It has been shown that during 2011-12 26.4% of white British boys eligible for Free School Meals achieved 5 GCSEs A*-C in comparison to a national average of 58.8% meaning a gap of 32.4 % (https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/219337/sfr04-2013.pdf). This is a problem because it can affect whether these boys go on to take higher education, and only 10% of the most disadvantaged white British males progress to higher education (https://www.cfey.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/The-underrepresentation-of-white-working-class-boys-in-higher-education-baars-et-al-2016.pdf).
What can be done to combat this?
- Academies which can be set up in disadvantaged areas which can help local working class kids get good GCSE results.
- Schools supporting children at risk of failing.
- Mentors or coaches from the local community to give students role models to look up too and widen their opportunities.
- Careers advice and guidance.
Tolu, 14, Leicestershire
Read more from Tolu
Every demographic has their own issues, and in this blog I, in no way, intend to belittle or demean issues such as black lives matter or the struggles of acceptance faced by trans people, or other people in the LGBTQ+ community, but rather I intend to shed light on a group of people whose historical affluence causes them to be massively overlooked and of which produces unnecessary suffering across numerous generations.
This week’s blog title means a lot to me. I come from a northern rural area, where perhaps 25% of the people I meet fall into this demographic where I have seen, first-hand, this stereotype play out. There is an issue here, and it is deep.
‘White working class boys’. What’s the immediate connotation that comes into people’s mind? The chavs, maybe? Someone kitted out with tracksuits and smoking a cigarette in a back alley? Terraced houses and the dingy end of town? Barely understandable slang and disruptions in the classroom?
You can say that’s not what you think when you hear those words, but for many people, that is exactly what they think, or worse. How did it come to be like this? We’re all human, all made up of the same parts even just slightly different, yet this demographic has such a well defined stigma. Where perhaps, not all of the characteristics are truly bad, many of them are and affect them deeply in the modern world.
And it’s not just the stigma that is hard on them. Statistically, white working class boys are the least likely to go to university. Just 13% of them.  Which is a statistic that pales in comparison to every other demographic: of students in state education not on free school meals, 45%, students in state education, of black students as a whole, 59%, and privately educated students of whom an enormous 85% of students go on to higher education. It is so bad, that the number of these students who reach university has actually decreased since last year.
The problems don’t stop there though, they have repercussions throughout their whole life. For example, in the UK, men aged between 40 and 49 are the demographic most likely to commit suicide and ‘deprivation’ can increase the chance of this by tenfold . In the UK, I was unable to find data on racial statistics, but in the USA, it has been found that within this demographic, it is the white working class who suffer the most . Clearly, this is not only an issue in the UK, but throughout the developed world.
How did this happen? There is clearly something deeper than biology going on here, whilst we still have the image of the white male businessman, yet equally the white male working class. There are quite a few reasons, why this has occurred, both historical and right now. Historically, a lot of the issues can be traced back to deindustrialisation, especially in the north, where workers with steady jobs were made redundant and unemployment soared, such as with the closure of coal mines in the 80s. This has created generations with a lack of ambition, the hopelessness of parents passed onto children. As well as this, there are other reasons, especially those that separate the working class boys and girls, such as the fact that it is generally easier for men to find unskilled work in their area, and therefore deem higher education as less useful  and the fact that boys physically mature later which can cause them to irreversibly waste their education and potential. But more than this, the knock on effect of generations of this issue, causes there to be ‘pockets’ and areas where this demographic is found, and causes the schooling of these students to be far more difficult than in other areas, as often, the kids simply do not care. In white working class areas: teachers are more likely to be at the start of their career lacking experience, they are more likely to have unqualified teachers who teach outside of their specialism, and teachers from these areas are twice as likely to quit at the start of their career as other teachers . This means that not only is the ambition not fostered in these children, but their teaching is not adequate either.
However, as much as this is an issue, it means that there can be a solution. The solution is teachers and youth groups/services. A good teacher, a good mentor, a good club (such as boxing which allows anger to be channelled in useful ways and develops discipline ) can really make a difference to a child’s life and can foster in them the hope that allows them to succeed in life to higher education. In the rise of social media and globalisation and inter connectivity, there are also resources and figures online who can incite hope into these young people in huge numbers, such as Canadian psychologist Jordan B Peterson, who encourages young men to ‘take responsibility’ for things and give themselves a purpose.
However this change occurs, whether it be from mass teachings online or from youth workers closer to these people, it will not be an easy task. But it is absolutely necessary, and it will hopefully change the lives of millions of young men.
Ella, 15, Driffield
Read more from Ella
It is important to create a level playing field so everyone gets the same advantages, especially in education. We don’t have this at the moment. There is a gap between rich and poor.
White working-class boys are the least likely group to go to university. Statistically, white working-class boys are behind most groups at GCSE level.
It is important not to sound patronising. Just because you are claiming benefit, it does not mean a family is without hope or expectation. It does not mean that families on benefit don’t want the best for their children. It doesn’t mean that the parents aren’t encouraging their children to do really well. However, working-class children from disadvantaged, low-income families may not have the benefit of money to pay for food, laptops, books, extra tuition and a space of the student’s own to work in. Living in a family where you don’t know where the next meal is going to come from, causes stress for all. This can all contribute to how well or how badly students perform in school. And that applies to many working-class children on benefit, including white, working-class boys. We need to look at the benefits system and make it less stressful for families to survive on it.
We need quality teachers who set high expectations. If someone believes in you, then you will start to believe in yourself. I am lucky because, in my state school, A level teachers are all great. However, if a school is an area which is deprived then maybe teachers may be less likely to stay because of the stresses of the work. If a white working-class boy builds up a relationship of trust with their teachers that goes a long way to helping them make something of their education and having a future. Then if the teacher goes – that can be devastating.
We need to make kids proud of themselves. We all need skills to move on in life.
Maybe the under-performance of white boys is not getting the attention it needs.
If we don’t try and change things, it has a massive impact on, not just the individual boys themselves, in the long-term, but also on society. Angus Deaton, a Nobel Laureate based at Princeton University, talked about ‘deaths of despair’ when looking at the demographics of people affected by alcoholism, depression and drug abuse and said there was a higher rate of suicide amongst those who were poor and low-educated (Spectator article, Christopher Snowdon, 18 July, 2020).
Education and self-belief is the way out of poverty for white working-class boys, so that poverty does not become a state of mind.
Beth, 17, Leicester
Read more from Beth