At Waterloo Road, Kim, the Head of Pastoral Care, and Chris, the Deputy Head are making things up as they go along. The hitherto existing evidence supports this claim, and this week, further evidence of their ad hoc application of educational initiatives was put before the audience.
This week, Chris happened to set up a scheme to help one student, Ros, get into Oxbridge. Other students, may get to University, if they applied themselves, he asserted, but stood no chance of getting to one of the ‘really academic Universities’.
What he meant, was, that this scheme was designed to help students get into one of the Russell Group of UK Universities. Though, as ‘Russell Group’ is not frequently found in popular discourses, he couldn’t really say this in a popular TV drama. Inevitably, at Waterloo Road, some pupils felt disgruntled at being excluded from this scheme. In particular, Michaela White, felt she had been unfairly labelled as ‘thick’, and campaigned for equal opportunities. The result, a selection interview revealed that Ros McCain had a very clear idea about her future, and the role of University in achieving this. Michaela, on the other hand, was less sure, she knew what she didn’t want to do.
This episode was, of course, full of sociological concepts. There are, as Chris Mead stated ‘hundreds of Universities’. Probably there is one which would take Michaela White, if she wanted to go. But, some, it appears are better than others, or, as Mr Mead put it, there are some Universities which are really academic. And, this is true. While more young people now go to University in this country than have ever done, with Widening Participation a policy which many Universities pursue, attracting ‘non traditional students’, there remains inequality between High Education Institutions.
At Waterloo Road, this stark reality was highlighted. There were, for example, a number of references to social class and Higher Education. The stratification of Universities reproduces social class and wealth inequalities. In other words, your social class is likely to shape, not only whether you go to University, but also which University you go to. Chris Mead said that he wanted Ros to have the opportunities that pupils at a private school would take for granted, so was clearly aware of this social class inequality. Here, are clear references to Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus and cultural capital. Ros may be able to get the grades to get into a top University, but, as Mr Mead observed, she lacks the confidence. Mead went further in describing her as a genuinely bright working-class kid. So, while she isn’t surrounded by the right people who could help her get to Oxbridge, she deserving of the school’ help. It is doubtful however, that a few months of tutoring by kindly teachers at Waterloo Road will supply Ros with the cultural capital that other, more advantaged pupils will possess.
Chris Mead was less sympathetic to Michaela White. Presumably, while she is working class, she is not genuinely ‘bright’. In the end, she decided that University wasn’t for her. Some sociologists have described this type of attitude as a form of classed identity where individuals reject the prospect of University, because it appears alien to working class experience. Pupils like Michaela then, make choices about their future, and decide not to go to University, with this contributing to social class inequalities in higher education. Mr Mead, however, appeared not to be familiar with the work of Louise Archer (et al) and preferred to label Michaela as a trouble maker.
Elsewhere in the school, reality was suspended. Aidan, a pupil we had never met before, was intent on maintaining his supplies of doughnuts and sausage rolls, and, Rachel Mason was holding an interview for a chef and health eating co-ordinator. All part of her job, however, she appeared to be conducting the interviews alone, and the morning of the interviews was the first that staff knew about this new post. Did they all miss the advert? Was not the Head of Pastoral Care invited to the shortlisting? In the end she offered the job to a Mr Fleet, who, had missed his interview, having being trapped in Ruby’s cookery class. Which, raises more questions about the recruitment process.
Here are just a few references to some concepts mentioned above:
Archer, L; Hollingworth, S; Halsall, A (2007) ‘‘ University’s not for Me – I’m a Nike Person’: Urban, Working-Class Young People’s Negotiations of ‘Style’, Identity and Educational Engagement’, Sociology, 41, 2: 219-237
Ashworth, P; Clegg, S; Nixon, J (2004) ‘The redistribution of excellence: reclaiming widening participation for a just society, paper presented at the 12th Improving Student Learning Symposium, Inclusivity and Difference, Birmingham, 6-8 September
Ball, S.J (2003) Class Strategies and the Education Market, London: Routledge
Bourdieu, P; Wacquant, L (1992) An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology, Chicago: University of Chicago Press