Social-class inequalities in education have been prevalent in contemporary British society. For many years, the government has put efforts to remove the attainment gap between those from advantaged and disadvantaged homes. However, it has limited success. Several educational reforms have been implemented over the past century to eradicate the financial burden related to schooling like the introduction of free and compulsory secondary education in the 1940s, and means-tested financial incentives for those households who have a low income to have assistance in post-compulsory education. However, these reforms have not been able to fully remove the strong association between social class and educational attainment.
In the1970s, Pierre Bourdieu introduced the concept of ‘cultural capital’ in an attempt to provide insight into how and why children belonging to the working-class struggle to succeed in their pursuit of education as compared to their peers belonging to the middle- and upper class. The overpowering idea is that learners who belong to higher class backgrounds possess superior financial resources and other resources which give them educational privilege.
Social Class Inequality in UK Education
The False Idea of Meritocracy
Meritocracy is believed to be practiced in the UK but many believe that it is not followed. Halsey warned that there is the existence of a dangerous widespread belief that Britain is a meritocratic society; but it is one in which, ‘ascriptive forces find ways of expressing themselves as “achievement”’. Goldthorpe and Jackson also added that the idea of ‘meritocracy’ is a sociological fantasy.
Relative mobility refers to the comparison of the chances of those from different class backgrounds achieving different class goals. Goldthorpe and Jackson (2007), concluded that their findings suggested that while there has been a substantial change in absolute British social mobility since the 1940s, the relative social class mobility remains significantly unchanged.
Relative mobility compares the chances of those from different class backgrounds achieving different class destinations. Goldthorpe and Jackson (2007), following many others (e.g. Halsey et al 1980; Shavit and Blossfeld 1996; Goldthorpe and Mills 2004; 2008), alluded to the finding that while there has been substantial absolute social mobility in Britain since the 1940s, relative social class mobility has remained largely unchanged