Nicole Edwards portrait

Written by Nicole Edwards

Deputy Curriculum leader for Social Sciences/Aspiring Heads Student 2020-21

This blog will explore the relationship between material deprivation (social class) and the differences in achievement among Black and Minority Ethnic Groups (BAME) within the United Kingdom. 

It can be argued that there are differences in achievement on groups classified as BAME. According to a report published by the UK Government (2019) titledGCSE results (Attainment 8)’ highlights that overall, students classified as Chinese or Asian tend to have a high attainment 8 score. For example, on average Chinese students scored 64.3 out of 90 and Asian students scored 51.2 out of 90, whereas students classified as Black, scored on average 44.9 out of 90 (UK Government, 2019).  However, there are some significant differences in achievement among students classified as Asian. For example, according to the above report, Indian students tend to have a higher attainment 8 score, of 50.6 out of 90 (UK Government, 2019) compared with that of Pakistani students, who score on average, 46.2 out of 90. Similarly, there are variations in achievement amongst students classified as Black. For example, Black African students on average have a higher attainment 8 score of 47.3 out of 90 compared with Black Caribbean who score on average 39.40 out of 90 (UK Government, 2019). 

The material deprivation theory (which links to social class) could be useful in understanding why there are variations in achievement among BAME groups, which could have an impact on life chances. The term ‘material deprivation’ refers to households which are unable to afford basic resources (including educational resources, school uniform, food etc). The term ‘life chances’ coined by sociologist, Weber, refers to the chances that different social groups have of obtaining those things in society regarded as desirable. For example, educational qualifications or of suffering those things regarded as undesirable, such as, low income. According to Guy Palmer (2012) almost 50% of BAME students tend to come from low-income families which can impact their life chances. For example, some may lack the necessary economic capital to access high-quality education. This includes, not being able to afford extra tuition to support with their learning outside of the classroom, computer devices and internet access for online learning. An article written by Jimenez (2020) discusses the impact of the ‘digital divide’ during the COVID-19 pandemic, on ethnic minority students in the UK, highlights that some students from low-income families less likely to have access to the internet, leading to a gap in educational progress.  

Furthermore, the intersectional relationship between ethnicity and material deprivation, can be reflected in statistical data on Free school meals (FSM) and achievement. In a report by UK Government (2019) indicates that a number of Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Black African and Caribbean students from low-income families are eligible for FSM. The material deprivation theory can therefore account for the underperformance of some Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Black African/Caribbean students are on FSM, because some of them are unable to afford the necessary academic resources to help them with their studies. As a result, ethnic minorities who are materially deprived and who on FSM tend to make less academic progress than that of students who are not on FSM. As supported by UK Government Report (2019) highlights that pupils on FSM made -0.53 progress, compared with students non-FSM students, who made 0.05 progress on average in 2019. However, not all ethnic minorities who are classified as FSM underperform significantly in education.  It is important to note that Chinese students classified as FSM, made an average progress of 0.66 (UK Government, 2019). In addition, the difference between the progress of Chinese students on FSM and Chinese students who are non-FSM tends to be minimal. Therefore, in this instance, it might be worthwhile understanding whether culture, rather than material deprivation, has more of a significant impact the achievement of Chinese students. 

In conclusion, this blog has discussed how material deprivation intersects with ethnicity in relation to achievement among some BAME students. It has referred to statistical data on attainment scores of BAME groups, including, Chinese (who tend to have a high attainment score) Asian and Black ethnic groups. Notably, there are variations in achievement within both Asian and Black ethnic groups. The material deprivation theory has proven to be useful in understanding the impact of lack of income and resources upon the achievement of some BAME students.


Jiménez, D (2020) The Disproportionate Educational Impact of Covid-19 on BAME students. Available at: .

Palmer, G. (2012) The Poverty Site. Available at:

UK Government (2019) GCSE results (‘Attainment 8’). Available at: 

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