Poor parenting in white working class families to blame for low aspirations, MPs told

Poor parenting among white working class families is to blame for low aspirations among children, MPs have been told. 

Families in deprived white communities are less likely to encourage their children to work hard at school than other ethnic groups as there is a "disregard for education", the education select committee has heard. 

Helena Mills, chief executive at BMAT Education, a chain of academies in Essex, said that many white working class families do not set high educational ambitions for their children.

"We’ve got some schools where we’ve got high numbers of disadvantaged but the majority are from the black and ethnic minority group," she told MPs. 

"Those parents, absolutely, when their child goes home, they make them study, but also they’re talking to that child from a very early age saying, ‘You’re going to go to university, you’ve got to get good GCSE grades, you’ve got to get good A-level grades’.

"It’s a bit of a stereotype but there are significant numbers amongst our white poor where the parents aren’t saying that.

"I think when parenting is poor, and I use that word very carefully, I do think the school takes on an increasingly important role and makes the difference."

During the inquiry into white working class pupils’ outcomes, Ms Mills said "poor parenting can be a barrier" but schools can take on the parenting role if they have extra resources and funding.

She told MPs that her teachers have been driven to look for work outside the profession as they face aggression from families on a daily basis.

"It is a really tough job if you’re working in communities where you’re working with disadvantaged families who don’t really support you," Ms Mills said.

Asked whether the home environment has an effect on disadvantaged white pupils compared with their peers from other ethnic backgrounds, Ruth Robinson, executive principal at Swindon and Nova Hreod academies, said her schools had extended the school day to address the issue.

"The parental support and drive, and ambition for their children, feels different within white working class homes," she told MPs.

"Having worked in schools with large numbers of children from other ethnic backgrounds, their parents would be saying, ‘No, you go home and you will do your homework’.

"The idea that you will study for two, two and a half, three hours a night is quite natural to them and it’s very different within a white working class community."

She added that poorer white families sometimes lack the support of "extended family structures". Ms Robinson said: "The sense of community and how religion, the mosque, the church, the gurdwara, enriches the lives of children from different groups… we don’t find that within our white working class communities.

"The impact of poverty, poor diet, on children’s health means that alongside the lack of aspiration there are other deeply entrenched problems within our communities that mean the children aren’t surrounded by a family with high aspirations or ambition for them."

Nick Hurn, who runs the Bishop Wilkinson Catholic Education Trust, said an "ingrained attitude" exists among families in the area where he works, which serves predominantly white disadvantaged children.

"They’ve got a disregard for education in many respects," he said. "There’s also large proportions of families who struggle to help their children, certainly pre-school education areas in particular, and that’s a real, real main challenge.

"So a lot of our children don’t come to school with developed language skills, so before they even start they are behind other children and that doesn’t really get any better." Mr Hurn said a "poverty of aspiration" exists in white disadvantaged areas, and staff had reported that some teenage pupils had never left their estate before going on a day trip to Newcastle.

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