Report Overview

Written by Philip Kirby and Carl Cullinane, this research brief highlights how the academic attainment of disadvantaged pupils at 16 varies dramatically between different ethnic groups. It focuses on the outcomes for pupils eligible for free school meals at GCSE. White working class pupils achieve the lowest grades at GCSE of any main ethnic group, with just a quarter of boys and a third of girls achieving 5 good GCSEs. Disadvantaged Chinese pupils perform above the national average for all pupils, while Bangladeshi, Indian, black African and Pakistani pupils from poorer homes all perform well above the national average for disadvantaged pupils. Improvement in urban schools, stronger family aspirations and cultural attitudes are suggested as some of the key reasons why different groups achieve differently.

Key Findings
  • White British FSM (Free School Meals) boys achieve the lowest grades at GCSE of any main ethnic group, with just 24% achieving 5 A*-C grades at GCSE, inc. English and maths. They have now been either the lowest or second lowest performing ethnic group every year for a decade. White British FSM girls are also the lowest performing main female ethnic group, with 32% achieving the same measure.
  • In the past ten years, Bangladeshi, black African and Chinese FSM pupils have improved substantially more than the national average. These three groups have improved by more than 20 percentage points since 2006 on the benchmark five GCSE measure, while the national average has improved by about 13.5 percentage points.
  • While certain ethnic minority FSM pupils perform better on attainment than the national average at GCSE (such as Chinese, Bangladeshi and Indian), others still struggle (such as black Caribbean and Irish).
  • Travellers of Irish heritage and Gypsy/ Roma communities perform the lowest on all main attainment measures. These are small itinerant groups, facing particular educational challenges, requiring specific policy assistance.
  • 45% of white British pupils attend university after leaving school, the lowest rate of all ethnicities, excluding Gypsy/Roma. However, they have better rates of entering elite universities. Of those who enrol in university, 24% of white British students attend a Russell Group institution, more than most minority ethnic groups. Black African and Pakistani students show the largest differential between high university attendance and low enrolment in Russell Group universities.
  1. Implement targeted attainment improvement programmes for disadvantaged white British pupils
    Nearly two thirds of FSM-eligible pupils at GCSE are white British and their results are among the lowest, especially for boys. Schools should use the Education Endowment Foundation’s ‘Teaching and Learning Toolkit’ to improve this group’s outcomes, as recommended by the House of Commons Education Committee.
  1. Implement targeted attainment improvement programmes for poorly performing disadvantaged ethnic minority pupils
    While ethnic minority performance has improved overall, some pupils from black, Caribbean and Irish backgrounds are still struggling. Previous targeted schemes, such as Ethnic Minority Achievement Grants, have been subsumed into the Direct Schools Grant. More need to be implemented, maintained and evaluated.
  2. Create more opportunities for disadvantaged ethnic groups to supplement core lessons
    Disadvantaged groups need support to engage in self-directed study, do sufficient homework, read more books and undertake educational trips – the extracurricular activities proven to provide academic and non-academic dividends. Enrichment vouchers should be made available to pupils, funded through the Pupil Premium.
  3. Introduce a government fund to support highly-able pupils
    The government should introduce a dedicated fund to support highly-able pupils. The fund would lever schools’ own spending in this area to encourage the development of cost effective programmes aimed at this often-neglected target group.
  4. Encourage more highly-qualified teachers to teach in deprived schools
    Previous Sutton Trust research has shown that teachers in advantaged schools are more experienced than those in deprived schools. Polling of teachers finds that financial incentives and more free periods would best attract teachers to teach in deprived schools; incentives which could be facilitated through the new National Teaching Service.