Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Social Codes and Social Mobility

Jenni Russell today questions whether improving social mobility is simply a matter of increasing opportunity. It's also to do with different social cultures. She identifies the ability to fit in as of equal worth as qualifications:

There's much talk of Britain being more egalitarian and multicultural. In reality it remains deeply hierarchical. The dominant culture is that of the white middle class; the elite culture is that of the upper middle. Anyone who hopes to be socially mobile has, by definition, to learn to read a culture that is not the one they grew up with.

I'm not sure she doesn't exaggerate a little here. I would have thought that anyone able to excell academically would have the ability to pick up the codes of a new social milieu, just as any number have done to date. For example, few would realise that former Archbishop George Carey, or indeed Blair's top pollster, Philip Gould had both failed their 11+ and attended secondary modern schools. Yet they managed to fit into their new social and professional setting without any real apparent difficulty.

It's also the case that cultures change. It may still be the upper middle class who set the tone for our elite cuolture, but it has surely changed hugely since the middle of the last century, for example.

More problematic, in my view, is the sometimes expressed idea that merely increasing resources for state schooling will automatically bring them up to equality with the independeent sector. My experience is that the key variable is the cultural background of the child. If they have been brought up to think study is for 'boring geeks' and that aspiring to better oneself is a waste of time, then no amount of money will enable that child to fit into a professioinal post.

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