Tag Archives: Class

Diane Reay’s “Miseducation”: a personal reflection (by Jo Ingold)

miseducation picMiseducation Inequality, education and the working classes by Diane Reay brings together threads from a wealth of Reay’s research on working-class experiences of education, as well as her own personal journey from working-classness to Professor at an elite institution. Reading Miseducation was enlightening for me on many levels, as well as being a bit of a sense-making process, both professionally and personally. I’ll admit right from the start that I’ve largely avoided talking about class in my academic work, largely because it has been too personal. So, (much like Miseducation itself) what follows is a reflection of Reay’s Miseducation that combines the academic and the personal.

Reay takes as her starting point Jackson and Marsden’s seminal 1966 book Education and the Working Class. A key difference between when Jackson and Marsden wrote their famous work and now is that back in the 1960s 60% of the population identified as working-class. Now this is only 40%. But Reay finds that a shocking level of class inequality still persists in the English education system. In particular, she highlights the significant increase in testing and the narrowing of the curriculum in schools (aspects of which I am only too aware now as a parent). Secondly, she points to the policy shift towards academies and free schools, which have increased selectivity, largely leaving working-class kids behind. A 2013 OECD report that Reay cites early in the book (p.50) concluded that schools in England are the most socially segregated in the developed world, especially for poor and migrant families.

In secondary school I was one of the working-class kids Reay talks about, who was ‘relegated’ to the bottom set (p.77). My local primary school (incidentally where my father had also gone to school) was what we would probably now call a ‘sink school’. My mother fought successfully to get me into a ‘better’ school in the ‘posher’ part of town. But when I got to high school I was put in the bottom set with not a single kid from my primary school, but with kids from our (poorer) part of town. This isn’t just about me having an overinflated sense of my own capabilities. Years after I left high school, my final year primary teacher told me that she’d tried to get me into a higher set, but didn’t win the argument with the school. At the time, my parents complained to the headteacher that I was finding the school work in the bottom set unchallenging. They were told that nothing could be done until after the end of the first year exams when, if I proved myself, I would be moved up. At the end of the year I was indeed moved up. But by then friendship groups had been established and I had effectively lost a year of secondary schooling.

Another rather strange and revealing example of how class impacts on working-class kids became apparent to me only a few years ago when I got hold of my medical notes. In these, I discovered (from Pre-Data Protection Act) that a clinician who I saw aged 15 had put in my notes that I had ‘aspirations that were likely beyond my academic abilities’. This was a clinician, not even a teacher! The importance of including this is to say that these are the kinds of assumptions and judgements made about working-class kids that Reay talks about, who start off life with the odds firmly stacked against them by many in positions of power.

Another key driver of inequalities for working class kids that Reay highlights are the class divisions in university education. In particular, she points to the exacerbation of a two-tier system of ‘elite’ and ‘inferior’ institutions largely as a result of recent funding changes. She argues that ‘Elitist processes masquerading as meritocracy are just as evident in the English education system as they were 50 years ago in the 1960s; but the primary engines of this pseudo meritocracy are no longer the grammar schools but the elite universities’ (p.178). Another, more pernicious, factor that Reay identifies is that failure is now seen as the fault of the working-class individual, rather than anything more systemic (p.180).

In relation to universities, Reay also powerfully talks about the cultural and social capital that you lack as an individual when you’re working-class and trying to gain entry to a university. No one in my family was familiar with the university environment. But I was lucky: I was helped by a few professionals for whom my mum cleaned. I was also awarded an assisted government place to attend an independent 6th Form. Without these, I don’t think I would have felt confident enough to apply to a Russell group university. Back in high school my mother paid for extra maths tutoring for me outside of school. But when (on the tutor’s advice) I told my head of maths that I’d like to do the higher paper to try to get an A grade (rather than the maximum C I could get by doing the lower paper) she told me that I could, but qualified it with: ‘you can always resit next year’. This stands out for me as a good example of the lowered expectations and constrained ambition that I felt during my compulsory education.

One of the most powerful aspects of the book for me was where Reay talks about how the working-classes find themselves having left one class (working) and yet not feeling like a true member of another (the ‘bolting on of middle classness’) (p.104). Reay suggests that social mobility for the working classes represents ‘a fragile balance between realising potential and maintaining a sense of authenticity’, resulting in individuals being uncomfortably ‘caught between two worlds’ (p.108). Lynsey Hanley also talks powerfully about this from her own experience in Respectable. This process of social mobility can be wounding, resulting in a ‘disconnect’ for individuals and a feeling of being ‘adrift’ from social and family ties. The political discourse of social mobility as an unquestionable good, Reay argues, doesn’t really get to grips with this aspect.

My own personal experience of social mobility is of a huge gulf between myself and my wider family and community that came about because I went to university and that will likely never be resolved. ‘Why would you want to go to University?’ they asked. The fact that I went to University and moved away underscored another aspect of this fracture highlighted by Reay: what social mobility says about those who are left behind. Reay rightly asks what the point is in striving for equality with more-privileged others if the process creates inequalities between you and the people you love’? (pp 114-5). In the epilogue she cites the powerful words of Bourdieu: ‘to be able to live in a world that is not mine I must try to understand both things: what it means to have an academic mind…and at the same time what was lost in acquiring it’ (pp 197-8).

Finally, a further critical aspect for me that Reay talks about is how as academics we can become ensnared in ‘dominant representations’ of the working classes and that it is important not to ‘romanticise’ the experience of working-classness (p.198). Instead, she highlights the diversity of ‘working-classness’. This helped me to make sense of my own class background. My experience of growing up working class was largely about being fearful and ashamed. Constant stress about having enough money to live on, of having utilities cut off and having to lie about this to friends to save face. My mum was shocked when I asked to have free school meals as she didn’t want me to look ‘outwardly poor’ to others. My parents didn’t claim Family Credit for largely the same reason (although this left us even poorer). My parents were not part of the politically enlightened, ‘radical’ working class that was Reay’s background, but were more the ‘aspirant’ working-class talked about in Jackson and Marsden’s classic work. However, their aspirations were really for me, rather than for themselves. For them, education was the gateway to a much better life for me than the one they experienced. My dad was a time-served joiner, but could only find work on building sites throughout his life. He wasn’t a member of a union (except when there was a closed shop) and, in common with his family and peers, he voted Conservative. My mum largely worked in shops and as a cleaner and waitress. Both struggled from one low-paying insecure job to another (my mum regularly had at least two jobs), with poor health as a result.

The ‘classedness’ of my education was largely a part of my life that, for good or ill, I didn’t really notice at the time: what Reay refers to as ‘the living out of class on both conscious and unconscious levels’ (p.155). Reay says she’s still upset that, for the majority of people that both she and Jackson and Marsden interviewed, their working-class backgrounds were something they wanted to forget (p.8). This resonated deeply with me. But it is critical not to forget. In Miseducation Reay strikes exactly the right chord, successfully managing to achieve her aim of ‘cutting across the grain’ of what she has become professionally (p.198) to be reflexive about her own experiences. Reay’s Miseducation is a timely exposė of how current government policies, the education ‘system’ but, critically, social values and attitudes to ‘inequality, welfare and difference’ (p.174) are still failing, and as a result limiting the potential of so many.

Dr Jo Ingold is a Lecturer in Human Resource Management and Public Policy and is a member of CERIC.

Miseducation by Diane Reay is published by Policy Press’ 21st Century Standpoints series, in association with the British Sociological Association


The Race Audit Report: Much A Do About Nothing (by Meenakshi Sarkar)

Meenashi Sarkar

Meenakshi Sarkar, CERIC Postgraduate Researcher

Britain is a country where we despise prejudice, embrace equality and believe in the fundamental right of the individual to make the most of his or her talents in a free society. Yet all too many of us remain trapped by the accident of our births, our destinies far too likely to be determined by our sex or race; … our deeply held religion or belief make us lesser beings in the eyes of others. And far too many of us are still born into families without the material or social capital to give us the right start in life.
(Trevor Philips, Chief of EHRC, Foreword ‘How fair is Britain?’ 2010)


“We believe that how far you go in life should be based on your talent and how hard you work – and nothing else. That was the ambition set out by the Prime Minister on the steps of Downing Street in July 2016, and it remains this Government’s abiding mission to tackle burning injustices.
(Damian Green – First Secretary of State, Foreword, Race audit Report, 2017)


Race issues are not new to Britain. In the last 50 years, post-colonial Britain has struggled to keep the promise of equality to its ethnic minorities, many of whom came in the early 1950s from the so-called ‘commonwealth’ countries. These, Noah has quipped, are ironically named ‘as there was nothing common and the wealth was accumulated in one place’ (Noah, 2015).

So when on assuming her role as the Prime Minister of UK in 2016, Theresa May commissioned an ‘audit’ to tackle the ‘burning issues of injustice against ethnic minorities’ in the country, aspirations and eyebrows both were raised. The much hyped race audit report was released on the 10th of October 2017 and is disappointing in many ways.  Firstly, contrary to what was claimed to be a ‘first of its kind’, this is a  collection of the many government initiated and independent studies and the sixth such major report focussed on equality issues (or rather the lack of it) in Britain in five decades and unfortunately it does not tell us anything that we didn’t know.  Some people have called the new portal on which all of these reports have been uploaded ‘a large drop box and ironically the government took 411 days to create the same’ (The Guardian, 2017). Various reports have been brought together under one portal which is a slight help but the data is dated and not customised to the purpose of the audit.

List of 6 major reports on ethnic minorities in last 50 years

1966 W W Daniel- Racial Discrimination in England
1974 David J Smith- Racial Disadvantage in Britain
1982 Colin Brown- Black and White Britain
1994 Tariq Modood et al -Ethnic Minorities in Britain: Diversity and Disadvantage
2010 EHRC: How fair is Britain?
2017 Cabinet office: Race Audit Report

From the titles of the reports mentioned above alone, it is evident that ethnic minorities in Britain are still at a definite disadvantage in the labour market and that Britain is ‘not fair’ after all. Have these reports made any difference in terms of how British policies and labour markets have responded in the last  five decades and what difference will this new report make as Ms May has ‘vowed to tackle the issues of inequality’? Satisfactorily answering this question calls for a detailed analysis which is beyond the scope of this blog, but some relevant questions need to be raised.

In the 1994 PSI report by Modood et al, it was argued that Britain no longer had a Black and White divide, but rather a three way split which cannot be simply explained by racial discrimination:

With Chinese, African Asian and sometimes Indian people in a similar position to whites, Caribbeans some way behind, and Pakistanis and Bangladeshis a long way behind them. Whatever the explanation for that layering of socio-economic positions, it is not simply racial discrimination. A more complex analysis is required (PSI ,1997:10)

The authors of the report further argue that many of the disadvantages and other experiences associated with minority status continue long after ‘naturalisation’ has been completed; and besides, the nationality laws associated with Britain’s former empire are far too complex for this to be a useful criterion. Thus skin colour is considered another option: after all, the majority group is defined as ‘white’, and some (or even all) minorities are often referred to as ‘black’. Colour would also reflect the fact that minority status is likely to follow from generation to generation, whatever changes occur in the cultural behaviour of the people concerned. On the other hand, colour cannot be used to distinguish between minority groups (for example between Caribbeans and Africans, or between Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis). So, colour as a criterion on its own fails to explain the differences within groups of same color and indicates a differential degree of discrimination. So is religion then leading to a double penalty for Pakistanis and Bangladeshis? There are enough studies to indicate the presence of a ‘Muslim penalty’ which affects labour market prospects of followers of Islam or even people with Muslim sounding names (Lindley, 2002; Khattab et al, 2011).

So what has changed in these twenty plus years?

It has been alleged that the groups which do not do well in the labour market must have human capital issues, such as poor English language ability and low qualifications. Thus, many ethnic minority groups including Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Black Caribbean respond to this by putting their children in Higher Education. As evident from Tables 1 and 2 (below), the proportion of ethnic minorities with low qualifications has gone down considerably and the English language proficiency of all minorities have gone up. However, has that resulted in concomitant progress in the labour market? While the Chinese and Indians have definitely done well (even better than the white British population) and are more likely to be in professional managerial roles, the same cannot be said of Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Black Caribbean people (Table 3). This questions the assumption of proponents of ‘human capital theory’ that the British labour market is meritocratic and also of politicians who think equal opportunity will ensure equal outcomes.



In fact, the Pakistani, Bangladeshi and black Caribbean men’s position in terms of being in professional managerial positions has deteriorated even further since 1994 (Table 3)

Table 3. Job levels of men in professional managerial and employers roles
  1994 2017
White English 30 34
Indian 25 45
Chinese 46 47
Pakistani 19 15
Bangladeshi 18 14
Black Caribbean 14 10

The persistence of gap in the labour market performance of these groups shows that there are factors beyond the control of people which affect the type of jobs and kind of roles they would ‘end up in’ and investment in human capital does not guarantee them the ‘good’ jobs.

Much has been said and debated about white privilege, but I would like to argue that like the ethnic penalty, white privilege does not come with the skin colour alone, but class and gender play a vital role too. Thus white working class men are less likely to be in university, or have adequate numeracy or literacy skills than those from white middle class and are worse off than Indian and Chinese middle class men in terms of being in professional managerial jobs. As far as religion is concerned, while there might not be any direct privilege accorded to Christians, there is definitely a penalty for Muslims which might put non-Muslims at a relative advantage. Additionally, while women in general have improved their human capital status across most ethnic minority groups, they are still less likely to be in senior positions and are still largely limited within elementary professions in care and services. Thus class, affiliations (Religious), gender, and ethnicity form what I call a ‘cage’, factors which one is born into and keep people’s potential imprisoned.

People who have lived with discrimination don’t need a government audit to make them aware of the scale of the challenge. This audit means that for society as a whole – for government, for our public services – there is nowhere to hide.”

(Theresa May, Prime Minister, 2017)

Yet another report, more data, much a do about nothing? Theresa May says ‘UK must act against race inequality’. This much is obvious, but when and how is the question that I am afraid no one seems to be having answers to at the moment, including Ms. May.

Out of work and low on enthusiasm: young Germans are tuning out of politics

Vera - TheConversationBlog Header

Every third German between 18 and 30 years old considers themselves to be in a “precarious” position, engaged in temporary, unstable or non-standard employment. This is happening against the backdrop of the glorious reputation of the German training and education system, low unemployment rate and comparatively generous welfare state.

And with an election just days away, question marks remain over this group. Will they radicalise, and support populist parties? Will they stay away from the polls altogether?

Economic uncertainty has disproportionately affected young workers, who are far more likely to find themselves in unstable employment than their older counterparts. Overall, 54% of employees between 15 and 24 work in atypical employment – 53% are on temporary contracts while a further 4% are self-employed.

We surveyed 1,000 Germans between the ages of 18 and 30, and found that economically insecure young people are more at risk of feeling estranged from politics. People in insecure employment are significantly more likely to be an undecided voter or to not vote at all.


Question: How interested would you say you are in politics? Author provided

They are almost twice as likely to be uninterested in politics as young people in secure employment. And they are more frustrated: up to 40% of them say they can’t change anything with their vote – compared to only 16% of young people in secure work.

Support for Angela Merkel’s CDU is lower among young people in insecure work than among the general German population. However, 26.8% said they still intended to vote for her. That compares to the national estimate of 37%.

The social-democratic SPD is still the second strongest party. Yet its support is on the wane thanks to its “Agenda 2010” – a policy introduced when it was in government that launched labour market reforms enabling precarious forms of work in Germany. Only 14% of our group of young insecure workers would vote for SPD compared with the 20% projected share among the general population.

Not into smaller parties

The German election system is representative. Parties with more than 5% of the vote get seats in the lower house of parliament. This year, four additional parties are likely to make it into parliament.

Alternative for Germany (AfD), a right-wing nationalist party is expected to secure 12% of the vote. Our survey shows AfD enjoys only a modest 4.3% support among young Germans, a share that does not increase among those out of stable work. The Liberals (FDP), who were absent from the lower house during the last legislative period, may get 9% of the youth vote, matching the predictions of the general vote – though we see much less support among young people in precarious work.

Left parties like the DieLinke or Greens get slightly higher shares of votes among young people in precarious work compared to people in stable work. Together, the smaller parties do get 5% of votes among young people but none attracts enough support to make it into parliament alone.

Reluctantly backing the status quo

Young Germans in precarious positions can’t seem to find a political party that represents their interests so they are likely to stay away from politics and elections. Surprisingly, if they do vote, they do as a majority support centre-right parties.

Politically, Angela Merkel has attracted a lot of support and respect for her open borders policy towards refugees. She is also credited with modernising the CDU, enabling the right to same sex marriage and making it legal for same-sex couples to adopt. Merkel’s CDU is a less conservative party than that of Helmut Kohl, which may be why it appeals to our group when they do vote.

At the same time, the Social Democrats have moved towards the middle and lost their distinct profile as a workers’ party committed to social justice.

A sociological explanation for this situation would be that precarity has already become part of an accepted new normality that the young generation does not rebel against. Rather than trying to change their lot with their vote, they turn their back on politics. They may come to change their minds on this point, but it doesn’t seem likely for this election.

Authors: Dr Vera Trappmann, University of Leeds; Dr Danat Valizade, University of Leeds
Originally published on The Conversion, 21st September, 2017