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New research finds Grammar Schools provide equality of opportunity, and they’re good for social mobility

A recent paper by the Higher Eduction Policy Institute found that 45% of pupils at selective schools come from households with below median income, which suggests a very ‘fair intake’ across the social class spectrum.

45% of pupils selected to grammar schools come from the poorest 50% of households, which suggests that children from the poorest 50% of households have a near equal chance of being selected to a grammar school compared to the wealthiest 50%.

The chances of being selected aren’t quite equal, but once you factor in all of the ‘objective’ material deprivation related barriers to education which children from low income households face, then this seems to suggest that grammar schools are doing a pretty good job of providing equality of educational opportunity where household income is concerned.

It’s more common to look at selection in relation to Free School Meal (FSM) households, which represent the bottom 15% of households by income. By this measure, only 3% of pupils on Free School Meals get into grammar schools.

Grammar schools are also good for social mobility 

The report also looked at the chances of grammar school educated children getting into highly selective universities (defined as the top 1/3rd by academic performance, not the ‘Russel Group’) compared to children in non-selective (or just regular comprehensive) schools.

It found that: 

  • 39% of pupils in selective school areas progress to highly-selective universities, compared to only 23% in comprehensive areas (so nearly twice as likely)
  • 3% of selectively educated pupils get into Oxford or Cambridge compared to only 1% from regular state schools.
  • a state school pupil with a BME background is more than five times as likely to progress to Oxbridge if they live in a selective area rather than a non-selective area.

grammar schools social mobility

The report also looked at other things and made some policy recommendations. Check it out at the link above!

limitations of the study 

NB – the stats immediately above are NOT looking at how well the bottom 50% of students by household income do, they are looking at all students from state and grammar schools. The study makes something of a leap of faith and assumes that ‘because 45% of students at grammar schools are from the poorest 50% of households then these have exactly the same chance of getting into a good university as students from the top 50% of households’.

This may not be the case if we isolate out the bottom two quintiles. Interestingly the report says the DFE were not prepared to release this data!

Relevance to A Level Sociology 

This is obviously of relevance to the education aspect of the syllabus, but also research methods (handily they’re combined in paper 1!).

This is one of the very few pieces of supporting evidence for the view that selective education promotes equality of opportunity and social mobility. As such it is evidence against the Marxist perspective on education and against cultural capital theory.

Also, if it is only grammar schools (rather than comprehensive schools) that are doing this, then it is a good argument for expanding selective education as the Tories want to do.

It’s also an important illustration of how measuring a concept differently gives you different results – if looked at by Free School Meals, it looks like grammar schools are not providing equality of educational opportunity, but if you use wider income categories and compare the bottom 50% with the top 50% then they appear to be doing so. And if you look at how well the poorest 40% do (rather than the poorest 15% on FSM), they also allow for social mobility. NB – this would be a great analysis point in any sociology essay on this topic.

 

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Social Mobility: Start Poor, Stay Poor?

In July 2016 Theresa May gave a speech on the steps of Downing Street in which she proposed to build a ‘country that works for every one of us’ and not just for the ‘privileged few’.

Theresa May.jpg

Seventeen months on, the board of the body charged with boosting social mobility resigned en masse, in a stunning rebuke to the PM, in protest at her failure to do more for people trapped in poverty. (1)

The chairman of the Social Mobility Commission, Alan Milburn, accused the government of being so preoccupied with Brexit that were failing to address the poverty and lack of mobility that led so many people in poorer areas to vote for it in the first place!

Earlier, the commission’s report had identified 65 social mobility cold spots, of which 60 had voted to leave the EU.

400, 000 more children have fallen into poverty since 2012 to 2013, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which is a direct effect of Tory benefit cuts: when you are suffering material deprivation and having to do your homework in cramped conditions then it puts you in no position to be able to compete with richer kids who will have their own private study space at home.

Then there’s the fact that kids from richer households are twice as likely to get into outstanding schools as kids from poorer backgrounds, suggesting that this route to social mobility is ineffective, while Oxford remains an institution which seems to perpetuate class privilege.

So, if we’re judging Theresa May’s and the Tory’s commitment social mobility on their social policies, they clearly are not committed, which suggests they don’t give a stuff about the poor.

Sources

The Week (Print Edition, 9th December 2017)

(1) An alternative interpretation of why they resigned is that they all spontaneously realised the methods behind the report were a bit rubbish (the technical term escapes me). In that it didn’t actually measure social mobility, as such! OOPS!

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Social Mobility Highest Around London, Lowest in some Rural Areas

According to a report released today, social mobility is generally highest around London and lowest in rural areas…

How Social Mobility Varies by Local Authority in England in 2017

social mobility England 2017.png

NB – There’s a nice ‘interactive’ infographic at the link above!

London and its environs (mostly Surrey) have the highest levels of social mobility, while rural areas generally have lower levels of mobility.

Interestingly it isn’t just deprivation and wealth which predict social mobility… some wealthy areas like West Berkshire and Crawley perform badly for social mobility – in these areas, it is very difficult for children born into poor backgrounds to climb the income ladder.

Conversely, some of the most deprived areas are “hotspots”, providing good education, employment opportunities and housing for their most disadvantaged residents.
These include London boroughs with big deprived populations such as Tower Hamlets and Hackney.

The main reason for variations in social mobility highlighted by the report is the lack of available jobs, especially well-paying jobs, which is a real problem in some of the more rural areas.

It might be interesting to… (and I might play around with this later)

  • Compare this data to deprivation indices and see how far wealth holds back social mobility.
  • Compare this data to population density… Just a hunch, but surely all other things being equal, the denser the population the more (realistic) job opportunities?
  • Compare this data to educational achievement and school type… to see if schools really do make a difference at the regional level.
  • Take a sample of the lowest social mobility areas and the highest (they’d need to be similar) and just find out as much as possible about both areas to try and explain these differences….

 

 

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Ethnic inequalities in social mobility

Black and Asian Muslim children are less likely to get professional jobs, despite doing better at school, according to an official government report carried out by the Social Mobility Commission

This blog post summarizes this recent news article (December 2016) which can be used to highlight the extent of ethnic inequalities in social mobility – it obviously relates to education and ethnicity, but also research methods – showing a nice application of quantitative, positivist comparative methods.

In recent months, the low educational attainment of White British boys has gained significant attention. However, when it comes to the transition from education to employment, this group is less likely to be unemployed and to face social immobility than their female counterparts, black students and young Asian Muslims.”

White boys from poorer backgrounds perform badly throughout the education system and are the worst performers at primary and secondary school, the report said, and disadvantaged young people from white British backgrounds are the least likely to go to University.

Only one in 10 of the poorest go to university, compared to three in 10 for black Caribbean children, five in 10 for Bangladeshis and nearly seven in 10 for Chinese students on the lowest incomes.

Black children, despite starting school with the same level of maths and literacy as other ethnic groups, young black people also have the lowest outcomes in science, maths are the least likely ethnic group to achieve a good degree at university.

But after school, it is young women from Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds that are particularly affected. Despite succeeding throughout education and going to university, they are less likely to find top jobs and are paid less than women from other ethnic minorities, the report concluded.

Alan Milburn, the chair of the commission said: “The British social mobility promise is that hard work will be rewarded. This research suggests that promise is being broken for too many people in our society. Britain is a long way from having a level playing field of opportunity for all, regardless of gender, ethnicity or background.”

The report also showed the role of parents plays a large part in performance at school, as the more they engage, the better their children do, according to the research

Two of the more specific recommendations made by the commission are

  • Schools should avoid setting, particularly at primary level, and government should discourage schools from doing so.
  • Universities should implement widening participation initiatives that are tailored to the issues faced by poor white British students and address worrying drop-out and low achievement rates among black students

Related Posts 

Ethnic minorities face barriers to job opportunities and social mobility (Guardian article from 2014) – so nothing’s changes in the last two years!

Ethnicity and Educational Achievement – The role of Cultural Factors – you might like to consider the extent to which it’s cultural factors which explain these post-education differences?

The C.V. and Racism Experiment (scroll down to 2009) – alternatively – racism in society may have something to do with these differences – this experiment demonstrated how people with ‘ethnic’ sounding names are less likely to get a response from prospective employers when they send them their C.V.s