Failing white working-class boys

White working-class boys are being let down by an education system ruined by identity politics.

Simon Marcus


So the handwringing goes on. White working-class boys are behind almost every other group at GCSE level. They are hugely underrepresented at university, and private schools even refuse bursaries to help them. Worse still, this failure continues into adult life, the government doesn’t keep records on most of it, and few even talk about it.

But the problem has been on the radar for well over a decade. A 2008 report showed that the GCSE grades of white working-class boys eligible for free school meals (FSMs) fell to the bottom of the pile, as black working-class boys’ results began to improve. Girls were, and still are, more successful across the board.

From 2006 until 2011, I was director of the Boxing Academy, a charity for excluded students in Tottenham. You couldn’t get grants or funding unless you explained how you were going to help disadvantaged minority groups. This was okay for us. Our students were mostly black and they deserved extra support. But white working-class boys eligible for FSM, with the same needs and the same broken homes, got nothing.

The reports a decade ago on failing white working-class boys should have focused minds. But they didn’t. Instead, curricula and funding continued to favour minority groups and girls at the expense of others.

The authorities were behind the curve then, and now those boys from mid-2000s are adults. So what has happened to them? We don’t really know because there is no clear research. Any information we get on white working-class boys eligible for free school meals (FSM white boys) in adult life is hidden in the broad category of white male, which also includes Eton-educated sons of millionaires, so it tells us little.

But while there is little evidence regarding outcomes in adulthood, it is possible to get a broad idea of how FSM white boys have done later in life.

For example, unemployment among black males in the UK in 2019 was at a scandalous nine per cent. This shows support is still needed and that the action taken in the past 20 years isn’t working. White-male unemployment in 2019 was 3.8 per cent. This is near to full employment, so nothing to see here.

But, while we don’t have data on white working-class males, look at the unemployment in areas where those FSM white boys from a decade ago grew up, and where they are likely to be overrepresented in the population. In the borough of Hartlepool, for instance, the male unemployment rate is nine per cent.

Benefit-claimant rates by parliamentary constituency in 2019 provide a better like-for-like comparison. Tottenham, one of the most diverse constituencies in the UK, has a claimant rate of five per cent. Constituencies with a large white British majority fare worse. Middlesborough has a claimant rate of 9.4 per cent. In South Shields, it is 9.2 per cent. In Blackpool South, it is 8.1 per cent. If it were possible to identify those who were FSM white boys at GCSE level, you could bet the claimant rate pushes 20 or even 30 per cent.

We know that some minority groups are overrepresented in the prison population. For example, despite people from ethnic-minority backgrounds making up just 13 per cent of the national population, they make up around 27 per cent of the prison population. But of the remaining 87 per cent of the white British national population, what proportion are FSM white boys who failed their GCSEs? Again we don’t know. But we can have a guess. Over half the prison population is functionally illiterate, and we know educational failure is overrepresented in prison. So, again, it is probable that much of that white prison population consists of FSM white boys. That would be a significant overrepresentation.

How many of those men were excluded from school and went to pupil referral units? Around 71 per cent of children at PRUs are white British. They do not come from middle-class homes. The fact that over 42 per cent of students at PRUs are FSM again indicates an overrepresentation of working-class white boys.

For almost all of these boys, it all starts with a broken or abusive family. In the UK there is no available research in this area, but in the US there is solid evidence to suggest that this is where it all begins. Changes in social morals, patterns of work, employment and culture have all had a massive impact on poor working-class men. Both black and white British boys, and others without the traditional values of sub-continental cultures, have suffered from the collapse of the traditional working-class family and community.

It is everything I saw at the Boxing Academy. Broken families, father-absence, low aspiration, a macho, physical culture, the need for an identity, purpose, acceptance and love. These problems need answering. For these kids are far more likely to be victims and perpetrators of crime, join gangs, suffer from substance abuse, and develop mental illness.

The truth is that white working-class boys are one of the main casualties of the 20th-century culture war. The liberal left won, and inaugurated the new world of identity politics based on race and gender. This divisive ideology won’t help kids if they are white.

Brexit tore the mask away, and now we know how the liberal left sneer and laugh at the white working class. Middle-class white men get off easily. They can keep quiet. Or they can join the ranks of the self-loathing, check their privilege and volunteer for diversity training.

But white working-class boys went to school and learned Britain was a uniquely bad country. They learned to be ashamed of themselves and accept that they were sexist and racist. One award-winning teacher said that sometimes it seemed that the only white, male role-model in the history curriculum was Adolf Hitler.

Our education system trashes the heritage of these boys. They never learn of the millions who died prematurely and horribly in the Industrial Revolution. Tens of thousands of bodies still lie buried in mines around the country. Men, women and children. For their descendants the cycle of poverty never stopped turning.

So if you really want to understand why working-class white boys are failing in childhood and adulthood, I will tell you. It is because our metropolitan elite doesn’t like them. And when people don’t like you, they are often nasty to you. Especially when they have a lot of stupid ideas to back them up.

The solutions are simple. Give these boys the same funding and support as others. Just as Black History Month has helped build self-esteem for black boys, let’s allow white boys to be proud of themselves and their history. And let’s give them the skills and values to achieve in life and in work.

Simon Marcus is a writer, political consultant and former government adviser.

Picture by: Getty.

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lynn oliver

31st March 2020 at 2:36 am

The belief boys should be strong allows aggressive treatment from infancy to create anger and fear so they will be tough. There is less kind verbal interaction and less mental/emotional support for fear of coddling. This treatment creates high layers of average stress for boys. These layers remain in the mind taking away real mental energy from academics so they will have to work harder to receive the same mental reward. This harsh treatment creates emotional distance/distrust of others. It creates lags in communication girls are given daily. The high average stress creates activity for stress relief not genetics. The high average stress creates higher muscle tension which hurts handwriting more pressure tighter grip hurting motivation. The total effect with our false genetic models in place including less care creates more failure and feelings of hopelessness. To make it tougher for boys is granting love honor feelings of self-worth only on condition of achievement. This was designed to keep Male esteem low and be willing to give their lives in war for tidbits of love honor from society. Males not achieving are given ridicule and discipline to make them try harder. Support is not given for fear of coddling. Many boys falling behind in school turn their attention to sports and video games for small measures of love honor not received in school. The belief boys should be strong and false belief in genetics create denial of the harsh treatment which is creating the low academics low esteem and other problems boys are facing. This is not about more feelings or openness from boys; it is about society allowing aggressive treatment from infancy through adulthood so boys feel much wariness toward parents teachers others who freely use aggressive treatment for any sign of weakness. This is condoned by society. This problem is affecting all male children and adults but the lower the socioeconomic bracket and more time in lower areas the more amplified the treatment given male children by parents teachers peers.
As girls we are given much more mental emotional social physical support and care by parents teachers and peers. We enjoy a kind of reverse catharsis of much continuous care while the boys receive the opposite more hurtful treatment to make them strong. This is now killing off boys in the information age while providing girls with all of the good things. As girls we are treated much better and so enjoy more hope and support from society. Since we as girls are given by differential treatment much more continual positive – mental social/emotional support verbal interaction and care from an early age onward this creates the opposite outcome for girls when compared with boys. We receive love and honor simply for being girls. This creates all of the good things. We have lower average stress for ease of learning. We enjoy much more freedom of expression from much protection by society that makes us look more unstable at times but we can also use that same freedom of expression to give verbal silent abuse and hollow kindness/patronization to our Male peers with impunity knowing we are protected. We enjoy much lower muscle tension for ease in handwriting and motivation to write. We enjoy much more positive trust/communication from parents teachers peers and support for perceived weaknesses. We are reaping a bonanza in the information age. Now with girls and women taking over many areas of society we enjoy even more lavishing of love and honor from society while boys and men are now failing more so and are now given more ridicule and abuse by society. Mind you this is now coming from many girls and women using our still protected freedoms of expression and more so with now false feelings of superiority.
As for men earning more we need to understand boys are given love honor only on condition of achievement whereas girls are given love honor for being girls. The very few boys who are achieving highly come from more stable supported environments. They will achieve in school but they must keep “achieving highly” to keep receiving love honor from society. Those men must keep achieving and earning income over time to keep receiving love honor. As girls we are able to reach wonderful planes of innersecurity without the drug of success those very few boys must keep up in order to keep receiving love honor from society. This is creating the differences in wages whereas as a collective body women are taking over many areas of society while men are collectively failing in society and many unable compete in the information age due to “improper treatment” from infancy onward.

The Killgrave

27th January 2020 at 8:37 pm

The writer is waycist!

Keith Lloyd

22nd January 2020 at 9:37 pm

In my view (I am an English-heritage male in my seventies) our English culture and heritage have been deliberately destroyed. There is nothing in schools (I am a long-retired teacher) that teaches English boys – and girls, for that matter, about their wonderful history and culture as something to be very proud of. This is the biggest and very overwhelming example of racism in modern Britain. At the time of the riots early in this decade, David Starkey made the point on BBC (yes, they asked for his opinion) that white boys had adopted black culture. And so it has continued. That is why every white teen’s car blares rap through its windows. And they probably know that they are at the bottom of the multicultural pile.

Steve Roberts

22nd January 2020 at 5:18 pm

O.K. the Brexit fight revealed the elites in all their glory and bile in their attitude to mostly white working class folk, Identity Politics and the multiculturalism industry have had huge resources poured into their particular and yes divisive intersectionality frames. This is well documented and accepted not only among political commentators but the wider public too. But what exactly is Marcus trying to say here ?
Research and statistics are useful tools to substantiate an opinion ,it could be claimed they take opinion beyond an assertion and into the realm of evidence, but there are always at least two sides to any narrative.
Marcus includes a selection of statistics to end with what amounts to a claim that things would be much better for white working class boys on free school meals if they had the same resources available to them that minorities and girls have had in the past in an attempt to level the playing field in education primarily.
Equality of opportunity or more precisely its obvious and increasing lack of, is an age old issue primarily related to class. To reduce the extremely complex problems , not exclusive to, but especially in education to be one of just resources is frankly ridiculous.
Like the NHS there could be an exponential increase in educational funding that would be akin to pouring otherwise earned gains into a deep black hole incapable of producing a better outcome.
Marcus also seems to be making a shift towards his own intersectionality but i’m not sure which one, as we know this dividing up of ” identities” is never ending, what is the preference is it white, working class, boys or school meals ?
These issues of lack of opportunity in social/political/economic and cultural spheres are very complex and answers certainly not “simple” i think he would be better looking at the category of class and questioning what that means what relevance it has and how it is fundamentally different to identities.

Jerry Owen

22nd January 2020 at 3:10 pm

I think you’ll find it is longer than ten years that white boys have been discriminated against, I think it’s more like two decades going back to the early nineties if not before. White male suicide is rife as MP Jess Phillips is aware of in between her bouts of laughing at it.
The fact that there is no blowback form poor whites such as riots in the streets says so much about just how decent and reserved the white male working class guy is even though they suffer great adversity from virtually every other corner of society.

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