On white working class students and aspiration

Following last week’s Education Select Committee report into the under achievement of white working class children, Friday’s Telegraph editorial placed the majority of the blame on one factor, a “dearth of ambition.”

Despite the actual report stating:

50. One of the more frequently discussed home factors was the role of aspirations, but
there was disagreement on whether white working class children had low aspirations and
whether this caused or explained low achievement.


the Joseph Rowntree Foundation felt that low aspirations were not a key
cause of lower attainment among white British children from low-income backgrounds,
and suggested that aspirations were actually very high across all social groups.


Professor Stephen Gorard (Professor
of Education and Public Policy, Durham University) described attitudes and aspirations as
“a red herring”

which ties very closely into “Understanding Employer Engagement in Education Ed by Mann, Stanley & Archer, Chapter 7 Local Labour Markets; What effects Do they have on the aspirations of young people?” by Ralf St Clair, Keith Kintrea & Muir Houston.

The conclusion of the chapter states:



The Observer seems to have grasped this and offered a more nuanced conclusion

But one worrying trend raised by several respondents to the inquiry was the impact of parents’ lack of faith in the education system. This is not parents lacking aspiration for their children. This is scepticism that the school system actually offers what their children need. It’s a case of: “The school system hasn’t helped me, why would it help my kids?”

The chapter from St Clair, Kintrea and Houston goes onto say;

Given the importance of families in shaping aspirations – and the lack of knowledge among many families about routes to particular occupations – supporting aspirations also mean working with parents more closely, especially where parents face disadvantages themselves.

From this we might conclude that the first battle to embed the social, cultural and experiential capital needed by lower socio-economic groups to achieve the results and career outcomes for their children they aspire to, will be to persuade parents that they need that capital to begin with.


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