University department of politics and philosophy

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Why the children of the white working-class in Britain are so noticeably failing in the education system and why government measures here appear to be making so little difference.

After many years of welfare state social class, ethnicity and gender remains of central importance in determining the educational attainment of pupils in Britain. All recent researches confirm the strong correlations between the socio-economic factors and success in education system. Figures of the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) for many years show that pupils from advantaged backgrounds were more than three times more likely to obtain five or more GCSE A to C grades than their peers from disadvantaged backgrounds. Research also shows that white working-class children, both boys and girls, are more likely to fail at school than any other ethnic group. (Centre for Social Justice (2006) Educational Failure -The State of the Nation Report. London: Centre for Social Justice. Available under: http://www.centreforsocialjustice.org). White teenagers are less likely to go to university than school-leavers from other ethnic groups - even with the same A-level results, according to official figures. ( Paton, G. (2008) 'White Working-Class Boys Becoming an Underclass', Daily Telegraph, 19 June. Available under: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/2151025/White-working-class-boysbecoming- an-underclass.html) Thus when social class and ethnicity join together even bigger gaps appear. While most studies focus mainly on ethnicity, they miss the real problem of class division and inequality. Low achievement of white working-class is masked by success of white middle-class and failure of government statistics to distinguish the white British ethnic group by social background. There is also failure of central government to recognize particular needs that white working-class pupils have and that those needs are not being met by school system. This underachievement is one of the biggest problems facing education in Britain today.

The first problem in researching this issue is more accurately definining what the term 'working class' means. "Working class" is defined and used in many different ways and for different purposes. This is mainly because government rarely talks about white working class. They prefer to use other words to describe this social group. Many people argue that 'working class' is a term used in the past by academics to describe those employed in low-paid jobs measured by skill and education. But it is difficult to use that exact definition when many parents are unemployed now. Some researchers would define this social group as pupils from a White British ethnic background who qualified for free school meals. The most appropriate way to describe white working class pupils is to refer them to those whose parents are in semi-routine occupations or who depend on the Welfare State for their income and all pupils who are entitled to free school meals. Level of entitlement to free school meals, a commonly used indicator of economic disadvantage is 14% for White British pupils (based on national data combining both primary schools and secondary schools reported by Lindsay, Pather & Strand, 2006.). The national data also shows that at GCSE, 35% of White British pupils eligible for free school meals achieved 5+A*-C, compared with 67% of pupils who were not eligible.

Statement from the DfES in 2006 clearly acknowledges that there is a long-standing association between social class and educational achievement. (DfES, 2006:7). It confirms that pupils with parents with a higher and lower professional occupation do significantly better at GCSE than those with parents in a manual occupation. The proportion of pupils with 5+A*-C in the highest social class was at least twice as great as pupils with a manual working class background. Thus there is a strong association between poverty, social class and successful achievement in education.

There are a number of reasons why white working class pupils are underachieving and less successful now. The main reason is probably the lack of parental aspiration and their unwillingness of engagement with the school life. They tend to only engage with the school when there is a problem. The lack of aspiration amongst white working class parents for their children's education and future can be explained by the lack of education amongst them. Probably they had negative experiences in education. Many pupils know little about the life beyond their home and school. They think that their parents did well without going to school or college, without travelling anywhere, and they will do well. There is lack of role model for them, lack of positive role model. Thus it leads to another reason. The problem of feminization of teachers. Teaching profession has become mostly a world of women. Women teachers tend to favour girls and it expresses concern over the lack of positive role model for boys, thus encouragements for anything that defines their masculinity. Therefore boys are more likely to underperform at school than girls.

Another reason can be seen as impact of poverty and material deprivation. It plays the main role in the underachievement of white working class pupils. Frequent pressure of not having money destabilizes family life, thus reflects bad performance at school of children. Basic things that pupils need at school, such as extra books, trips, tuitions, make them feel undermined. Government should help those families and children, so they can lift themselves from the poverty. Thus lift their performance at school. White working class feels lack of support from government, politicians and society. There is very little targeted support to break that cycle of poverty and marginalization.

Cultural and language deprivation can be seen as another reason of bad performance at school of white working class children. The absence of values, norms and lack of academic language are great barriers to achievement and usually causes behavior problems. The white workin class pupils tend to write in a more colloquial way. Many of them have very little vocabulary and language enrichment.

Jean Anyon in his article called "Social class and the hidden curriculum of work", argues that public schools in complex industrial societies in the United States make available different types of educational experience and curriculum knowledge to students in different social classes. He says that schools in wealthy communities are better than those in poor communities.() Likewise English schools and parents feel that current curriculum at schools does not meet the needs of white working class children. Moreover it does not reflect the culture and lives of this social group. Schools should consider how their curriculum can reflect the development and encouragement of people from all backgrounds in their community. Educators should try to find better ways of teaching a group of children who are culturally and educationally deprived or socially disadvantaged. In turn government needs to provide a large amount of money for this purpose and make considerable research effort.

Finally, the problem with white working class young people could be lack of motivation rather than lack of ability. If they want to succeed in school, they will try to do it. Some boys who do not learn in school nevertheless learn to play basketball or football, and girls who do not learn in school learn to dance very well. They spent a lot of their time to learn what they actually want to learn.

The BBC survey has suggested that white working class feel unrepresented and feel like nobody speaks to people like them.

( http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/7279997.stm). Survey shows that working class people are more pessimistic about the future. They believe that crime got worse, that people like them can no longer afford to buy homes in the area they live and that life in Britain has generally got worse over the past decade. They feel pessimistic not because they tend to be pessimistic by nature, but because they feel their voiceless status and social marginalization. Likewise white working class children in their schools.

More accurate definition of white working class is important for people who are attempting to expand educational opportunity for white working class children. They have had so much failure in school that they have extremely negative attitudes toward school and what it can do for them. Consequently, the best social policy is to work with this social group and educational establishments that provide education for them, by systematic and well-organized education system.

Until the whole society gets rid of racism and class division, schools will continue to be blamed for white working class educational failure. It is a failure of the whole government system, failure of education system and lack of care of those who have social and political power. It is the underachievement of political elites.

Action to improve white working class pupil achievement is vital. Failing to address the issue effectively can pour oil on flames of racism and prejudice and will undermine local communities.

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