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The suggestion was part of an evidence session to the Commons education select committee where MPs were warned that terms like “white privilege” are divisive and damaging. Dr Tony Sewell, the chairman of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, told MPs that 19 of the 20 most deprived areas in the UK are in the north of England with “a predominantly white population”. Dr Sewell and two other members of the commission were giving evidence to the committee in the wake of their report which concluded that Britain is not institutionally racist but conceded that problems exist in different communities.
He said that social deprivation not race is the main driver behind failing outcomes for certain groups.
He insisted that the government needed to focus on “family aspirations and quality of schools.”
He noted that with just 12.7 percent male white pupils on free school meals going to university that group lagged far behind all the others.
However, he also noted there were problems in the black community with very few children from those backgrounds going to the top universities in the UK.
Dr Sewell said he wanted the £800 million used for “wider participation” by ethnic minorities in universities redirected to schools.
He argued that schools in socially deprived areas need the ability independent schools have to help children get to university or apprenticeships.
He pointed out that many private schools have two teachers dedicated to getting children into top universities.
He said: “What we need to do is shift some of that into schools and get teachers pushing that the other way, so we get working class white boys, ethnic Caribbeans so we are pushing them towards those universities which is what happens with independent schools.”
Former minister and committee chairman Robert Halfon described the university fund as “money down the drain” suggesting that the committee may follow Dr Sewell’s recommendation in its report.
Conservative Ipswich MP Tom Hunt also pushed on the problem of the use of the term “white privilege” as a factor in holding back poorer white working class families.
Commission member Martyn Oliver, who also is a head of the Outwood Grange Academies Trust (OGAT) in Yorkshire, said: “It’s really important that we focus on bringing communities together. So using terms which are divisive aren’t really going to help.
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“So what we want to focus on is building a shared understanding and shared knowledge and building a community not promoting division. That is what schools are really good at.”
Dr Sewell said: “The issue is not all this academic stuff like white privilege. Parents just basically want to get their kids into a job. Some of those mothers and fathers as well in terms of single parenthood just want to try and get childcare sorted out.
“These are the very pragmatic things that face ordinary working class people. What this commission is doing is trying to get practical answers to those parents.
“This academia thing about white privilege, I say this quite bluntly, let’s focus on the real needs of real people.”
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