Social mobility: ‘We must end this obsession with working class gentrification’

Professor Sonia Blandford, founder and CEO of Achievement for All, discusses why education often doesn’t matter to the working class and the importance of closing the attainment gap in the TES.

In the early 1950s and 60s, children from the Allied Estate in Hounslow where I was growing up participated in Born to Fail, a study which provided a disturbing insight into the lives of disadvantaged children and the enormous inequalities we suffered in comparison to other, so-called “ordinary” children. 

But here I am, in modern-day Britain, reflecting on the questions asked nearly 50 years ago in Victorian and Edwardian times and finding that, shockingly, they are still pertinent today.

Why are the working class STILL not valued as partners?

If, as a nation, we truly cared that many children continue to underachieve or fail, we would begin to engage in a partnership between parents, carers and the teaching community in a structured way, treating everyone involved as real equals.

We would value all parents and carers in terms of the contribution they make to both the upbringing and education of their family, not to mention the rich heritage they bring from their communities. Such an approach would undoubtedly be preferable to carrying on the obsession with working-class gentrification. This is an idea that, unsurprisingly, has failed to take root up to now, given that our society leaves parents and carers at the school gate, inviting them in only for a five-minute talking to at parents evening once or twice a year – and only more if their child has been excluded.

Why is school considered irrelevant by the working class?

The current school curriculum in England and its pedagogy – how teachers teach – are built upon middle-class values. They lack social and cultural relevance for the most disadvantaged children and families. They present more barriers than opportunities.

We must work collectively to break down those barriers by offering all children the chance to participate in social and cultural activities, such as sport, the arts, debating, volunteering, wider community-based provision, museums and trips. Developing children’s core strength and resilience can improve confidence and engage them in their learning.

How do we meet targets to get more working-class young people into university?

The answer to this question is simple: we don’t. At best, university targets for the working class are a distraction. At worst, they are blocking the path towards real and positive change. It is an enormous injustice that, in modern-day Britain, the prevailing view, particularly by those in power, is that the working class are failing and need to be rescued from their situations. Leaders, employers and policymakers need to wake up to the fact that social mobility is about much more than achieving five grade A-C GCSEs, or getting a place at university.

Professor Sonia Blandford is the author of Born to Fail? Social Mobility: A Working Class View, out today. The CEO of award-winning charity Achievement for All, she is also one of the UK’s leading educational practitioners. In 2016, she was named on Debrett’s list of the Top 500 Most Influential People in the UK. 

Read the full article Social mobility: ‘We must end this obsession with working class gentrification’

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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  1. I thought I was alone in my concern at the way the social mobility movement seems to devalue the lives and circumstances of sectors of society who don’t conform to the middle class view of what constitutes a valuable life. I don’t think I could have worded it so well as Professor Blandford does here, or had so much influence; but I’m pleased that someone of influence is finally raising this issue. This gentrification she writes of actually perpetuates and reinforces social inequality, rather than removing it. Effectively, the middle classes are saying, “You’re life doesn’t look very good to me; it is not very valuable. If we give you a better house and some Pupil Premium, then perhaps you could get these exams and go to university.” There seems little consideration for the value of people’s lives as they stand now, or the possible alienation from home life and society when these changes are made. What do real people actually say they want for their lives and their children’s lives? And solutions often lie within individuals and communities themselves. I was appalled to hear a speech recently that said “Northern parents should raise their aspirations for their children”. Aspirations for what? To be just like their middle class counterparts, doing 3 hour daily commutes and knocking back prozac?

    Cynical comments aside, the social mobility agenda has been a step forward from where society was 100 years ago, and no-one can argue that education and qualifications bring greater choices to people. They are important. But thank you Professor Blandford for urging us to think and take more care with the approaches used.

    • What ‘better house’ would that be? The quality of housing has deteriorated over decades just as it has become more expensive. The working class have had their livelihoods systematically destroyed, down-sized, and outsourced to anywhere in the world except the UK. For most there is nothing to aspire to. Social mobility in the 60s did not occur because of grammar schools and working class children who went to grammar schools still almost entirely ended up in the same working class jobs they would have got anyway. And that was at a time when there was, for other reasons, social mobility and available jobs.

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