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Report Finds Chinese Children Outperform White British Peers by a Substantial Margin

The State of the Nation report analysed the difference between the children’s life outcomes and those of their parents.

A social mobility report has revealed that children of Chinese background perform significantly better than their White British peers across various aspects of education and career prospects.

The Social Mobility Commission (SMC) published the observation in the annual State of the Nation report (pdf). The commission looked at the differences between how well children of different ethnical backgrounds do in school and further down in life in terms of their careers.

The report also analysed the difference between the children’s life outcomes and those of their parents. This determines whether people experience and upward or downward social, education, occupational or income mobility.

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The findings showed that 64 percent of Chinese-British people, whose parents had no degree, went on to obtain a degree, compared with only 28 percent among White British people.

The upward trend was found to be more common in London (39 percent) and in the East Midlands (22 percent.)

When looking at ethnicity, the report acknowledged the complexity of evaluating the picture in the whole of the UK.

However, it said that overall people from all ethnicities, apart from Black Caribbean, are more likely to get a degree than their White British peers.

Chinese parents without a degree are more likely to see their children succeed in education mobility, than White British parents, said the commission. The report also found that there is a higher chance for children to obtain degrees if their parents are university graduates.

People of Chinese backgrounds (46 percent) were found to have higher chances to progress in life, when compared to their White British peers.

Social mobility also changes across generations, the report found.

“For example, it is common that first-generation migrants experience a notable social decline, while their children – second-generation migrants – experience advancement,” the findings showed.

The report said that for some ethnicities, educational success does not always translate into greater careers.

“Some people, such as those from Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Black African ethnicities, are more likely to become university graduates than White British people, but less likely to work in a professional job,” the commission said.

The success of ethnic minorities in education and the subsequent lack of it when these people enter the labour market indicated that there should be more equality of opportunity, according to Anthony Heath, director of the centre for Social Investigation at Nuffield College, Oxford.

Socio-Economic Background

Chinese pupils on free school meals outperform their peers from all other ethnicities–including white British–at age 11 and even perform better than the average child who is not on free school meals, the report found.

The commission used the schoolchildren’s eligibility for free school meals (FSM) as the measure of their socio-economic background. The FSM eligibility criteria are different in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. Usually, parents, who receive income support or whose children are in full-time education, are eligible to apply.

The report recognized that “meaningful comparisons are difficult,” but revealed that last year, children of Chinese ethnicity on FSM outperformed the national average in reading, writing and maths.

This was in the category of 11-year-olds, with 76 percent in Chinese pupils on FSM and 66 percent of pupils who are not eligible for free school meals.

In response to the findings, the secretary for business and trade, Kemi Badenoch, said that “the circumstances of someone’s birth should not determine their life outcomes.”

Overall, the report found encouraging signs for the future of social mobility in the UK, despite the setbacks of the financial crisis and the coronavirus pandemic.

More parents were found to have a degree and in professional employment. More young people are in education and fewer are not working or in training, said the commission.

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