Home > Uncategorized > British Education System’s Eerie Parallels to Ours: the Rich Get Richer and the Poor are Stuck

British Education System’s Eerie Parallels to Ours: the Rich Get Richer and the Poor are Stuck

August 22, 2020

As I read this blog post by emeritus professor Diane Reay I found myself nodding in recognition. Take these excerpts, for example:

…Class inequalities, compounded by race and gender, permeate the whole system, not just one stage of it. We may now increasingly have working, middle, and upper-class universities but we have always had upper-, middle-, and working-class schools. Of even greater concern than the stranglehold wealthy pupils and private schools have on our elite universities is the class and race polarisation across all sectors and stages of British education.

…despite the common assumption that, at least within the state sector, children are experiencing the same education, there are very apparent differences in the education delivered to working- and middle-class children.Even when they attend the same schools, the working classes are to be found in the bottom sets and streams where they experience a very different education to the middle-class children concentrated in the top sets. But largely as a result of a school choice system based on postcode (i.e. zip code), we now have working-class schools characterised by a narrow curriculum, teaching to the test, and an excessive focus on discipline.Recent research in the UK points to a disturbing social class difference in the pedagogy experienced by different social classes, with the working classes more likely to experience a pedagogy of poverty that pays little attention to critical thinking skills and adopts a “drill and kill” approach.

It is these working-class schools that will be hit the hardest in the latest funding round. Comparing per-pupil funding in 2020-21 to that in 2017-18, the Education Policy Institute found that Free School Meal pupils will have received increases of around two-thirds of the rate of non-Free School Meal pupils. Instead of reducing the social class gap in attainment, which OECD research shows widens for every year spent in education, our Conservative government’s new funding formula increases the money given to affluent schools at the expense of those in disadvantaged areas. This risks further increasing the social class inequality divide in education.

While there is constant talk about good and bad schools by parents and the media, there is rarely a recognition that good equates with upper- and middle-class intakes, while schools perceived to be bad are those primarily attended by the working classes. Instead, educational outcomes become the responsibility of teachers, ignoring a long history of research evidence which shows that education cannot compensate for economic and social inequalities in wider society.

The obsession with school improvement… (has)resulted in children’s attainment being attributed to the performance of school staff rather than the economic circumstances of children’s families. But such a conclusion flies in the face of research evidence which consistently shows only 20% of the variability in pupil achievement is attributable to school-level factors, while at least 80% is a consequence of family circumstances.

What we all too often overlook in the UK is the extent to which children’s educational prospects reflect the disadvantages and relative poverty of their families. Those who are poor, whose parents have low qualifications and no or low-status jobs, who live in inadequate housing and in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, are less likely to gain good qualifications themselves at school.

Each of these descriptions could apply to the United States— especially post NCLB and since we decided to turn away from the efforts to desegregate our schools and diversify our housing patterns. A chart in the article shows that Britain and the US are statistically alike in one sad respect: roughly 3% of children in the lowest SES group are educational high achievers, among the lowest for all the countries surveyed.

Ms. Reay concludes her article by noting that nothing has changed in the social mobility since the mid 1960s. That, too, is true in our country despite the War on Poverty and the Civil Rights Laws. It takes a long time to change people’s minds… but it takes even a longer time to change their hearts…

%d bloggers like this: