Over the recent festivities the UK Conservative Party issued a news story: Persistent truancy concentrated in deprived areas in which they apparently exposed the relationship between deprivation and school attendance. The party’s analysis revealed that children living in the most deprived neighbourhoods were more than five times more likely to miss school than pupils living in the richest neighbourhoods.
Commenting on the analysis, Michael Gove the shadow education secretary highlighted the need to invest in schools in the most deprived neighbouhoods in an effort to tackle this problem.
Why is Michael Gove so surprised by these figures?
Though the figures may be shocking in that it indicates the existence of educational inequality (and therefore the existence of society – which a certain Conservative Prime Minister claimed did not exist) which is something to be concerned about as it damages both individuals and society, the figures are not new.
Any examination of the link between social class and education, whether it be participation in education, experience of education or attainment reveals a link, with children and young people from poorer backgrounds coming of worse than their more wealthy peers.
Sociological understandings have sought to understand the complex relationship between social class (in itself a complex concept) and education.
A Level Student studying sociology might have been able to help out Michael Gove by referring to the work of J.W.B Douglas and the National Child Development study which indicated that a lack of material resources, such as physical space to work or a lack of books impacted on a child’s education.
Sociologist might have also told Gove that material factors such as overcrowding and a poor diet may lead to increased incidences of ill health in deprived areas leading to increased rates of absence from school. Or perhaps a need for the child to take time off for caring responsibilities, again more likely to adversely impact on a child from a poor background.
Gove and the rest of the Conservatives probably know all this already, but they have attempted to use these figures to criticise the current Labour Government for failing to tackle the inequality which they helped to entrench in the first place.
Since coming to power the current Government have gone someway to tackling the link between poverty and educational outcomes, for example by the provision of Sure Start in deprived areas – working class children have been the least likely to attend nursery education and to start school behind their middle class peers. It is likely to be years before the impact of this is to be seen. Educational Action Zones were set up to raise aspirations and attainment in working class areas. Extra funding through specialist schools were steered to schools in deprived areas. While these have been controversial (as I have discussed in other posts) they have been attempts to tackle the long term problem of poor educational experiences among children from the most deprived backgrounds.
Perhaps Michael Gove might like to consider the impact of the educational market place that his party introduced through the 1988 Education Act which allowed the further reproduction of class inequalities in education by allowing middle class parents to exercise their cultural capital and choose the best schools for their children while so called failing schools were unsurprisingly found in the most deprived neighbourhoods?