Fairer Society Is Key to Improving Attainment Levels; Social Class Still Determines a Child's Educational and Life Chances, Says Sociologist STEPHEN LAMBERT

The Journal (Newcastle, England), August 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Fairer Society Is Key to Improving Attainment Levels; Social Class Still Determines a Child's Educational and Life Chances, Says Sociologist STEPHEN LAMBERT


Byline: STEPHEN LAMBERT

LATEST figures indicate that youngsters from private schools, mostly from upper-middle-class backgrounds, still get the top grades at GCSE, compared to pupils from state schools.

Although 60% per cent of young people educated in comprehensive schools are doing better than 10 years ago, working-class youngsters, both in the city, and elsewhere, in the region are lagging behind.

It is becoming blatantly clear that socio-economic status (Social Class) and not gender or ethnicity, is the key factor whether a child does well or badly at school across the North East.

The higher the class (measured by wealth or job) of parents, the more successful a youngster will be in schooling. Lower working-class children, living in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, compared to middleclass youngsters of the same ability, generally get poorer exam results according to the 'Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission' (October, 2014) report.

For instance, around 90% of young people living in the leafy suburbs of Gosforth, Jesmond, High Heaton or Darras Hall get five or more GCSE results at A*-C, compared to less than a third from lower-class backgrounds, especially in the city's inner-city areas or outer council estates.

Strikingly less than half of young people from unskilled manual families stay on in post-16 full-time education, compared to about nine in 10 from managerial or professional households across the city.

Some 18% of 16-year olds in Newcastle are NEETS, (not in education, employment or training), with over 28% living in the five 'priority wards',' such as Kenton ,Benwell and Scotswood, Elswick, Westgate, and Walker. So how can we explain what's going on, and what can we do about it.

Some critics put in it down to the quality of schooling. True, the City Council and Government were quite right in their policy decisions to close down Blakelaw School and West Gate College in the noughties, on the grounds of falling standards and bad truancy rates.

In the case of Westgate College, in the city's west end, the pass rate of A-C stood at 9% in 1999! For Ofsted this was largely attributable to weak leadership and mediocre teaching in some subjects - though in all fairness there were examples of 'good practice.'.

Tony Blair's controversial decision to convert the school into Academy Status, set up in Scotswood, was arguably one step in the right direction. However, there is substantial evidence to support the former PM's view that a 'good' school, in a disadvantaged neighbourhood, can make a difference.

Take St Mary's Comprehensive school in Longbenton, Newcastle, with a mixed intake both social classwise and culturally, where an exceptional headteacher, transformed a 'failing school' into a successful one. …

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