The underperformance of white working-class children at school has long been remarked about, but very little concrete action has been taken from this Government to narrow the gap.
Ministers have fixated on the name above the school door at the expense of prioritising what matters most in our schools - the quality of teaching - and ensuring an excellent education for all. Instead of focusing on raising aspirations amongst this group, their plans to force all primary and secondary schools to become academies will mean that money and time is taken away from this work. With school budgets already falling in real terms for the first time since the mid-1990s Head teachers tell me they’re having to reduce teacher numbers, and cut the extra tuition and extra-curricular activities that help broaden the horizons of children and give them more opportunities.
The government is particularly failing to attract and retain good teachers in coastal and coalfield towns where lots of white working class children live, and far too many schools are less than good in these areas, as Ofsted has warned. Often a lack of opportunities for young people, can cap aspirations, and difficult questions should be asked over whether this group are being properly supported and stretched to achieve their potential, both in and outside school. We need to do more to educate parents too, this isn’t just an issue for schools.
It is vital that we have a renewed focus from Ministers and a wide-ranging approach to tackling underachievement in education working with parents and schools, so that we can raise aspiration and achievement and close this gap. If we fail to do so, the consequences will continue to hold young people and our country back for generations. But with the attainment gap now wider than it was when David Cameron came to office and white working-class children getting left further behind, it is evident that there is just not enough attention on this very serious issue.
The government need to step up to this challenge, not duck it, so that we can ensure all young people get the excellent education they deserve.
Lucy Powell is Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Education