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.