Were You Born to Fail?

Understanding how and why children can learn is central to pedagogy or how teachers teach. Unfortunately, in many schools, getting it (teaching)right for the working class remains a constant challenge.

Children sitting on the floor and listening
Photo by Fany Rahayu on Unsplash

Why Don't Working-class Children Succeed?

An appropriate starting point might be to improve understanding of how working-class, disadvantaged, and SEND children learn, as well as refocus teacher training and professional development in schools on the majority of the population, identifying what is required to prepare children for work. It is also about changing the mindset of adults and the services surrounding the school in order to improve outcomes for all children. I've known for a long time that changing adults' attitudes and behaviors improve children's attitudes and behaviors.

Why Do Working-class Families Not Fully Participate in Early Childhood Programs?

Sure Start Children's Centres were the primary vehicles for ensuring that high-quality family services were accessible and welcoming to all. Every Sure Start Centre aims to improve outcomes for children and families (HC, 2017). Today, some excellent nursery settings take this approach. Suppose we want working-class families to participate in early childhood education fully. In that case, we need to see more of the same: sharing the benefits of early childhood education by building a respectful relationship with families and then maintaining that relationship to help ensure growth and school readiness.

Why Isn't There a Desire to Halt the Rise of Disadvantage Among the Working Class?

Part of the issue is that the context of UK poverty has shifted. Poverty is no longer limited to unemployed people living in public housing. It affects people with disabilities, people who have become ill and have had to give up work, people who are still working, young people (including some who have recently graduated from university), and people who rent from private landlords. The push for welfare reform has been seen as a solution to the problems of disadvantage. Still, it has failed to recognize the changing context and thus the better ways forward (better housing, investment in communities - or reinvestment where cuts have decimated good work - and a continued drive to grow employment and provide good jobs that provide an income on or above a living wage).

Why Is School Regarded as Unimportant By the Working Class?

A curriculum that is not socially and culturally relevant presents more barriers than opportunities and does not engage children in learning will not engage them in learning. The national curriculum in England was based on the knowledge and learning of the middle class. There are solutions to this quandary that, if put in place, would meet the needs of all children. The first is to remove barriers to learning by allowing all children to participate in social and cultural activities, sports, the arts, debating, volunteering, more comprehensive community-based provision, museums, trips, and other activities. The second requires us to connect the curriculum to the child's social context and future. Every community has a rich history that can provide valuable resources. Learning about the workplace can begin in primary school, raising ambitions, breaking down barriers, and adding relevance to learning. A successful school should prioritize increasing access to learning for all students.

Why Is the Success of the Working Class Solely Measured By Exam Results?

The annual media frenzy that follows primary and secondary phase national curriculum assessments (SATs) and GCSE exam results only serve to remind the majority of working-class families that their children are disadvantaged, with private and grammar schools dominating the top of published league tables. For the minority of working-class students who succeed, this demonstrates that passing primary and secondary school exams is possible. Even though recent primary SATs show difficulties for those lacking the necessary social and cultural capital to respond to questions in the English paper. The EPI Closing the Gap research (Andrews et al., 2016) reminds us that 'closing the gap' will take decades. Destination outcomes would be a more meaningful secondary phase assessment. Measuring student outcomes based on where their exams take them. If exam results are to be used as a single measure of success, all types of exams should be considered to provide a complete picture of what each school has to offer.

Why Is the Working Class Lacking in Ambition?

There is no evidence that the working class cannot succeed in education, employment, housing, and health. There is also no evidence that the working class is less likely to want to succeed than others. However, there is a lack of societal ambition beyond fanciful targets (such as university enrollment) that only concern half of the population at best. To increase working-class ambition, there must be a mutual understanding of what alternatives are available and engagement with the working class about what they want. Ambitions can be shared by talking and listening - a do-with rather than do-to approach.

So, Is the Working Class Doomed to Failure?

According to research, rather than decreasing the chances of failure among the working class over the last four decades, we have increased the possibility of housing, education, and social care. This should not have happened and should not be allowed to happen again. Back in 1973, the authors of the Born to Fail report quoted Tawney, saying, 'The continuation of social evils is not due to a lack of knowledge of what is right, but to a preference to continue doing what is wrong.' Those who have the power to remove them lack the will, and those who have the will lack the strength.'

There is also no evidence that the achievement gap cannot be closed for all children, regardless of their background, challenge, or need. Recommending a national goal of 50% will allow for excuses and caveats, creating a barrier to change. According to evidence (Impetus Foundation, 2014, Tinson et al., 2016, PwC, 2016), the key to change is to develop an approach that engenders self-belief, building the core in every child at the earliest stages of development, Aspiration, 'I can,' Access, 'I do,' Attainment, 'I have,' and Achievement, 'I am.'

Finally, it is about taking responsibility, owning a shared moral purpose, and having the ambition and integrity to provide the opportunities and resources that all children and their families require to succeed. This is social justice in action and possibly proper social mobility.