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Equalities and Rights Equalities and Rights

Address the injustice of lowest university attendance by white working-class men

Last updated: 12:13pm 7 June 2019

If you are at a state school you are less likely to reach the top professions than if you are educated privately. If you are a white, working-class boy, you are less likely than anybody else in Britain to go to university. If you are black, you are treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than if you are white. If you are born poor, you will die on average nine years earlier than others. If you are a woman, you will earn less than a man. If you suffer from mental health problems, there is not enough help at hand. These are burning injustices that damage the unity of our country, and we will address them.

Conservative Party Manifesto 2017, p.49

Our verdict

Education is a devolved across countries of the UK, so this policy relates only to England.

The relatively low educational attainment of white working-class boys has been an area of concern for some years. In 2015 the Department for Education found that “among pupils entitled to free school meals (FSM), all ethnic minority groups were outperforming White working class pupils in terms of attainment at age 16” and also that “the gap between ethnic minority pupils and White working class pupils has increased over time”.

This policy promises to “address” that “burning injustice”, using the number of white working-class boys entering university education as the metric to gauge improvement. The challenge we face here is agreeing by how much university attendance needs to go up among white working-class men before we can say this policy has been delivered. We’ll seek opinion from organisations in this field, and reach out to the government to get a clearer understanding of their intention here.

In the meantime, let’s look at progress made so far. In January 2018 the Office for Students (OfS) was opened. Its first objective is to ensure that:

“All students, from all backgrounds, with the ability and desire to undertake higher education, are supported to access, succeed in, and progress from higher education.”

A Director for Fair Access and Participation at the OfS was announced with a brief including support for underrepresented groups and widening access.

In response to a  “manifesto” for his role (co-published by a think tank and a charity), the new Director said he expected universities to address the gap in access and participation for white males from the lowest income groups.

The OfS has also engaged in consultation on the issue of access and participation with the outcomes due in early 2019.

Additional investment designed to impact on this issue has also been announced as part of the Northern Powerhouse strategy.

As well as these initiatives, the government would claim that all of their education policies improve the chances of all pupils achieving the highest levels of educational attainment.

Based on the initial work so far we can call this policy ‘in progress’. We’ll update this page as we know more, so just follow this policy if you want to keep up to date.

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