White working-class boys should be more aspirational, says Labour minister

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner says focus on girls and minority ethnic groups has had ‘negative impact’ on others

White working-class children should be motivated to become more aspirational in schools and “push themselves” the way those from other backgrounds have done, the shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, has argued.

In an interview with the Spectator, Rayner said a focus in the educational system on women and minority ethnic groups had perhaps inadvertently had “a negative impact” on the attention paid to white working-class boys.

Rayner – who said she “didn’t even have functional skills” when she left school aged 16 and pregnant – said boys from white working-class backgrounds “have not been able to adapt”.

Asked about the low position of such boys when it came to university admissions, she said: “I think it’s because as we’ve tried to deal with some of the issues around race and women’s agendas, around tackling some of the discrimination that’s there, it has actually had a negative impact on the food chain for white, working [class] boys. They have not been able to adapt.

“Culturally, we are not telling them that they need to learn and they need to aspire. They are under the impression that they don’t need to push themselves, in the way that disadvantaged groups had to before.

“I think that is why there is a bit of a lag there. I think we need to do much more about the culture of the white working class in this country.”

In the interview, Rayner talked passionately about the benefits of intervention in helping disadvantaged young people turn their lives around, using the example of how she returned to college to gain qualifications, becoming a care-home worker and getting elected to parliament in 2015.

“I would have been seen as a scrounger, a scally, unlikely to make anything of my life,” she said. “But without those interventions I wouldn’t have been able to have my son, who is having a great life and has done really well for himself.

“And I wouldn’t now be a taxpayer who pays their way in life, no longer on any benefits. I wouldn’t be supporting my other two wonderful children. Sometimes you have to invest in people to get the best out of them. To me, that is socialism. That is why I’m a Labour member rather than a Conservative.”

Rayner recalls a Conservative MP telling her she “should be one of us” as she had pulled herself out of deprivation. She said: “But they don’t get it. My mates, who are struggling now, are no different to me. My brother and sister are smarter than me. But I’m the most successful because I’ve been given opportunities that they never had.”

While Rayner has taken a less condemnatory approach to the likes of free schools than some in Labour, in the interview she argued that focusing endlessly on school choice did not help many parents, who did not have the time to pick between them.

She said: “My job is making sure that every child gets a good school place. If there is a particular disadvantage to a community, you invest more. Because that’s the Labour way.”

On Labour’s ambitious promises to invest heavily in education and a series of other areas, Rayner described the party’s economic plans as “shit-or-bust”.

She said: “We are in different times, radical times where we need to have a real investment in Britain’s future. Genuinely. I don’t mean that as a slogan, I mean it as an economic strategy.

“It is a bit of a shit-or-bust strategy, I get that. It’s a high-risk strategy. But all of Britain’s great advancements in the past have been because we’ve had the gumption to take a risk.”


Peter Walker Political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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