Monday, November 14, 2005

More on social mobility

Today's Guardian reports a study that suggests that working-class children from many ethnic minorities are more successful than their white peers at gaining professional and managerial jobs. It says:

People from Indian working class families are the most successful, said Lucinda Platt, from the University of Essex, who tracked the employment of 140,000 people in England and Wales over 30 years from the 1960s.

Using data from the Office for National Statistics, she found that 56% of people from Indian working class families took up professional or managerial roles in adulthood, while only 43% of those from white, non-immigrant families went into such jobs. Among youngsters from Caribbean families, the figure was 45%.

Ms Platt suggested it was the tendency of migrant parents to encourage and expect their children to do well at school that lay behind the success of these groups when
it came to getting jobs.

This research confirms my own anecdotal experience, and it suggests that a crude class analysis of educational outcomes will not do. Attitudes towards education in individual communities, and within society as a whole, are also immensely important.

Interesting too are the reactions to this research reported on the ePolitix site.

Linda Platt herself, billed as speaking on behalf of the Joseph Rowntree Trust which funded the research, is quoted as saying:
"There is good news to the extent that a disproportionate number of the young people who are upwardly mobile are the children of parents who came to this country as migrants."
Is it good news that a disproportionate number of children of migrants are upwardly mobile? In an ideal world wouldn't we want all groups do be doing about as well as each other?

Platt goes on to say of the children of migrants:
"Their welcome progress is no cause for complacency - especially when it appears to be so much harder for young people from Pakistani or Bangladeshi families to get ahead. We need to do much more to understand why this is happening and the extent to which factors such as racial discrimination are involved."
All that is true, but shouldn't we be worried that white working class children are doing badly too? Perhaps this short comment from Platt was edited down from something more substantial, but the invisibility of the white working class in her comments mirrors its individuality in much liberal discourse. I suspect that invisibility is one of the reasons that the children of that class do so badly in school.

The second reaction given to Platt's research is also interesting. Deng Yai, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers policy adviser on equalities, says:

"We believe policymakers and schools must do more to match resources to need as the class and cultural maps of Britain become more complex.

"In particular, we recommend the ethnic minority achievement grant is reformed to better serve its purpose.

"ATL believes that education provides a key means of tackling inequality and building a cohesive society.

"Educational achievement can help promote social inclusion and upward social mobility, so it is vital that schools and policymakers tackle under-achievement.

"We must ensure all ethnic minority pupils in our schools achieve their potential. In so doing everybody wins - our ethnic minority communities, our society, and our economy."

Again, don't we want pupils from the ethnic majority to fulfill there potential too? Her statement seems particularly odd as a reaction to a report that suggests that many of them do not.

More fundamentally, you still sense behind her remarks that we are being urged to see ethnic diversity as a problem. Whereas the report seems to be saying that in many cases it is precisely the opposite.

There is also a sense that children from ethnic minorities have problems which schools can solve. The truth seems to be the reverse. The attitudes which children from ethnic minorities learn from their parents may constitute a solution to the problems of our education system.

1 comment:

chris said...

This seems to be the other side of something that I blogged a couple of weeks ago on why Muslim India tend not to get good jobs and work up the social ladder. They put Islam ahead of education.