There are good reasons why poor British children struggle in school
Barbara Ellen below has a point about expectations but she misses a lot. The British class system is rather imprisoning but it is possible to break out of it and move into middle class lives. Plenty do. They have to change their accent to do so but beyond that the main requirement is brains.
There is good evidence that for a long time now in Britain smart people have been moving into middle and upper class circles -- so that the class continuum is largely now in Britain an IQ continuum. There are dumb aristocrats but they rapidly become poor aristocrats.
So the poorly performing working class British children are largely that way because they were born that way. Migrant children are the product of different selective pressures.
Are underprivileged migrant schoolchildren just smarter or are they harder workers than other children with similar backgrounds? Or perhaps it’s just that hope hasn’t been drained out of migrant families? Yet.
Schools in deprived areas with a high intake of white, working-class children tend to receive poor Ofsted assessments, while those with a high proportion of migrant children fare significantly better. Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector of schools in England, puts this down in part to white, working-class communities suffering the “full brunt of economic dislocation in recent years and, as a result, can lack the aspiration and drive seen in many migrant communities”. Which sounds about right, except that nothing about this seems recent. The very problem is that it’s ingrained.
It seems farcical to pit poor “indigenous” kids against poor migrant kids (they’d have plenty in common – poverty, for one thing). It also barely needs stating that most migrant children would be dealing with many challenges that make their achievements all the more impressive. However, there’s one factor that migrant children might not have to contend with – the generation above them (maybe even two or three generations) being systemically ground down by entrenched lack of opportunity and the prevailing atmosphere of demotivation that this generates.
This could produce two markedly different environments in otherwise economically similar homes. The migrant family (still full of hope about opportunities in Britain) sends the child off to school with the incentivising message: “Work hard, and you’ll get somewhere.” Then there’s the other family, the end product of generations that have seen industry collapse, communities devastated, higher education monetised, apprenticeships disappear. Where are they supposed to find the will or the energy to say to their children: “Work hard and you’ll get somewhere”? Could they be blamed for thinking that it’s a lie?
With this in mind, it’s a miracle that so many disadvantaged families continue to encourage and support their children at school. If some don’t, the reason seems to be rather more complex than “poor Britons don’t give a toss about their kids’ schooling”, when the vast majority do. Far from being uncaring and indifferent, these parents, like their parents before them, could simply be exhausted and demotivated, not to mention ashamed and embarrassed. After all, these are communities that have been practically gaslit by a society that, for all the glaring inequality, has the gall to tell them that it’s all their own fault they didn’t get anywhere.
The result is a deeply embedded hopelessness that migrant families, for all their other challenges, have yet to experience or, indeed, pass on as a toxic inter-generational inheritance. Put bluntly, it could be that deep-rooted despair and cynicism about life chances in the UK hasn’t managed to kick the spirit out of migrants yet. Well done to migrant children for doing well at school; let’s hope that it isn’t bred out of them.