Working class pupils still failed by education system – Bill Carmichael

MORE than 40 years ago when I was a teenager I astonished my family by winning a place to study at the University of Cambridge.

A Parliamentary report says white working class pupils have been failed by decades of neglect in the education system. Do you agree?
A Parliamentary report says white working class pupils have been failed by decades of neglect in the education system. Do you agree?

There must have been a hefty dose 
of positive discrimination happening in my favour, because the entrance exam back then included a compulsory 
section of Latin translation, a subject 
not taught at my inner city comprehensive, so I had to wing it and hope for the best.

I am convinced that someone at King’s College took pity on me when they offered me a place all those years ago.

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I am very glad they did, but it was a massive culture shock. I went from graffiti-daubed tenement blocks to the perfectly clipped greensward of the quad; from crunching broken glass underfoot at the bus stop, to gazing at the mediaeval stained glass in the magnificent college chapel; from the busy docks where my dad worked, to serenely punting along the River Cam.

A Parliamentary report says white working class pupils have been failed by decades of neglect in the education system. Do you agree?

It was only 200 miles from my home in the North but Cambridge felt like a foreign country, and I didn’t speak the language. I mean that literally. My scouse accent was so thick that my fellow students and tutors could barely understand a word I said, and I became accustomed to looks of polite bewilderment whenever I opened my mouth.

I learned to slow down and articulate clearly, only for my family to fall about laughing when I went home at Christmas because I had become so terribly “posh” in just a single term.

In all my time at Cambridge I didn’t meet anyone like me – no one who was brought up in a terraced council house or whose parents worked in manual jobs.

But back in those more optimistic times I naively thought that this would all change, that I was amongst a pioneering generation, and legions of working class kids would follow us to occupy places at Britain’s best universities.

A Parliamentary report says white working class pupils have been failed by decades of neglect in the education system. Do you agree?

It didn’t happen like that, and in many ways social mobility has halted or even gone backwards.

For example, my terrific school, which sent many of my generation to university, later went into a precipitous decline, largely thanks to trendy teaching experiments – kinaesthetic learning anyone? – and was eventually closed down after a withering Ofsted report.

Now in the borough of Knowsley, one of the most deprived in the country, there is hardly any provision for A-level study. What chance have teenagers from there today of aspiring to university?

This problem was highlighted this week in a report from MPs on the Education Select Committee, which found that white working class pupils have been failed by decades of neglect in the education system.

The committee found that just 16 per cent of white working class children receiving free school meals achieved a place at university, compared with 59 per cent of black African and Bangladeshi pupils, and 32 per cent of black Caribbean pupils in similar situations.

In fact this is nothing new. It has long been known that white working class children, particularly boys, are by far the most disadvantaged sector of society in terms of education, but very little has been done to address the problem.

Why the neglect? Quite simply it doesn’t fit in with the prevailing narrative. Trendy notions, such as Critical Race Theory, posit a competitive hierarchy of victimhood, with black people at the top and white people at the bottom.

According to this dogma, white people, even the poorest of the poor, cannot suffer oppression or disadvantage, because they benefit from something called “white privilege”.

It is a racist and deeply divisive idea that promotes racial disharmony, but it has been enthusiastically adopted by schools, universities, government departments and big business. The establishment loves Critical Race Theory because they would rather see working people kicking lumps out of each other over race, than uniting to ask uncomfortable questions over inequality and deprivation.

Racism still exists, of course, but the truth is there have been tremendous strides towards racial equality in our country that should make us proud.

But white working class children have been neglected and allowed to fall behind. If we want to unlock the potential of all our young people, regardless of the colour of their skin, this is a problem that needs our urgent attention.

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