Disenchanted and Disaffected

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Disenchant“to break the spell; to free from illusion or false belief” Disaffect“to cause to lose affection or loyalty; to make distant, hostile, or unsympathetic” (Concise Oxford Dictionary, anwers.com)

Introduction
Over recent years the apparent poor academic performance of working class children, and especially of white working class boys, has become a “hot topic” in the media. Newspapers of various political persuasions have become concerned by the low rates of academic success achieved by this cohort. In the past, working-class children were often encouraged to leave school at the earliest opportunity so that they could begin to earn a wage. Many boys would follow their father into a job or trade. It was perfectly feasible to walk out of school with no qualifications, and walk straight into a job. Modern society requires people to be better qualified, and the jobs that are available are different – call centre work is probably the modern equivalent of factory work, but requires a specific skill set that factory work did not. The workplace has changed, and continues to change. In 1984, 8% of the workforce were engaged in professional work. By 2004, this figure had risen to 12%, and by 2020 is expected to reach 14%. Likewise, “personal services” employed 4% of the workforce in 1984 and is expected to account for 9% by 2020. Meanwhile, the percentage of the workforce employed in skilled trades fell from 16% in 1984 to 11% in 2004, and “elementary occupations” fell from 16% to 8% over the same period. (HM Treasury, 2005) As the workplace changes, and the number of jobs open to unskilled 16 year olds declines, education and the acquisition of qualifications becomes of increasing importance to a group for whom education is sometimes viewed as an imposition. Estimates of the percentage of 16 – 24 year olds not in education, employment or training (NEETs) range from 6% to 18% of the age group (Abrams, 2010 & Shepherd, 2009). It is likely that a large percentage of these young people will be the ones for whom education never really worked; who left school with few or no marketable qualifications, having failed to find out what they were good at. The 16 – 24 year olds classified as NEET tend to display certain social and economic characteristics. They are “more likely to come from workless households, have parents with no or low educational qualifications and/or live in the social housing sector” (Rennison et al, 2005). So NEETs tend to have performed poorly at school and their parents tend to have low socio-economic status. The kind of media attention this topic has been subjected to is demonstrated by headlines such as: “Have white working-class Britons been left behind by New Labour?” The Telegraph

15 Jan 2010
“White working-class boys consigned to educational scrapheap by Labour and liberal establishment.” Daily Mail
19 March 2008
“White working-class boys are the worst performers in school.” The Independent
22 June 2007
“Who has failed the white working class?”
The Guardian
4 November 2006

Journalists, of course, use emotive language to create an impact. But should we be concerned? Is there a problem? And if there is a problem, is it new or has it always been there? Historical Context

The impact of social class on educational attainment is an issue that has been looked at over many years. In the years before World War II, it was felt that relative poverty and social deprivation were the main explanation for the differences in achievement between children in higher and lower social classes. However, in the post war period the material conditions of working class children improved significantly, but this did not result in an improvement in their level of achievement relative to their more affluent peers. This “educational discrepancy” has been clear since the 1944 Education Act established free and compulsory education up to the age of 15, and introduced the tri-partite system of Grammar,...
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