Category Archives: Social Policy

Free Schools – Arguments and Evidence for and Against


This is relevant to the educational policy aspect of the education topic within the sociology of education.

What Are Free Schools?

A Free School in England is a type of Academy, a non-profit-making, state-funded school which is free to attend. Free schools are not controlled by a Local Authority (LA) but instead governed by anon-profit charitable trust.

To set up a Free School, founding groups submit applications to the Department for Education. Groups include those run by parents, education charities and religious groups. Ongoing funding is on an equivalent basis with other locally controlled state maintained schools, although additional start-up grants to establish the schools are also paid.

Between 2010 and 2015 more than 400 free schools were approved for opening in England by the Coalition Government, representing more than 230,000 school places across the country.

Similarities between Local Authority schools and Free Schools

  • They are both free for students to attend

  • They are both have similar amounts of funding

  • They are both subject to same rules about how the select students (they have similar admissions policies)

  • They are both subjected to Ofsted inspections

Differences between Free Schools and Regular State Schools

Local Authority Schools

Free Schools

Must follow the National Curriculum

Don’t have to follow the National Curriculum

Funding controlled by Local Authority

Funding comes straight from government

‘standard’ school day and term times

Free to set school days and term times

Teachers must be qualified

Teachers don’t have to be qualified

A brief history and overview of types of Free School

Free Schools were introduced by the Coalition government in 2010 general election as part of the Big Society initiative. The first 24 Free Schools opened in autumn 2011.

Since 2011, any Local Authority in need of a new school must seek proposals for an Academy or Free School, with a traditional Local Authority school only being allowed if no suitable Free School or academy is proposed. Since July 2015 the government is regarded all new academies as Free Schools – hence if there’s demand to establish them, any new school being established will be a free school.

To date, since 2010 there have been around 400 Free Schools established, which translates into about 250 000 school places, and the government hopes to establish an other 500 Free Schools over the next few years.

Types of free school

The majority of free schools are similar in size and shape to other types of academy. However, the following are distinctive sub-types of free school:

Studio school – A small free school, usually with around 300 pupils, using project-based learning.

University Technical College – A free school for the 14-18 age group, specialising in practical, employment focused subjects, sponsored by a university, employer or further education college.

Arguments for Free Schools

Free schools are a very good example of a neoliberal policy – the government is taking power away from Local Education Authorities (local government) and giving more power to parents, private businesses and charities to run schools.

Supporters claim that

  • There is a higher proportion of outstanding free schools – Twice as likely according to C4’s Full Fact
  • Free schools create more local competition and drive-up standards -
  • They allow parents to have more choice in the type of education their child receives, much like parents who send their children to independent schools do.
  • They also claim that free schools benefit children from all backgrounds – which could especially be the case with….
  • We need more school places – because of the recent increase in the birth rate, not to mention increasing migration and free schools could play a crucial role in this. In fact, where primary schools are concerned, about 70% of applications for free schools are in the areas where there is most need for new schools (See Channel Four’s Full Fact)

Arguments against Free Schools

Critics argue that…

  • There is a higher proportion of failing Free Schools – According to this article (March 2015) from The Independent newspaper Free Schools are a failure: One third of them have been rated ‘inadequate’ or ‘requires improvement’ compared to only one fifth of Local Authority Schools.
  • This list of failures includes three school closures, worst of which seems to have been the Al-Madinah free school which imposed strict Islamic practice on staff and students (for example by forcing even non-muslim female teachers to cover up) and was found to be so bad that OFSTED had to create a new category of ‘dysfunctional’ to grade it before ordering it to close.
  • Free schools benefit primarily middle-class parents with the time to set them up, fueling social segregation – I can really see this being the case with ‘studio schools’. (I can’t help but imagine a nice, small school with extensive playground and playing fields in a Devonshire village, so nice in fact that the yummies occasionally leave their 4WDs at home and walk the school run, at least when they’re not in the mood for heels.)
  • Free schools divert money away from existing schools – There is a set amount of money in the education budget, and if free schools (and academies) get initial start up grants from the government (which some do) this means relatively less money for the Local Education Authority maintained schools.
  • They are not actually needed and have lead to a surplus of school places – More than half of Free Schools opening in 2012 opened with 60% or less of the student numbers predicted by the impact assessment documents of each institution, leaving more than 10% spare places. Elsewhere, where Free Schools are fully subscribed, regular Local Authority schools have surplus capacity. This replication of capacity is grossly inefficient.5. People don’t actually want Free Schools – Polling in April 2015 put public support for Conservative proposals to increase the number of Free Schools by at least 500 at 26%.
  • While the image of Free schools might be of motivated parents setting them up, Peter Wilby, writing in The Guardian, predicted that Free Schools would be run by private companies rather than parents, teachers or voluntary groups. There is also the fact that in 2012 over 60% of free school applications were made by faith groups.

Analysis – Free Schools Good or Bad?

To be honest at this stage it’s difficult to say – because Free Schools have only been around for five years, and because there are so few of them – it is difficult to make reliable comparisons between the results of free schools and local authority schools.

As it stands, Free Schools seem to be having a polarising effect on educational achievement – with both a higher proportion of schools achieving outstanding and being graded unsatisfactory at the same time. This is pretty much what you’d expect when you give middle class parents etc. with cultural capital a fat wedge of cash and a considerable degree of freedom to run their schools in a way that they see fit.

Whether or not you think polarisation is a good thing probably depends on your politics. If you’re right-leaning (neoliberal or new right) you’d probably interpret these trends in a positive way – more success at the top end should eventually drag all of the other schools up, even if there’s a few initial teething problems with a higher proportion of schools failing at the bottom. Eventually, demand for those failing schools should fall so they’ll either close or be taken over by the more successful schools.

However, if you’re more left-leaning then you’d probably hypothesise that the children in the outstanding free schools are probably those from middle class backgrounds, and those in the failing schools – probably more likely to be from working class backgrounds, so all we are seeing here is an intensification of the reproduction of class inequality, although we don’t yet have the data to assess this.

Find out More…

Given the ideological nature of Free Schools, be careful of where you source your information form – A good starting point to find out more is go to Channel Four’s Full Fact which takes a cautious look at the statistics on various aspects of Free Schools.

Sociological Perspectives on Modern Apprenticeships in the UK

The material below is relevant to the Vocationalism topic within the Sociology of Education and  should help students to answer essay questions such as ”Evaluate Sociological Perspectives on the role of Vocational Education”, or various questions on contemporary education policies, as well as hopefully just being of general interest.

What are Modern Apprenticeships?

An apprenticeship is a job with training which allows an individual to earn while they learn, whilst gaining a nationally recognised qualification. Apprentices aged 19 and over are entitled to the National Minimum Wage at the same level as regular employees, but 16-18 year olds can be paid less – £3.30 an hour (from October 2015) compared to £3.87 an hour for regular employees. Of course an apprentice aged 19 or over would probably be paid less than a qualified person the same age, given that they are less experienced.

Apprenticeships are available for anyone aged 16 or over, but the most common ages for people starting them is 16-24. Apprenticeships must last for a minimum of one year, but can take up to five years to complete.

There are three main levels of Apprenticeship:

– Intermediate apprenticeship (level 2)

– Advanced apprenticeship (level 3)

– Higher and degree apprenticeships (level 4 or above).

Apprenticeships are tied into more traditional vocational qualifications – anyone undertaking a level two apprenticeship will work towards a related city or guilds or BTEC qualification, while anyone doing a higher level apprenticeship will work towards a degree.

Apprenticeships are available in over 170 industries the most popular apprenticeships in 2014 by sector being:

  • Health and social care
  • Business administration
  • Management
  • Hospitality and catering
  • Customer service
  • Children’s care learning and development
  • Retail
  • Construction skills
  • Engineering
  • Hairdressing

So in short apprenticeships are basically on the job training leading to a qualification, and besides saying this, it’s impossible to give a representative account of what a ‘typical’ apprenticeship looks like given the huge variation.

How many people are doing apprenticeships?

  • Since 2010 there have been over 2 million apprenticeship starts – so more than 2 million people in the country (unless they’ve emigrated since) have either done them or are doing them.

  • In 2013-14 there were 500 000 apprenticeship starts

  • In 2013-14 850 000 people were earning and learning while doing an apprenticeship

  • There are typically over 25000 apprenticeships being advertised online at any one time.

Why have apprenticeships grown so quickly?

I put it down to three things -

  • Underlying historical demand for vocational training courses as opposed to academic learning – The UK has had a large NEET population (16-24 year olds not in employment, education or training) for over a decade now, which suggests there has been a significant demand for alternative pathways to employment other than courses offered in colleges.

  • The recent government ‘pincer movement’ on young people – 18 year olds are now (since 2015) required to be in some kind of training or employment, and combined with the government clamp down on benefits for young people, this means they have fewer options.

  • Government support for employers – The government invested £1.5 billion in apprenticeships in 2014-15 and from 2016 will exempt employers from paying National Insurance Contributions for under 25 year olds. Basically government support makes it cheaper to hire apprentices.

What are the benefits of apprenticeships?

Firstly, looked at statistically, they seem to offer economic benefits to most apprentices, employers and the economy more generally – Mainly taken from the ONS web site….

  • 90% of apprentices stay in employment after the apprenticeship has finished.

  • 70% stay on with the same employer.

  • 19% of level three apprentices advance on to Higher Education.

  • Businesses report an increase in productivity of £214/ week when they hire apprentices (which effectively means they cost the average company nothing given the low wages!).

  • Small businesses get a £1500 grant towards the start up costs of New Apprenticeships if they employ 16-24 year olds. (Any training costs for 16-19 year olds are, possibly obviously, covered by the government.)

  • For every pound of government investment in apprenticeships, the economy gets £18 – £28 back (estimates vary).

  • Apprenticeships were estimated to contribute £34 billion to the UK economy in 2014

Secondly, they diversify the education system – offering a much greater choice of training opportunities by a much wider range of providers than Further and Higher education providers could ever hope to provide.

Thirdly (but I would need to look into this further to verify it) they seem to be offering a very real alternative for young people who would otherwise be NEET because there is a distinct correlation between the increase in apprenticeships (mostly taken up by 16-24 year olds) and the recent decrease in the number of NEETs. (Of course correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation, but in this case I think it’s pretty safe to conclude that it does!)

What are the downsides of Apprenticeships?

You wouldn’t think there were any judging by the ONS site, but if you dif around there are those who voice some legitimate criticisms of Modern Apprenticeships

Firstly: Apprenticeships might really about firms getting cheap labour:

Kathy Glover from The New Left Project points out that it’s cheaper for an employer to hire an apprentice than someone qualified – Glover cites one case study of an estate agent who sacked most of their staff in order to replace them with cheaper apprentices. Not only is this bad for the experienced, sacked staff, it’s difficult to see how a cohort of apprentices can learn anything without any more experienced people to.

There is also some evidence that the Engineering sector in the UK is preferring cheaper apprentices over already qualified people.

Also, the number of in-work training programmes have reduced by about 250 000 in recent years, which suggests that work places are simply shifting their training onto apprenticeships – meaning the government pays for it rather than them paying for it, in which case apprenticeships aren’t about more training, there just about the tax payer paying for it, not the employer.

Secondly: Apprenticeships don’t necessarily lead on to real jobs:

Firms are not obliged to take apprentices on full time after their training period and it’s cheaper for an employer to hire a string of apprentices for one-two years at a time rather than to take someone on.

The rapid expansion of more apprenticeships might even harm the wider job market in certain sectors – Glover cites UK manufacturing, which despite declining employment in recent years, has greatly increased the number of apprenticeships – BAE systems, for example, has expanded its apprenticeships programme by 25%. This must mean decreased demand for already qualified people.

Thirdly: Apprenticeships are really about saving the government money

Kathy Glover points out that Apprenticeships allow the government to cut costs because it is much cheaper for them to pay a couple of thousand pounds or so to an employer for a year rather than to have a young person on unemployment benefit.

The problem with this is that it might mean that some people on apprenticeships are worse off than when they were on benefits. She uses the case study of Michael, 16, from Liverpool, employed at a large charity shop through the retail apprenticeship scheme to illustrate this:

“I work 37.5 hours a week for £100 a week with around 20 other staff, most of who are on some sort of work placement or volunteers. My auntie, who I live with, has lost around £70 a week in benefits due to me going on this apprenticeship because I’m now classed as being in full-time employment. The council has done things like deduct £3 per week from her housing benefit which I’ve been told I must now pay. I don’t get any separate travel expenses so I’ve also got to pay for the two hours travel per day out of my wages. By me going on this apprenticeship we’re worse off than when I was in college so I’m considering leaving the scheme and going back into education.”

Fourthly, Modern Apprenticeships remain heavily gender stereotyped

For example, females take up 94% of positions in early years childcare but only 1 and 2% respectively in construction and plumbing. All other sectors also conform to gender stereotypes.

Average wages for apprenticeships also vary between males and females – for males the average is £186 compared to females who earn on average £147 per week (2007 figures). This is because the sectors where females dominate are the lowest paid (such as early years childcare), and have little scope for career progression, so are mainly level 2 and 3 apprenticeships. The sectors where men dominate tend to offer apprenticeships which are higher paid and offer greater career progression, onto level 4 apprenticeships for example – in sectors such as engineering and IT.

Fifthly, in some sectors the training you receive may be of a very low standard

Only 22% of apprenticeships in customer service and 13% in hospitality and catering are offered at level 3, and a retail or customer service needs to only complete a minimum of two hours training a week.

Tess Lanning of the IPPR suggests that this is because Government targets to increase the number of apprenticeships, combined with a lack of interest from many employers, have led to a watering down of what constitutes an apprenticeship. New Labour widened apprenticeships to include level 2 qualifications, which evidence suggests have little to no value in the labour market, and opened them up to adults, meaning they have lost their purpose as a tool to prepare young people for entry into the labour market.

Apprenticeships: Should you do one?

I guess this depends on what sector you’re looking at – If you’re interested in Engineering then it’s probably worth spending a bit more time researching your options than if you were interested in going into retail or hospitality…

The Apprenticeships Self-Development Pack for young people is designed by the government for you to work through to see if an Apprenticeship is for you – Warning – This links pretty much exclusively to the government’s own propaganda videos about how great apprenticeships are and oozes ‘careers advisory document’ out of every pore, and yes there is the dreaded skills assessment exercise at one point too.

Ultimately it’s down to you whether you do an apprenticeship or not, but whether or not you do one, keep the following question in mind – Assuming university isn’t for you, and assuming you want/ need a job, then do you actually have the choice not to do some kind of apprenticeship, or have you been steered into it by social forces?

Further Reading/ Sources used

Apprenticeships: Fact Sheet for Parents (the best introductory summary sheet I’ve found on the topic but warning – complete lack of critical content!)

Facts, Figures and Statistics about Apprenticeships – Does what is says – The main source I’ve used for any statistical information above.

The Youtube Apprenticeship Channel – featuring apprentices and employers talking about the advantages of apprentiships (warning – complete lack of critical content!)#

Further Education and Skills: Learner Participation and Outcomes

Also see links in the document above.

Increasing Life Expectancy – It’s far from certain!

According to this eye-catching infographic from the Office for National Statistics  1/3rd of babies born in 2013 are expected to reach 100 years of age, meaning that there will be well over 100,000 centanarians alive in the UK in 2113, which is more than 6 times the estimated 14000 alive today.

According to this scenario, the expected averarage national life-expectancy is projected to be 90.7 for men and 94.0 for women, a ten year increase compared to current (2010-12) life exptencies which are 81.7 and 82.7 years respectively.

The government has used these data (unsurprising giving that this is the ONS) to justify the rising of the state pension age, given that according to these projections people will, on average spend a third of their life in receipt of a state pension, as evidenced below (full document here)


However, this future is far from certain, and such an increase depends on a number of underlying social developments taking place – such as a reduction in the number of people smoking, an increase in medical interventions to prevent deaths from heart disease, stroke and cancer, and healthier diets and lifestyles. It is also the case that a number of other factors may serve to reduce future life-expectancy – such as the increasing cost of living in real terms driving up the number of people in poverty and the increase in inequality causing more status anxiety.

In fact if you read down the infographic, this lack of certainty is recognised as the initial figures are only the ‘principal projections’ but the low and high estimates for the number of babies born today likely to reach 100 varies from as low as 16K to as high as 259K for men and as low as 31K and as high as 271K for women.

To my mind, the real story in this data is actually the very high level of uncertainty surrounding projections in the ageing population, and the difficulties society faces planning for the future in the light of such uncertainties.

It’s unfortunate that the infographic or the government fail to highlight this, but instead focuses on the principal data in order to tell a story that might (but only might) happen.

Then again, I guess this particular manifestation of uncertainty doesn’t suit the present government’s ideological war against the public sector, whereas the message that we are all living longer serves as a plausible justification for raising the pension age and reducing the overall public sector commitment to ‘caring’ for people in their old age. It is also, of course, another effective means of punishing the poor, because the poorer you are then the earlier you die.

Related posts

This is a nice series of infographics from the ONS focussing on current (2010-12 figures Life Expectancy among people aged 65+, looking at such things as the very signficant gender divide that persists into the 80 and 90 years age brackets.

Changes to child maintenance policy adds insult to injury to victims of domestic violence

Shocking strap line from a recent Guardian article - worth passing on! Broad support for the radical feminist view that the government isn’t really interested in putting up money to actually support victims of domestic violence – also relevant also a nice case study below to remind you how domestic violence victims who have had children with an abusive partner may well end up remaining a victim of abuse even after leaving said partner – Just to summarise briefly from this grim article –

NB – Child Maintenance is what the absent parent pays the ‘primary care’ parent towards the cost of child care.

The proposed policy changes

The idea is to change the policy surrouding what happens when one ‘absent parent’ refuses to pay… it’s proposed that the government now charge the resident parent for chasing the absent one for money: £100 if you’re in work, £50 if you’re on benefits.

This sum could be paid repeatedly: if the non-resident parent stopped paying for any reason, such as changing jobs or changing bank accounts. This happens all the time; the kind of parent who can’t make an amicable agreement and has to be chased by the CSA will often cease maintenance if they find out their ex has done something frivolous, like bought shoes, and the whole process has to start all over again.

Problems with the proposed changes

50% of lone parents exist below the poverty line (50%) and £50 is a lot of money for someone in that situation to find (probably meaning a choice between eating or having gas and electricity for a week).

It is proposed that lone parents who were the victims of domestic violence. are to have their upfront fee waived, but they would still have to pay a percentage – 12% is on the table – of their maintenance payments back to the government.

The idea behind the policy is to encourage parents who have split to sort out privately who pays what for the children, rather than relying on the CSA – the problem is of course, that victims of DV are not exactly in a position to do this are they! As the article goes on to say…

Women are at more risk from a violent partner when they’ve split up from him. Plus, it’s quite rare to find an abuser with a completely normal, equitable relationship with money.

As on DV victim points out “They’ll try to buy you back after the abuse, so they’ll suddenly be showering you with luxury items. Or they’ll try to buy the kids, to turn them against you.”

Another adds, “One year, my ex arrived, and said ‘I’ll take you out and buy presents, but only if Mam comes.’ So I had to go, and he bought everything. Toy Story had just come out, he bought everything you can imagine. Then, a month before Christmas, he turned up on the doorstep and said he wanted everything back.”

So here is another, very bleak example of how some of the most vulnerable women could bear the costs of the public sector cuts in coming years.

So for the sake of the victims of domestic viollence – We’ve got to get these Patriarchal Tory Millionnaires out!

NB – This is also a pretty good case for not having kids.

Where have all the Criminologists gone?

A whole host of pundits, journalists and bloggers have chipped in with their views on the causes of the UK Riots, while The Guardian is doing an excellent job of tracking the state’s response, but where is the commentary from professional sociologists and criminologists? There seems to be a lack of empirically and theoretically informed analysis coming from the professionals in these fields.

I find this annoying – because there are a lot of criminological and sociological researchers out there who have a lot of empirical knowledge they could bring to the debate, but on the whole I haven’t heard that much commentary on the riots from the professionals who are still, as it stands, primarily publicly funded.

In fairness, some sociological commentators have chipped in – Zygmunt Bauman has offered us his critical account of the underlying causes – unsurprisingly telling us it’s all abut the fact that post-modern Capitalism calls on us to limit our reflexive-projects of identity construction to the sphere of consumption rather than politics and production, and David Harvey, although more of a Marxist Geographer, has also penned an account of the relationship between the crisis in late capitalism and the riots.

But where are  the actual criminologists – where are their contributions?

Well probably the best specific online criminology blog is the Bent Society Blog – (the link is to their category –  riots), and I suspect that most of these posts are written by Mike Sutton –  This post makes some sensible observations about the actual role of new media in reducing street- crime overall but leading to increasing spikes of copy cat incidences. Richard Wilkinson, co- author of the spirit level has also ‘come out’ and highlighted the link between high levels of inequality and increasing violence

But what about other Criminologists and Sociologists -such as the serious ‘theory generators’ such as  Jock Young, one of the leading Criminologists in the country and author of the ‘Vertigo of Late Modernity’ – nothing? Stephen Lyng – who developed the theory of Edge Work?

And what about the other professional criminologists working on the ground – there are hundreds of them in the country – where are you in this debate and why aren’t you contributing, surely those criminologists working in the field of youth criminality, surely they could  spare an hour to help fill the knowledge-gap that exists over this issue with some informed, evidenced based insight and perspective.

I mean I am not expecting full blown ‘I have all the answers’ contributions, but at least critical responses to  ideological accounts of the causes of the riots being given by the Tories that provide us with links to evidence that warn us off such simplistic analysis – along the lines of what this post from the JRF does…. I know the research is out there – so why aren’t people that know the same as I do, but know it better, and get paid more than me, and are better practised at articulating themselves, why don’t they contribute to this important debate?

It may be that Professional Criminologists are just too busy, but a few comments shouldn’t take that long; it may be that the issues are too complex, but then they can always be broken down (communicating as well as generating knowledge is in the job description, right?)

It may be that the media just isn’t asking – and I can believe this of the BBC – but not of the Guardian, and then there’s always social- media – professionals don’t have to wait to get their research to a wider audience these days.

Or could it be that criminology is just part of the system and that critical criminology is just dead in the water? Could it be that Universities put pressure on their staff to not to contribute to current debates for fear of  political reprisals and it’s only the really big names who are retired or in a position to be able to retire who can was political?

Or maybe it’s just pure old self-interest – it’s their knowledge and their damn well only giving it to those precious few people who can afford to pay for it?

As a final note I can’t accept that Universities don’t allow this knowledge to be disseminated in watered down form via the media – if this were the case we wouldn’t have programmes such as the excellent thinking allowed by Radio Four.

So can someone please tell me, in the case of the debate over the UK riots, where have all the Criminologists gone?

P.S. I fully accept I may have missed something – this is a genuine call for info. – If anyone knows of links to material that is not journalistic, please let me have them!

Longitudinal studies show a clear relationship between educational disadvantage and long term ‘wage scarring’

The ESRC has got some really nice links to recent Longitudinal Studies [1]. What these studies suggest is that there are links between Vocational Education not benefitting students at the bottom of the social ladder and their future poverty – whether they end up in work or not! The study looks at youths from the 1991 birth cohort, so it includes people who would have been exposed to a similar education system to some of those rioting last week.

I’m particularly struck by this very brief summary of the The Wolf Report (2010) – An independent review of Vocational Education commissioned by the sectretary of state – to summarise some of what’s in the study

The review drew on research evidence including data from the 1958, 1970 and 1991 birth cohort studies in order to examine the relationship between educational achievement, aspiration and access to jobs. Research showed that many 16-and 17-year-olds move in and out of education and short-term employment, without progressing successfully into secure employment or higher-level education and training. The report also concluded that many of the vocational qualifications on offer are of little value in the labour market, with an estimated minimum of 350,000 people getting little to no benefit from the post-16 education system.

The report goes onto say that the Government accepted that there were failings in its education system and that it has gone on to make some changes – such as improving early years intervention.

Another Longitudinal study using data from the National Child Development Survey that looked at the relationship between youth unemployment and future wages finds that –

‘Male youth unemployment has an impact on wages up to 20 years later. There is a large (13-21 per cent) and significant wage penalty at age 42 for being unemployed for over a year between age 16 and 23.’

So when looking at the riots I wonder if the the government will accept its own research that says its education system has let down 350 000 people at the bottom – Even if there were jobs for all of those people – the education they’ve received is unecessary for the type of jobs they are likely to go into – and even if they do end up in work, they face a future of in-work poverty!

[1] A longitudinal study tracks a sample of people over long periods of time -often many decades -in order to reveal developmental trends across generations.




Cost of different types of fraud to the UK economy

I just knocked up this little bar chart based on data from this article  by Polly Toynbee

I think it illustrates quite nicely how benefit fraud really isn’t a problem in the grand scheme of things. Given that fewer people commit financial fraud than benefit fraud (the amounts are larger in the former) surely on a pragmatic level, it would be easier for the political parties and the press to go after the tax avoiders and the financial sector fraudsters than the benefit cheats, but then again, they’re the ones who donate to the political classes, aren’t they now, whereas the underclass, well they’re just all a bunch of feral scum.


The main ’causes’ of class differences in educational achievement

A recent report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation argues that early intervention is not enough to tackle the persistent differences in class inequalities in educational achievement – The report is a follow up to earlier research published March last year which is summarised below

This four page summary (and the longer document which you can get if you follow the links) is an excellent example of a quantitative approach to social research – in the tradition of Positivism (although strictly speaking, not purely Positivist). NB IF THE IMAGES AREN’T CLEAR JUST CLICK ON THEM! I’ve spent way too long faffing about with them already.

 This study uses statistical data from four longitudinal studies  to uncover the main ‘causal factors’ behind why children from low income backgrounds do so badly in education.

Before we get onto the ’causes’ please note that ‘educational achievement gap’ between the social classes widens as children get older. The study notes that – 

The research showed that educational deficits emerge early in children’s lives, even before entry into school, and widen throughout childhood. Even by the age of three there is a considerable gap in cognitive test scores between children in the poorest fifth of the population compared with those from better-off backgrounds. This gap widens as children enter and move through the schooling system, especially during primary school years.

The report demonstrates this graphically as follows -

Differences in 'cognitive ability' by income and age
Differences in 'cognitive ability' by income and age


And you can see from the table below how the differences are greater by ages 7 and 11…


According to the study The main ’causes’ of class differences in educational achievement are -

  • Children from poorer backgrounds are much less likely to experience a rich home learning environment than children from better-off backgrounds. At age three, for example, reading to the child is less likely to happen in poorer households.  

Reasons for the widening gap between children from richer and poorer backgrounds are:

  • lower parental aspirations for higher education – (81% of the richest mothers hope their child at age 9 will go to university, compared to only 39% of the poorest mothers)
  • how far parents and children believe their own actions can affecttheir lives;
  • children’s behavioural problems.

• It becomes harder to reverse patterns of under-achievement by the teenage years, but disadvantage and poor school results continue to be linked, including through:

  • - teenagers’ and parents’ expectations for higher education
  • material resources such as access to a computer and the internet at home;
  •  engagement in anti-social behaviour;
  • and young people’s belief in their own ability at school.


What’s interesting is the way the stats visually display the multiple disadvantages people from low incomes face – for example -


Probably my favourite graphic of all is this – which is hopefully at least partially self explanatory
untitled7If it’s not clear from the graphic – this is saying that family background is correlated with  two thirds of the differnce in cognitive ability between the richest and poorest children aged three.
Overall, the main message of this study – that home background and parental aspiration matter a lot when it comes to explaining class differences in educational achievement.
The study also mentions that there are certain policy implications that need to be followed through if the government wishes to address these issues, which are further explored in this more recent document published a few days ago.  


Ed Miliband – Influenced by Zygmunt Bauman?

Much to my delight I just stumbled across this article in the Guardian. Turns out that the new labour leader Ed Miliband is good friends with Bauman! I feel like I should have known this before somehow… Some good news on which to end the week!

All I’ve done below is cut and paste a few highlights – it’s late sorry!

Bauman and Milliband – the relationship

Bauman says he was “encouraged by Miliband’s first speech as leader to the Labour party conference, saying that it offered a chance to “resurrect” the left on a moral basis.

“Particularly promising for me was Ed’s vision of community. His sensitivity to the plight of the underdog, his awareness that the quality of society and the cohesion of community need to be measured not by totals and averages but by the wellbeing of the weakest sections,” says Bauman. “There seems to be a chance that under his leadership Labour will rediscover its own ground and recover its own feet.”

Bauman and the Milibands have history. Ed’s father, Ralph, and Bauman became close friends in the 1950s when both spent time at the London School of Economics (LSE). Both were leftwing sociologists of Polish-Jewish descent.

Ralph Miliband’s decision in 1972 to join the politics department at Leeds university, where Bauman taught sociology, that proved pivotal to their relationship. Bauman’s house in Leeds became a regular stop for the Miliband boys. Ed and David grew up watching the two academics discuss the future of the left.

A useful, very brief summary of Bauman’s basic world view -

Underlying his theory is the idea that systems make individuals, not the other way round. He says it does not matter whether one is dealing with Communism or consumerism, states want to control their public and reproduce their elites. But in place of totalitarian rule, western society looks to scare and entice by manufacturing public panics and seducing people with shopping. Bauman’s work today focuses on this transition to a nation of consumers, unconsciously disciplined to work endlessly. Those who do not conform, says Bauman, become labelled “human waste” and written off as flawed members of society.

And what is Sociology according to Bauman?

“The task for sociology is to come to the help of the individual. We have to be in service of freedom. It is something we have lost sight of,” he says.

While I’m on the Bauman theme – here a couple of good posts from the Global Sociology Blog on Bauman – one on the economic crisis - a nice short summary, and the other on ‘liquid fear’

Thinking Allowed – White Collar Crime

The link below will take you to the ‘Thinking Allowed’ archive for Crime and Deviance – if you scroll down you will find three programmes on ‘White Collar Crime’ – The programmes look at the culture, practice and prosecution of white collar crime, with Laurie speaking to leading academic experts and professionals on both sides of the law.

A summary of these three programmes can be found at 

(see says:

You should listen to these programmes for yourselves. Some of the key findings are as follows –


Point 1 – Evidence that Corporate Crime is harmful

Criminologist Garry Slapper, argues that Corporate and white collar crime cause considerable harm

Some dreadful deaths happen as a result of corporate negligence – Workers have been buried alive, eloctocuted, fallen into vats of chemicals. However,  breaches of health and safety law are often considered to be ‘not really crime’ (Croal). Those who commit the corporate crimes which maim and kill are hidden from view.

Steph Tombs and Dave White – criticise the lack of moral compulsion. Base line figure – HS executive – about 200 people die each year, 500-600 if you dig into it, max estimate is that up to 50 000 die each year because of a result of exposure to substances at work

At one point the programme interviews an accountant called John who worked for a local authority and who illeagally siphoned £360 000 from client’s accounts over a four year period. This amount barely registers compared to other Frauds, but £360 000 would make the top ten list of amounts stolen in face to face robberies.  

Mark Levi assesses the amount of damage done by fraud – (despite the obvious problems) – a conservative estimate was that it costs the UK economy £11.5 billion – £20 billion if one includes income tax fraud -2005 figures.

Former senior police officers who worked on White Collar Crime – argue that unreported white collar crime represents a ‘serious economic attack on the country’

A city insider argues that systemic fraud is built into the very structure of a market place (think big city stock broking firms.) He argues that many at the top of these companies are fuelled on cocaine and  points out that you only reach these organisations by being dominating – and once you get to the top, you will do what is necessary to stay there – if Fraud is necessary you will commit Fraud.

He argues that city types justify their crimes by talking of ‘being in a war’ with other companies, or being in ‘a battle of survival’ he also argues that they talk in aggressive macho language – when taking over other companies – ‘ we’ve got to bust or rape that company’



Point 2 – White Collar and Corporate Crimes have a very low prosecution and clear up rate

Q – The clear up rate – the proportion of detected fraud is 5% – why so low???

Reason 1 – While the opportunities for fraud have increased exponentially because of the growth of the internet. You don’t have to look far to witness them – the Nigerian Government fraud squads have been stripped and declined over the last ten to fifteen years

Reason 2 – Garry Slapper – argues these agencies are too under resourced to actually regulate let alone prosecute –  there is 1 building inspector for every 3000 building sites

Reason 3 – There is also a culture of negligence towards crime and fraud prevention – The Financial Services Authority or the Health and Safety Authority (who are the bodies who prosecute corporate and financial criminals) do not see the same moral compulsion to prosecute as ordinary Police Officers tackling Gun Crime.

70% of deaths at work are caused by violation of law – the average fine for a worker death is about  £50 000 even where you cans show where the director of a company is responsible

Record Health and Safety fine was in Runcorn in the NW against ICI – due to a mercury leek – £300 000 fine, -0.1% of profit for that year.

HSE –46% decline in Health and Safety Prosecutions over the last 6 years, even though the number of deaths and accidents have remained roughly the same.

Very complex array of agencies – and it is easy to defend against, also used to

Corporate Manslaughter act (2008) should make this easier.