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Social mobility

What is social mobility? Drawing on different perspectives, assess the impact of the education system on opportunities and life chances on the basis of social class. What implications does this have for the work of helping agencies?

Social mobility simply describes how people move along the social ladder. For this to happen there must necessarily be some form of social class in place. Social class occurs everywhere, even in the poorest communities. Take a typical village in Ghana for example, you will find that probably the village palm wine tapper or renowned farmer may be at the top of the social ladder; by village standards, they are the rich guys; these in addition could also serve as money lenders or movers and shakers. In the middle of the social ladder in the said village you might find the middle class who constitutes probably the majority of villagers with average incomes making just about enough from their farming or other vocations to make ends meet. Of course, at the bottom of this ladder will be the lower classes that have no jobs or qualifications and are at the mercy of the rich palm wine tapper. Social mobility describes how the classes move from their level of class upwards or downwards. This movement could involve the acquisition of new skills or education in the bid to get better jobs and hence get more income. Sometimes movement is caused by for example winning the lottery, an inheritance from parents or relatives or any procedure either deliberate or accidental which moves a person from one class to another.

The Sociology guide has described Social mobility as a "vital part of social stratification and an inseparable part of social stratification system because the nature, form, range and degree of social mobility depending on the very nature of the stratification system. Stratification system means the process of placing individuals in different layers or strata."

In a social mobility paper Stephen Aldridge describes social mobility as a

There are types of social mobility. Intra-generation is when there has been a change in a person's social position. A typical example will be clerical assistant who works his/her way up in an organisation. However, if a person's social position changes over a generation it is called inter-generation mobility. An example is Margaret Thatcher and many others. She became prime minister as a grocer's daughter.

Horizontal mobility is another type of social mobility where a person changes their job-related position but does not change social class. An example is where a clerical assistant moves from Wellingborough to London and becomes an administrative officer. Vertical mobility on the hand takes the stage where people change their job-related position and change their social class as well. An example of vertical mobility will be for example a street cleaner becoming a solicitor or an army officer becoming a cleaner. They have fundamentally changed their socio-economic position.

There are types of vertical social mobility. If someone moves down the social ladder it becomes downward mobility. When they move up on the social ladder it becomes upward mobility. For example if an Army officer is promoted in rank it becomes an upward mobility. The magazine Business Week in 2007 wrote an article about how mobile phones in Africa are creating high standards of living and boosting upward mobility.

Another recent example of downward mobility is in this article in the telegraph.

Another type of social mobility is structural mobility which involves vertical mobility but its movement is brought about by a major disorder. It can also be brought on by changes in society that brings improvement to a large number of people. Typical examples will be industrialisation, expansion of education and computerisation. These changes have all brought improvement to people in the UK and around the world. People have through it acquired higher social status and found higher paid jobs than their parents. There is also individual mobility which involves people being hindered from taking opportunities because of where they were live, their colour, gender, religion, their educational background, job, wellbeing and many others.

The impact of the education system on opportunities and life chances on the basis of social class is enormous and hasn't changed much since education began. It is still difficult for working class children to access grammar and good comprehensive schools as the middle class and upper class have populated areas where these schools are placed.

Working class families are tied to the low paid jobs and often live in areas where schools are failing. Jobs are hard to find in these areas and its inhabitants are usually heavily dependant on benefits. Their lives are occupied with how to manage everyday living and not on reading to their children and giving them music and language lessons.

Disadvantaged children have little chance of watching educational programmes on television nor do they have the chance of reading the broad sheets. They are simply not patronised in their households. Libraries are rarely used and mobile libraries are not highly participated in working class areas. Areas in London for instance have seen various housing developments but they are not in the reach of the low paid. Overcrowding has many implications for the already struggling families as there is often no where to do homework. After school clubs charge for their services leaving low paid families out in the cold. Therefore chances of disadvantaged children reaching high levels of achievement in school are slightly dim.

The consequences of the manual or low class remaining under-represented in higher education is unthinkable as children from these background will experience either downwardly mobile or not move on the social ladder at all as a result of them not entering higher education. Today's job market is very competitive and even those with good qualifications are finding it difficult to hold onto their jobs. It means that most all white collar jobs will be held by the middle class and upper class families.

Anthony Giddens writes in Sociology and Social Mobility that education is not necessarily a means to an end. Education would have to work with other factors to foster social mobility.

However, education definitely has opportunities for people to progress along the social ladder by providing relevant new skills, information, courses and therefore creating opportunities in life for them. A few years back a hair dresser did not need know too much about what she/he did as a hair dresser but in today environment he/she would have to know all the science there is to cutting, dressing and managing the business. Technology and other factors have raised the standard of work so high that without continuous professional development opportunities are not stretch far.

Although a small percentage of poor families are accessing higher education there is evidence that the UK government for instance is working frantically to improve the chances of the less privileged through innovations like Every Child Matters. This innovation is to give every child the chance of accessing education and other services in the community to give them better outcomes in life. Hence the establishment of Surestart Centres which is a one stop service for early education, childcare, health and family support.

The implications on the work of helping agencies are many. Helping agencies like Children's Centres pick up the brunt of any inequalities that lay in society. We bid or vie for large sums of money to run various courses and projects that underpin social mobility. In the bid of helping families read we have set up 'borrow a chattersack' in our children's centre. This is to encourage parents who might otherwise not access libraries or buy books for their children. The books and toys are expensive but we charge a very minimal fee for them.

Often people bring to us various problems like divorce, debt and housing issues which we do our best to refer to other agencies for further assistance. We hold classes with Citizen Advice Bureau to advise people on budgets and other financial incapability. Many of our clients are lone parents or young families struggling on low incomes. They are often in debt and or have little financial knowledge. They often live on large council estates where aspirations are not that great. The recent recession has hit these areas hard and some people are experiencing downwardly mobility. This comes with various demands like counselling, retraining and financial loss.

Below is an example of some the types of work some helping agencies do. They use government funds to bridge the gap between rich and poor by organising trips to parks, educational establishment to boost confidence and increase knowledge.

We organise sporting activities that will encourage the less privileged to put their feet in door of expensive sporting activities. We work with other agencies to bring information and understanding to parents who in effect calve their children's place on the social ladder.

Helping agencies are faced with many demands for services they can and cannot provide. At our centre for instance there is the demand for certain services like computer classes, some sort of back to work training, cooking classes but we haven't got the facilities and the man power to run such courses. We are therefore forced to send clients to other children's centre's in that losing their business. If we do manage to run any of the courses that put pressure on our facilities then we have to limit the numbers which in turn causes us to run the courses several times to fit everyone in. There is also a steady demand for information on sensitive family matters like finance.

Education seems to be one the important factors manipulating social mobility. In today's society, education is becoming increasingly important as it used to ascertain the jobs people will end up in. Education is also used to determine people's social class position. The recent government for instance has introduced many initiatives. Free child care for two year olds was trialed for sometime and is going to be offered to children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Back to work incentive of £500 and the investment into early years, FE schools and workplace training are all initiatives which research has suggested that has not boosted social mobility.

As mentioned before there are many factors contributing to this fact. One such fact is the advantage that middle class families have over poorer families when it comes to education.


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