This week, the Sutton Trust published a report: Worlds Apart: social variation among schools.  It reports on the social segregation within schools.  It found that many of the country’s ‘leading Comprehensive schools’ are more socially exclusive and less ethnically diverse than some Grammar schools. 

Many factors contribute to this, such as parental choice, and the selection by the schools themselves.  It is not solely because a Comprehensive School is located in, for example, a middle class neighbourhood.

These findings should be cause for concern. The Guardian picks up on the report and suggests that a ballot to allocate places at secondary school would be fairer.  it certainly would, as it would not enable middle class parents to use their cultural capital, or any other capital to ensure their child was offered a place at their preferred school.

The Daily Mail however, also expresses concern at the report.  Though their claim to be concerned about the social exclusivity of Comprehensives isn’t really credible.  They go on to use the findings of the report to suggest that a solution is an end to Comprehensives and a return to Grammar Schools.  So, in other words they are so concerned with this divisive state in Comprehensive Schools that they want to replace it with more divisiveness.  They still cling to this notion that Grammar Schools enabled social mobility, but only for ‘bright’ working class children.   Again, the evidence for this claim is pretty thin.  One has to question therefore the Daily Mail’s motive in running this story in the way that they did.  The article appears, on the face of it to be concerned with equality, but their enthusiasm for Grammar Schools reveals their real lack of concern.

Also interesting is the claim by the Daily Mail that this report is “groundbreaking”.  This is as good as saying that these findings are something that we were, hitherto, unaware of.

While the results from the Sutton Trust report are interesting, and significant in that they provide new data and add to the debate over school admissions (which have supposedly being tightened), the key fact that middle classes are able to ‘colonise’ some Comprehensive Schools is not  newly discovered. 

Middle class ‘colonisation’ of some Comprehensive Schools has been researched by sociologists and educational researchers for around 20 years.    Following the 1988 Education Act (which, amongst other things enshrined the rights of parents to choose a school for their child) studies have looked at the impact of the ‘educational market place’. 

Researchers have looked at ‘class strategies’ of parents and their behaviour when choosing a school.  The Daily Mail’s headline, for example was Selection by Mortgage, referring to the ability of middle class parents to secure a place at their preferred school by moving there, forcing up house prices, and therefore excluding children from poorer families.  Other reported strategies include attending church to secure a place at a church school.  Middle class parents are also better able to access and interpret a range of official and unofficial information about a school and use this to make an ‘informed’ choice about schools in their area.  And selection by the school itself, again not surprising given that schools will themselves want to maintain their position in the education market place. 

The result is, Comprehensive schools which aren’t comprehensive, and the reproduction of social class inequalities.  The solution is not more Grammar Schools.  The problem is the education market place.

These are just some articles which have covered the issue of the education market place, and have examined how parental choice is related to social class and the maintainance of social class inequalities in education.

Ball, S. J (1993) ‘Education Markets, Choice and Social Class: The Market as a Class Strategy in the UK and the USA’ British Journal of Sociology of Education, Vol. 14, No. 1, pp. 3-19

Brown, P (1990) ‘The ‘Third Wave’: education and the ideology of parentocracy’, British Journal of Sociology of Education, Vol. 11, No. 1, pp. 65 – 86

Bowe, R; Ball, S; Gerwitz, S (1994) ”Parental Choice’, Consumption and Social Theory: The Operation of Micro-Markets in Education’, British Journal of Educational Studies, Vol. 42, No. 1, pp. 38-52

Reay, D and Luce, H (2004) ‘Stigmatised choices: social class, social exclusion and secondary school markets in the inner city’, Pedagogy, Culture and Society, Vol. 12, No. 1, pp. 35 – 51

The report: Worlds Apart: social variation among schools can be downloaded here.


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