Social class and participation in further education

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At the first part of this assessment I need to point out the most important points discussed at the article "Social class and participation in further education: evidence from the Youth Cohort Study of England and Wales" written by Ron Thompson. Before I carry on with my discussion, I have to confess that this article had a great impact towards my personal thinking concerning the educational reform that is taking place in Cyprus. I have found a lot of similarities concerning our educational systems and its problems with the one the author is discussing.

At this paper, the author examines the class distribution of young people, aged 16-17 years, in colleges of further education (FE) by using data from the Youth Cohort Study. He finds, contrary to popular perceptions of FE colleges as being for 'lower class people's children', middle-class students as well as working-class students are well represented. In contrast, this does not imply that FE colleges are institutions of choice because middle-class representation is often related to lower achievement and, for low-achieving working-class students, leaving education entirely is more likely than entry to FE. In recent discourse on the education of young people and adults, and as Avis mention out, recounts how educational research from the 1980s, on the way in which students' experiences in education served to reproduce class-based orientations towards waged labour, came to be superseded by a position that, whilst providing more complex accounts of learning experiences, favoured processes related to individualization rather than the structural basis of class inequality. Furthermore, Avis calls for structural accounts of social inequality - including race and gender as well as class - to be placed once more in the foreground, whilst retaining an awareness of the complexity of educational and social relations. (Avis, 2006, p.344-345)

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Even though the author attempts to foreground class in relation to educational progression

by focusing on the participation of 16-17 year olds in further education (FE) colleges in England and Wales, however these colleges are often conceptualized as largely working-class institutions, both historically and culturally, and as suffering from a marginalization that belies the recent significant increases in government spending on FE. As Richardson mentions the prevailing attitudes to the sector that so far as those in Whitehall and the media are concerned, the fundamental but unspoken point about colleges of general FE in class-conscious England remains that they are boring, hard to understand and something best suited to 'other people's children'(Richardson , 2007, p.411). Not only Richardson mentioned this but also Raggatt and Williams (1999) are bringing similar points, noting a systemic neglect of FE that is class-based and related to images of FE as a second choice institution concerned with low-status vocational or remedial courses. (455)

UK government have place a central role concerning the FE in the twenty-first century. The FE sector in England and Wales occupies an uneasy nexus of policies relating to social inclusion and global competitiveness. FE is having a central role in the creation of future high-skills, knowledge-based economy and as contributing to social cohesion, indirectly through wealth-creation stimulated by high skills and directly by means of educational provision aimed at disadvantaged individuals. However, these positions have been questioned by many researchers, and the 'competitiveness settlement' has acquired a hegemonic status within education and is responsible for much of the rhetoric pervading government policy. In practice, FE is positioned within lifelong learning and as a provider of academic and vocational courses whose common feature is their lower status compared with

those offered by more prestigious institutions, such as universities, sixth-form colleges

and school sixth forms. But as Bathmaker mention, many young people, enrolling on a course in FE is a tacit acknowledgement of their lower status as students and of the fact that certain opportunities are closed to them, they 'follow a particular route, not so much because they know what they want to do, but because they know what they cannot do' (Bathmaker 2005, 86). These students are unlikely to reflect the government's positioning of FE within its rhetoric of 'learning society'. Indeed, their attitudes to learning may be seen as 'reflecting not so much inherent capacities of individual learners, as a response to their positioning in an education and training hierarchy.(252)

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Something that needs to be mentioned at this point is that the class distribution of young people, aged 16-17 years, across the varied locations of post-16 education is examined. However, the great majority are following full-time courses. For the higher social classes, this is mainly in schools and sixth-form colleges; for the lower social classes, attendance at an FE college is not much less likely than attendance at a school or sixth-form college combined. In previous educational attainment is taken into account, the distribution of young people in full-time education reveals that the class composition of FE is constructed as much from middle-class failure as from working-class disadvantage. Working-class 16-17 year olds in full-time education with five or more GCSE passes at grades A*-C are twice as likely to attend an FE college as those from the highest social class with the same range of qualifications. At the same time, 16-17 year olds from higher social classes with fewer than five A*-C grades are more likely to be in FE colleges than similar working-class students.(180)

In conclusion, the social composition of 16-17 year olds in FE colleges in England and Wales derives from the interaction of two main effects: the increasing likelihood of attending such institutions with descending class position; and an increasing participation rate in post-compulsory education with ascending class position. These effects are strongly modified by previous educational achievement, so that high-achieving working-class young people are less likely to attend FE than their class position might indicate, and low achievers from the middle class are more likely to find themselves in a further education college than might be expected. However, a significant class effect remains: in the higher category of attainment, working-class 16-17 year olds are more likely to attend FE than peers from the middle class, whilst in the lower category the reverse is true. Gender differences are also mediated by class to some extent Furthermore, research that makes visible middle-class young people in the FE system alongside their working-class peers could help to answer the questions raised.