Tag Archives: Education

The extent of material deprivation in the UK

One of the things you have to consider as part of the Education module in AS Sociology is the extent to which material deprivation is responsible for differential educational achievement (mainly) by social class. This concept is also relevant to the A2 crime module, and one of the most important in Sociology in general.

Material deprivation* refers to the inability to afford basic resources and services such as sufficient food and heating. The government’s material deprivation rate measures the proportion of the population that cannot afford at least four of the following items:

  1. To pay their rent, mortgage, utility bills or loan repayments,
  2. To keep their home adequately warm,
  3. To face unexpected financial expenses,
  4. To eat meat or protein regularly,
  5. To go on holiday for a week once a year,
  6. A television set,
  7. A washing machine,
  8. A car,
  9. A telephone.

As can be seen from the statistics below, the number of people suffering from ‘severe’ material deprivation has remained stable in recent years, but the numbers of people struggling to pay for holidays and meet emergency expenses has increased. Percentage of population unable to afford items, UK 2005-2011

I thought it might be interesting to see the extent of material deprivation among students/ readers (NB this is just a test poll for now!)


Something Extra… *A fuller definition is provided by the The OECD which defines Material deprivation as ‘the inability for individuals or households to afford those consumption goods and activities that are typical in a society at a given point in time, irrespective of people’s preferences with respect to these items.’ It’s work noting at this point that this is a relative rather than an absolute measurement of poverty.

Female PhDs 3* less likely to become professors than male Phds

Across Europe 45 per cent of PhDs are done by women, yet 20 per cent of male academics are top-grade professors while the corresponding rate for women is only 7 per cent.

This article in The Times HE supplement makes the arguement that women are not assertive enough to put themselves forwards for such positions, falling into the quiet ‘good girl’ syndrome, while men in universities suffer from the ‘Moses syndrome’ – speaking very assertively without arguement.

Another factor could be straight forward sexism – it’s mainly male panels who appoint professors after all!

Classroom Warriors – Uncritical citizens

size0-army.mil-93640-2010-12-03-021226Panorama examines government plans to send in the troops to Britain’s troubled classrooms.

The plan here is to encourage ex service men to retrain as teachers. The premise of the plan is that there are too many schools in which disruptive troublemakers are driving teachers to breaking point while other students miss out on a decent education as the ethos of those schools is ruined. The main question asked is whether troops can help restore discipline, leadership and respect in schools.

The programme seemed to spend most of its time focussing on the pros of getting ex military personnel into schools to instil a sense of ‘black and white’ military discipline.

The show starts off by looking at one inner city school where a handful of ex military turned teachers have managed to turn things around, and also makes a big deal out of the success in the USA where around 15 thousand ex-military personnel have become teachers and done their bit in some of America’s toughest inner-city schools. Apparently ex military stay on in tough schools for twice as long as regular teachers and get their students better maths and English qualifications.

To my mind this is yet another example of the BBC engaging in uncritical, right leaning journalism – the show was probably put together by ex public school boys who no doubt had fond memories of the cadet core at their fee paying independent schools.

Michael Gove - Who needs spitting image!
Michael Gove - Who needs spitting image!

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to criticise ex military for doing a better than average job for pupils in poor areas – no doubt there is a better chance of them developing rapport with these children because, unlike your typical middle class teacher, they will share a similar background. Also I’m all for self discipline – I really am! I think it is crucial for students to learn this and, honestly, I think the self- discipline the military teaches is great for individuals, but there are a whole load of potential problems with Weasel Gove’s plans to get troops into schools.

The first problem is that the style of discipline you get with the military is a ”do as I say without questioning’ kind of discipline.  Now I’m less cynical than Leo Strauss – I don’t believe that 80% of the population are an unthinking heard who need to be controlled – but this policy smells of this idea – these kids, from the government’s point of view, don’t need to be able to think critically – they need to be taught obedience – great for social control and bad for those individuals.

Secondly, this programme does nothing whatsoever to address the underlying problems that cause discipline problems in schools in the first place – ie inequality, poverty, relative deprivation, social exclusion. While doing military drills may give disadvantaged children a sense of pride and identity in the short term – and improve their results – what are they actually going to do with their slightly better yet still way below average GCSEs – the government’s tax cuts are driving down the economy.

Thirdly, it will encourage more children to sign up for the military – at the end of the day anyone who joins the armed forces is basically signing up to engage in state legitimated violence – violence which has traditionally been conducted to serve British business interests (Oil in Iraq for example).

Fourthly – and this really concerns me – the government is clearly running this country in the interests of the top 5% – yet this seems to be a ploy to generate a sense of national pride amongst the bottom 5% – who could be put to use t control members  middle 90% who end up rioting against the government in years to come.

Fifthly, this is just a cynical attempt by the government to save money and save face – cut spending to the military – and pay for them to do cheapo degrees in 2 years or create new roles for them in schools as ‘mentors’.

Weasel Gove sees this idea as being a shining example of the spirit of the Big Society. For the reasons outlined above I see it as another example of an ex public school boy totally out of touch with reality.

Education and ethnicity at Oxford and Cambridge

Matthew Benjamin, 28, who studied geography at Jesus College, Oxford, said: “I was very aware that I was the only black student in my year at my college. I was never made to feel out of place, but it was certainly something I was conscious of.

“When I arrived and they wanted to do a prospectus, and have some students on the cover, they chose me, and one other Asian guy and another guy from Thailand. It was clear they wanted to project this image of somewhere that was quite diverse. The reality was very different – there were three [minority] ethnic students in a year.

“On open days, some black kids would see me and say ‘you’re the only black person we’ve seen here – is it even worth us applying?'”

Old News by now – but worth noting! -from the Guardian in early December 2010

What initially appears to be a bleak portrait of racial and social exclusion at Oxford and Cambridge seems not to be the case on closer inspection of the statistics.

The Guardian recently reported that official data shows that more than 20 Oxbridge colleges made no offers to black candidates for undergraduate courses last year and one Oxford college has not admitted a single black student in five years. The university’s admissions data confirms that only one black Briton of Caribbean descent was accepted for undergraduate study at Oxford last year.

Initially things appear to be quite bleak –

“Of the black Caribbean students getting straight As at A-level, the vast majority apply to Oxbridge…. those who do choose to apply have a much lower success rate [than white applicants]. One in five in comparison with one in three for white students. That doesn’t seem to have shifted for the last 15 years.”

However, the most selective universities argue that poor attainment at school level narrows the pool from which candidates can be drawn. But black candidates are more likely to apply to elite universities. In 2009, more than 29,000 white students got three As or better at A-level (excluding general studies) and about 28.4% applied to Oxford; while 452 black students got three As or better, and nearly half applied to Oxford.

A spokeswoman for Oxford said: “Black students apply disproportionately for the most oversubscribed subjects, contributing to a lower than average success rate for the group as a whole: 44% of all black applicants apply for Oxford’s three most oversubscribed subjects, compared with just 17% of all white applicants. That means nearly half of black applicants are applying for the same three subjects … the three toughest subjects to get places in. Those subjects are economics and management, medicine, and maths.with 7% of white applicants. This goes a very long way towards explaining the group’s overall lower success rate.”

This is the interesting thing about African Caribbean apsiration in the United Kingdom – despite achieving worse GCSE results as a group compared to white, Indian and Chinese children, African-Caribbean children are actually more likely to stay onto do A levels, and more likely to apply to high end universities than white children – where they then experience discrimination?

Social Class background is a far better predictor of who will do well at school and then go onto university in the UK – despite the fact that our political spin doctors seem to think that class matters – the stats on social mobility suggest that class is pretty entrenched!

Clegg argues tuition fees will raise social mobility

Karl argues – Clegg’s full of s**t

Social mobility measures the degree to which people’s social status changes between generations. If social mobility exists it suggests that individuals are not being advantaged or disadvantaged by their class, gender or ethnic background.  

Now for most ordinary people – education is the key to social mobility -it’s not the only way of rising up the social status ladder, obviously – but a good education – GCSEs – A levels – Degree – tends to be equated with going on to getting a good job – as a general rule.

Furthermore most people would argue that the idea of social mobility – the idea that even someone from the poorest background can get a decent education and achieve highly – is good – it is obviously good for the individual rising up, but also good for society as a whole – and good because social mobility equates with fairness and justice – it shows that people can achieve on their own merits rather than people achieving based on who their parents are or how much money their parents have.

Nick Clegg insists the tuition fees package will make universities “more effective engines of social mobility” and that the policy will “stand the test of time”. Some of the measures to help those from disadvantaged backgrounds include –

  • Scholarships of up to two years’ tuition for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and delayed repayment of fees until graduates are earning £21,000.
  • There is a £150m national scholarship fund which would help the poorest applicants, and there are tougher access requirements for institutions charging up to the £9,000 fees cap would open the doors of the best universities to a wider mix.
  • Universities charging more than £6,000 in fees would be required to give a second year free to poorer students.

However, the thinktank Million+ calculated the scholarship scheme mentioned above could fund 8,333 students at £6,000 a year, or 6,944 at £7,200 a year. If fees were £9,000 a year, it would fund 5,555. Yet figures show that of the students graduating last year, there were 10,670 who had been in receipt of free school meals.

So what do you think – will increasing tuition fees increase social mobility? Personally this arguement makes no sense to me whatsover! But then again Clegg is a desperate politician – I can smell the desperation.. and something else too…..

Raising tuition fees – bad for democracy and meritocracy

You would expect this survey by the NUS to report that adults are against the increase in tuition fees, but the findings are back up by the results of two other surveys I found –

According to this online survey of a representative sample of 2,001 British adults, 70 per cent of respondents oppose the increase in the level of fees which Universities can charge students to take their courses. Only 23 per cent of Britons support the change.

Seven-in-ten respondents (71%) think the maximum cap of £9,000 per year is too high, and 57 per cent believe that the change in tuition fees will ultimately discourage students from economically poorer backgrounds from attending University.

According to this Ipsos MORI survey published by the Sutton Trust eight in ten (80%) of the pupils aged 11-16 at schools in England and Wales said they were either ‘very likely’ (39%) or ‘fairly likely’ (41%) to go into higher education.

The 2,700 survey respondents were asked for the first time this year to rate their likelihood of attending university if tuition fees were raised. More than two-thirds (68%) said they would still be likely to go on to higher education if fees were increased to £5,000. But only 45% would be likely to continue to university if fees were raised to £7,000 – and this percentage falls to 26% with a major hike up to £10,000.

So all in all Thursday was a bleak day for democracy – especially keeping in mind that the only party that was orginally for raising tuiution fees so drastically was the Conservative Party – and they only got one third of the popular vote in the last election.

No wonder people are angry!

Oh I’ll blog on the meritocracy thing later – lots of evidence to pull together on that little number!

Sociology on TV – Free schools

Watched an interesting documentary about a journalist and his middle class associate’s attempt to establish a ‘free school’ in West London. Their plans have been agreed by the Department for Education and theirs will be one of the first 16 Free Schools to be established in the UK – to be up and running by September 2011. 

 Their hearts seemed to be in the right place – they wanted an open access school where children of all backgrounds and abilities could go – but there was signigificant opposition to this group of middle class parents setting up their own school – mainly focussing around the concern that  this school will turn into a mainly white middle class enclave.

Personally I think that the strength of reaction against free schools are because these people see how unfair it is – the middle classes have always managed to make the system work in their interests – they did it with grammar schools, and marketisation – andnow  this free school system gives parents, who will typically be middle class becuase of their greater cultural capital, even more power to shape the system in their interests to an even greater extent.

However, the  West London Free School defends itself against these claims and you might like to watch Michael Gove, the education secretary outlinng the case case for free schools and you can find out more about free schools at the government’s web site

Personally, my judgement thus far is as follows

– I believe that some of the founder members of the West London Free School genuinly believe in setting up an open access school to children of all class backgrounds – but this won’t actually end up happenning – their self interest will get the better of them – and self interest will mean keeping the school middle class.

As to the Micheal Gove – he is both a Tory and a politician – two very good reasons to not believe anything he says.  The only reason I recommend you listen to his speach is so you can analyse how far Tory education practise strays from this vision (which is a lie – we may as well say it like it is).

Latest stats on class inequality in oxbridge admissions

Of 80,000 15-year-olds who’d been on free school meals in 2002, only 45 had made it to Oxbridge- compared to the high-end private Westminster school which averages 82 successful applicants every year.

Talk of class is not exactly guaranteed to put Oxford and Cambridge’s admissions people at their ease. For 2008-9, their government target for state-schools intake was almost 70%. Oxford came in at 54.7%, while Cambridge managed 59.4%.

See http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2010/sep/18/oxford-cambridge-university-free-meals

Web Site of the Week – The Bristol Centre for Market and Public Organisation

I was just clearing up my desktop and stumbled across a document with a link to this organsiation – The Bristol Centre for Market and Public Organisation funded by the ESRC – they do podcasts! (one day soon that won’t seem like such a novelty).

The things they research are of direct relevance to the AS family and education modules, research methods and A2 social policy – See also the link below for details of research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation that forms the background of this research project

http://www.bristol.ac.uk/cmpo/publications/other/jrf.pdf (2009)

Some of the key points –

The poorest fifth of children score, on average, 14 percentile points lower than the middle fifth of children in Key Stage 2 tests at age 11, and 31 percentile points lower than the richest fifth.

Lack of economic resources is not the only thing that matters for disadvantaged children. Together the levels of parental education, demographic characteristics like family size and structure, and the characteristics of the schools attended by the poorest fifth can explain 60 to 70% of their educational deficits at Key Stage 2.

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?