White working-class children lack the “aspiration and drive” seen in many migrant communities, Ofsted’s chief inspector has said.
In a speech to the Festival of Education at Wellington College, Berkshire, Amanda Spielman said: “We can’t pretend that Ofsted judgments are not lower in certain areas – many of them with a high proportion of white working-class children.
“But that shouldn’t surprise us. Over the past few years, there has been a long overdue debate about white working-class communities in England, and why they have fallen behind.
“That debate hasn’t been limited to the UK and our coastal towns. It has also echoed throughout continental Europe and across the Atlantic.
“We are having to grapple with the unhappy fact that many local working-class communities have felt the full brunt of economic dislocation in recent years, and, perhaps as a result, can lack the aspiration and drive seen in many migrant communities.”
She said government analysis shows that schools in these areas “face challenges in terms of their pupil intake, and that there are also real capacity issues”, as well as struggling with teacher recruitment, fewer local academy sponsors and less access to support for leadership.
She added that it was Ofsted’s job to “report without fear or favour” on school performance, and while some schools had a harder job to do than others, they were graded on their overall standards not their “effort”.
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She said: “Our job, is to report without fear or favour on the quality of education as we see it in these areas. That is explicitly not the same as saying that teachers in these areas are putting in any less effort or that the leadership is worse.
“There is no doubt that these schools have a harder job to do than others. And we should be just as interested in why some schools in more affluent areas aren’t doing better. I have nothing but admiration for the teachers who make it their mission to tackle disadvantage.
“But the overall effectiveness of a school is not an effort grade,” she added.
“However, that is not the same as the inspectorate being biased against certain schools. What our inspection outcomes do is to act as a call for action in these areas – a call for the right kind of support and intervention.”
Earlier, Ms Spielman’s predecessor Sir Michael Wilshaw suggested that London schools performed well because many immigrant families “care about education”.
He said: “The reason why London schools are doing so well, apart from good headteachers and teachers, is that a lot of the immigrant families care about education, they value education, they support their children,” he said.
“I’m working in parts of England with white British populations where parents don’t care. Or a lot of them don’t care. And the headteachers tell me that less than 50% turn up to parents’ evening. Now that’s outrageous.”