Education still riddled with class inequalities

A couple of quotes from another excellent article by George Monbiot reminding us of the persistence of class inequality in the education system in Modern Britain –

‘A new report by the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) shows that intelligent children from the 20% of richest homes in England are seven times more likely to attend a high-ranking university than intelligent children from the poorest 40%’

‘People from upper middle class, public school backgrounds dominate every economic sector except those – such as sport and hard science – in which only raw ability counts. Through networking, confidence, unpaid internships, most importantly through our attendance at the top universities, we run the media, politics, the civil service, the arts, the City, law, medicine, big business, the armed forces, even, in many cases, the protest movements challenging these powers. The Milburn report, published last year, shows that 45% of top civil servants, 53% of top journalists, 32% of MPs, 70% of finance directors and 75% of judges come from the 7% of the population who went to private schools(6). Even the beneficiaries should be able to see that this system is grotesque, invidious and socially destructive.’

KT’s comment –

One of the most important lessons a Sociology student can learn about Modern Britain is that the wealthier someone’s parents are, the more opportunity they have to get a decent education and succeed in life.

As Monbiot reminds us, this is simply the statistical truth and it distresses me when students deny the truth and come back at me with pitiful examples of people who have come from a poor background and succeeded (Alan Sugar is an often cited example) or, worse, just straight forwardly deny that the inequality of opportunity has any kind of bearing on their own lives.

Let me make this very clear – if you are from a poor background you have less chance of getting decent grades, going to university and getting a decent job than someone from a richer background, even if you are as intelligent as that richer child. If you are 16/17 then they have already benefitted from thousands of pounds, maybe tens of thousands of pounds of extra investment because of their wealth.

If you are from a poor background and do manage to get into one of the better universities, you are a statistical anomaly and should be congratulated – but you should still feel aggrieved, even if you do succeed, because you have had an uphill struggle compared to those from wealthier backgrounds who you have been competing against – even once you are in university the wealthy are less likely to need to get a part time job, and more likely to have their parents paying at least part of their fees.

If are one of the poor losers in our education system – remember this – you do not owe the successful anything – their success is at least as much to do with money and luck as it is with their ability. 

Incidentally, now the Tories are in power, and we have a millionaire prime minister, deputy prime-minister and chancellor, this inequality is set to get worse.

Where to go next

  • Please read this! This is an interesting blog post from a Sociology teacher who works in an American community college. This is a review a book about the ‘myth of meritocracy’ followed by som interesting comments on how her students find it difficult to accept the fact that we do not live in a fair society.


  • You might also like to read Monbiot’s post on private schools – bear in mind that he himself went to a private boarding school!


  • Also look out for my future blog on the Conservative policy of ‘free schools’

An interesting question for you to think about is this – why is it so hard for us to accept that social class background has a profound impact on life chances?

A multi-layered critique of capitalism

I’ve spent a few years reading around this subject now, and to my mind there are four levels of critique that seam to be levelled at the Capitalist system – advanced by numerous voices with the Anti-Capitalist movement. I name this my ‘multi – layered critique of the Capitalist system’ – Each is progressively deeper and more difficult to understand, especially no.4!

There are different political view points within the movement – anarchists have different logics of critique to Marxists for example, and there are different theories on how important the state is in relation to Capitalism, these four layers of critique do not relate to those, this system of categorisation is just one way of looking at some of the different angles people take on criticising this callous economic system.  

1. The most basic criticism that the anti-Capitalist movement makes of contemporary Capitalism is that the pursuit of profit often leads to social and environmental harm.  Most of these criticisms focus on Transnational Corporations and Individual capitalists themselves. Examples of this would be a Transnational Corporation exploiting cheap labour in the developing world; polluting an area in pursuit of oil and not clearing it up; or a company profiting from war.

2. Deeper criticisms, in my view, are levelled at the institutions that set the ‘rules of trade’ that allow Capitalists the freedom to do harm while pursuing profit. Clearly, there are laws that prevent corporations making a profit out of killing or enslaving people. We could also establish laws of trade and investment that force Capitalists to pay people enough to have a decent standard of living; we could establish laws that force them to bear the full cost of clearing up any pollution they create, and we could enforce laws that force them to invest in socially useful enterprises, but such laws do not exist, and if anything the rules of global trade tend to favour the Capitalist class over people and planet. The ‘rules of trade’ are set and enforced by global institutions such as the World Trade Organisation and the International Monetary Fund. Many within the Anti-Capitalist movement are very critical of such institutions.

3. The third layer of critique focuses on the underlying dynamics of the Capitalist system. Two examples of this are Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine – in which she argues that pro-corporate, Neo-Liberal policies are often brought in after a society experiences a ‘shock’ – a natural disaster (the Tsunami) or a war (Iraq), for example – thus neo-liberal forms of capitalism require disasters and misfortune in order to advance. Another well developed, yet less known body of theory is that of Zygmunt Bauman who reminds us that Capitalism is a dynamic system which destabilises local communities – and the central dynamic and central problem of Capitalism is that a globally mobile Capitalist elite destabilises the world in pursuit of profit, and the globally immobile poor are left relatively disempowered with communities that are more unequal, more fragmented and more unstable than before Capitalism arrived. He reminds us, and this is important, that the poor are much less able to escape the problems Capitalism creates than the wealthy. Another example of this type of theory would be Wallerstein’s World Systems theory and one might even argue that Habermas’ theory of the colonisation of the lifeworld fits into this  too.

4. The fourth, and deepest, layer of critique comes from David Harvey, and what he calls the ‘unresolved crisis tendencies of Capitalism’. In other words, the means whereby the Capitalist class seeks to increase its profit and wealth actually undermines their ability to maintain profitability in the long term – thus the ‘internal contradictions of the capitalist system’ means that economic growth will only ever occur for relatively short period, say a decade or two, and then the rate of growth will either decline or stagnate, which is what we call an economic crisis. When this happens, Nation States, or international economic institutions typically step in to solve the ‘economic crisis’ – but, according to Harvey, whatever measures are taken to ensure sustained economic growth are doomed to failure mainly because as the international economy grows it becomes harder and harder to maintain the same level of growth. 

Where to go now – see my blogs on these different types of criticisms of the Capitalist system

How dressing as a giant banana may reduce littering

NB – I’m moving most of the material on here to my new site – – check it out for everything related to AS and A level Sociology

Lord knows its hard to find interesting articles on Social Policy – but this fits the bill –  part of the article talks about how the London Borough of Southwark (from 2004) adopted the policy of ‘stalking litter’ – hiring people to dress as giant bananas and other ‘commonly found items of litter’ to create scenes around town such as applauding people who put their rubbish in the bin – the theory being that we are more likely to change our actions (in this case stopping littering) if we are subjected to frivolous and unusual stimulae.

You might like to think about how effective this is as a means of reducing minor crimes and how generaliseable it is to more serious crimes.. You might also like to use the freedom of information act to find out how much money they actually spent on their banana actors….

The Corporation – A must see documentary for all A2 Sociology students


It may be a while since its release in 2004, but this is one of the best educational documentaries ever made. The film has an outstanding web site with a wealth of resources and is based on the book The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power by Joel Bakan.

One of the main strengths of the film is the interviews with numerous corporate insiders and leading members of the anti-capitalist movement such as Naomi Klein and Noam Chomsky

This documentary effectively documents the huge social and environmental harms done by corporations in the pursuit of profit. By extension you could also see the film as a critique of the neo-liberal policies which gave these corporations the freedom to do these harms and of the whole capitalist system which is based around the competitive accumulation of capital.

Social and Environmental harms done by Corporations

These are just some of the harms that Corporations are responsible for with occasional links and examples

1. Exploitation of people in sweat shopsNike in numerous countries

2. Doing Environmental harm to keep costs down (externalities) Shell in Nigeria/ BP in the USA/ Union Carbide and Bhopal  –

3. Profiting from the poor through the privatization of things such as water – Bechtel in Bolivia

4. Profiting from selling goods that are harmful to people and the environmentMonsanto

5. Profiting from war and fearHalliburton in Iraq/ Coke in Bolivia – see relevant chapter in Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, also see

6. Working with oppressive regimes in order to make a profit – Coke and the Nazis, Bechtel in Bolivia

7. Manipulating children to buy products they don’t need – McDonalds and Coke

8. Co modifying everything – Corporations try to own everything – some are patenting genes, and some have tried to ‘own water’ – critics say that there should be some things that are not for sale!  

Excerpt from the web site

To assess the “personality” of the corporate “person,” a checklist is employed, using diagnostic criteria of the World Health Organization and the standard diagnostic tool of psychiatrists and psychologists. The operational principles of the corporation give it a highly anti-social “personality”:

  • It is self-interested,
  • inherently amoral, callous and deceitful;
  • It breaches social and legal standards to get its way;
  • It does not suffer from guilt, yet it can mimic the human qualities of empathy, caring and altruism.

Concluding this point-by-point analysis, a disturbing diagnosis is delivered: the institutional embodiment of laissez-faire capitalism fully meets the diagnostic criteria of a “psychopath.”

Interestingly, despite the huge amount of evidence that Corporations can be monstrous, there is recognition that the individuals within the Corporations may be the nicest people you ever meet, and the documentary concludes that what makes Corporations so bad is the competitive economic system in which they have to survive – Corporations, in other words, are seen as products of the Capitalist system.  

The film is very easy to watch over a number of days because of its clear breakdown into a number of distinct chapters.