Education and aspiration, gender and class.

An important report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission draws attention to the low aspirations that it appears schools (amongst myriad other factors, surely) are fostering in girls from working class backgrounds (reported on here):

Trevor Phillips [chair of the commission] said: “The majority of young women who come from working-class backgrounds believe they will fail. They believe the best they can do is to be a hairdresser or work in one of the three Cs: catering, childcare or cleaning. These are proper careers and I don’t want to do them down. The problem is we have a society where young girls who aren’t from well-off professional families can’t see themselves as successful in anything but a limited range of jobs

And from the report:

Girls’ attitudes to career choice remain traditional despite moves towards gender equality in wider society. Regardless of socio-economic background, the top three jobs girls believed they would be working in were teaching, childcare and beauty. Four times more boys compared to girls believed they would go into engineering, with similar percentages of boys over girls choosing building, architecture, trade and IT careers.

Poor career and subject advice was also highlighted as a major problem, with information provided to young people often reinforcing class, gender, ethnic and disability stereotypes.

Importantly, a range of recommendations are made to try to alter these failings:

Recommendations made by the Commission in the report include:

  • Reviewing the current £30 a week Education Maintenance Allowance with a consideration to increase the maintenance.
  • Further Education colleges to consider offering vocational courses to young people who have no GCSEs as a way of re-engaging 16 year olds who leave school without any qualifications.
  • The Department of Children, Schools and Families to introduce work experience and vocational options earlier to students
  • The Commission to work with the National Apprenticeships Service on initiatives to open up apprenticeships to women, people with disabilities and ethnic minorities.

2 thoughts on “Education and aspiration, gender and class.

  1. so, here’s a story about my mum: when i was at university, i did very well, but was a philosophy student, so my mum, like most people, had *no* idea what i would possibly do with this degree. so she offered suggestions. very regularly. and they were often ‘freelance proofreading’ sort of suggestions. or ‘medical ethicist’ (i was working on language and metaphysics), where by ‘medical ethicist’ she meant someone who acts as a freelance, occasional consultant to hospitals. in other words, ones that were compatible with having children in america.

    at one point, i considered going to law school but later decided i’d stick with philosophy. my mother–ignorant of my reasons for deciding not to go into law (law students seemed like assholes, and i was much more interested in what the truth of the matter was than in what the law said)–helpfully suggested “you could become a law professor instead of a lawyer! that way when you have babies you can work part time!”

    now, leave aside the fact that the woman, bless her, clearly thinks that any old schmo can earn a professorship in law with as little work into it as they please, and less work than would go into a ‘proper’ legal career. but notice what she was doing: she consistently suggested less time-demanding, and in some sense less ambitious professions because she was taking into account the difficulty of working and raising children in america, and was further assuming that i would have children.

    at the time, i had absolutely no intention of having children, and it was obvious to me what she was doing, so i was able to simply ignore it. but had it not been obvious, or had it been the case that i was sure i wanted to be a mother, i probably would’ve internalised this picture of what my options were. (not the prof of law one; i would’ve know that was silly talk either way.)

    i suspect the only difference between my mum and average working-class mums is that my mum knew phrases like “medical ethicist”.

    (funny story: i made my own wedding cake. it was grand: it had mountain goats on the top. when my mother saw it she exclaimed “it’s wonderful! you could make a career out of this!!” yep. sure ma. just as soon as i wrap up this silly ole phd i’ll get to work on that!)

  2. Hi elp – thanks for sharing your tales! I imagine that is quite a familiar pattern.
    This assumption – that having children and bringing them up is a problem for women (and not, or at least less so, for men) and their careers – came up quite frequently in that interesting documentary you directed us to recently.

    Not surprising that there’s slightly different messages going out to women of different economic and (often thereby) educational backgrounds: on the one hand ‘you can do anything you want (as long as you combine it with having children)’. On the other ‘you can’t do anything you want (but of course what you can do is have children)’ (-or something like that?).
    And not surprising that you’d have low esteem if you get the latter message on a fairly regular basis.

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