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Social Class and Education

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Addressing working class
underachievement: Multiverse
resource for ITE
“No rocket scientist”
Every Child Matters:
New Labour policy initiative aimed at improving
the coordination of services for children identified
as �vulnerable’ and raising their educational
attainment. It states that:
“Doing well in education is the most effective
route for young people out of poverty and
The wider context:
• The gap between the richest and the poorest
has not decreased since New Labour came
to power
• There is no greater social mobility now than
in the 1950s
How do you �measure’ social
• Explanations of social
class commonly refer to
occupation and income
• Being middle class is
often equated with
professional status and
linked to educational
• Various classification
systems exist
The National Statistics SocioEconomic Classification:
1 Higher managerial and professional occupations
2 Lower managerial and professional occupations
3 Intermediate occupations
4 Small employers and own account workers
5 Lower supervisory and technical occupations
6 Semi-routine occupations
7 Routine occupations
8 Never worked and long term unemployed
Problems with classification
• Where do women fit
in when you assess a
• How do you take
account of patterns of
employment which
may vary over time for instance as a result
of caring
Free School Meals (FSM) as
proxy for social class:
• FSM data is readily available to researchers
• FSM measures child poverty rather than social
• Some families are reluctant to take up their
entitlement to FSM
• The number of pupils on FSM is a factor in setting
a school’s budget as it is seen to be an indicator of
the level of deprivation in a school
• Pupils on FSM are already identified as a group
vulnerable to underachievement
Postcode Data:
Sometimes used to target additional resources at
children and families living in areas identified as
suffering from the effects of poverty, disadvantage
and social exclusion.
Projects include:
Sure Start which focuses on 0-4 year olds
The Children’s Fund which focuses on 5-13 year
Social and cultural �capital’:
• Bourdieu identifies forms of �capital’ held
by individuals and which contribute to
social advantage
• Individuals who possess or acquire these
forms of �capital’ are able to reproduce their
own privileged positions within society
• Academic qualifications are one form of
Social class as �process’:
• Social class can be understood as a way of
positioning others in relation to ourselves
• Issues of perspective become very
• Much of this process is played out at an
unconscious level
�Deficit models’ and stereotypes:
Being working class is often associated with
lacking something:
“Middle class parents very often have
respect for teachers - in a way that working
class parents will not.” (Teacher)
More favourable stereotypes:
Being middle class is often associated with
the possession of a more positive attitude to
“Middle class students on the whole value
ideas as they have been taught to do so
before they even reach the school gates.”
(Teacher trainee)
Middle class parents are:
• Likely to be proactive in addressing concerns and
are able to use their knowledge of the education
system to their advantage
• Likely to make active choices when selecting a
school and to be influenced by League Tables and
Ofsted reports (a factor which Head Teachers take
account of)
• Likely to be viewed as an equal when talking with
teachers and other professionals and to make
effective challenges to practice
Working class parents are:
• Likely to be as focused on the advantages of a
�good’ education as middle class parents
• Less likely to be viewed as an equal partner when
dealing with professionals and teachers
• Less likely to have knowledge and experience of
the education system to use to their advantage
Evidence of social class
inequities in education:
• The top 200 state schools in the country have a level of
pupils on FSM averaging 3% as opposed to a national
average of 14%
• 77% of pupils in England and Wales with parents in higher
professional occupations gained five or more passes at
GCSE grades A* to C in 2002. This compares with a figure
of 32% for pupils with parents in routine occupations
• The practice of using previous attainment data to predict
future achievement is likely to contribute to low
expectations of, and outcomes for, working class pupils
Further research evidence:
Working class pupils are over represented in
bottom sets. In one school with 18% of pupils on
FSM, a top set Maths group had 13% of pupils
on FSM and a bottom set Maths group had 33% of
pupils on FSM
Teachers of top sets may have higher expectations
of pupils and may experience fewer difficulties
with classroom management
Further research evidence:
• Working class pupils are more likely to be offered
vocational and �alternative’ curriculum pathways
which often prepare them for working class
occupations. These are often accessed after a pupil
has failed to access the mainstream curriculum
• Working class pupils are disproportionately
excluded from school. Exclusion is likely to
reduce a pupil’s future life chances and increase
the risk of involvement in offending behaviour
Barriers to learning identified by teachers:
Poor attitude, lack of motivation, low self esteem
Failure to produce work
Disruptive behaviour
Poor attendance
Lack of concentration
Poor social skills
Lack of ability
Aspects of the pupil’s home life
A working class pupil:
• “Very limited”
• “No rocket scientist”
• “Bound to get herself
in to trouble.”
Barriers to learning factors identified by pupils:
• Teachers shouting
• Disruption caused by other pupils
• Inability to access a task due to difficulty or poor
• Being unwilling or afraid to ask for clarification
• Not being stimulated by tasks
• Inconsistent or intimidating teaching styles
• Having a preference for learning styles not
favoured by the teacher
• Insufficient competence in literacy
The ideal teacher:
“A kind friendly person you could talk to if you
need someone to talk to. Persuasive if you don’t
want to do something … a nice personality and a
calm voice … doesn’t get angry or shouting and
helps you with your work and interesting and does
fun activities once in a while and can control the
class.” (Working class pupil)
Class fractions:
• There is no one group - �the working class’.
• Working class pupils do not all experience the
disadvantages faced by working class pupils living in
• Viewing all working class pupils and parents as
disadvantaged perpetuates negative stereotypes
• Single parents, especially those on low incomes or who did
not achieve well at school themselves, may face particular
difficulties in advocating for their children in the education
system and may be disadvantaged by a lack of emotional
and practical support.
Class and ethnicity:
• Minority ethnic parents often have high
educational aspirations for their children
• Working class pupils of Bangladeshi and Pakistani
origin experience less social mobility than those
from other minority ethnic groups
• Working class pupils from Caribbean, African,
Indian and Chinese communities experience
greater social mobility than white working class
Class and gender:
• A focus on underachieving boys conceals
the fact that boys come from different social
class backgrounds and that some (middle
class) boys achieve well and some (working
class) girls do not
• The attainment gap between boys and girls
is smaller than that between working class
pupils and middle class pupils
What teachers said about the
social class of pupils:
• Some identified the social class
of pupils
• Many made assumptions based
on impressions
• Some said they didn’t know the
social class of pupils
• Most were reluctant to talk
about pupils’ social class
• One teacher said it was
“distasteful” to identify a
pupil’s social class
• A few refused to identify a
pupil’s social class
Reflective practice:
• Trainee teachers
• Future teachers
• Social justice
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