Children of Chinese heritage are significantly outperforming their white British counterparts, according to a government report.
The Social Mobility Commission’s State of the Nation report on People and Places details for the first time a regional breakdown of social mobility prospects, including education, occupation and earnings.
Chinese pupils on free school meals outperform their peers of all other ethnicities – including white British – at age 11 and even perform better than the average child not on free school meals.
In 2021/22, 76 per cent of ethnic Chinese children on free school meals reached the expected standard in reading, writing and mathematics at age 11. This figure is significantly higher than the national average for pupils who are not eligible for free school meals (66 per cent). percent).
Additionally, young Chinese people are also likely to be paid more than their peers once they get a job. The average young Chinese person with more work experience earns around £18.20 an hour in their late 20s, compared to around £15.50 for a similar white Briton.
Dr Xiaoning Lu, reader in modern Chinese culture and language at SOAS University of London, said: “I suspect their parents may be new immigrants, and even if they are less well off, there is this feeling that if you want to change your situation, you can do it through education.
She attributed the disparity to a “cultural factor” that stems from the country’s historic exam system used to recruit civil servants.
“Better to be academic”
“It was the only way to achieve social mobility in China for centuries,” she explained.
“We have this long tradition in Chinese culture where I think people value the literary over the martial and it’s better to be academic than physically powerful. »
The purpose of the imperial examination was to select the best potential candidates to become state administrative officials. Candidates faced fierce competition in a series of exams focusing mainly on classical Confucian texts, held at the local, provincial and national levels.
The exam, which had an extremely low acceptance rate, was designed to determine whether the candidate was competent enough to join the Chinese bureaucracy and was abolished in 1905 because it was considered too rigid to be able to modernize.
However, it is not only Chinese pupils who perform better than their white British peers. Children on free school meals from most other ethnicities perform better than white British children at five, 11 and at GCSE. Other high-performing pupils include those of Bangladeshi, Indian and black African ethnicities, while the lowest-performing include white British, black Caribbean, Irish Traveler and Gypsy/Roma children.
Once students leave school, in some cases, ethnic educational gains are reversed. Several ethnic minority groups (black Caribbean, black African and Pakistani) are more likely to be unemployed than young white British people from the same socio-economic background.
Chinese children come out on top
The report also found that some people, such as those from Pakistani, Bangladeshi and black African ethnicities, are more likely to obtain a university degree, but this does not translate into greater chances of obtaining professional employment.
The 250-page analysis, which covers 41 regions, clearly shows that social mobility depends not only on parents’ careers and individuals’ education and skills, but also on where people grow up.
The report presents an analysis of the social mobility prospects of a wide range of ethnic groups, with young people of Chinese origin coming out on top in many areas.
Anthony Heath, director of the Center for Social Investigation at Nuffield College, Oxford, said: “The contrast between the success of ethnic minorities within the education system and the failure to enter the labor market should inspire us to everyone to think differently to ensure equality. of opportunity. »
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