White British children are among the highest achievers at age 5, but fall behind in secondary school, study finds

White British pupils are falling behind students from other ethnic backgrounds by the time they reach their GCSEs because of a lack of support from their parents, a report has revealed.

The research, by the CentreForum thinktank, suggests white British children are among the top three highest achieving groups at the age of five. But by the age of 16, the group’s performance slips to 13th in a table behind children of Chinese, Indian, Asian and black African heritage.

Researchers said one reason for the change is that parents from ethnic backgrounds were more supportive of their children than white parents.

The report found that pupils for whom English is an additional language (EAL) make enormous progress during their school careers. By the time they sit their GCSEs, EAL pupils outperform non-EAL pupils with 40.2 per cent of EAL pupils achieve a challenging GCSE target set by CentreForum – to achieve 50 points or higher in eight subjects called Attainment 8 – compared with 37.6 per cent of non-EAL pupils.

Chinese pupils were way ahead of other groups with 73 per cent achieving this standard.

Jo Hutchinson, the think tank’s associate director for education, said: “What is bigger than aspiration is parental engagement. We are talking about things such as parents attending parents’ evenings at school, talking to their children about subject options, supervising homework, ensuring that the family eats together and has regular bedtimes.”

“Those sorts of things appear to be more associated with this effect than pure aspirations. It’s not just aspirations but behaviours that support the aspirations.”

Researchers also found a clear North/South divide in secondary schools’ GCSE results , with 44 per cent of pupils reaching a world class benchmark in London, compared to only a third in the East Midlands and Yorkshire and the Humber.

The worst performing areas in the country in both attainment and progress at secondary school, were Knowsley, Blackpool, Stoke on Trent, Nottingham City, Barnsley and Doncaster.

The gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers remained significant, with four out of five disadvantaged pupils failing to achieve a world-class standard at secondary and more than half at primary.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We welcome this report which shows the stark choice we face in education today – either we prepare today’s young people to compete with the best in the world, or we don’t.”

“That’s why we’ve taken the decision to set the new GCSE ‘good pass’ in line with the average performance in high-performing countries such as Finland, Canada, the Netherlands and Switzerland.”

“Every time we have raised the bar for schools and colleges they have risen to meet the challenge, and we are confident that this is no exception.”

“Over time we expect to see more pupils reach this new higher standard and the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers continuing to narrow.”

Read the full report here