Ethnicity, Gender and Social Mobility

About (English version): 

This report explores the complexities of adding ethnicity and gender to an analysis of socio- economic Status (SES) gaps. It considers some of the ways in which gender, ethnicity and SES interact with education to produce or reduce social mobility. It then explores a vast body of research into how young people’s longer term social mobility depends on how educational outcomes at schools translate into participation and achievement in Higher Education and the labour market. For each of our key findings, we recommend questions for future research and areas in urgent need of policy interventions. 

Key findings include:

1. A White British vulnerability to school underperformance. 

Although in every ethnic group, those eligible for Free School Meals, (FSM, a key indicator of SES), underperform compared to their more affluent peers, White British and White Other children from low income homes are the lowest performing groups at primary school. White British pupils also make the least progress throughout secondary school resulting in a worsening in their performance by key stage four. The socio-economic attainment gap is largest amongst White British pupils at all Key Stages and this trend may reflect particularly wide disparities in household incomes amongst non-FSM pupils from this ethnic group.

  • In the early years the socio-economic gap is larger for ‘White British’ and ‘White Other’ groups than other minority ethnic groups.

  • Disadvantaged ‘White British’ and ‘White Other’ pupils are the lowest performing groups at primary and secondary school. During secondary school, disadvantaged White British pupils make slower progress and therefore fall further behind.

  • At all key stages, these groups perform least highly of all ethnic groups in English. Until Key Stage 4 it is ‘Other White’ eligible pupils who perform most poorly however at Key Stage 4 these pupils do better than their eligible White British peers.

  • In Maths, as in English, the same trend applies, with the exception of Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP) where FSM eligible Pakistani/Bangladeshi pupils also perform poorly.

  • Disadvantaged young people from White British backgrounds are the least likely to access

    Higher Education, with only 1 in 10 of the poorest attending university, compared to 3 in 10 for Black Caribbean children, 5 in 10 for Bangladeshis and nearly 7 in 10 amongst lowest income Chinese students.

  • Despite this, ethnic minority groups experience higher unemployment rates compared to White British groups. 

2. A Black penalty in secondary and higher education.

Despite starting school ahead with performance largely in line with national averages, Black children fail to show this advantage higher up the age range. They are the ethnic group most likely to fail their Maths GCSE, most likely to be excluded from school and one of the least likely groups to achieve a good degree at university. Black boys do substantially less well than their female peers particularly at Key Stage 4. Furthermore, granular analysis of different Black sub-groups (for example Black African cf. Black Caribbean) has also shown distinctive patterns in achievement.

  • Black children now enter school with levels of literacy and numeracy that are largely in line

    with the average child in the UK – 67 and 75 per cent achieving a good level at age 5 in literacy and numeracy respectively, compared to the national average of 69 and 76 per cent.

  • Yet by the end of primary school, Black pupils are beginning to fall behind the national average in maths, particularly boys. While 77 per cent of pupils achieve expected levels nationally, for Black pupils this is 74 per cent and for Black boys, only 73 per cent.

  • Secondary school is where Black pupils’ attainment falls behind substantially and by age of

    16, Black students are the ethnic group least likely to achieve a C in their Maths GCSE – only 63 per cent attaining this level, compared to a national average of 68 per cent. For Black boys this is worse, at 60 per cent.

  • At Key Stage 5, Black pupils are the ethnic group with the lowest outcomes. The low GCSE attainment translates into strikingly low attainment in Science Technology Engineering and Maths (STEM) A-levels at Key Stage 5.

  • At university Black students are particularly vulnerable to dropping out and attaining poorly. They are also less than half as likely to get a First as their white counterparts and more than 1 in 10 Black university students drop out of their HE course in their first year. 

3. A broken mobility promise for Asian Muslims, particularly women.

Young people from Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds are more likely than ever to succeed in education and go on to university, girls even more so than boys. Yet these outcomes are not yet being translated into labour market returns – with unemployment particularly prevalent amongst Bangladeshi women, and both Pakistani men and women are relatively unlikely to secure managerial or professional occupations.

  • There has been an increase in educational attainment for Pakistani/Bangladeshi pupils and their performance has improved at a more rapid rate than other ethnic groups in recent years at almost every key stage of education. Almost half of Bangladeshi and over a third of Pakistani young people from the poorest quintile go to university.

  • However, this is not yet reflected in labour market outcomes, particularly for women, where British Bangladeshi and Pakistani women earn less than their counterparts from other ethnic minority groups

  • Despite achieving higher qualifications at school than their male counterparts, female Bangladeshi graduates are less likely to gain managerial and professional roles than male Bangladeshi graduates.

  • Discrimination in the workplace puts some groups, in particular Muslim women, at a disadvantage preventing them from translating educational attainment into labour market returns.

  • A range of factors give rise to these differences including cultural norms, family and individual expectations, as well as geography and discrimination. 

4. Female underperformance in STEM subjects.

In recent years girls’ outperformance of boys in examinations has frequently been highlighted with girls more likely to participate in Higher Education and more likely to achieve higher grades. However, our analysis shows that this pattern is broken when it comes to Maths attainment and in STEM subjects. In these areas, both genders perform more similarly and in some cases (such as Key Stage 2 Maths), boys outperform girls. This trend may contribute towards highly gendered post-16 subject choices and careers, with females for example much less likely to take STEM A-levels. Whilst males’ subject choices are also gendered, low uptake of STEM subjects by females may constrain their social mobility. We found:

  • In Maths and English, girls outperform boys throughout primary and secondary school apart from in Maths at Key Stage 2, where poorer girls in particular lag behind boys.

  • Females and males now perform similarly in STEM subjects with boys increasing their performance over recent years. However, girls are less likely to take these subjects.

  • At all Key Stages in Maths and English, attainment has increased the most amongst FSM pupils, particularly amongst FSM girls in Maths. 

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