Struggling white working-class students are good news for Ukip. Photo: Phil Boorman
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Failing schools provide Ukip with their supporters of tomorrow

White working-class boys do worse than anyone else at school.

Bright but disadvantaged children are being failed by English state education – especially the white working-class. It is a depressing fact reinforced by the Sutton Trust’s essential report Missing Talent, published today. Over a third of boys on free school meals who are in the top 10 per cent of performers at the age of 11 have, by the age of 16, fallen outside the top 25 per cent.

White working-class boys are faring particularly badly. “There’s a huge waste of talent happening every year amongst bright working class boys,” says Dr Lee Elliot Major, Chief Executive of the Sutton Trust. “This is just one of the unacceptable attainment gaps that now affect the white working class communities more than any other.” While just 28.3 per cent of white boys eligible for free school meals earn five good GCSEs, at least 39 per cent of mixed-race, Asian and black boys do so.

It is much better to be poor and bright in some parts of England than others. Last year, the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission published findings showing that disadvantaged pupils in inner London are 21 percentage points more likely to achieve five GCSEs, including English and maths, at grade C and above than those elsewhere in England. And this is not just the “London effect”: the report also noted “improvements in other large cities across England, such as Birmingham and Manchester”.

Outside these cities, children – especially those who are white working-class – are being left behind. And there is a correlation between the areas where state schools are worse and Ukip do best (as I explained last year), even down to Ukip enjoying far greater support from men, who do worse than their female counterparts in school.

Maps plotting Ukip vote share in the general election against areas of high educational under-performance from Dr Meenakshi Parameshwaran - LKMco Research Associate. Link

Ukip performs poorly among those who are better educated: only 8 per cent of ABs (those in managerial, administrative or professional jobs, which tend to require degrees) voted purple in 2015. A majority of Ukip supporters left school at 16. Ukip voters are also motivated by the notion that they have been left behind by Westminster, one reason why Ukip has performed particularly strongly on the East Coast.

Two years ago, Michael Wilshaw, the Chief Inspector of Schools for England and head of Oftsed, warned that underperforming pupils in many market and seaside towns were “invisible”. He had a point: Teach First will only just begin expanding into many of the struggling coastal areas where it is needed most (and where Ukip does best) this September, 13 years after it was created.

The neglect of coastal areas has led to a collapse in standards: between 2009 and 2014, the percentage of students in Great Yarmouth at schools that Ofsted rated “unsatisfactory” or in need of improvement increased from 33 to 47; in London, it fell from 29 to 16. No wonder Ukip received 23 per cent in Great Yarmouth last month. 

So if David Cameron is serious about tackling Ukip’s support, nothing would be more effective than transforming the quality of education received by disadvantaged white British children, especially in deprived parts of the East Coast. The Ukip voters of today would no longer feel quite so neglected by Westminster. And, equipped with a better education, their children would be less likely to become the Ukip voters of tomorrow. 

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.

Photo: Getty
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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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