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Why Are White Working Class Boys Not Going to University?

27/07/2016 13:36 | Updated 27 July 2016

A recent report by LKMco, a think tank based in London, and Kings College London has revealed that celebrities that achieve success without higher education under their belt are putting white working class boys off attending university. Business leaders such as Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson and Lord Sugar either didn't complete or attend university. According to the education-focussed think tank, these boys feel empowered to be part of the anomaly that achieves incomparable success without the higher education experience.

This is, obviously, a concern. Firstly, Mark Zuckerberg, as an example, took absence from Harvard. Harvard. The work that he will have put in in school to access such an esteemed university will have been extraordinary - so this discounts any reason to have an attitude that is geared towards a different route. Second, Mark Zuckerberg comes from a white, middle class background and so, perhaps, experienced less financial risk as a result of leaving Harvard to pursue the Facebook dream. Whilst most people are able to be discerning when they hear tales of extraordinary success in these circumstances, young people often see the glamourised version of success and aren't privy to the truth behind it.

This is completely understandable. White working class boys, who are one of the lowest achieving socio-economic groups, will have limited access to role models who will dispel myths and give them critical advice relevant to their futures. Careers education, especially, in rural towns will fail these students the most. If your academic decisions are gleaned from #richkidsofinstagram because you have few other contributors, the results of this study are unsurprising.

Fortunately, strides are being made to provide students with role models to improve decisions around employability and university access. The dearth of pupils' access to successful business leaders is being addressed by London-based charity Founders4Schools. The charity which was founded by serial entrepreneur Sherry Coutu CBE allows teachers to - for free - organise role model events in their schools where business leaders come to schools to inspire young people and help them make pragmatic and informed decisions about their careers.

As a fortunate recipient of many Founders4Schools events, I can attest to the positive impact that these events have on students' aspirations. Aspirations that feel inaccessible are quickly tossed aside and Founders4Schools events have remedied the feeling that success against the odds is unachievable. Access to aspiration-building or solidifying experiences are critical to students and their motivations for success, whatever the destination.

Further to this, the Brilliant Club places PhD students in non-selective state schools to promote fairer access to highly-selective universities. Many white working class boys may be the first person in their family to be going to university and so may not have access to the knowledge or anecdotes of experiences when there. This is a further barrier to university access for these students. The Brilliant Club closes the knowledge gap and gives students the power of choice; a choice they didn't realise they had.

The LKMco report reveals a scary reality that the decisions students are making are inspired by the anomalistic successes of the rich and famous. The exponential rise in social media and the success achieved by those who spearhead those mediums is distracting students from their own ambitions. What students need is access to more advice from leaders who will ground students', perhaps unrealistic, expectations of success. We are fortunate to see an emergence of charities and enterprises to address this gap in access including some which are mentoring white working class boys on their academic career, such as ReachOut and Teach First's 'Futures' programme. I'm also certain that these celebrities would encourage our pupils to make informed choices that will give them the best chance in life - let them speak up more too.

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