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Poor white boys get 'a worse start in life' says equality report

By Declan Harvey
Newsbeat reporter

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If you're white, male and poor enough to qualify for a free meal at school then you face the toughest challenge when starting out in life.

That's what the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has said in "the most comprehensive review ever carried out on progress towards greater equality in Britain".

The suggestion is because white male poor pupils do worse at school their chances of getting good jobs is reduced.

The EHRC, an organisation set up to get rid of discrimination, defines anyone who qualifies for a free school meal as poor.

This chart shows how poor students from different racial backgrounds performed at GCSE in the past five years.

** CHEAT: Notice three things:

1. Poor white boys got the worst results overall

2. White pupils in general did worse than all other race groups

3. Chinese pupils among boys and girls did the best

Each group did see improvements in their results over the five year period, but white boys saw the least improvements which suggests they are being left behind, according to the EHRC.

Here's another chart:

Again this shows students divided into race and gender groups but these are the results of students wealthy enough not to require free school meals.

** CHEAT: Notice two things:

1. All the results here are higher than for poorer students

2. In both charts the boys generally did worse in exams than the girls

There's also one other little extra bit of information that needs to be clear:

1. Although the tables make it look like poorer Chinese students are doing very well and keeping up with their wealthier Chinese friends, that may not be the case. The number of Chinese pupils who qualify for free meals is only 168. Some feel that's too small a number to be able to base reliable statistics on.

The Is Britain Fairer? review has brought together a huge amount of official data and surveys from the past five years to come up with the findings.

And although the data used isn't brand new, the findings are a kind of stock take of how fair Britain is today and the EHRC believe their findings are statistically sound.

"Our review shows how young people, out of all age groups, experienced the steepest fall in incomes and employment, worse access to decent housing and better-paid jobs, and deepening poverty," says Laura Carstensen, commissioner at the EHRC.

She says "poor white boys in particular" are falling behind.

"They're more likely to end up in a succession of lower-paid, insecure jobs at best."

But why is there a difference?

Sorry, we can't give you a definite answer. Neither can the EHRC. Neither can the government.

It's likely to be a combination of reasons which could include culture or location.

What we do know is that a report carried out by a committee of MPs in 2014 suggested three possible explanations to consider.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "We are determined to deliver educational excellence everywhere so that every child, regardless of background, reaches their potential.

"This report shows attainment in schools has improved and the percentage of 16 to 18-year-olds not in education, employment or training (NEET) has never been lower.

"Our reforms - including a rigorous new curriculum - are helping to tackle the soft bigotry of low expectations, and we have the highest quality teachers ever.

"The Pupil Premium, worth £2.5bn this year, is also helping the most disadvantaged pupils and the attainment gap is closing at both primary and secondary level."

*Source: Department for Education, England

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