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Educational achievement is tied to social class

August 25th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

The latest Labour Force Survey statistics show 11.3% of British adults do not have any qualifications. In England, the figure is 11.1%, in Wales it is 13.3% and in Scotland 12.3%. but these overall figures hide wide variations. According to UCU, the college lecturers’ union, people living in Newcastle upon Tyne Central are twice as likely to be unqualified as their neighbours in Newcastle upon Tyne North.

Of the 20 constituencies with the highest percentage of people with no qualifications, the West Midlands accounts for eight, and has four in the top 10. There is a clear east-west divide in London, the union found: of the 20 worst-performing constituencies in the capital, three-quarters are in the east.

You do not have to be a statistical or sociological genius to understand what these figures mean. The areas with the highest levels of qualification are the richest areas, the areas with lowest are the poorer areas with higher levels of unemployment and social exclusion. In other words levels of achievement are closely bound to social class.

And it also is not difficult to predict that the present UK government policies,  increasing student fees at many univeristies to £9000 a year, abolishing student maintenance grants and reducing funding for vocational education will only excaerbate these divides.

Despite their claims that they wish to promote equal educational opportunity it is hard not to think they really don’t care.

One Response to “Educational achievement is tied to social class”

  1. jen hughes says:

    “No shit, Sherlock!” – as some of the younger members of my family would say.

    Jordanhill College in Scotland did a load of research on this back in the 80’s as far as I remember. It was the era when ‘barriers to access’ was the thing we were all supposed to be addressing and overcoming. We had socially excluded groups, marginalised groups, disadvantaged groups, disenfranchised groups – courses for single parents, for women returners, for black and minority ethnic groups, for those threatened with redundancy, people with disabilities and learning difficulties, the long term unemployed etc etc etc.

    It was only Jordanhill who spelled it out. The biggest barrier to accessing higher education is social class. I think they showed that if you took into account gender, age, parental status, ethnicity and all the other factors above and added them together, their collective impact is still hugely overshadowed by the impact of class. I cannot remember the exact figures but it was something like if you were a member of socio-economic classes A and B, you were 11 times more likely to go to university than if you were class C1, C2, D or E.

    This always seemed to me to make a mockery of the huge amounts of funding which went into various initiatives to create a socially inclusive education system when it represented a drop in the ocean compared with the effect of social stratification.

    The Jordanhill report was not popular, to say the least. It managed to upset groups of every persuasion along the political perspective. The government hated it (predictably!) and the academics felt wounded that their worthy efforts were being somehow discounted. Political correctness was all – but class was the barrier that no one ever dared mention.

    Plus ca change! Class is still the elephant in the educational kitchen.

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