White working-class boys in England 'need more help' to go to university

White working-class boys in England 'need more help' to go to university

Helping white, working-class boys in England to go on to higher education should be a top priority for policymakers, according to Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi). More than half of UK universities have a student population in which the proportion of white people from low-income families is less than 5 per cent.

Anne-Marie Canning, director of social mobility and student success at King’s College London, said that white working-class boys “are the most under-represented group in higher education” and deserved special attention, including assisting parents to ensure their children’s academic development continues after the age of 16.

“We should be resolute in taking a proactive approach to helping more white working-class children make it,” Canning said.

The difference in attainment between richer pupils and their disadvantaged classmates has closed slightly since 2011, a cause for much celebration in government. However, when results are broken down by ethnicity, it appears that the improved results among poorer pupils are largely down to the achievement of non-white children. This is exacerbated when gender is taken into the equation.

White boys from poorer homes are the least likely of any category, other than Roma or Gypsy, to go to university. One of the key barriers for young white working-class men is their lack of confidence that university life is for them. With accents, clothing and lifestyles that may be very different from their more affluent peers, it is hard for them to imagine themselves fitting in.

The government’s social mobility report echoed these findings; only 5 per cent of disadvantaged young people enrol at the most selective universities, compared with the national average of 12 per cent.

Even if they do get in, the working-class struggle to stay: 8.8 per cent of them drop out before graduating, compared with 6.3 per cent of their peers from better-off families. The numbers of part-time students from lower-income backgrounds has fallen by a whopping 42 per cent over the past six years.