A new study has found that white working-class boys are even less likely to be accepted into university, as the push from universities to promote diversity intensifies.
White male pupils from working-class backgrounds have already appeared to be systematically disadvantaged in the UK education system, yet The Times reports that they are more likely to fall behind their peers in A-Level results.
Social mobility expert Lee Elliot Major says that boys should not be perceived as the dominant gender due to girls’ domination in the education sector, particularly if they come from poorer backgrounds.
The pandemic and the cost of living crisis have impacted the working class, which appears to have exacerbated the gap between them and more affluent families.
“We need to recognise that white working-class boys now suffer some of the lowest university participation rates compared with any other groups,” Major said to The Times.
“A particular vulnerability for white working-class pupils appears to be poor reading early in secondary [high] school which stymies subsequent learning.”
Many feel that the push from universities to meet diversity quotas is responsible for this.
Whilst working-class white boys had been the least likely to make it to university since 2007, they also became the least likely to attend the UK’s most elite universities.
This is compared to 10.7 per cent of black students, 13.4 per cent of mixed race students, 15.6 per cent of Asian students, and 40.7 per cent of Chinese students.
The study comes after a report found that RAF recruiters had been told to favour women and ethnic minority applicants over white applicants, as part of a drive to meet a diversity quota, causing a senior figure to resign in protest.
According to a study by the Guardian, British military recruiters explicitly target’ working-class people to join their ranks, the majority of whom accept offers.
Currently, the UK is the only country in Europe to recruit soldiers at the age of 16.
Former brigadier Justin Maciejewski has warned that the drive for diversity could lead to army recruiters struggling to recruit soldiers.
Maciejewski, who served in Iraq, said that while diversity was important, ‘working class families’ historically made up the majority of the army.
‘I think that in this period where diversity and inclusion have become such an important priority that has also spilt over into recruiting,’ he told the Daily Mail.
‘I think this is obviously important, you know everyone wants to have a diverse and inclusive workforce but sometimes if you lose sight of your core constituency in that process you will also struggle to find the numbers.’
An uncomfortable truth
So what caused this? It is clear that something has gone wrong here.
It may not be the most trendy thing to discuss, but the facts and data don’t lie. The white working-class boy is behind.
It’s unlikely that there is a simple answer to this issue. There are several factors involved that make the situation so nuanced, that it’s impossible to pin it on one single issue.
Things such as varying cultural attitudes towards education, lifestyle choices and personal ambition all come into play.
Despite certain cliché narratives that would suggest ethnic minorities that are in the most need of help, the evidence of the native population being as much at risk of hardship (if not more) is shocking to some and uncomfortable to others.
In society’s push for equality and equity, we inevitably create a hierarchy of problems where some are considered ‘more important than others.
This, in turn, will result in certain people being neglected – both financially and culturally – which can lead to resentment and significant backlash.
The UK government reports that since 2007 white students at state schools have been the least likely to get into university, compared with Asian and Black students.
There has been a rapid growth of ethnic minority students being offered a place on a degree course; particularly Chinese students, who have consistently held the record for the highest number of entry rates.
Between 2007 to date, Black entry rates have had the highest rate of growth, having risen from 23.1 percent to 48.6 percent. Asian entry rates have risen from 34.6 percent to 54.9 percent.
Chinese entry rates have risen from 53.6 percent to a staggering 72.1 percent.
White students represented the least amount of growth, from 21.8% to a mere 33.3%.
We ignore this at our peril
Many would point to two major factors that are seen as the most to blame for this issue: a racial element (which many would argue is the reason for ‘positive discrimination’ in hiring processes) and a socioeconomic element.
From a racial perspective, the issue seems more clear cut. Although positive discrimination is prohibited under the Equality Act 2010, many employers and universities have tried to circumvent it under the guise of equality.
They argue that, due to previous systemic discrimination against ethnic minority communities, positive discrimination is justified and seen as ‘righting previous wrongs.’
It also makes the assumption that, due to white people being the majority in the UK, they as a whole are less in need of affirmative action than minority communities.
Many take issue with this because, in practice, it is seen as ‘anti-white’ as opposed to ‘pro-diversity’. It’s one thing to encourage ethnic minorities to take certain roles, it’s another thing to exclude the ethnic majority to accommodate them.
It also reduces people to simple numbers and statistics. Many will feel they’re only in a certain job because their employers are required to meet certain quotas, and not because they have the skills and qualifications in their own right to perform their roles.
Add to the mix that many perceive white people as a whole as better off, whilst ignoring the actual data that demonstrates systemic failings of the white working class, and you have a lethal combination.
It’s trendy to repeat phrases such as ‘institutional racism’, and how it needs to be rectified, yet when evidence is presented about actual institutional failures, there is silence.
One would be forgiven for questioning the legitimacy of positive discrimination. There’s a fine line between inclusion and exclusion. The idea of equality is that people are not supposed to be treated differently due to the colour of their skin. And yet, that’s exactly what’s happening.
The RAF scandal proves this point. Many working-class white men join the army for both financial and holistic reasons; it gets them off the streets and into an environment of discipline, whilst being paid for their services.
Now it seems as if not even that is available to them.
If state-backed institutions are entertaining the idea of positive discrimination, is it any wonder why other public sector employers and private employers feel emboldened to do the same?
As a society, we ignore this at our peril. It has the potential to cause resentment between communities, and jeopardise and undermine actual progress being made in our quest for a truly equal society.
How to solve this
To intentionally exclude others in favour of others due to skin colour is the very definition of racism.
If society wishes to solve this issue, then it needs to abandon this blatant act of discrimination and adopt a more meritocratic approach.
Perhaps more resources could be targeted towards those who are less well off, with more vocational opportunities being made available. The government has already pledged £14 billion over 3 years to help tackle the issue.
It’s not a simple issue that can be solved with a ‘band-aid’ solution. It’s a multi-layered, nuanced dilemma that requires care and sensitivity.
A conversation must be had about allocation of resources, geography, generational engagement from parents, attitudes towards education itself and other factors which contribute to the issue.
There are, however, no excuses for blatant discrimination.