Why do working class children do worse than middle class children in education? This post looks at some quantitative, longitudinal data to explore why.
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 –
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 –
If it’s not clear from the graphic – this is saying that family background is correlated with two thirds of the difference 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, but of course just because some research suggest certain courses of action, it doesn’t necessarily mean the government will adopt those courses of action, because of funding constraints, or ideological biases.
Sociology and Social Policy