Essay focus points
In history, there have existed social discrepancies in access to education at both elementary and higher levels of learning. The United Kingdom has not been spared from this unfolding and is also faced with the problem of unequal access to education. While most governments have attempted to bring equality across the education sector, total equality has not been achieved. Perhaps the reason for the failure is in part due to the dynamism of the education industry and the factors that contribute towards equal and fair access to education. In the United Kingdom, access to education has not been equally available to citizens due to such factors as race, social class and gender. While the country has gained mileage in the alleviation of gender and its influence on access to education, the same cannot be said with regard to race and social class.
This research focuses on the influence of the social class system in the UK on access to education among the citizens. In particular, it explores the discrepancies in the availability of education of opportunities among the seven different social classes in the United Kingdom. Importantly, the social classes are divided based on wealth, occupation and education therefore making education accessibility not uniform across the different classes. Such is the obsession with class that even the country’s parliament has until recently been divided into two based on the two contrasting classes. The seven social classes are studied for their role in the extension of unequal access to education in the UK. Among the social classes are: the elite, established and technical middle class, new affluent workers, traditional working class, emergent service workers and the precariat.
Relation of topic to social justice
Social justice is the idea of the existent of institutions that are freely and equally available to all individuals regardless of their social status. It is the promotion of a just society through challenging of injustices and valuing diversity. The concept is only existent when all the citizens have an equal right to community resource allocation, equitable treatment as well as human rights. In the right conditions of social justice, people are not discriminated against and their welfare is not prejudiced or constrained based on their gender, religion, age, race, location, social class or any other unique characteristic or social difference. Ideally, social justice can be equated with the notion of equality and equal opportunity in the society but goes farther and broader than the latter.
Education is a basic right in the United Kingdom and every citizen has an equal right to its access therefore bestowing the responsibility of providing education to the government. In addition, it is a social resource that should be availed to all people, not just in the UK but across the globe. As thus, social factors such as gender, race, religion, social class and belief must not be a determinant in the access of education. The evidence of prejudice in the access of education based on any of these social factors presents a social justice issue that must be addressed. In Britain, the access to education is not equal due to the existence of different social classes. The situation is worsened by the fact that these classes are structured according to the wealth of the people thereby leading to some people having more money at their disposal. In retrospect, other people cannot afford education services and therefore leading to a discrepancy in the access of the same. The situation is not a reserve of the United Kingdom but is prevalent in a majority of the countries across the world.
Rationale for choice of topic
Income has always been an integral factor in the determination of academic success of students across the world. Children from a higher socioeconomic status have more privileges compared to those from a lower socioeconomic status. The same is true regarding social classes in the UK with children from higher social classes having more privileges than those from lower classes. Although the government has tried to address the issue of equality, it is not enough to alleviate the discrepancies and there is a need to focus on education equity rather than equality. Ideally, people from higher social classes can afford better tutors and purchase required literature while those from less affluent families cannot.
The issue of education discrepancies across different social classes in the UK is particularly interesting because the country offers one of the best education systems for its citizens. In addition, it is renowned for championing for human rights and a study of its own house would be in order. In addition, the social structure of the country is very interesting and is based on the existence of seven different social classes. For a long time, certain classes have been considered better and more important than others although the same has decreased over the years. Owing to the important function of education in shaping the future success of individuals and societies, the subject on social discrepancies in the sector is strikingly interesting.
A social class is simply a set of people within a particular society who have the same socioeconomic status. It is a group of concepts in social sciences that is centered on models of social stratification in whereby people are divided into hierarchical social groups often upper, middle and lower class. The stratification of people into different classes is not an ill motivated concept and is very useful in studying the demographics of any society and understanding different social concepts. However, its exploitation in the unequal distribution of resources in communities is unethical and has continued even in today’s modern era. The determinants of different classes include wealth and education and the subsequent class of an individual is hereditary in nature. In the United Kingdom, the society has been segregated according to the seven different classes prevalent in the country.
The evidence of social classes in the UK has led to the unequal distribution of resources among them education leading to campaigns to avert the same. Concurrently, there has been increased policy concern at the international sphere regarding the education achievement gap across different social classes. Governments in the UK have subsequently and successively adopted reforms in a bid to bridge the gaps. In particular, the working or middle class pupils have attained the main focus due to their historically low grades. The reason for such poor performances among the working class has to do with the unequal access to education opportunities and the lack of money to finance their education ambitions. The focus of these political drives and reforms is not just the educational achievement of the disadvantaged working class but a total alleviation of the detrimental effects of social inequality.
In recent years, all three political parties in the UK have pinpointed persistent social class gap for educational attainment as a leading problem. In fact, all the three parties have aligned the same problem for possible policy recommendations in hope of minimizing if not alleviating the same. The consensus among the three political parties illustrates the impediment of social inequality and a poor social mobility study. Various attempts have also been geared towards the reinvigoration of education in areas of poverty through the raising of aspirations of working class pupils. Moreover, diversification of the education market has been proposed in an attempt to alleviate the impediments of social class regarding education attainment. However, research has shown that most of the approaches adopted by successive governments have not been fruitful in attaining the desired level of educational attainment.
An Education Secretary has in the past been quoted as suggesting that thick rich kids are more likely to do better than poor clever children. While the language by the Secretary can be dismissed for its emotive and blunt nature, there is no hiding that the statement echoes truth in the sentiments of the secretary. All the stakeholders in the education sector do agree that the UK education system is aligned to the likely benefit of the rich over those that are poor. There is a succinct relationship between social class and educational attainment among UK pupils. As thus, pupils from lower classes that are much poorer are more likely to under achieve education compared to those from rich backgrounds. Statistical evidence has in the recent past suggested that the strongest indicator to educational attainment in the UK is the social class to which a particular pupil belongs. The evidence is increasingly acknowledged by legislators and policy makers as is evidenced by the increased featuring in the main parties’ manifestos. Nevertheless, the high media coverage that the topic has gained in recent years plus the various initiatives has not alleviated the problem. Today, the discrepancies in educational attainment across social classes remain significant between poor children and the affluent ones.
Researchers have found out that educational achievement among British children is dependent upon the occupation, qualifications and income of their parents. Ideally, parents that are higher in the social classes are likely to have children with more educational attainment compared to their peers in the lower social classes. In fact, the differences are significantly visible in the early childhood of the children and are likely to continue into the students’ higher education life. Sodha & Margo, (2010, pp 43) posit that at the age of three, poor children are already one year behind rich kids with regard to communication. In fact, such is the discrepancy that up to 50% of the poor children starts their primary education without the required communication and language skills. It would be expected that progression of education would lower the gap between the rich and the poor as more concepts are introduced to the children. However, the opposite is true. Cassen & Kingdom (2007) maintain that inequalities in education between rich and poor kids increase as compulsory schooling progresses.
One pointer to the socioeconomic background of school children is how they take free school meals. In fact, statistics have shown that most of the children that reach the expected levels in both English and Mathematics are those that are not eligible for free school meals (Kerr & West, 2010). This revelations points out to the fact that children from poor backgrounds are more likely to fail to attain the expected kevel in the two subjects. Moreover, these poor children are likely to register in the lowest performing schools that are located in deprived areas. Cassen & Kingdom (2007) argue that most of the poor children are likely to receive care and have special educational needs. However, this revelation is not a reserve of the UK as studies have shown similar trends in other countries (Kerr & West, 2010). That notwithstanding, the UK has been found to have uniquely high levels of social segregation thereby having the highest gaps between rich and poor kids in terms of education attainment.
It is no doubt that social class and status is the most effective pointer to gaps in educational attainment in the UK. However, it intersects with other social factors among them gender and ethnicity in bringing out aspects of educational inequality among children. As thus, Strand, (2010) contends that children on the same social class are bound to have difference in educational attainment levels based on their racial differences. In addition, it has been pointed out that girls are more likely to outperform boys in literacy in all the different social classes. This revelation is in spite of boys in higher classes outperforming girls in lower classes in literacy. It is not immediately clear why boys tend to under achieve in literacy but results have shown that girls attain more marks compared to boys (Francis & Skeleton, 2005). Social theorists have explained this discrepancy as a result of boys’ tendency to struggle to cope in a feminized school environment (Francis, 2006). Following such revelations, institutions have aligned themselves towards provision of boy friendly content, physical activities as well as competition with others.
Despite clear evidence of the gender alienation of boys, feminist scientists have been skeptical about the framing of the gender problem and the resultant solutions. To these scientists (Francis, 2006), the explanations of the issue of gender has been based on misleading models of masculinity and femininity and are thus not effective in solving the issue. In essence, the solutions have failed to effectively initiated the boy friendly scope and have rather accentuated the stereotyping of boys and what they like (Jackson, 2002). In addition, the solution has been criticized for its inability to understand complex patterns of social inequality. Focusing on boys’ needs alone overlooks other needs necessitated by social factors such as social class, gender and ethnicity.
A more complex picture emerges in the assessment of the discrepancies in education attainment in relation to social class, gender and ethnicity. Ideally, all of these social factors do not operate in isolation but rather affect the attainment of education among children as a group through intricate and complex interactions between the social factors. Research has found that children receiving free meals in school are most likely to be at the bottom of the class in terms of performance even at the age of sixteen years. In fact, Strand & Demie (2007) suggest that half of all of the boys receiving free meals at the age of sixteen have their results in the bottom quarter. Even girls that receive free meals continue to underperform compared to boys and girls that do not receive the free meals. These findings reveal that the issue is not only in boys but cuts across the two genders.
The ethnicity of students as well as their race is also a cause of concern in terms of education attainment in UK schools. There is evidence of low achievement and deteriorating position of low income children from African, Pakistani and Caribbean backgrounds. Perhaps the results emanate from the fact that most of these students are from lower social classes and therefore tend to be poorer than their white counterparts. In addition, researchers are increasingly worried by results of underachievement of white boys of working class status (Demie & Lewis, 2010). Studies have shown that white boys that are eligible for free school meals attained 19% pass against an average of 51.7 percent for all the students. Moreover, there is a relationship between eligibility for free meals and the onset of low attainment levels among white British pupils. This revelation is much more pronounced in white pupils compared to other ethnic groups (Archer & Francis, 2007).
Still, other researchers have suggested that the under attainment among white pupils of working class decency is attributable to the loss of white culture and identity. This is in comparison with other minority ethnic groups that have maintained their cultures and identities (Demie & Lewis, 2010). However, Nayak (2001) contrasts such statements contending that ethnicity is dynamic category and therefore the concept of whiteness includes a vast array of ethnicities and cultures. It is important to note that most of the pupils from minority ethnic groups fall into the working class category owing to their high poverty indices. Racism has been blamed for this occurrences through impacts on the trajectories so these minority groups such as the migrants. In retrospect, Sveinsson (2009) asserts that the white working class is losing to the middle classes rather than to other minority ethnic groups.
Indeed, framing the issue of the white working class as an ethnic problem rather than social class issue only serves to divert the real problem from social and economic inequalities. In each of the different ethnic groups, the presence of a majority lower class pupils results in a lowered proportion of students who perform at high levels (Demie & Lewis, 2010). These results are reflected across all the ethnic groups in the UK including the whites thereby asserting the hypotheses that it is a social class problem and not an ethnic problem per se. The result further emphasize the importance of dissecting the influence of social class on educational attainment while maintaining the understanding that the concept interacts in complex ways with other social factors such as gender and ethnicity (Cassen & Kingdom, 2007).
The evidence of inequalities regarding social classes in the UK are not only prevalent in the early years of education. Rather, the same patterns are visible in the rates of participation in higher education. In fact, some programs such as the Aimhigher program are formulated to help in increasing the desire of working class students to engage in higher education programs after their compulsory education (Cassen & Kingdom, 2007). Despite such efforts, pupils from poor backgrounds are less likely to join institutions of higher learning even after attaining more than the national median. In contrast, most of the students who were ineligible for free school meals tend to enroll for higher education in the available institutions. Moreover, there is a rising number of people classified as NEET (not ion education, employment or training) thereby worrying the stakeholders even further (Sodha & Margo, 2010).
In 2009, one in seven seventeen year olds were classified as NEET and they were likely to have been excluded from school, have had drugs or mental health issues. The same were also likely to become criminals and get involved in the abuse of drugs and alcohol. The Education and Skills Act of 2008 has however raised the age of participation in compulsory schooling and thus helps in eradication of the NEET problem in the age groups affected. The Act requires that people remain in training or education until they attain 17 years old from 2013 and 18 years from 2015. That notwithstanding, the problem of education inequality is not addressed in the Act thereby raising a lot of concern amongst the different stakeholders as to the commitment of the government in eradicating the discrepancies emanating from social classes. In addition, the government has announced cuts in the Education Maintenance Allowance that gave weekly benefits to students from lower income families (Laird, 2010). These happenings do not in any way motivate students to participate in higher education but present potential for emergence of social problems and more inequality in the education sector.
The participation of working class individuals in higher education is on a decline over the past years due to the problems associated with social classes and segregation. Only 49% of pupils from the poorest fifth of families say that they would be willing to apply to university. This figure is in contrast to the 77% of pupils from the richest fifth who admit that they are likely to apply for slots in the universities. In addition, about 4 percent of pupils that are eligible for free school meals at the age of 15 continue to study at the university relative to about 33% of their affluent peers. It is not only the access to universities that compounds the social class dynamics in the UK. Most of the working class teenagers are less probable to attend prestigious universities with most of the slots going to the affluent families. Moreover, these same students are less likely to be awarded high degree classifications thus pointing to the growing under achievement among the lower social class category.
Even when the most prestigious universities have provisions for students from low income backgrounds, very few of the students apply. In effect, the universities have very low intakes of working class students with Oxford having only 11.5% and Cambridge 12.6% of their total intakes as working class students. The low attendance rates among working class students have led to conclusions to the effect that higher education is not an equal choice for the lower income students (Reay et al, 2005). The outcome is from the view that higher education is a natural progression for the middle class but an alien and unfamiliar opportunity to the lower working class. Crozier & Reay (2008) posit that working class students are regarded as problematic learners with a high potential for dropping out despite various interventions geared towards broadening of access to higher education. Nonetheless, the lower income students with a determination to succeed have been observed to demonstrate great resilience and commitment in overcoming the structural inequalities in the education sector (Crozier et al, 2009).
The belief among working class students that university education is not for their likes is based on a complex combination of economic, social, cultural and personal factors (Archer et al, 2007). All these factors are to blame for the low rates of participation in higher education among the working class students. The same factors extend beyond to intersect with gender and ethnic factors that work against the prosperity of the working class through constrained participation (Archer et al, 2001). These factors include the notion among working class people that the attainment of manhood requires that they engage in skilled work and thus get the financial benefits of the same. This is in contrast with engaging in academic work which is deemed a soft kind of job that should be reserved for females owing to its femininity (Epstein et al, 1998). Ideally, an analysis of higher education inequalities must also study the structures and institutions that create such inequalities besides analyzing the social class, gender and ethnic factors.
The evidence of these problems in educational attainment across different social classes does not mean that the government has not had initiatives geared towards the solution of the problem. Indeed the government has actively initiated plans to alleviate the problems but most of the initiatives have not been effective. Some of the initiatives have focused on strengthening early year provisions and supporting families to end child poverty (Stewart, 2009). Although these measures ought to reduce the achievement gaps across the different social classes, their effectiveness has been slowed by a number of factors. These factors include the recent government cuts and structure of the education market. The latter is implicated in such a way that it benefits the middle class while disadvantaging the lower class families. Attempts to redistribute the programmes have not borne much fruit either as evidenced by the insignificant narrowing of the attainment gap. The outcome could only mean that the education system itself has problems (Lupton et al, 2009) which need to be addressed before any other measures are put in place.
In addition to the above measures targeting the low income population, a range of many others have been initiated with an aim of enhancing provision in schools with poorer intakes. These programs have ranged from focusing on schools to individuals and include Every Child a Reader and City Challenges both of which have been somewhat successful. In fact, these efforts may not be holistic but have had the overall benefit of closing the gap at the school level (Lupton, 2010). Regardless, these initiatives have tended to help middle class children with poorer schools more than those in lower social classes. The findings have prompted increased focus on individuals falling behind rather than focusing on an entire group. In view of the same, recent policies have focused on raising the aspirations of working class individuals in an attempt to narrow the social gap for educational achievement (Reay & Lucey, 2003). In addition, the policies have inclined towards the diversification of the education market.
The culture of low expectations is cited as among the most notable barriers in the educational achievement of working class individuals (Sodha & Margo, 2010). This culture is prevalent among children living in deprived communities and which is bigger than material poverty. Essentially, the children are skeptic about education to the point of feeling that education is a reserve of other people. These children may even go further to think that venturing ion education would be a letdown. Quite often, some of these children acquire this notion from their working class parents who have similar or even worse perceptions regarding education. Recent studies have drummed support for this position suggesting that some parents are not able to provide positive home environments to their children (Sveinsson, 2009). In turn, the children have no communicative meals and no regular bed times thus straining them even further.
The problem of cultural barrier has been solved in the past through school initiatives such as Extra Mile. These initiatives rely on the notion that working class underachievement is structured as a cultural problem. Some researchers have however questioned the concept of raising children’s aspirations arguing that it has the potential of stigmatizing the same people it is meant to help. The basis for this argument is the fact that the concept targets individual problems rather than institutional or societal problems (Reay, 2009). Other scientists have posited that these strategies position the working class individuals as failures that are irresponsible and underachieving (Bauman, 2005). The basis for this inclination stems from the inability of the strategies to focus on the social structures that bring about the inequalities and instead locates the same in the individuals themselves.
Other studies have pointed out to the emergence of schools as classed institutions that exalts middle class while belittling working class individuals (Archer, 2007). Middle class individuals are more likely to experience a smooth transition from their own livelihoods and the social institutions they attend. In contrasts, pupils in the working class segment usually experience disjuncture and alienation in their transition. Moreover, the education system constructs the working class pupils in terms of what they lack thus leaving them feeling worthless and inadequate. Extensionally, the pupils are bound to have low self esteem leading to the tendency to drop out sooner or later. To avert this scenario and make the working class feel as though they are attaining success in such a stratified system of education, they need to lose their own identities and assume an identity that does not belong to them (Reay, 2002).
In addition to the issues of identity and a lack of recognition, other structural factors may contribute to the under achievement of working class students. The acknowledgement of these problems provides a useful solution to the problem of educational discrepancy across the social structure of the UK once and for all. In one instance, pupils of working class category are much more likely to attend schools that performs averagely poor. In addition, pupils from poor backgrounds have a limited choice of primary schools to attend even when they live near the same number of schools as their affluent counterparts. Moreover, the working class groups which comprise the largest percentage of underperforming students are likely to have the worst teachers. This is particularly so because of the existing competitive league tables and increased social segregation in the education system at both the national and international level. It is to be noted that the students despite having these disadvantages are expected to compete with their affluent counterparts and be graded using the same system.
The working class underachievement in education has also been blamed for the location of these schools in deprived areas and their labeling as failing schools (Kerr & West, 2010). One way of alleviating this problem has been through the driving up of standards through increased competition as well as diversification of the market. The poorly performing schools were identified for upgrading through their conversion into academies. This process not only provided the schools greater independence but also availed them with an opportunity to rebrand. Schools have in the past been encouraged to apply for academy status thus improving the quality of education offered to all the people in the UK including the pupils from poor families (Demie & Lewis, 2010). These academies are publicly funded but are independent in their control and the local authority cannot bully the administration on how the schools shall be run.
There has been a vast array of interventions aimed at addressing the issue of social class gap in education in the UK. The government as well as charitable organizations has equally participated in the streamlining of the education sector to make the pupils much more comfortable in their search of education. In effect, a great emphasis has been laid on the need for strong leadership and high quality teaching in the previously deprived schools (Kerr & West, 2010). Other interventions focusing on the working class individuals have been initiated with an emphasis on child poverty reduction. Overall, the interventions have been pivotal in the bridging of the gap between social classes in terms of educational attainment.
This research outlined some of the underlying problems regarding to social class and attainment of education. Although social class cuts across ethnicity and ethnicity in compound ways to reproduce inequalities in education, it is still the strongest indicator of educational attainment in the United Kingdom. Notable differences are observed in the children’s lower education, as well as throughout their primary school education. These inequalities are further evident in the percentages of higher education among working-class young people. Past researchers have suggested that the dissection of educational inequalities should not only focus on the various complicated relationships between social factors affecting young people. Rather, they should also include the study of the existing institutions that harbor such inequalities in the education sector.
Despite recent development and initiation of various steps in addressing the socio-economic gaps for attainment of education, there is little evidence to prove their effectiveness. As thus, there is a looming gap for exploration of interventions devoid of the assumptions relating to the usual rhetoric of ‘raising aspirations’. Instead, they should seek to actively involve young people from the working-class category, by supporting their agency to exercise more control over their education, and by valuing their lived experiences and identities. In addition, there is an increasing demand for a shift in focus on educational engagement as a necessary tool in attainment. Moreover, moving away from the current policies would be much more effective in realizing the narrowing of the educational gap across different social classes. The current policies have failed because they focus on competition among different schools and market-based diversification of the education sector. The results of such policies have been a partial if not total failure that needs not be repeated again.
Ultimately, this research suggests solutions that encourage individuals within local communities to work collaboratively in order to create new learning opportunities and forms of knowledge, but which also adopt a structural as opposed to a purely individualistic approach with regard to tackling the causes of inequality. Indeed, the creation of an equitable education system will take a considerable amount of time to achieve. However, the adoption of holistic and innovative approaches will increase the likelihood of creating a more equitable education system for all.
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