THE Sutton Trust’s report, Class Differences, sheds light on cultural influences on youngsters’ school attainment. The trust’s longitudinal research tracked the attainment of around 3,000 pupils in English schools. Its findings are relevant for those attempting to address the attainment gap in Scotland.

A central finding highlights an attainment problem among white boys in more deprived communities. That is no surprise but the research suggests children from different ethnic communities appear to be bucking the trend.

Children of Chinese origin, for example, are three times more likely to attain five good GCSE passes than their white peers in the same area at the same schools. Over the past 10 years improved attainment among young people from Bangladeshi, black African and Chinese communities has exceeded the national average.

Teachers working in Scotland’s most deprived communities will confirm this is not a new phenomenon. I have first-hand experience of many children from ethnic groups out-performing white contemporaries.

I Googled one black African former pupil. I suspected he would have done well post-school but was taken aback to read of his distinguished RAF career and his transition to executive director of an international bank. Another former pupil from an Asian family who combined schoolwork with hours of musical practice is a distinguished concert pianist.

The trust research confirms that cultural factors can assist such children transcend social and economic difficulty. The reasons are harder to tie down. Do their communities and cultures value education more highly? Do those cultures “get” the importance of education in ways white counterparts don’t? Culture and a sense of fatalism are notoriously difficult to shift. In many of our most deprived communities education is seen as having little to offer. The research recommends a more concentrated effort on “white working class boys” and their families who expect little from education.

As far back as 2007 the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) report on Quality and Equity of Schooling in Scotland noted the attainment gap that opens up about primary five and offered possible remedies. One was to make vocational courses accessible to all young people. It’s unfortunate that recent curricular reforms paid little heed to the OECD’s prompting. Vocational education remains the poor relation compared to academic studies. The curriculum still fails to motivate too many boys and girls from “white working class” families.

Our culture and society undervalue joiners, plumbers and those who make things. We overvalue and over-reward accountants, lawyers and the like. If your central heating fails on Christmas Eve there’s little point in calling your solicitor or accountant.

Successfully addressing the attainment gap will require a major cultural and curricular shift promoting literacy, numeracy and vocational education. Otherwise underachieving youngster will continue to be failed by an underachieving curriculum.