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Tories slammed for stoking a culture war

MPs' report blames anti-racist discourse for worsening working-class prospects — not education underfunding

Parliamentary reporter @TrinderMatt

TORY MPs have stoked a culture war with a report claiming that terminology like “white privilege” may have contributed towards systemic neglect of white working-class pupils, Labour and trade unions charged today.

The Conservative-dominated Commons education select committee’s report, released on Monday, says that white working-class pupils have been let down for decades by England’s education system and that “divisive” language can make the situation worse.

It suggests that schools should consider whether the promotion of terminology such as “white privilege” is consistent with their duties under the Equality Act 2010.

It also agrees with a widely condemned report from the government’s Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (Cred) earlier this year which said that discussions about race are divisive.

Despite this, education select committee chairman Robert Halfon denied that he was trying to engage in culture wars by bringing up white privilege.

Labour MPs on the committee voted against many of the report’s findings and objected to the focus on the term.

Committee member Fleur Anderson, Labour MP for Putney, tweeted: “I’m concerned this report will be used to fight a divisive culture war instead of address chronic underfunding of early years, family hubs, careers advice and youth services.

“The report makes the issue race, when we found it is more about disadvantage based on place.”

Former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott accused the Tories of hijacking the committee “to peddle divisive nonsense.”

“Instead of fuelling divisive culture wars, this government should be focused on improving education for all our young people,” she told the Morning Star. 

Socialist Labour MP Zarah Sultana tweeted: “The Tories have waged war on the whole working class for a decade – slashing school budgets, youth services, welfare and more – while cutting tax for the rich.

“They talk about the ‘white working class’ to stoke division and protect the people they really represent: the super-rich.”

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “This report will be remembered for its divisiveness and for what looks and smells like a weaponising of educational inequalities to suit a different agenda.

“Entrenched poverty, devastating cuts to early years support and schools funding, thousands of job losses in further education, and a university system that burdens students with debt are the places where the committee should be looking, rather than diverting attention away from the unavoidable truth that Conservative government policy is responsible for holding all working-class communities back.”

Association of School and College Leaders general secretary Geoff Barton urged ministers to do more to help disadvantaged pupils from all ethnic backgrounds.

“We’re not quite sure why the committee has chosen to enter the debate about the widely discredited [Cred] report and the term ‘white privilege,’ he said. “This does not seem helpful.”

NEU joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: “Social class is the biggest determinant of educational success or failure.

“With 4.3 million children trapped in poverty, the report should do more to acknowledge the huge challenge that poverty poses for schools.

“It is deeply unhelpful to try and make it harder to talk in schools about racism, which seems to be one intention of the report. Racism is endemic across society.”

Ms Bousted stressed that challenging racism and empowering all working-class students must be at the heart of education as schools recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. She pointed to the beggarly Tory assignment of £50 per pupil for Covid recovery plans, compared to £2,500 in the Netherlands and £1,600 in the United States.

In a statement, the government said that ministers were focused on the ”levelling-up” agenda and claimed that a £14 billion uplift to school funding was the biggest in a decade. 

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