinktank which has been independent of, but in tune with, the Liberal Democrats. As such it does not require democratic legitimacy anymore than any other thinktank. Its legitimacy lies in the rigour with which it carries out its investigations.

  • nigel hunter 4th Apr '16 - 11:07pm

    My personal thoughts. Young babies of whatever colour are adored.Parents want the best for them . They grow up and here parental interests can differ The value on education in ethnic minorities is strong for they know what it can achieve. They mix with their peers of like mind. White teenagers mix with like minds and peer pressure takes a part, along with X boxes. Parents can be interfering they say.The interest in learning is not there, the jobs they aspire to are not there,’immigrant jobs’ low wages, they are under 25, zero hours contracts, they have not got the incentive to work at school good jobs are few, unless you can go South. The advantage of education comes late to them, they have to catch up with the ethnic minorities interest in learning
    Parental engagement is vital to support them throughout their educational lives. This is where schools should put there efforts into. Instil into parents the discipline to guide, the authority to lead the encouragement to learn to show their children that through education the world is at their feet.
    Cameron and his friends have had it easy
    League tables are wrong. Children are all different and learn at different rates Schools should support children as individuals and likewise encourage their parents to lead their children to success.

  • Eddie Sammon 5th Apr '16 - 1:10am

    Thanks Mary. I agree – hopefully this will spur some more research and reading into the matter.

  • Jayne Mansfield 5th Apr '16 - 1:35am

    @Mary Reid,
    I agree. The fact that BAME children do so well is something to celebrate and emulate.

  • Interesting to know how Centre Forum is funded and what Mr Law’s salary is.

  • David Raw

    I’m not sure why you think a think tank needs “democratic legitimacy” and why your third question when looking at a price of research you ask how much the spokesperson quoted gets paid. If I were to see a process research about the impact of a certain gene on the likelihood of developing cancer my third question wouldn’t be how much the head of the research group who is quoted in the press release was paid.

    That said I’m not sure how any of this is “news” as it has been the case for some time and know about. If the CF paper offered evidence of the cause that may be newsworthy.

  • @Psi – this was the Annual Report on Education, so no doubt nothing in it was particularly surprising. The ‘news’ I was commenting on was the way in which the media had handled it.

  • Sadie Smith 5th Apr '16 - 10:00am

    Coming at this from a slightly different angle.
    Could there be factors in adjustment and extra languages? We have known that a second language helps with a third and so on. It just might be wider.
    I have a slightly odd family history. I knew that my father and his siblings were educated in Germany, two different English cities and in Switzerland. They all spoke English at home ant patois with contemporaries as well as German and French. And grandfather was not posh.
    Can’t extrapolate from one or even a few families but it is interesting. Certainly those moves did not harm their education.

  • Glenn Andrews 5th Apr '16 - 10:15am

    If it’s true that working class white kids are among highest achievers at primary level, then it is also true that those same kids are bright enough to realise that most of the adults around are either overqualified or under-qualified for their job. We clearly don’t live in a meritocracy so what’s the point (although most ten year olds wouldn’t put it in those terms)

  • I wouldn’t get into the whole white working class thing because its a narrowly defined socio economic, whilst the term immigrant is broadly defined. If you are going to define by race why aren’t European migrants mostly defined as white, which most of them plainly are, and if you are going to define by immigration why include third fourth or fifth or in some case even longer established generations British people in the same groupings as migrants.

    It’s strikes me that a lot of these kinds of stats are put together to assuage guilt about poor social mobility, unpopular immigration policies and as a continuation of Britain’s unhealthy obsession with social/economic/race classification.

  • Helen Tedcastle 5th Apr '16 - 1:09pm

    Mary Reid
    ‘ their parents must have been ambitious and self-reliant in choosing to migrate; now that they are second or third generation and are part of the great British melting pot you might expect those differences to be less pronounced. So something else is at work.’

    The assumption seems to be that they were ambitious and self-reliant because they were immigrants. As second and third generation immigrants are also placing a high value on education, we can conclude that their value system or at the very least, order of priorities is different to those white British parents who children under-achieve. I think we have known this for some time.

    It is very frustrating as a teacher to teach children whose parents really could not care less, who do not help their children to read or follow up their children in monitoring homework.

    However, short of forcing them to come to parents evenings, monitoring their habits at home, including whether they sit down for dinner ‘as a family,’ fining parents for being ‘bad’ parents as we see it – all deeply illiberal ideas – what can be done about parents whose values are not the same as the traditional values say of Indian parents?

    John Marriott makes an excellent point about the education of parents of the underachieving children. Often they had poor educational experiences, victims perhaps of the old secondary modern/grammar divide or the continued academic/vocational divide in comprehensive education.

    As a former teacher of an academic subject, I often felt that youngsters who were not academic had a very raw deal at school. Generations have been failed by politicians – often very highly educated and out of touch with ordinary people – and the education system in England and Wales as a whole, which is obsessed with a narrow academic route into a small group of leading universities, which most young people, in the end, will not ever attend.

    The political ‘aspiration’ however is that they will and so all sinews are strained in schools and even in the way the curriculum is structured to achieve the top university goal, realistically, for around 20% of young people.

    ‘Dust off the Tomlinson report of 2004, which was disgracefully kicked into the long grass by the Blair government and bring back proper woodwork, metalwork etc and put them on a par with English, Maths and Science in terms of esteem. ‘

    I could not agree more. What an opportunity missed.

  • Glenn
    Yes Chinese and Indian societies are very diverse with edcational systems based to an extent on rote learning.

  • @ PSI.

    We are told the Centre Forum “is independent of, but in tune with, the Liberal Democrats”. If so it is clearly trying to influence Liberal Democrat policy.

    If that is the case, iN the interests of openness and transparency (basic liberal values) it is reasonable to ask who funds them and by how much. In local government and public companies that is why salaries are disclosed.

    Also in the interests of openness and transparency, PSI, I don’t hide behind a pseudonym.

  • Sue Sutherland 5th Apr '16 - 11:21pm

    Also on LDV today is an article about setting goals for the party. Following on from the comments of Helen Tadcastle and John Marriott it would be great to see a truly Liberal education policy emerge asap, especially one which values creativity as much as academic attainment. I went to an academic school and then on to University where I was quite successful but I have spent much of my life trying to undo the damage, trying to leave behind the rather snooty and highly critical attitudes that were part of academia but not part of the values of the rest of the world. However, imo there has been increasing effort to make everyone in the school system into an academic, to narrow their horizons rather than broaden their vision and, it seems to me to teach children to read and other skills by methods that do not suit all children.
    As Lib Dems we value diversity but schools at the moment aren’t encouraged to do this too.
    Now the Tory madness has put education into the forefront of controversy, we have an opportunity similar to that of the Poll Tax to recover our position in British politics and help future children to develop their true potential.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 6th Apr '16 - 1:29am

    David Raw
    I , like you , use my own name , if others do not , such as psi, as Liberals and Democrats, as they are doing no harm , but , in the case of psi , make good contributions , we must respect their anon status as none of our business ! You , as ever no doubt because of an ideological objection to the so called orange book stance , are dismissive of David Laws. A shame , he is a very intelligent and thoughtful Liberal.It is a shame also that the think tank Centre Forum are as independent as they are now , as they no longer self describe as Liberal , though they are in views and approach .


    As ever fair minded and moderate !

    On the subject , we need to see all pupils as individuals , not parts of groups , aware of culture and origins , but only as influences , not as identity.That said , it is time for more recognition of the outside influences , way beyond schools .

  • Jayne Mansfield 6th Apr '16 - 12:39pm

    @ John Marriott,
    ‘Firstly, we should consider why it is necessary to expose four years olds to the rigour of formal education – tick.
    .’Secondly, we have got to stop allowing schools being created where they are not needed in the name of ‘parental choice’ – tick
    ‘Thirdly, we should abolish the charitable status of independent schools – tick
    ‘ Forthly, ………’ – tick
    ‘Finally………’ – tick
    Gold Star from someone too idle to type out the comments of which I whole – heartedly agree.

    John, I would be interested in your views, those of Helen and David Raw regarding the technical schools that were part of the tripartite system. Also any role for what were once known a polytechnic colleges. Do you still envisage all forms of education being offered within a comprehensive system or would vocational course be offered within separate environments that may be more suited to the sometimes large scale and highly technical equipment needed?

  • Helen Tedcastle 6th Apr '16 - 2:15pm

    I tend to agree with previous comments from John Marriott that changing the Polytechnics and HE colleges to universities was a mistake. It’s a mistake not made in Germany where they have a clear route to Technical University and Technical Institutes and they are on a par with the broader-based universities.

    I had the opportunity to visit a Real Schule in Germany a few years ago. What is interesting is that the students have the opportunity to attend the Gymnasium (Grammar equivalent) if they show signs of academic prowess. It is not a closed route after an arbitrary cut off age. Incidentally the Gymnasium was on the top floor of the Real Schule, so pupils mixed for sports, games and break-times. The Real Schule children studied a broad range of academic subjects too but the focus was not solely on academic rigour. They did studied technical subjects and they study for a diploma rather than GCSEs in single subjects. The Gymnasium students also study for the diploma. This is the passport to the next educational stage for all students but they reach different levels and with different competencies.

    My main criticism of the English grammar/secondary modern system was/is the social segregation and the lack of comparable opportunities given between schools. In Germany they do not appear to have the same hang ups we have in this country between the academic and vocational.

    I am not one of those who derides the comprehensive system. It has produced far higher standards of education for all since the abolition of the grammar/secondary modern era. As most if not all schools stream students according to aptitude, there is no real excuse for teachers to teach ‘to the middle.’ Most teachers differentiate work in classes anyway.

    I also do not accept the Michael Gove assertion that GCSEs were dumbed down because of the the ending of norm referencing. (There was a good case to be made for ending the dominance of the exam boards in setting GCSEs. That was Labour’s mismanagement and not down to the teachers or the pupils working hard in schools).

    Norm referencing was arbitrary and only ever allowed a certain quota to pass exams. Criterion-referencing is far fairer as it tests pupils on what they know and understand. If they meet the criteria they get the grade.

  • Sue Sutherland 6th Apr '16 - 3:44pm

    Helen, I agree with you that the comprehensive system has helped many children but I love what you say about the German system especially that students can study in different schools and do not get closed off by an initial assessment. There is no reason I can see for denying students the opportunity to study different subjects in different types of school according to their interests and abilities. It would be a time tabling nightmare I’ m sure but would be worth it? I’m sure it would be no greater nightmare than enforcing Academies on everyone.
    Helen, John and Jayne obviously have a wealth of experience and knowledge. Is it possible for you all to get together on a different forum and start working with other experts in the party to produce a different vision for education?

  • In the good old Jo Grimond days we had an Advisory Education Panel of nationally recognised education experts to help the party spokespersonsn. All we seem to have now is a privately educated ex-investment banker millionaire acting in in an “unofficial” capacity.

    Please tell me I’m wring.

  • Jayne Mansfield 6th Apr '16 - 5:07pm

    @ Sue Sutherland,
    I’m not an expert Sue. I am seeking information from those who are, and who clearly have the best interests of all young people at heart.

    As far as I am concerned, education is the most precious gift that one can give to a child.
    I do have a major concern though at the current level of stress to which we expose our ‘little pitchers’, and the fact that some come out of the process feeling like failures rather than enriched and enabled by the experience. I do not mean that as a criticism of those who teach them.

  • Typo : I’ll settle for wrong.

  • Sue Sutherland 6th Apr '16 - 6:16pm

    David Raw, I thought wring was a good way of describing how you feel! I believe that we Lib Dems should start creating policy by the people for the people rather than by the powerful for the weak, so I agree that we should not be relying on someone who’s experience is so far removed from most people’s to tell us how to educate our children. Fine if in the middle of a group of people who all have different experiences and knowledge to contribute but not in sole charge.
    So please can someone tell me how we get bottom up policy making going? Mary as author of this article can you help? These posts have been some of the most positive ones I have seen on LDV and it would be a pity if this disappeared into the ether. It is very annoying that I can’t do it myself because I suffer from ME. Poor concentration, little energy and unable to organise a single drink in a brewery let alone the proverbial.

  • Shaun Whitfield 12th Apr '16 - 6:03pm
  • @ Mary Sutherland

    Mary, it’s people like you who renew my faith in human nature. Lang may yer lum reek.

    No, John M. and I have been banging the drum but it’s quiet in Westminster. Why don’t you email John Pugh or Tim Farron.

  • @ Shaun Whitfield. Well done, Shaun. Laws D. has clearly got his data in a pickle.

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