Poorer white pupils 'let down' and disadvantaged, Ipswich MP says

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt is pleased to see an end to the national lockdown - but warned: 'This isn't the end of the struggle.'...

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt helped to put together the report as a member of the House of Commons education select committee - Credit: Archant

Poorer white children face huge levels of disadvantage and need greater support with education funding, after-school activities and career advice, Ipswich MP Tom Hunt has said.

As a member of the House of Commons education select committee, Mr Hunt has helped draw up a hard-hitting report which says young people from white working class backgrounds statistically perform worse than other groups.

The committee, which has several Conservative members, said many children had been "let down" by the system and that the term "white privilege" was not helpful to many of those struggling families.

But it was quickly attacked by Labour MPs who said Conservatives were trying to "fight a divisive culture war instead of address chronic under-funding".

Mr Hunt, who sat through hours of evidence in select committee hearings and questioned experts as part of the investigation, said: "We're not denying that there aren't significant issues facing other communities.

"The existence of racism in some schools is still there as an issue and that's something that's very disturbing."

However, he said there is clear evidence white working class children perform less well than other groups at school.

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For example, the report said 18% of white British pupils on free meals achieved grade 5 in English and maths at GCSE in 2019, compared with 23% for the average for pupils on free meals.

"The sense I got is that some people were trying to pretend this wasn't an issue, even though it very clearly was," Mr Hunt said.

"This can't be lazily explained away because funding or poverty in general.

"There is a deeper issue and it needs to addressed."

Mr Hunt said the reasons for disparity were complex, saying that families of children claiming free school meals often had a "negative" view of an education system which had not worked for them.

"If you've got someone who is not interested in university, they can look at the school system as being academically-focused," he said.

He called on the government to address historic under-funding of schools in Ipswich, saying: "I do get this sense that when the government looks at Suffolk, they think it as a prosperous rural area.

"But within that, they need to be sensitive that there are pockets of deprivation with that which need more money going into schools."

However, he also said there needs to be improved "cultural capital" - in the form of family hubs to support parents and young children, more activities and places to meet outside of school and "greater promotion of apprenticeships".

He added: "There are different pathways and they are of no less value than academic pathways.

"It's going to take a long time to address all the findings.

"However, the key thing I feel here is that we should be open to looking at how we can support all disadvantaged children, regardless of where they come from." 

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said in response to the report: “This government is focused on levelling up opportunity so that no young person is left behind.

“That’s why we are providing the biggest uplift to school funding in a decade – £14billion over three years – investing in early years education and targeting our ambitious recovery funding, worth £3bn to date, to support disadvantaged pupils aged two to 19 with their attainment.”