Positive discrimination for white working-class boys…. If it’s good for the goose, should it necessarily be good for the gander as well?
A distinguished mathematician, Sir Bryan Thwaites, very recently had his donation of over £1m rejected by two public schools (public schools are top independent, private schools) – Dulwich College and Winchester. The reason for the refusal was because he specified that the money be used to provide scholarship for white working-class boys – seeking to address, what he sees as a lack of opportunity for this particular demographic of society. Not so long ago, the rapper – Stormzy – had is offer accepted by Cambridge and Oxford Universities, to help fund scholarship places for black students.
Following the rejection by the two schools, there has been what I consider to be a healthy but intense debate going on in the media about the two scenarios highlighted above. This is a type of debate that most sensible people would rather try and avoid, for all sorts of reasons. Many would not want to voice their opinion on it as they do not want to be castigated as racist or pandering to racists.
Here is what one young lady has to say:
“I have benefited from bursaries and am very grateful. However, I think it is quite racist to offer a bursary to only poor white boys to enter a private school which is probably already predominantly white.”
- the above is from Mariam Abdelhadi, whose mother came to the UK from Egypt. She accepted a bursary to Westminster’s sixth form – a top independent school.
Before I discuss the merits and demerits and argue if it is unjust to give money specifically to help white boys or not, I’d like to share some facts and figures, as published in the Sunday Times on 5th January, 2020.
- White working-class boys are the worst performing ethnic group, with 75% failing to achieve five good GCSE grades
- Only 1.9% of white pupils on free school meals win places at top universities, compared with nearly a third of poor Chinese students, 8.3% of Indian students, 7.1% of black African students and 2.8% of black Caribbean students – says the Department for Education
- Nearly the same proportion of disadvantaged Chinese pupils went to top universities as advantaged ones. By contrast, white pupils on free school meals were five times less likely to go to a top university than white pupils who were not
- White boys eligible for free school meals are 13 points behind disadvantaged black boys in key literacy skills when they start school
- Children with a poor vocabulary at the age of five are twice as likely to be unemployed in their thirties as those with a good vocabulary at the same age
The above matters, as it is potentially a condemnation for life.
A couple of public figures have been brave enough to enter this potentially controversial debate, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and Andrew Halls, Head of Kings College, Wimbledon, who writes in the Sunday Times.
Here is a quote from what each of them has to say
“I would have wanted to accept the funds had they been offered to my school”
– Andrew Halls
“ ….many white, working-class parents worried about the ‘lack of expectations’ for their children in schools, …. the philanthropists who try to help should be applauded.
[Thwaites’s] intentions were noble and good. He’s not a white supremacist, saying ‘I am worried about the survival of the white race’ ….. He’s somebody who was worrying about the lack of achievement by the white working class. . . . there are a lot of talented white working-class people whose potential is not being fulfilled.”
– Sadiq Khan
I can see the reason why some people, including black people, may think it is unfair for working-class white boys to receive special treatment and three of those reasons are below:
- Black and other ethnic minorities are more likely to pay a huge some of money for their children’s education than white British people. This includes those who can barely afford it, as they make enormous sacrifice to pay for private tuition or to send their children to private schools
- So many of them end up being disappointed about the lack of opportunity, in terms of good jobs, after spending so much money and emotional energy in educating their children up to university level
- Although there is overwhelming evidence to support the fact that white working-class children are disproportionately under-represented in good schools and universities, that they are right at the bottom, in terms of education attainment, the case is that they are not necessarily disadvantaged when it comes to job opportunities later in life – relative to their level of education. At least not as much as black and other ethnic minorities are anyway. This is evident by reports from the Sutton Educational Trust.
Is it that black and white?
What I would say, first of all, is that this issue is presented too much as black and white. There are other aspects that are not highlighted by statistical evidence to support both sides of the argument. This includes the notion that white working-class children are classified as one group. It does not highlight what I have observed, which is that there is a significant difference between the attitudes and educational attainment of white young people whose parents are from eastern Europe in comparison to white British pupils. From what I have seen, children of people from eastern Europe are just as aspirational and as high achieving as the minority ethnic groups of Chinese, Indian and black Africans. Figures released show a slight difference within the white British groups of Irish, Scottish and English. I fully accept that, overwhelmingly, white British young people are under-represented when it comes to high educational attainment and places at the top universities.
On balance, I find it difficult to comprehend that anyone can justify that it is OK for donations that are specifically allocated to provide scholarship for black children to be accepted, but that it is wrong to accept donations for specifically targeting white working-class boys. What is good for the goose ought to be good for the gander. I accept that people in society must treat each other with respect and with the sensitivity that each group in society deserves; however, I do not accept that political correctness should stand in the way of helping any disadvantaged group.
I am not at all a fan of positive discrimination, but I think that, in this instance, Sir Bryan Thwaites is correct in what he has specified – that his money be used to target and provide good education for white boys from the working-class community.
What I would say, however, is that whilst I welcome this sort of brave move by philanthropists, more time should also be spent to educate parents about the merits of education. There are other hidden reasons why people from a particular demographic feel uncomfortable in an environment they consider does not represent them. Some of the things I’m speaking about are the way people speak English and their hobbies and so on.
More should be done to try and encourage integration in society. Nowadays, sport is one way of doing that, as almost all private schools play football, and not just boys, even girls are now playing football as well! This was not the case 30 or 40 years ago, when football was played by state comprehensives and private schools and mainly grammar schools played rugby and hockey. Also, more state schools now play hockey than was the case three to four decades ago.
I’m not going to delude myself by saying that we will reach the state of utopia, where everyone will do everything with everyone, and all schools will send the same proportion of pupils to Oxford and Cambridge. Every society has some sort of elitism, as it is the natural way of existence in humans and in other animals. As long as there is fairness and there is opportunity for everyone to realistically aspire and achieve, I consider that reasonable.
What we ought to have is fairness in society and a genuine encouragement and attempts to reduce the height of the barrier that exists for social mobility.