According to new research, being born a white male doesn’t necessarily mean you get a head start. The UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has found that white male students from poor families are getting a “worse start in life,” as they perform worse on the GCSE, the national exam for 16-year-olds, than students of any other socioeconomic and ethnic group.
The EHRC looked at the percentages of students at publicly funded secondary schools in England, Scotland, and Wales who passed GCSEs in at least five subjects. While the commission found that, in all three regions, pass rates improved between 2008/09 and 2012/13, poorer students still consistently did worse than better-off ones—and poor, white, male students suffered the most.
The study, called “Is Britain Fairer?”, found that students poor enough to be eligible for free school meals had lower pass rates than their wealthier counterparts across almost all races, but the performance gap was most striking for white students. According to EHRC numbers reported by the BBC only 28% of poor, white male students in England received a C or higher on their GSCE in 2012-13, less than half the rate (59%) for those not on free school meals. Poor white boys were also well behind their counterparts in other ethnic groups:
The EHRC does not speculate as to why these disparities persist, but the House of Commons Education Committee published a report (pdf) last year that put forth several theories. One is that immigrant families, new to a country, are more willing to work hard or to see a good education as a way out of poverty; another is that white, working-class families have lower aspirations, which could affect their children’s school performance.
The United Kingdom’s Department of Education has given £2.5 billion ($3.9 billion) in additional funding to state-funded schools to boost achievement among poorer students this financial year.