What exactly is ‘class’ and how does it fit into schools and education? If you type “social class” into ‘Google’, you get a number of variations in terms of descriptions. This goes from: “Social classes are the hierarchical arrangements of people in society as economic or cultural groups. Class is an essential object of analysis for sociologists, anthropologists, political economists, and social historians.” To “an informal ranking of people in a culture based on their income, occupation, education, dwelling, and other factors. People who mainly having the same social or economic status.”

One’s Class – Office of National Statistics

Class I: Professional; doctors, accountants, engineers.

Class II: Managerial and Technical; marketing and sales managers, teachers, journalists.

Class III a: Skilled non-manual; clerks, cashiers, retail staff.

Class III b: Skilled manual; carpenters, joiners, good van drivers.

Class IV: Partly skilled; warehouseman, machine tool operators, security guards.

Class V: unskilled; labourers, cleaners.

Social mobility – how easy is it to move from one up to another? Is it feasible for someone who at one time is labelled ‘Class 4’ to move to Class 2 or even Class 1?

Labelling – Some sociologists say that class can affect a person’s attitude to education. Being labelled means you are told you are going to underachieve, go to a school where you are very unlikely to achieve much, aspirations will then be to underachieve therefore you will underachieve. This form of labelling is common for most children throughout education and eventually leads to alienation.

Self-fulfilling Prophecy – Negative labelling of students can lead to the self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.
If you are told you won’t achieve and tell yourself you won’t achieve then you most likely won’t achieve. Most lower classes suffer from self-fulfilling prophecy as if they have insufficient funds for extra help and come from a rougher area surrounded by people telling them they won’t do well in life then they most likely won’t. Many students due to being from a lower class are then if showing no signs of brilliance put into a lower band.

Ball in 1981 found that the pupils in the top band were from higher social class.

Teachers had higher expectations of them and they were taught in different ways to those in a lower band and therefore were giving more hope and a better label to prepare them for a successful future.

Research into the performance of children at the earliest age of education has shown that children from families where there is a higher than average income coming in to it, perform better at an earlier age and are ‘better prepared’ for education at an earlier age. Children aged three and coming from families that had a high annual income were twice as likely to succeed as children aged three who come from families with the lowest annual income. Children aged three and coming from families that had a high annual income have a 50% greater span of vocabulary than children coming from the poorest families. By the time these children are 5 the vocabulary span of children from the richest families had increased by 3% in the test completed (from 58% to 61%) while the vocabulary span of children from the poorest families had remained the same as when they were three with 38% scored on the tests taken. So in terms of early educational achievement, it would seem that the income acquired by a parent or parents does have an impact to some degree. The same research showed that children diagnosed as hyperactive within a classroom, and therefore were labelled as disruptive, came mostly from the poorest families and the least disruptive of children came from those children from better off families. The research showed that there was a corollary between income and “conduct problems” with those from the poorest families being more identified as disruptive than those children from families with an average or higher than average income.

Material factors – obviously those families with better access to money can provide more for their children in terms of material things. Halsey in 1980 found that material factors are important in terms of students in education.

A lack of money can make a child’s potential options feel limited, it may stop kids staying on at school or getting to university.

Bourdieu in 1971 reckoned that middle class students had the right kind of cultural capital, the language, skills, knowledge and attitudes to do better in life than working class.

He believed the more cultural capital you have the more successful you will be in education and in the work force.

He believed working class pupils do not have access to cultural capital.

Middle class families pass on cultural capital and expectations from parents to children; this is called cultural reproduction.

Class and achievement – consistent research shows that the higher the social class, the higher the levels of educational achievement are likely to be. Children from a higher social class are most likely to stay in post-compulsory education and they are more likely to achieve better examination passes. They are also more likely to gain university entrance.

Many believe that to be a NEET – Not In Education Employment or Training – is the worst place to be in society as your options are the least and your prospects of getting yourself out of this situation are minimal. Your chances at a time when the economy is strong are better but dwindle drastically when an economy falters. During a recession, prospects for NEETS rest almost entirely with government initiatives or local companies that are best placed to survive a recession. However, those companies best served to survive are also those that would want trained skilled employees to enhance their work force and this would exclude the NEETS.

Research provided by Halsey, Heath and Ridge on three classes based on the fathers’ occupation shows:

The service class worked as professionals, administrators and managers; the intermediate class were clerical or sales workers and the self-employed; the working class includes manual workers in industry.

Halsey, Heath and Ridge found that a boy from a service class compared to a working class boy had:

Four times more chance of remaining at school at 16; eight times more chance of remaining at school at 17; ten times more chance of remaining at school at 18; eleven times more chance of going to university.

Government figures show only 15% of white working class boys in England got five good GCSEs including maths and English last year. Data has revealed that among white boys from more affluent homes – 45% achieved that level of qualification. 85% of white boys from very poor families failed to achieve five good GCSEs including English and Maths. Michael Gove said: “The government’s failure to improve standards in education has hit the poorest hardest. We need a school system that allows bright children to succeed regardless of their economic background. The government and David Cameron have admitted to this as being ‘shocking’. Is it fair that because of your post code, parents income or stereotyped view that you are deemed as a failure from the age of starting education at 5 years old?

But to what extent does all this information put children from the poorest backgrounds into a mental straitjacket – a self-fulfilling prophecy? To what extent is the media responsible for creating a state of mind in children from the poorest backgrounds – that they can’t succeed simply because of their background?

Class stratification is directly related to educational attainment. In particular, it has been argued that the subcultures and the distinctive norms and values of social classes influence performance in the educational system.

Television and radio presenter John Humphrys investigated a school in Hackney, London and nurseries in Stoke-On-Trent.

He found out that even by the age of 3, in more deprived and less wealthy areas such as Stoke-On-Trent, 2/3 (64%) of the children were a year behind the national average in communicating skills. By the age of 16, poorer children are half as likely of getting through their GCSE’s with 5 passes than wealthier children are.

But this type of information was already in the public domain for other deprived areas. Some sociologists believed that to boost the self-esteem of those from these backgrounds he should have concentrated on those who have broken out of this straitjacket – if two-thirds were behind at the age of three, what about the third who were not. Why have they succeeded? If they have succeeded from the poorest of backgrounds, could the other two-thirds given help by external agencies? If by the age of sixteen 50% from the poorest backgrounds are less likely to get 5 good GCSE’s, what about the 50% who might? A concern exists that while the evidence conclusively points to under-achieving among the poorest of families, such research concentrates on the ‘failures’ and promotes a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. What about those who have succeeded? Why have they done so and broken out of the mould?

Courtesy of Lee Bryant, Director of Sixth Form, Anglo-European School, Ingatestone, Essex

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