Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Class matters

(Basquiat)

A study by academics at University College London (UCL) and Kings College London has given statistical support to the notion that social class is one of the most important factors behind academic achievement in school. When the pupil’s home address is determined the success or lack of success can easily be inferred. A school's success is based not on its teachers, the way it is run, or what type of school it is, but, overwhelmingly, on the class background of its pupils. The report matched almost 1 million pupils with their individual postcode and exam scores at 11 and 15

The study found that, whatever their background, children do better the more "middle-class" the school they attend, and also that more than 50% of a school's performance is accounted for by the social make-up of its pupils.

"The results show that the position of a school in published league tables, the criterion typically used by parents to select successful schools, depends more on the social profile of its pupils than the quality of the teachers," (Richard Webber from University College London).

"For schools the message is clear. Selecting children whose homes are in high-status neighbourhoods is one of the most effective ways of retaining a high position in the league table. For statisticians, meanwhile, it proves that the existing tables, which ignore the types of home from which a school draws its pupils, are necessarily an unfair and imprecise means of judging a school's achievements."

Social class has been anathema to social scientists in the West for many years. It has not been considered in "good taste" to raise the theme of class division in society. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 there has been a general consensus on there not being class division of any importance.

The still more blatant class divisions that can be seen in Western society today has invalidated this view. More and more social scientists come to the conclusion that class becomes more and more important. Maybe the "industrial proletariat" is a thing of the past - or it is being outsourced to China, but then other types of social layers arise. Of course, they may have lower social cohesion and solidarity than the "old" industrial proletariat, but still it is there.

That makes social class an important object for research. And the question of the educational system as a facilitator of social mobility gets into focus again.

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