Thursday, December 13, 2007

 

Class and Education

Why some children are inspired to study and others are not is a fascinating conundrum. The grandparents of myself and my partner were: plumber, tailoress, cobbler and factory worker. Yet these grandparents had children who went on to join the tiny elite who went to university in the thirties and they, in turn, encouraged us to do the same. We learn from the Sutton trust that social mobility is currently 'at a standstill'. Their research shows that the 'least gifted of children from wealthy homes' outperform the 'brightest in Britain's poorest homes' by the time they are seven. The report concludes that:

'The advantages of being born in a privileged home have not changed in 30 years. The study found that 44% of young people from the richest fifth of the population had a degree in 2002, compared with only 10% from the poorest fifth.'

Such findings are depressing of course; one only has to walk around Stockport town centre on a weekday to see the black shell suited, baseball capped products of the latter fifth, complacently wagging off school and thereby helping our stagnant social mobility to stagnate even more. There is nothing written in the stars which makes these young lads and girls spurn study or training, only a domestic environment which fails to encourage it, and a popular peer group culture, perhaps, which fails to place due value on such route-ways out of the council estates. Visiting other European countries reinforces the Trust's chairman, Sir Peter Lampl's observation that:

"Shamefully, Britain remains stuck at the bottom of the international league tables."

Yet in the 19th century material and spiritual poverty afflicted much larger groups of people and little by little their resistance to educational advancement receded- witness the personal provenances cited above. The problem is, in the globalized market place, we do not have the time or the resources to allow such a casual rate of progress to continue. Lampl calls for an 'independent inquiry on how to break down the UK's rigid class barriers.' That might be a constructive start, though I doubt if it will tell us much we do not already know.

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