Education

Our education list focuses on education policy and politics and the inequalities that are both built into education systems and perpetuated by them. It speaks to the UN Sustainable Development Goal 4: Quality Education. 

Our titles, including Arun Verma’s Anti-Racism in Higher Education, address the challenges in education, including those around technology and the digital divide. The list offers students and researchers internationally sourced evidence-based solutions that challenge traditional neoliberal approaches to learning.

Education

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In this chapter I consider the question of what happens when aspirations are raised (Chapters 3 and 4) but opportunity structures remain unequal (Chapters 5 and 6). This chapter explores the key role of careers advisors, as they work to re-orient and realign aspirations. In doing so they play a central role in intervening to sweep up the resultant mess of the contradictory messages sent out by policy makers. While all careers advisors engage in aspiration work, the form this takes is different in each school. This chapter considers the emotional and affective experience of aspiration work (Brown, 2011), exploring the different and classed ways in which young people internalise the meritocratic messages inherent in their interactions with careers advisors.

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This chapter looks at the individual aspirations, expectations, knowledge and perceptions of the young people attending each school in respect to careers. In this chapter I argue that, while pupils from all schools had ‘high aspirations’ for their future careers, there remain distinctive (classed) differences in how these were constructed and narrated. As this chapter will demonstrate, most of the Eagles Academy pupils articulated concrete career aspirations, at times with a fixed back-up plan. In contrast, the Grand Hill Grammar and Einstein High pupils’ aspirations were often presented as vague or broad with some young people in these schools unable to imagine a future self at all. I argue that this ‘strategic uncertainty’ is part of the construction of a middle-class habitus centred on ‘keeping the options open’. This is something which is picked up and nurtured in the institutional context as will be discussed in later chapters.

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This chapter provides a conclusion to the book through revisiting and responding to the initial research questions. In doing so it pulls together the central arguments of the book to highlight the mechanisms through which inequalities are reproduced through the everyday structures and practices of schooling. The chapter also discusses the implications of this research for policy and practice as well as reflecting on the more recent context of inequalities emergent in the COVID-19 pandemic and with the substitute assessmentprocess.

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This chapter looks at the institutional practices and ‘aspiration work’ undertaken primarily by careers advisors which arguably reproduce inequalities across the three schools. This is done through analysis of fieldnotes taken from an observation of a careers event for sixth-form pupils at Grand Hill. The event saw alumni in leading positions in society return to the school to offer support and guidance to current pupils. This chapter discusses the schooling of young people in how to construct themselves as ‘well rounded’, how to ‘network’ and how to ‘get around the systems’. Inspired by the work of Annette Lareau (2011), I introduce and unpack the concept of institutional concerted cultivation as a tool to understand the way in which Grand Hill, equipped with an advantaged position in the field, works to cultivate a particular disposition towards success. I show how the institution picks up where parents leave off, utilising their resources to cultivate young people in a concerted fashion to enable them to ‘get ahead’ in the competition for university places and professional careers.

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This chapter introduces the reader to the book by briefly visiting the author’s experience of schooling to explain the initial motivation for this research. This chapter also introduces the initial research questions and provides some detail around key concepts and the limitations of what is and is not said in this book. This chapter includes an overview of the structure of the remainder of book

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The personal is political. This chapter provides a reflexive account of myself as a researcher from a working-class background and explores the deeply emotional process of conducting research closely tied to one’s own trajectory and life experiences. It does so through discussing my experience of becoming attached to (and mentoring) one participant, Jake, a Year 11 pupil from Eagles Academy. I consider how my emotional connection to his life and struggles with an uncaring institution led me to try to ‘rescue’ him. In this chapter I tell his story alongside my own before discussing the battle I entered with Eagles Academy which ultimately resulted in me being told I could no longer work with or support Jake. This chapter will take the reader on a powerful and emotive journey which sheds light on the often unnoticed, everyday violence inflicted on working-class young people through education. This chapter provides one case study which is an exemplar for many of the issues addressed in earlier chapters of this book. In a sense, this entire book was influenced and shaped by the perspective gained through Jake’s story. As such it is an important story to tell.

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This chapter looks at young people’s discussions of university. I present findings which show that, in contrast to political rhetoric around the need to ‘raise aspirations’, most pupils I spoke to from all schools and year groups wanted to attend university, and for similar reasons. Nevertheless, as will be shown in this chapter, there remain distinct social class differences in how certain the pupils were that university would be on their horizons. This chapter also explores inequalities in relation to pupils’ knowledge and familiarity with the university field. While universities and policy makers have attempted to narrow the gap in ‘information, advice and guidance’ distributed to pupils from different backgrounds around university, this chapter argues that there remain distinctive inequalities in relation to proximity to, and familiarity with, the university sphere, something which it is argued cannot be solved through abstract sponsorship by an elite university.

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This chapter looks at the opportunity structures in each school which serve to enhance or restrict pupils’ chances of fulfilling their aspirations. This is done through a consideration of the different General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) subject combinations available to pupils in each school and the implications of this in relation to the ‘value’ attributed to pupils. GCSE ‘option time’ is framed as a key moment in which young people make ‘life directing choices’ which will either open up or shut down future pathways. This chapter interrogates the concept of ‘choice’, highlighting how Eagles Academy pupils, as well as having a limited range of subject options, are faced with a timetable blocking system which further restricts their choices. In contrast, the Grand Hill and Einstein High pupils experience a wide and unrestricted landscape of subject options.

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This chapter turns to the inequalities in the subject option structures for Advanced level (A level). A level qualifications are usually taken around 16–18 years old (following successful completion of GCSEs). In this research pupils were asked what they had chosen at GCSE and what they were hoping to study at A level. As was seen in the previous chapter with GCSE options, the Eagles Academy pupils’ A level choices were similarly restricted by a timetable blocking system. This chapter goes on to explore how pupils were informed of and supported in developing a ‘package’ of ‘useful’ and ‘valued’ subjects which would help them gain access to (elite) universities. This chapter draws upon the theorising of Bourdieu and Passeron (1990) to consider the unequal and arbitrary ways in which different subjects become legitimised and constructed as representations of superior forms of intelligence.

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This chapter presents a critical overview of the sociological literature on class inequalities in education. It focuses largely on the Bourdieusian strand of research which highlights the structural reproduction of social class inequality through schooling in the UK over time. It also engages with the concept of ‘aspiration’ as defined in literature and policy. In doing so this chapter contributes to critiquing the narrow, linear understanding of aspiration (frequently drawn upon by policy makers) which posits a causal relationship between aspirations and social class. Instead, this chapter argues that there is a need to scrutinise the way in which aspirations are constructed and managed in different schooling contexts. Overall this chapter provides a theoretical framework and backdrop for the reader in understanding the analysis of data which follows.

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