THE BLOG
19/02/2016 12:07 GMT | Updated 16/02/2017 05:12 GMT

Why Education Is Failing the Working Class

The government has recently imposed new rules on universities to work more closely with schools in poorer areas, targeting white working-class boys in particular in a bid to get them into higher education. But can this really get past the social elite class system in the UK?

The government has recently imposed new rules on universities to work more closely with schools in poorer areas, targeting white working-class boys in particular in a bid to get them into higher education.

But can this really get past the social elite class system in the UK?

When I talk about the class system in the UK most tell me I am crazy, out of date and talking about something that no longer exists, but I beg to differ.

You see, being brought up "Up North", the class system always appeared to be around me, from being in the middle of the miners' strike in the 80's to me trying to claw my way out of Scunthorpe to make something of my life. When I moved to London I was too "Northern" and when I moved back to Scunthorpe I was too "Southern".

I never felt I really belonged. As a child I always felt I was cheated, not given the opportunities that my upper class counterparts had. Going to catering college for me was a real attempt to better myself; for a lot of my colleagues it was just something to do so Daddy got off their back. In the police, I cursed as the Cambridge grads were shifted ahead of me in the promotion ladder while I had to work hard. It always felt so unfair until recently, something I read in The Outliers really got me thinking about this, and in the current climate, it is very pertinent.

What if the real reason education is failing the working class is not just the burden of universities?

What if the real issue is to do with two phrases Gladwell unpacks so well in his book; cultural legacy and constructive cultivation?

Cultural legacy is the legacy we carry from previous generations. For me, growing up in Scunthorpe, a steel town in the 70's and 80's, I was always up against my cultural legacy. I was a working class, northern girl and our job was to bring up a family. You didn't have lofty goals and you sure as hell didn't dream of Oxbridge.

My cultural legacy was set up for me not to succeed. It was not evident to me then, but now when I think about it, in every decision I made my cultural legacy had an impact, I cannot go to that college as all the posh kids go there, I cannot take A levels, that is for intelligent kids, I cannot go out with that boy - look at the size of his house, I cannot go for that job, they will all look down on me. That is why I looked at the kids at Cambridge with disgust - I was mad, mad that they got the breaks as I saw it. And they did get the breaks; Cambridge, the good job, the wealthy lifestyle - well, it was all part of the package.

Constructive cultivation is what middle and upper class parents do with their children to help them on in life. They push, have high expectations, enrol them in extra classes, ask about homework and attend Parent Teacher Association meetings. Children from the lower social classes tend to not get as much encouragement and the long summer holidays often see these children falling behind without any extra curricula activities. The Kipp Project in America has seen the performance of failing school students turned around by challenging cultural legacy and giving poorer children the constructive cultivation they need inside the school system.

What if we stopped putting the entire burden on universities and started asking some bigger questions about working class youth.

Questions such as:

1. What assumptions are we making that may not be true?

2. What systems are we using that may not work for the working class teenagers?

3. Are we willing to accept and challenge cultural legacy, even if that means changing the way working class teenagers are taught?

4. If parents are not cultivating their children, then how should we step in to take on that role?

Until we accept in this country that the class system is having an impact on education choices later in life and face it head on and challenge it, then nothing will ever change. Do you think the teachers look on their students in Haringey, thinking they will all go to Cambridge and Oxford - bet your life they don't and what about Eton - bet your life they do.

We must see raising expectations of young people as everyone's responsibility and not just expect the universities to deal alone with what is clearly a societal issue.