Education and the Middle Class

Education and the Middle Class

Education and the Middle Class

Education and the Middle Class

Synopsis

It is often assumed that for middle class and academically able children, schooling is a straightforward process that leads to academic success, higher education and entry into middle class occupations. However this fascinating book shows these relationships to be complex and often uncertain. Based on the biographies of 350 young men and women who might have been considered 'destined for success' at the start of their secondary schooling, the book maps out the educational pathways they took. It analyses their subsequent achievements and entry into employment and compares them with their parents, with one another, and with their generation. Identifying patterns in the data, it also explores examples of extraordinary success and failure, and various forms of interrupted and disrupted careers. As well as documenting a compelling human story, the findings have important implications for current policy debates about academic selection, access to elite universities, and the limits of meritocracy.

Excerpt

The title of our book is a deliberate echo of Education and the Working Class, first published in 1962. That was a biographical study of '88 working class children in a northern industrial city' who went to grammar school and thereby were offered 'the “middle-class” invitations of college, university and the professional career' (Jackson and Marsden 1966: 97). Our own purposes resemble Jackson and Marsden's in that we too are concerned to 'go behind the numbers and feel a way into the various human situations they represent' (1966: 26). Unlike them, however, we have explored the dynamics and dilemmas of 'expected' success, and the 'human situations' of over 300 academically promising individuals who come from predominantly middle-class families. In the early 1980s, shortly after starting secondary school, these individuals and their parents were interviewed about their educational choices and aspirations. Over ten years later, we decided to trace them to explore their progress. In 1995, when they were in their midtwenties, we sent each of them a long and detailed questionnaire and over the next three years conducted lengthy interviews with nearly half of the respondents (further details of the sample and response rates can be found in Chapter 3).

Their ability, background and schooling made these young people more likely to succeed than to fail. It might be argued that it is an indulgence, even a distraction, to focus on the educationally advantaged when educational inequalities so stubbornly persist. But there are strong grounds for . . .

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