‘White working-class boys’ falling behind at school

White working-class boys’ in Essex are falling behind at school while children from ethnic minority groups are excelling, according to council findings.

At Key Stage Four students from Asian and Black ethnicities in Essex were vastly outperforming the average for pupils from white backgrounds not just in the county but across England overall, a council meeting has heard.

Essex County Council’s cabinet member Tony Ball said at a scrutiny meeting on Thursday that on average poor educational outcomes among “white working-class boys” have not been properly addressed.

The average attainment outcomes for Essex (not including Southend and Thurrock) at Key Stage 4 are below the English average – 63.7 per cent of children in 2023 got a grade 4 or higher in English and maths.

The national average stood at 65.4 per cent. Just four districts – Brentwood, Uttlesford, Chelmsford and Colchester – register outcomes above the average.

Essex County Council, noting the gap in standards, convened a meeting of the multi-academy trust chief executives to find a solution to the problem facing Essex.

But the council’s People and Families Policy and Scrutiny Committee meeting on April 11 heard how it should learn lessons from the differences in outcomes between ethnic groups.

An average of 89.7 per cent of Asian pupils in Essex got a grade four or higher at KS4 in English and maths. The national average for Asian children was 75.5 per cent.

An average of 72.2 per cent of Black pupils in Essex got a grade four or higher at KS4 in English and maths. The national average for Black children was 65.5 per cent.

In comparison, an average of 61.8 per cent of white pupils in Essex got a grade four or higher at KS4 in English and maths. The national average was 63.8 per cent.

Councillor Aiden McGurran, a member of the People and Families Policy and Scrutiny Committee, said: “There must be a way, and I know it sounds naive, of harnessing the enthusiasm of education that some of our ethnic groups and our immigrant populations have that don’t seem to translate into the white working-class population.”

The cabinet member for education, Councillor Tony Ball, said: “Six years ago all of a sudden white working-class boys are now falling behind and we haven’t really addressed that issue, I would say, as much as we did and the results are there for the ethnic minorities. Asian children have done well on the whole. But we seem to have forgotten a little bit about white working-class boys.”

Clare Kershaw, director of education at Essex County Council, said: “Where we are focusing our attention, particularly around our disadvantaged young people and within that our white British cohort of young people, has been the push around reading. We need to get secondary schools really absolutely all over children’s reading ability very early on and in respect of people’s transitioning in Year 7.

“Through the Essex task force and the Essex Year of Reading, we have supported an intensive program called Thinking Reading in about a third of our secondary schools now. And I think that is going up to about half. The feedback that we get from those schools engaged is it is massively transforming the lives of young people for whom reading is a barrier.

“Children need good fluency and comprehension skills to access the secondary curriculum. And if they start secondary education behind in the skill-based around reading they will struggle to access the secondary curriculum. Which is why we are focusing on reading, predominantly, to open up more young people that can then enjoy education.”


Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter