Widening attainment gap for white British boys
White British boys from disadvantaged backgrounds are under-performing compared with disadvantaged children from all other groups. Consequently, the social well-being and economic success of communities across the United Kingdom is under threat.
In 2014, just 23.8% (of white British boys) attained the standard UK accountability measure of 5 GCSE (A*-C including English and Maths) in comparison to the national average for all pupils of 56.6%.
This represents the largest of the attainment gaps for disadvantaged children.
In a more recent publication, Perera et al., (2016, p.7) reached a similar conclusion, saying that”By the end of secondary school[…]white British pupils are overtaken by ten other ethnic groups to just below average.”
Misleadingly, the report is not split by gender. As a result, the outcomes for disadvantaged girls mask the even poorer outcomes for boys.
We know that poor children are 43 percent less likely to go to university, and three times as likely to claim unemployment-related benefits at age 19, and their earnings are estimated to be 28 percent lower at age 34. These figures are exacerbated when considering white British boys in isolation. Therefore, school leaders should take this into account in their pupil premium strategy planning.
The recommendations made in the recent report by Hutchinson and Dunford, (2016) are a good starting point. Prioritising policies to increase the quality of age 3-4 child care and increasing the uptake of the 2-year-old offer will have a positive impact on reducing the disadvantage gap which is already appearing at the age of 5. Across all age groups, we can build stronger communities by encouraging parents both to work and be engaged with their children’s learning. Schools should be pivotal in building these community relationships and identifying collaborative opportunities.
Some schools have used their pupil premium funding effectively to reduce inequality in their communities. As a result, boys from low-income families are leaving these schools with improved opportunity and life chances. This must be the goal for our entire education system.
Programmes that begin by ensuring that disadvantaged children are able to read in accordance with their age-related expectations prove to be the most effective. More importantly, those that engage parents in literacy initiatives are even more so. In order to support children in our low-income families, we must take responsibility collectively in engaging parents with school-based reading programmes.
Recently, I witnessed the incredible impact of involving parents with reading at secondary level with a group of underachieving boys. The boys’ parents were required to attend school in the evening and listen to their children read. The parents were taught some active reading strategies to help them engage with their child’s reading. The boys’ progress accelerated at a rate of at least double that of their peers during the 3 month period and their attitude to learning scores improved.
In order to improve outcomes for disadvantaged boys, I would advocate inviting boys of all ages with their parents to attend weekly reading sessions. You could use some of your Pupil Premium funding to provide books, refreshments and reading prizes. All of your staff should be directed to assist with the programme: supervising sessions, speaking with parents and listening to children of all ages read. What better opportunity for your teachers to get to know their pupils and parents?
The progress of your targeted boys must be closely tracked and monitored in line with the advice offered by Rowland (2015). You should evaluate and refine your strategy regularly.
Hutchinson, J & Dunford, J., (2016) Divergent Pathways: the disadvantage gap, accountability and the pupil premium. Education Policy Institute.
Perera, N., Treadaway, M., Johnes, B, Sellen., P., Hutchinson, J., & Mao, L., (2016) Education in England: Annual Report 2016. Centre Forum
Rowland, M (2015) An Updated Practical Guide to the Pupil Premium. Edition. John Catt Educational Ltd.