Social class is linked to educational achievement


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It has been suggested that social class is linked to educational achievement. The lower the socio-economic status of a family, then it is said, follows a pattern of low educational achievement. Conversely, children from so called, middle and upper class families in general tend to be higher achievers academically than their working class peers, and are more likely to attend university. Research suggests that children with parents in highly paid professions are more likely to obtain higher grades in their GCSEs, take A levels and then continue onto university than children with parents in low paid manual employment. Therefore, it could be argued that a childs ability to become socially mobile remains static, as it is likely that they will continue along the path of their parents.(REFERENCE)

The research undertaken for this project seeks to determine if the same applies to mature students either attending Bath Spa University or mature graduates known to the researchers. The research will attempt to investigate whether or not there is any correlation between parental social class and that of the mature students and graduates educational achievements. The research will also explore the notion of social mobility and seek to discover if the subjects of the study believe that they have or will, achieve social mobility due to their educational achievements.

The results of this study, if the outcome is favourable, could possibly help to encourage other mature students from lower socio-economic backgrounds into higher education. However, if the results seem to agree with previous research, which argues that lower income families feel that the costs outweigh the benefits of higher education, and therefore would not consider university, then the research may have an adverse affect and just reinforce the fact that people feel that a university education is only for the wealthy.

The results of the study could enable universities to pinpoint problems mature students face, which could enable them to formulate strategies to encourage students from lower socio-economic backgrounds to apply for a place at university. However the results could reinforce the generalisation or previous research which suggests that children from working class families are less likely to go to university and therefore deter people from even attempting to go through the application process.(reference)

The results could also help to discover answers to continue the process of closing the gap between social class and educational achievement. However, if the findings suggests the opposite to already published research, eg, if our findings argue that social class has no bearing on the educational achievement of the subjects of the study, then questions would need to be asked as to why our study appears to differ from the norm.(reference)


Does social class affect educational achievement? This research will attempt to establish a link between social class and educational achievement. As already stated in the introduction, research (current and historical) suggests that low socio-economic status invariably leads to low educational achievement. The following research is intended to investigate whether this generalised notion is true of the subjects who volunteered to be interviewed for this project.

The variables to be measured will be that of; the social class of the subjects parents and the educational achievements of the subject.

Following on from this the research will also attempt to establish whether or not the individual subjects have, or expect to achieve, social mobility due to their educational achievements.

Literature review

There are many pieces of research which have attempted to answer the question 'does social class affect educational achievement'. Various theories have been introduced as to the reasons why children from lower social classes appear to do less well academically than their more advantaged peers and as to why there seems to be a large gap in the intake of university places from people from low socio-economic backgrounds.

Connor et al(2001) found that there was a continuing and "long standing pattern of social exclusion" of lower class groups in higher education. Their research suggests that there are numerous factors which lead to the under-representation of the lower classes, including; family background and support, and financial considerations. They also make the interesting point that over the last fifty years legislation has been put in place to ensure that educational progression is based on ability rather than wealth. However, their research seems to suggest that the legislation has not been successful in achieving its aims.

Research conducted by Goldthorpe(1996) agrees with the findings of Connor et al. goldthorpe states that the differences between social class and educational attainment have changed very little since the beginning of the 1900's. It is suggested that children from lower class families have remained more likely to leave the education system once they have finished their compulsory education than their more financially advantaged peers. This could be due to the fact that parents with a higher economic status appear in general to place a higher value on education than the parents of children from the lower classes. It has been suggested that the lower classes place more value on vocational and on the job training rather than higher education.

There has been research such as that by bowles and gintis (1976) that suggests that education is a form of 'cultural reproduction'. They argue that the dominant or higher classes use their power to ensure 'social structural reproduction'. Therefore, it is suggested that social control is maintained by the educational system by exploiting class inequality. In practise schools would not legally be allowed to consciously discriminate against children from lower social classes. However, there may be unconscious discrimination. For example, children are praised and given incentives such as certificates for excelling in the classroom. Yet the children more likely to excel are those from more advantaged families who are able to afford the extra resources such as outings and books. Following on from this, Goodwin and le grand(1987) suggest that those families in greatest need are not the target of educational subsidies. They argue that state support for education generally only helps the more financially advantaged families maintain their ability to enter higher education.

However, although it could be argued that legislation, schools and funding are all biased towards families of higher socio-economic status, Gambetta(1987) suggests that a childs ability to enter higher education is all due to their parents. Gambetta found that the choices parents made relative to their childs ability was based on their perceived social class. Therefore working class families were less ambitious with regards to their childs education than those of higher socio-economic status.

As the above research suggests that social class affects educational achievement in children, it then has to be asked 'does the same apply to adults?'

A report on higher education and social class (Bolton 2010) shows historical data concerning how social class affected university participation in the early 20th century. The data shows that the percentage of entrants with fathers who have a manual occupation, and therefore considered working class, were as follows;

1928-1947 23%

1955 25%

1961 25%

As the government have introduced legislation to help close the gap between social class and entrance to higher education there should possibly be increases in these numbers in more recent times. However, data from UCAS shows that in 2001 the numbers were much the same as those shown above. In 2001 only 27% of entrants were from a working class background. Nonetheless, the report concluded that;

'since the mid 2000's; young people from disadvantaged areas are substantially more likely to enter higher education' (Bolton 2010).

However, a research paper entitled ' Social Class and Higher Education' (Connor et al 2001) commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) suggests that there are many factors as well as social class that affect potential students decisions to enter into higher education. The researchers state that;

"students from lower social class backgrounds take into account a wider range of issues than their counterparts in higher social class groups when taking the decision to enter higher education".

The areas of concern for those from a working class background included the financial aspect, however, they also raised issues such as feeling unable to cope with the workload, the application process and personal issues such as working during term time and also arranging childcare.

However, the main issue does appear to be that of a financial nature. Those from the lower classed either would rather begin paid employment as soon as possible after leaving compulsory education or they feel that the cost of studying at university outweighs the benefits. Despite the main findings of this report being fairly negative towards higher edication by the lower classes there were some positive aspects. The participants of the study from the lower classes who had decided to enter university did so with the belief that the qualifications that they would eventually gain would mean that their career preospects and future earning potential were raised considerably.

The small scale research project which follows is loosely based on previous research into social class and higher education. If the published research is correct then we should find that social class does in fact affect educational achievements in adults.

If our research corresponds with others, then we should find that only around 25% of our participants who are from working class backgrounds have entered into higher education.


The focus of this study was to determine whether or not socio-economic status had any impact on educational achievement. A series of questions were devised to be delivered in either a face to face interview or by way of an email questionnaire, depending on which was more practical, due to distance and time constraints. Those subjects who were asked to reply via email were asked to respond in as much detail as possible rather than just yes or no answers. The aim of the questions asked was to determine the effects of the subjects parents social class and educational achievement on that of their children.

The initial questions asked were general questions to determine the age, sex and location of the interviewee. This was followed by a set of questions to establish parental educational achievement and social class. The questions also attempted to establish whether or not their parents attitude towards education had any impact on the subjects educational choices. The final set of questions sought to discover the educational achievements of the subject and their current or future socio-economic status.

………….of the subjects are undergraduates and ………… …………of the questionnaires were completed by way of face to face interviews. Another …………….were conducted via email questionnaire. The interviews and questionnaires took approximately ten minutes to complete. All of the individuals who were asked to respond did so.

The decision to use interviews and questionnaires was taken because we felt that we could get a more definitive answer to our hypothesis this way rather than a simple questionnaire that only required yes and no answers. However, there are limitations when using this method for research. Some of the questions which were asked were open to opinion and also self-perception. Some of the information was also second hand as we had asked for information about parents. Once again, this may not be wholly reliable as the subjects were not asked for definitive proof of either their parents, or their own educational achievement or social status. Therefore, the research is based on the assumption that the subjects were truthful in the answering of the questions.

There are other limitations. The research was very small scale and therefore it could be argued that the sample of subjects is not representative of the general population of under graduates and graduates in the United Kingdom. However, as a guide it could lead to similar questions being asked on a larger scale to enable the theory that social class does or does not have an effect on educational achievement, depending on the findings of this research, to be proved or disproved.

With regards to the ethical considerations of this research, those who participated were ensured anonymity at all times. No names have been used in the write up of the research and only the general location and age of the particiants have been documented. All participants were made aware of the reasons for the research and how the information they gave would be used. They were also informed that a copy of the finished research project would be made available to them for their approval, if they so requested, before it would be handed into the university. They were also made aware that they could withdraw their contribution at any time before the submission date.

Findings and conclusion

The main purpose of our research project was to determine whether or not a working class background created a barrier to higher education for adults in the same way as previously mentioned research suggests it has on children. The research argues that children of compulsory school age are at a disadvantage educationally if they are from low income families and we wanted to investigate as to whether or not this translated into adulthood.

Our findings seem to suggest that low socio economic status does not limit the chances of adults entering into higher education. Seven out of the twelve subjects interviewed categorized themselves as coming from a working class background and six of them had either gained degrees or were studying for a degree at the present time. This translates to almost 86% of people from lower class background entering into higher education, whereas previous research has stated that the norm is around 25%. However the contradiction is probably due to the small scale of the project which was undertaken. The other five participants considered themselves to be from a middle class background and all five had enetered into higher education.

Therefore, our small scale research project seems to suggest that there is no disadvantage in a persons ability to gain qualifications from university or other higher education establishments based soley on their working class background. It could be said that it is an individuals own motivation and ambitions, or lack of both, that has the most impact on their educational achievement, rather than their working class background. One of the subjects interviewed stated that her parents had;

"influenced me to go out and achieve what I want regardless

of class, money or background".

Being at university as a mature student I felt that the outcome of our research would in fact find that class did not determine educational achievement. However, it is a very small scale project and could not be perceived to be reliable data which reflects the educational achievements based on class for the country as a whole. The data could be seen as biased and unreliable as eleven out the twelve subjects interviewed had been, or were currently at, university. Those interviewed were also known to the researchers. If there had been a completely random sample of subjects from a shopping mall for example there would have possibly been a very different outcome. I feel that to make the research valid and reliable it would need to be done on a much larger scale. The subjects interviewed should be selected at random throughout the united kingdom to enable a wide variety of people and therefore a varied selection of answers, which would possibly in turn produce more valid and reliable data which would more likely correspond to previous research in the same field.

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