Written by Kim Johnson MP
The Education Committee report is a shameful attempt to stoke the culture war by scapegoating ethnic minorities for the poverty endemic in ‘left behind’ communities.
In the name of championing the white working class, the Education Committee report released on Monday 21st June picks up the mantle of the highly discredited Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report, referenced 31 times, in a shameful attempt to limit the freedoms of ethnic minorities to articulate their experiences of racism, and to stoke the culture war by scapegoating them for the poverty endemic in ‘left behind’ communities.
The truth is that the “left behind” disadvantaged pupils are the victims of over a decade of cuts in education funding, through decimation of local authority budgets primarily in the North of the country, scrapping of the Educational Maintenance Allowance, now the reduction in the Pupil Premium which is there precisely to benefit more disadvantaged children.
If this government was serious about levelling up education for white working class pupils, it wouldn’t have limited the “catch-up” funding to £50/head, universally applied.
Spiralling workloads and attacks by successive Conservative governments have seen teachers leave the profession in droves. This, combined with the ongoing funding cuts, has contributed to all children in working class communities. Compare this to the almost £1m a year Eton benefits from by being a charity. The School Cuts campaign estimates there will be a £1.3bn shortfall in school funding by 2022-23 – compared to five years ago. There has been a 9% cut overall in education funding over the past 10 years, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. None of this makes it into the report.
The Tories take the cowards way out by pointing the finger at ethnic minority communities
The report calls for public bodies – including schools and charities – to seriously consider their responsibilities when promoting the term white privilege. This was watered down from the preferred recommendation from some committee members, which called for financial penalties for public bodies doing this work. It was taken off the table after legal advice that it would contravene human rights legislation by having a chilling effect on freedom of speech. Not one of the schools in my constituency has ever raised this as an issue. Probably because it is only an issue for some Tory MPs.
The report also pushes a free schools agenda, despite plenty of evidence to suggest that academies do not reduce the attainment gap for disadvantaged children in comparison to local authority-run schools. Research by the Sutton Trust found that two thirds of academy chains perform below average for disadvantaged pupils. It also concluded that too many chain sponsors, despite several years in charge of their schools, continued to struggle to improve the outcomes of their most disadvantaged students. Again, evidence disregarded by the Committee majority.
This is a dangerous report that utterly undermines any attempts to materially improve the educational attainment and life chances of the white working class and other disadvantaged communities and further seeks to creative division, blaming disadvantaged Black communities – not the government.
If there was ever a clear indication about the lack of commitment of the Tories to levelling up left behind areas and communities, this is it. Instead of focusing on the multitude of evidence that shows that cuts, lack of investment and stark poverty has on the opportunities of so many communities, the Tories once again take the cowards way out by pointing the finger at the red herring of ethnic minority communities.
My alternative report for consideration, titled: Facing the facts: How the systemic underinvestment in de-industrialised communities in ‘left behind’ regions is bringing down the educational attainment of working-class pupils, drew on the evidence presented to the committee, which showed beyond a shadow of a doubt that the key driver between inequalities in educational outcomes is poverty – specifically multi-generational poverty in de-industrialised regions.
If the government is serious about its levelling up agenda, and in eradicating inequalities in education and life opportunities for the next generation – it must put its money where its mouth is. Anything less is a scandalous failure in its duty to support disadvantaged communities – including white communities.