Analysis of teachers’ perspectives on how social class affects children’s academic outcome and overall experience of school
Danielle Joyce BA (hons.)
Firstly, I would like to start with thanking my supervisor Dr Ceryn Evans and my personal tutor Dr Cathryn Knight. Throughout my three years at university these two lecturers have ensured on going support, comfort and encouragement and I could not have achieved this without them.
I would also like to express my gratitude to each of the participants for giving their time and sharing their personal stories and views with myself. Particularly those who continued to participate despite a global pandemic. This research would not have been possible without these teachers and their experiences.
Lastly, I would personally like to thank my family and friends who have offered support and help throughout my university career.
This paper reports the findings of an investigation into teachers’ perceptions of social class;
the ways in which it manifests within the education system and its’ affects upon pupils in
terms of both educational outcomes and experiences. This study employs qualitative
methods of data collection and thematic analysis throughout. The COAH ethics’ protocols
were respected throughout this study.
The participants were recruited using a convenience sample and comprised six teachers and teaching assistants, drawn from a broad spectrum of differing socio-economic backgrounds within West Glamorgan, The findings from the interviews involving this sample conclude that class often – although, not always – proves to be a significant determining factor which impacts upon a student’s academic outcome and experience. Interestingly, a number of the individuals within the sample were also able to identify methods that could be utilised in order to redress this inequality, to ‘close the gap’, as it were, between students from differing social classes. The evidence from this study indicates that social class often has an impact on a child’s educational outcomes and/or experiences, and that teachers are often aware of this factor. It was identified from the evidence that those from working class backgrounds are often disadvantaged and are subject to certain inequalities within education- primary examples being a limited access to resource material and/or additional tuition.
Table of contents
Acknowledgements i Table of Contents ii List of Appendices iv Abstract v
Chapter one: introduction 1
Chapter two: Literature review 2 2.1 Introduction 3
2.2 The impact of social class on children/young peoples’ educational 3 attainment and experiences
2.3 Explanations for the relationship between social class and education 6
2.4 Teachers’ perceptions on ‘ability’, temperament, ‘teachability’ or school readiness 8
2.5 Conclusion 9
Chapter three: Methods and methodology
3.1 Introduction 10
3.2 Research design and method 10
3.3 Sample and setting 11
3.4 Ethical considerations 12
3.5 Data analysis 13
Chapter four: Findings/analysis
4.1 Introduction 15
4.2 Teacher influence and school support 15
4.3 Parental and family influence 18
4.4 Teachers perceptions of academic achievement 20
4.5 Conclusion 22
Chapter five: Discussion/Conclusion
5.1 Discussion 23
5.2 Conclusion 24
Appendix A Appendix B Appendix C Appendix D
List of appendices
Appendix A: Interview questions
Appendix B: Consent form
Appendix C: Participant Information Sheet
Appendix D: Research Diary
This research study will focus specifically on the way in which teachers perceive the impact of social class upon the academic outcomes and experiences, within education of their pupils. In order to gain a properly contextualised understanding of the role of class as it reveals itself within the education system, this paper will take into account recent research and academic discourse that comments on the broader questions of the interrelationship between contemporary society and social class. It will also consider the importance of the subjective experiences and perspectives of educators (teachers and teaching assistants) and the way in which this might be crucial to both education and education policies within the United Kingdom.
The decision to focus on this important issue stems, in part, from the personal experience of having been raised in a working-class household in social housing and, as such, the insight gained from the lived experience of the way in which class impacts upon educational experience and outcome. In a broader social context, there is evidence of an obvious increase in class inequality. In terms of education this is reflected and regularly highlighted in the media with reports of disadvantaged pupils being ‘stuck’ 18 months behind those from a more affluent background. This is a point endorsed by Coughlan who insists that for each year that a child spends in education, the gap between rich and poor grows wider (Coughlan., 2019; Coughlan, 2018). Using this as a starting point for discussion, this study will examine the attitudes and perceptions gathered from the convenience sample of educators in order to gain some insight on the way in which class difference, and the perception of class difference, influences educational opportunities and outcome.
The United Kingdom has the fifth largest global economy. Yet, a UNICEF report, looking at educational inequalities throughout 41 countries, ranks the ranks the United Kingdom as 16th from the top in terms of educational inequality during the secondary school years. Still worse, in terms of primary education the UK came 23rd (Chzhen., Rees., Gromada, Cuesta & Bruckauf., 2018). This is clearly unacceptable and clearly demonstrates a drastic need to address the situation; urgent improvements must be made to ensure equality throughout our education system. Consequently, this study aims to identify specifically what, in the opinion of teaching staff, need to be done.
It is evident that the government’s attempts to ensure equality, such as the Equality Act for schools (Welsh Government., 2014) and the pupil deprivation grant (Welsh Government., 2019), meant to provide support for those from low income backgrounds, have not been successful. Moreover, there is an urgent need to uncover why, even with these government guidelines and aid in place, there is still a persistent issue of educational inequality. It is significant to note how this class-based disadvantage has tended to pertain even within schools where there is a pro-active emphasis on equality and equal opportunity.
It is intended that this study will contribute to the pre-existing body of knowledge in this field of research, by focusing on the insight gained from the opinions of both teachers and teaching assistants from the primary and secondary sectors, in order to shed new and illuminating professional insight into the function of parental roles, government influence and achievement levels throughout the social classes.
The study is structured as follows: chapter two will discuss some of the key texts from the pre-existing body of research in relation to the impact social class on children’s academic outcomes and achievements, the possible explanations for the relationship between social class and education and also, teachers’ perceptions of social class and how it affects children’s abilities and outcomes. Chapter 3 outlines and explains the methodological approach involved in this study. Chapter 4 will discuss and analyse the findings – specifically, teacher influence and school support, parental and family influence, and finally, teachers’ perceptions of academic achievement. In conclusion it will be argued how and why the findings of this paper might usefully influence future decisions within schools and how it might constructively affect current government policy.
This research aims to explore teachers’ views of social class and its consequent impact on children and young people’s academic attainment and outcomes. The literature discussed in this chapter provides a theoretical framework for the study: Identifying the attainment gap that exists amongst pupils from differing socio-economic backgrounds it both informs and confirms the findings of the present study. Importantly, these texts offer a properly contextualised and informed background discussion of government policy, family influence and pupil experience thus facilitating a broader understanding and response to the overarching research topic.
2.2 The impact of social class on children/young peoples’ educational attainment and experience
The relationship between social class and educational attainment is well documented. For example, according to Andrews, Robinson and Hutchinson (2017), the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers nationally, at the end of secondary school, is at 19.3 months. It is thought that throughout secondary school more advantaged students tend to advance on those who are disadvantaged by approximately two months every year. If this situation were allowed to continue, it is estimated that it would take around fifty years in order to completely close this gap. This is clearly unacceptable. The introduction of tougher exams throughout England in 2019 has clearly, for the present, disrupted any moves to narrow the attainment gap as only 456 of the 143,000 of pupils who were considered to be from a disadvantaged background (meaning they received free school meals or were in Local Authority care) achieved top grade 9s in English and maths. Comparing these figures with the 6,132 pupils of the 398,000 who were not considered to be from a disadvantaged background, the disparity is shocking. Similarly, and in the same year, just 36% of students who received free school meals achieved a grade 4 in maths, while more than two-thirds of their peers achieved this grade. It is evident from these results that there is still an enormous and disturbing attainment gap between children from differing social backgrounds (Department of Education., 2020). Many schools have now opted to focus on children’s individual progress, as opposed to just on those who receive top grades, to identify the most academically affluent children. ESTYN have collated a number of more encouraging reports from schools such as Ysgol Bro Gwydir (ESTYN., 2018) and Maendy Primary School (ESTYN., 2017). These schools have been pro-active in choosing to encourage pupils’ personal development and educational outcomes by using tools such as intervention groups which focus on important issues such as pupil’s well-being and overall educational experience.
Archer, Hutchings, Ross and others have consistently argued that those from more affluent, middle class families are in a position of advantage from the moment they first enter education; significantly, this advantage seems to increase as they progress through the system. (Archer, Hutchings, & Ross. 2005; Bathmaker, Ingram, & Waller, 2013; Andrews, Robinson, & Hutchinson. 2017). Worryingly, this is often seen to be at the expense of less socially and economically privileged peers. Parental influence often leads to lower aspirations amongst those from the working class which, combined with the ne obvious influence of place and limitations of space pace, often work negatively to further undermine the educational possibilities available to these children. Whilst the government would seem to be working to eliminate such inequalities, the reality is that little has changed in real terms. For example, the devolved Welsh Assembly introduced a pupil development grant (Welsh Government., 2019) which aimed to improve students’ academic achievement by providing more funding per pupil. This includes £125 made available to low income families for the purchase of school uniform. However, a review found that although this funding would indicate some narrowing in the gap, this gap was already shown to be closing. Moreover, the government has not met the full demands needed in order for the grant to reach its full potential (Children, Young People and Education Committee, 2018). This shows that more still needs to be done to enable equality and sufficient aid for those from lower income households in order to address the attainment gap.
This study focuses its attention in primary and secondary education as the period shown to be most likely to influence future life choices. However, it is worth noting that class difference and its’ related privileges and advantages persists through to higher education also. Historically, and in contrast to those from a working-class background, the tendency has been for those of the middle and upper middle classes to progress to higher education and beyond (Archer., Hutchings, & Ross, 2005). It has been said that those from more privileged backgrounds are more likely to achieve a sought-after graduate position at university as they have been conditioned to ‘play the game’. (Bathmaker, Ingram. & Waller., 2013) Furthermore, they are shown to be at a significant advantage in terms of career prospects that, in turn, both confirms and perpetuates a class bias. Wiseman has posited that one reason for this might be the tendency in working class households to encourage immediate rather than deferred earning potential. Indeed, in situations where poverty is a real determining factor this might be a necessity (Wiseman et al., 2017).
It is important to understand that class impacts not only on a child’s educational outcome but also, and perhaps even more importantly, on his/her overall educational experience; the way in which it shapes the perceptions of others towards that individual. Think, for instance, about the ways in which a child’s socio-economic positioning might contribute to victimisation and bullying, or how it might highlight a child’s difference because of a limited access to extra-curricular activities. This illustrates what DeAngelis has observed as the widening gap between classes which seems to negatively affect ‘health, well-being, self-image, relationships, stereotyping and prejudice’ (DeAngelis., 2015). This goes some way to explaining why there is often bullying between children from differing social classes. Moreover, it has been shown that socially and economically disadvantaged pupils are most likely to be involved within ‘bully culture’ – either as perpetrator or as a victim (Jansen et al., 2012). Further confirmation of this phenomenon can be seen in the fact that, as one study specifically demonstrates, countries with high levels of income inequality often results in an increased incidence bullying amongst school children (Elgar, Craig, Boyce., Morgan. & Vella-Zarb., 2009).
An important, and related concern highlights the marked difference in social interaction both with peers and with teaching staff. It has been found that socially disadvantaged pupils are far are more likely to experience unstructured social situations, spending time with peers in the absence of any authority figure (Mahoney., Larson., & Eccles., 2005). Although somewhat controversially, this kind of unsupervised socialising has been linked with higher rates of deviance that, it is said, will inevitably bear upon both educational experience and outcomes. (Bachman, Wallace, O’Malley, Johnston., Kurth., & Neighbors.1991). Yet, in contrast, it has been argued, interestingly, that those pupils from a less privileged background display significantly more empathy than their socially and economically advantaged peers who tend to be motivated more by self-interest and who appear to excel in terms of confidence and independence. This appears to have a cumulative affect and ultimately enhances both the educational and employment opportunities made available by Higher Education (Manstead, 2018). Of course, this highlights the urgency of the need for government and policy makers to address the underlying issue of inequality within the education system and to establish the provision of a broad-based skills set.
As has already been mentioned the divergence in educational experiences amongst pupils also extends to after school activities. A study that focuses specifically on extra-curricular activities has concluded that the students who did not participate tend to fall into one or more of the following categories: those whose socioeconomic status was lower, those who received lower grades, and attended larger schools (Feldman, & Matjasko, 2007). This indicates educational experiences throughout school. There is often a similar difference within young people’s social lives since males from a working-class background are more likely to inherit a more toxic view of education and the experiences that go with it. Ward (2015) discusses masculinities within working class men and how they are influenced by their surroundings. He says, ‘Young working-class masculinities are not just shaped by place, but masculine identities shape and influence the specific character of places themselves’ (p.34). This could have a drastic influence on young males’ educational experiences as they could see education in a negative light and change behaviours, therefore adapt the character of the place, leading to a lack of positive experience’s for other students.
2.3 Explanations for the relationship between social class and education
Although social class is immediately linked with wealth or occupation, there are often differing connotations when linked with education. Social class can have a range of impacts on children’s’ education, such as their access to materials and also, access to social and cultural resources or capitals. A key example here of the way in which class informs a child’s educational outcomes is the material resources to which hey and their family have access to. These resources include the books children have access to, the additional help available (such as private tutors), clothes that are worn, trips that are taken and even down to the food which children eat (Weis & Dolby, 2012). This could therefore have a dramatic impact on students’ educational attainment as children from a higher-class background could have access to relevant books and additional support which those from a lower-class background might not afford. It has been said that factors such as additional tuition is ‘detriment to the public good’ as it disrupts the intention of education which is to create equal opportunities for children from all backgrounds and social classes (Heyneman, 2011). Therefore, students from a more affluent background are more advantaged when it comes to educational development as they can afford additional help and tuition.
The social class of children is almost always linked to their parental social class and societal upbringing. For example, when examining learned behaviours amongst adolescents involving smoking and drinking, it is thought that gender and social class derive a large involvement on the impact from parental influences. Those from a lower-class background are more likely to smoke if their parents do (Green., Macintyre, West, & Ecob, 1991) and therefore, it is important to take social class into account when analysing children’s learned behaviours as both social class and parental influences often overlap, including throughout education. According to the department for children, schools and families (2008), it is thought that parents have the most important impact on children, along with the people and places they are associated with. Often, young people from more deprived areas are less likely to develop ‘ambitious, achievable aspirations’, this can be related to the experiences and influences from their parents and social class experiences, However, this is not the case for all deprived areas as some young people grow up with strong aspirations and aim to escape their societal disadvantages and background (Roberts, & Evans, 2013). I aim to obtain the opinions of teachers on the influence in which social class and parental roles have on children’s educational outcomes.
A key factor that contributes to children’s educational outcomes and experiences is that of social and cultural capital. Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s government policy attempted to tackle this by encouraging higher parental involvement with their children’s academic experience through the introduction of quasi-markets within educational settings. These markets were implemented to ensure factors such as parental choice surrounding their children’s education along with the publication of information on schools to influence these decisions and encourage schools to provide diversity (Croxford, & Raffe, 2007). However, many parents from a lower socioeconomic background will have sociological understanding and ability to make effective decisions. Whereas, those from a more middle- or upper-class background tend to utilise ‘the market’ and their contacts to ensure they can maintain the class advantage and make appropriate decisions to ensure the best educational possibilities for their children (Ball., 2006). This creates an automatic disadvantage for children from a lower socioeconomic background.
A study carried out in 2008 (Vincent., Braun., & Ball), compared interviews with mothers from both middle and working-class backgrounds. The findings indicated a difference both in their respective understandings of appropriate childcare and in their experiences of social networking. The suggestion is that a lack of social capital amongst working class parents would most likely result in missed opportunities regarding childcare, schools and support. Class difference then can be said to have an influence on child development and, importantly on the accessibility to education and knowledge. This is endorsed by Garcia and Weiss (2017), who have demonstrated the way in which the performance gaps determined by social class tend to develop within the early years of childhood, thus confirming social class as a principal determinant in the prediction of a child’s educational success. The research also illustrates how children who begin their education from a position of social and economic disadvantage tend to be dis-equipped and rarely outperform more advantaged peers. This is further confirmed by the consistency of data between 1998 and 2010 and it will be of interest to examine the attitudes of teachers in regard to tackling this persistent issue.
2.4 Teachers’ perceptions on ‘ability’, temperament, ‘teachability’ or school readiness
It has been proven that positive teacher-student relationships have a significant and positive impact on pupils’ experience of education and confirms the importance of that fundamental relationship and its relevance to influencing and nurturing a positive attitude towards education. (Danielsen., Samdal., Hetland., & Wold., 2009). A study involving secondary school teachers also showed that most teachers view themselves as subject matter, didactical and pedagogical experts (Beijaard., Verloop., & Vermunt., 2000). A further study showed that a teacher involved recognised that understanding students’ culture would enable her to become a better teacher and recognises how much of an impact culture has on children’s academic outcomes and experiences (Allard., & Santoro., 2006).
However, it should be noted that there is often a subconscious bias amongst teachers in terms of class, gender and ethnicity, which often comes as a shock to teachers who rarely harbour any conscious bias (Clark., & Zygmunt., 2014). An example of this kind of bias shows how in one multi-racial school, black teachers viewed the white children as middle class and ‘good’ students. On the other hand, white teachers viewed these students as low income and ‘unremarkable’ within this context (Morris., 2005).
Regrettably whilst there has been some study of teachers’ attitudes and perceptions of identity, there is a profound absence of serious recent research specifically evaluating teachers’ attitudes to class as it relates to educational experience and outcome. There has been some evidence to suggest that teaching staff tend to have more positive perceptions of their relationships with White and Hispanic parents and pupils, than their relationships with A study in which looked at the teacher-parent and teacher-student relationships identified that teachers perceived their relationships with white and Hispanic pupils and parents more positively than those with their African and black American counterparts (Hughes., Gleason., & Zhang., 2005). This shows that there is still a palpable racial inequality at work in education. One might argue that this, in many ways, echoes something of the class difference as it manifests within the British education system.
The aforementioned texts all highlight and expose a continuing socio-economic gap that persists within our education system. Moreover, this body of literature confirms this class divide continues to grow, the poorest fifth of the population accounting for a shocking 4% of the country’s wealth. (Kidd, 2019). This is a shocking statistic, and well documented since these studies all confirm the urgent need to redress this inequality. There is however a significant gap in the literature in regard to teachers’ personal and subjective perceptions of social class and its relationship to educational outcomes and experiences. It is this gap in the pre-existing body of research that this paper aims to address
Teachers have a singularly important role in so far as they have the first-hand experience that places them in a unique position to offer solutions for combatting the inequalities suffered by pupils from socially and economically disadvantaged back grounds. Taking this as a basic premise, this study aims to answer the following questions:
- What are teachers’ views on the role of social class in children’s academic progress?
- What are teachers’ views on working with and supporting children from different social class backgrounds?
- How can teachers be equipped to support the academic progress of children from ranging social class backgrounds?
It is believed that in attempting to explore these issues, this research will influence and facilitate future policymaking in a way that will benefit disadvantaged pupils.
Throughout this study, the method of data collection used was that of semi- structured interviews. This method enabled and allowed for a deeper insight into the teachers views and understanding of social class (Fylan, 2005). This was made possible by the specificity of the questions whilst still allowing for the freedom for more in depth discussion if it were felt that the participant might have more to say on the topic. The data collected from each of the interview was then compared with other interviews from the sample and also with reference to previous research surrounding this topic (Cohen & Crabtree., 2006). The study is positioned in the interpretivist perspective, thus enabling the examination and interpretation of the implicit meanings that the participants attach to their lives and social experiences. (O’donoghue, 2006) This epistemological approach along with the social constructivism and ontological approach is fitting for the study of social class, its construction and impact on educational outcome and experience (Husserl,1965).
3.2 Research design and method
The semi-structured interviews took place within familiar settings for the participants in order to ensure that they felt safe, and comfortable to answer these questions ‘face to face’. The decision to conduct these interviews face to face, instead of other means of communication, ensured a positive understanding between interviewer, and interviewee. Moreover, there is evidence to suggest that face to face interviews provide a clear understanding of questions and that participants are more likely to provide more in-depth answers (Irvine., Drew & Sainsbury., 2013).
I conducted six interviews with teachers and teaching assistants located in schools within the South Wales area. Each one lasted between twenty and thirty minutes and was recorded on a mobile phone. The recording enabled me to later transcribe the data, and thus ensure it was accurate, whilst also allowing me to analyse the questions and evaluate the way in which they were to reflect the research aims. To ensure the participants were able to inform me of their views and any additional information on the topic, they were offered the opportunity to do so outside of the interview questions thus allowing for any additional information, they deemed necessary.
The use of semi-structured interviews as opposed to more formal questionnaires had the additional benefit of allowing for a more personal interaction with the participants, and as such encouraged them to share personal information and experiences that would have proved difficult to obtain from a questionnaire. One disadvantage of this method of data collection was that it precluded the analysis of macro patterns amongst the sample setting, that a survey would have made possible. (Fielding., Fielding., & Fielding., 1986). However, I did not intend to explore specific macro patterns. Rather, I wanted to gather rich and detailed accounts of teachers’ views and perspectives, and therefore it was decided that the semi-structured interviews were the most suitable approach.
3.3 Sample and setting
This primary purpose of the study is to focus on teachers’ perspectives of social class, and how it affects children’s academic outcomes and experiences; therefore, the sample included a variety of six teachers and teaching assistants from both primary and secondary school settings. The study was carried out within three primary schools and one secondary school within the West Glamorgan area of South Wales. Each school was chosen specifically because of its location within an area where there was evidence of class difference and deprivation. Specifically, the schools were each located within the catchment area of both social and private housing, thus ensuring the necessary presence of sociocultural diversity that would inform the participants’ individual responses. Each school was an English medium, state school. By using a range of participants from differing settings, year group and level, I was able to gather a broad overall opinion that reflected the teaching profession. Access to the individuals that comprised this convenience sample was obtained, initially, by emailing teachers from a number of schools with which I already had a prior relationship.
Each of the participants acknowledged the experience of class differences within their schools. I chose to include teaching assistants within my research as they often experience more one on one contact with children and, as such, are more likely to notice any underlying issues or problems that perhaps the class teacher would miss. The participants included the following:
Table 1: Participants in sample
|Pseudonym||Role||Number of years teaching||School year groups they teach within their organisation|
|Miss Bond||Teacher||11 years||7 – 13.|
|Miss Brown||Teacher||18 years||7, 8, 11, 12 and 13.
Also, head of year 11
|Mr Davies||Teacher||28 years||7-13.
Also, head of English.
|Miss Smith||Teaching assistant||11 years||Year 2 but spent 11 years teaching reception.|
|Mr John||Deputy head teacher||25 years||No specific teacher responsibilities but often covers year 6 for PPA.|
|Miss Palmer||Teaching assistant for ALN children||3 years||Foundation phase.|
The interviews took place within the teachers own classroom space to ensure ease of access. This familiarity of surroundings was intended to encourage the teachers involved to open up more within the interview itself. Also, importantly the surroundings were more likely to trigger relevant memories.
3.4 Ethical considerations
Throughout my research and interviews, I was faced with multiple ethical issues much like any other researcher. The main considerations I ensured to take are that of informed consent, confidentiality and also anonymity.
According to BERA (2018) consent must be given by participant at the start of the study and the researcher must understand that if the participant chooses to withdraw consent at any time the research with said person must not continue. I ensured I provided each participant with an information sheet, via email, explaining what the study required of them, prior to any agreement from the participant to provide consent. Each participant was then able to make an informed decision; to consent and sign the consent form, thus agreeing to take part and to allow me to record their interview session. At the beginning and end of each interview I clarified that the participants were still willing for me to use the data collected from their interview sessions within my research study.
Participants in this study had, and still have, a right to confidentiality and anonymity throughout (BERA, 2018). I have ensured I have complied with this throughout the research, to the best of my ability. I have done this by using pseudonyms for the names of participants I informed participants that they have confidentiality by means of protected identity, however, that this cannot be completely guaranteed as in extreme cases some people may carry out research to identify participants. The data I collected from each interview was deleted from my mobile phone and transferred to a password protected laptop to ensure access is as restricted as possible.
3.5 Data analysis
To analyse the data collected from my research, I first transcribed each interview accurately to ensure the themes and opinions were clear throughout. I then used key concepts from my literature review including the role that parents play within children’s academic life; the support provided by the government for schools to code the transcripts. By coding the transcripts, I was able to identify the most important points that answered my research questions. Following this, I further analysed my qualitative data by conducting thematic analysis on the data which I had collected, thus enabling me to identify specific themes and patterns (that were noted across multiple interviews (Braun & Clarke., 2006). The themes which emerged from the data are as follows:
- Parental and family influence
- Teacher influence and school support
- Teachers’ perceptions of academic achievement
These themes were crucial to the proper evaluation of the evidence gathered and helped fully formulate my own questions.
Using thematic analysis this chapter will present the findings from the interviews in terms of the key themes that emerged from the analysis of the data: teacher influence and school support, parental and family influence and finally, teachers’ perceptions of academic achievement.
4.2 Teacher Influence and school support
A strong theme to emerge from the data was that of teacher influence and school support. A number of participants alluded to the influence of good teaching practice, professional development and personal knowledge of those children from disadvantaged backgrounds. It is suggested that these factors are crucial in determining the successful support by schools of children from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
Each of the six interviews, placed significant emphasis on the importance of good teachers, their professional development and teachers’ awareness of their students’ social backgrounds. Specifically, they identified how a level of openness within the teacher/pupil relationship ensures a level of understanding of the circumstances of children’s home lives and socio-economic backgrounds. For example, Miss Bond and Miss Brown, both from secondary schools and, similarly, Miss Palmer from a primary school highlighted this:
Miss Bond: If you teach them one year and you carry on teaching them, you get to know them more and more. And, you know, we’re not like robots. They do talk about their lives and their family and things like that. So, you do get to know a bit more
Miss Brown: Talking to children or having conversations about their lives and what’s going on in their lives or what’s happened last night. You kind of piece together information sort of as you go along. You know, the odd comment here and there doesn’t necessarily mean someone’s got a terrible social background, but then you might hear something else and something else is something else and then all that together, then you start to think that things are a bit worse than you thought.
Miss Palmer: I know a lot about the children’s background in my class because we like to communicate well with the families and the children we work with.
Each of these teachers emphasise the importance of strong relationships and non-academic based conversations within both primary and secondary school organisations. This illustrates how a positive teacher/student relationship encourages openness and discussion of social class and any issues they have. This often leads to a positive experience of school, therefore impacting on academic attainment and educational experience. This correlates with the findings of research published by Danielsen, Samdal, Hetland and Wolds (2009) findings that posits a positive teacher/pupil relationship as fundamental to educational satisfaction.
The six participants involved within this study were of varied professional experience that ranged between 3 and 28years. Interestingly, however, each individual had apparently noted an increased emphasis on an increased emphasis on class difference within education. For example, Mr John said:
It really has changed, there has been more of a focus from governments in trying to support and raise the standards of these children who come from deprived areas or cultural areas. And schools now are more accountable on how these children are supported, which was never the case, really, in the past. You know, you were just left up to it to get on with it.
This would indicate that teachers feel that the efforts of both schools and government, such as the introduction of the pupil deprivation grant (Welsh Government., 2019), are important in attempting address class difference and related educational outcomes. Funding was a recurring theme in this context. For example, Mr Davies discusses further professional development and the positive impact this has had on more socially disadvantaged pupils including those in receipt of free school meals:
We have an EFSM [eligible for free school meals] series of continuing professional learning sessions, where the latest research was shared with staff where we all agreed to try all different strategies including being aware of who our FSM students were by positive discriminating for FSM students by actively rewarding and praising FSM students in class and that’s had a big impact.
Previous research has shown that teachers often exert subconscious biases, often unconsciously perceiving those pupils from differing cultural and socio-economic backgrounds as less able within school and academic settings (Morris., 2005; Clark., & Zygmunt., 2014). However, as we can see from Mr Davies’s interview extract, having an awareness of children on FSM, and hence from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds, could have positive implications, especially if practices such as positive discrimination are used.
It has emerged from the set of interviews that government funding is utilised in both primary and secondary schools to encourage the educational development and academic experiences of children from less socially affluent backgrounds This funding has been used in each of the schools that participated in this study. For example,
Miss Bond: We provided every pupil who had free school meals with like a resource pack. So, they had like an art book, they had a pencil case full of stuff and like the school, spent a lot of money on that, but because the pupils, some of them would sort of used to having nice things and they sort of didn’t take care of them
Miss Brown: Free school meals kids in school, obviously, get free school meals, they can go on free trips, they don’t pay for trips, they can get free study guides, they get given equipment, they can be given uniform, so all those sort of physical things can be done.
Miss Smith: Children have access to free school meals and breakfast clubs.
These activities and additional aid can begin to positively influence a student’s wellbeing, health and relationships which have previously been said to be negatively impacted by the increasing gap between social classes within education (DeAngelis, 2015). These interviews further support the previous data and evidence that emphasises, for instance, the importance of support and also of the teachers’ awareness of children who receive free school meals. This shows a strong feeling on this topic is present across all interviews. Factors such as free school meals and funded trips offer children from the most deprived backgrounds the opportunity to achieve within education and to receive a positive education experience.
A further form of government funding that was frequently discussed by the participants was the pupil deprivation grant. This grant was implemented to provide more funding per pupil in an attempt to close the gap between students from differing social classes (Welsh Government., 2019). Both Mr Davies and Mr John alluded to the PDG in their respective interviews, commenting on its impact from their individual professional perspectives:
Mr Davies: I’ve worked in some schools where we’ve used PG pupil deprivation grants to provide additional tuition for some students. That’s been successful in some schools. But then the pupil deprivation grant isn’t a limitless fund.
Mr John: The majority of it goes on teacher and support staff salaries to help those children. We use it to employ an attendance officer. Because obviously attendance is really important for children, and if they don’t turn up to school, then they’re not going to make the progress … We’ve employed a family liaison officer … And we have sort of our well-being officer that deals with the sort of well-being side of children because we are finding that it’s becoming more and more of an issue now with children’s mental health, and things like that.
Mr Davies and Mr Johns accounts highlight the ways in which how the pupil deprivation grant, PDG, is being utilised to benefit children from all social backgrounds and to improve their academic outcomes and experiences. However, both were keen to point out that there was insufficient funding to ensure equality and appropriate aid is available for each and every child. This coincides with the findings of the Children, Young People and Education committee (2018), which concluded that more needed to be done in order for the grant to reach its full potential.
4.3 Parental and family influence
Participants tended to emphasise the importance of parental and family influence and discussed how a positive support network has an impact on children’s academic experiences and outcomes. The participants highlighted a number of specifics including adopting an open-door policy for parents and the importance of engaging parents and the significance of a family background where both parents are in employment.
A related concept that was raised by Mr Davies is that of parents in professional and high-income roles and the considerable advantages that this affords a pupil. Previous research has confirmed this (Ball, 2006; Weis & Dolby., 2012). According to Mr Davies:
If you’ve arrived from an affluent background, you can get your way your parents, both maybe highly educated, so they’ll be able to help you in the first instance. But even if they’re not able to help you, then they’ll be able to afford to get someone who can help you, which makes a massive difference.
Similarly, Miss Smith, Miss Brown and Miss Palmer also comment on the way in which parents’ own social and educational backgrounds often prove to be instrumental in influencing the educational outcomes and academic engagement of their offspring.
Miss Smith: Education attainment is far greater if the parents have a good standard of education. These parents tend to engage with their child’s education and provide additional resources to support and encourage their child’s education. Whereas children with parents with poor education tend to be disengaged with learning as they feel they are unable to enhance their learning and have little confidence in learning and this reflects in the child’s abilities to engage in education. Nevertheless, some participants felt that it also depends on how the parents themselves engage with education, no matter the social class, they said:
Miss Palmer: A parent who works all time and a parent who doesn’t work at all can have the same effect on a child’s education. I feel it all depends on parenting skills and how a parent engages with education themselves
Miss Brown: I think it’s just basic things like if you grow up in a house where you know one or two parents are working, those children are used to seeing somebody get up for work in the morning they are used to seeing somebody get up and get ready, they are used to seeing somebody have to wear a uniform. You know, go to bed at a sensible time because you have got to get up in the morning for work. If a parent is up for work themselves there’s a very good chance that they’re kind of getting up making breakfast for their children. They’ve got enough money to buy uniform or the equipment, and they have that parental role model, so I think you’re massively disadvantaged through school you know if you’re less well-off.
Often, teachers struggle to make a strong connection with parents and families from differing social and cultural backgrounds (Hughes., Gleason., & Zhang., 2005). However, data from this study seems to indicate that the teachers involved did not hold any bias. Moreover, it seems that they regarded the parent/teacher relationship as fundamental to the pupil’s educational development.
Mr John: If there are any issues that have occurred outside the school, nine out of 10 times, the parents will actually come in themselves, we tend to operate an open-door policy. And what we have found is that developing good relationships with the parents is paramount really. Because you need to work with them, obviously in partnership.
Miss Brown: I think we probably could do more with engaging parents. I think that might be something that could be looked at, but again, that you know, it’s time and money and relying on parents to want to be engaged as well. And I don’t know maybe with some parents if the will is actually there.
Both these comments confirm and illustrate the importance of parental involvement, and emphasises a contention held by many educators who believe that increased parental involvement can support and further encourage children’s academic experience. However, it also highlights the plight of those pupils whose parents have not really engaged in their child’s education.
4.4 Teachers perceptions of academic achievement
Historically, it has been argued that children from less privileged socio-economic backgrounds tend to underachieve in primary and secondary school (Andrews., Robinson., & Hutchinson., 2017; Department of Education., 2020). Developing this line of inquiring, this paper attempts to define and identify teachers’ subjective perceptions of just what it means to be a high or low achieving student and, consequently, to examine how class differences goes some way to explaining academic outcomes. Each participant in this study described a child who is high achieving as someone who consistently achieves high grades, but also the child that typically overachieves in terms of his/her own personal targets.
Miss Palmer: High achieving is when a child does work which is over the expected level that they have been targeted for, either by age or abilities. For example, a child who is 5 their expected reading level is stage 2 but they are reading stage 4, they are high achieving.
Miss Brown: So high achieving pupil in terms of progress is someone who is getting very good grades, probably across the board. It’s not just like all they’re really good at English, they always get an A, but everything else is like a D, they’re getting good grades and everything. But you could also be high achieving if you’re achieving those things, despite having like a lot of challenges in the way so for somebody that could be high achieving getting a C, which maybe doesn’t look like a high achievement, but if they’ve got a lot of circumstances and things to come get to get over to get that C then for them that is like high achievement.
This is revealing, for it seems to suggest that teachers do not simply identify high achievers as those students who receive top grades, who have fewer obstacles with which to contend and who come from a more privileged background. In fact, it demonstrates that they take on board personal goals and circumstances. On the other hand, Miss Smith and Mr John identify a low achieving child thus:
Miss Smith: A low achieving child has low ability and there is a limit to their learning. This type of child would not meet the expected outcomes of the age group.
Mr John: You often get children who are disengaged from the curriculum, who refuse who will walk out of lessons, we’re seeing a lot more of this. Now. Some people say, children are more aware of their rights nowadays and we are a rights resecting school and our children know that their rights and responsibilities. If they don’t want to do something, they will now turn around and say no or they will just walk out to the lesson, and we’ve never had that before. So you do have children who are low achieving, who do manifest in those behaviours, and yet, you have some then who are low achieving in terms of academic outcomes, who will try their utmost and put in 110% in the day to only get maybe 20% of the work done.
This change in focus is influenced, in part, by government policy and ESTYN, a point that emerges in the data drawn from the interviews with Mr John and Miss Brown:
Mr John: For the last 10-15 years, the Welsh Government have been very data driven, and what schools are being judged for performing at certain levels for certain children. And there are sometimes that you’ve got children in your school that will never reach level four at the end of Key Stage two or level five. And yet the progress that they have made has been phenomenal. And yet, because they haven’t reached that level, you are then classed as a failing school or whatever. But that has changed recently now. And there’s been a much bigger focus on the progress of children, which is really nice.
Miss Brown: ESTYN have just come into us and they were less concerned with possibly the high achieving pupils and what the A grades were, and they were very concerned about what we’re doing for the welfare of the children at the lower end
This view of progress and academic achievement has already been seen to work in some schools previous (ESTYN., 2017; ESTYN., 2018). It is evident that the teachers who participated in this study also felt that adopting this approach benefits students from all backgrounds and levels of academic achievement. Mr Davies made an important point when he identified certain inequalities in examinations and assessments. This is especially relevant to the experience of secondary education:
I think the biggest difference and then this problem is with it, not examination assessments, is it advantages the more affluent student because they can get a tutor to work with them on the controlled assessment. They can book three sessions a week, so that the child may draft work with them, have it marked them, we can’t mark their work, just give advice. And then they can redraft them and when they come in, they’ve learned a really good essay and they get a piece of work that may give them an advantage will tip them over into an A or into a C that the other student haven’t got to It’s not fair. Non examination assessments for assessment need to go because they are the advantages of the rich.
Mr Davies’ interview draws attention to these inequalities as they relate specifically to socially disadvantaged pupils in relation to academic achievement of students from a lower social class. Access to tutors, for instance, is a very middle-class privilege (Weis & Dolby., 2012) and can lead to a very unfair advantage for students from a more affluent background, creating and contributing to a culture of academic inequality (Heyneman., 2011). This including access to economic resources and culminates in the more sort after roles within higher education and the job market (Ball., 2006).
The purpose of this chapter has been to present the data and findings obtained from this study. It is evident, as has been shown, that teachers are acutely aware of their pupils’ social backgrounds. Class difference remains a persistent and pervasive factor in the failure of these socially disadvantaged pupils to achieve their full potential within academic scenarios and more needs to be done to ensure students from a lower socioeconomic class can reach their full potential within their academic outcomes and experiences. The evidence suggests that a significant increase in funding is urgently needed if these pupils are to reach their full potential and take advantage of the academic opportunities made available.
Discussion and Conclusion
This study set out to explore teachers’ perceptions of class difference and its’ influence on a child’s education. As expected, each of the participants involved in this study demonstrated an understanding and awareness of their pupils’ socio-economic background. It is hardly surprising that each of the teachers were able to relate examples of the way in which social class impacted on education, since the schools involved were each chosen because of their socially and economically diverse catchment areas. Previous studies have identified that social class as a key determining factors in education (Garcia., & Weiss.,21017). This, coupled with an increasing gap between the rich and poor and rich within our economy, makes it clear that there will be implications for children throughout their academic experience. Nevertheless, the teachers who were interviewed emphasised that good teaching and parental involvement and encouragement can often lead to higher pupil engagement across all social classes. Research has already shown that parents are, generally, the most significant influences within children’s’ lives and on their learned traits and behaviours (Green., Macintyre., West., & Ecob.,1991; Department for children, schools and families., 2008). As such, it can be argued that children with a strong support network can often outperform expectations. Another factor to emerge from the data gathered was the importance of positive teacher-student relationships. Having a positive role model is especially pertinent to young working-class males, as it can help counter their toxic view of education. (Ward, 2015) These findings offer critique to the works of Morris (2005) and Hughes, Gleason and Zhang (2005) who agree that teachers are likely to be less favourable to students from differing socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. In contrast the findings of this paper points to an awareness of social contexts that allows and, indeed, encourages teachers to adopt specific practices to positively support these children.
An additional point that was emerged from the data related to the availability of government funding that has enabled schools and teachers to offer additional support, free school meals and extra resources for children identified as being socially disadvantaged. The Welsh Government’s (2019) introduction and improvement of the Pupil Deprivation Grant has increased the spend per capita. Yet, despite these state interventions it is generally agreed amongst educators that these pupils continue to encounter deprivation and fall behind due to their lack of important social and developmental experiences (Weis & Dolby., 2012). It was the general consensus amongst the participants from this study that an urgent increase in funding was needed since the pupil deprivation grant had not been completely successful in combatting the inequalities that persist within education (Children, Young People and Education Committee., 2018)
As the findings of this study suggest, social class is still a persists with regards to educational outcomes and experiences. This is specifically highlighted in terms of the debate around examinations and assessment. Significantly, all participants welcomed the recent change in focus, both within schools and from assessment boards such as ESTYN, that takes a broader, more holistic view of pupils’ achievements and takes into account health, wellbeing and self-image This new approach has the potential to prevent the extending gap between social classes in relation to these factors (DeAngelis., 2015).
This purpose of this study has been to examine teachers’ perceptions of social class within education. This includes their opinions and experiences of the way in which class difference influences children’s academic progress and explores viable options that might address this imbalance. It is evident from the findings of this study that a professional awareness of the varied social circumstances of their pupil’s backgrounds enables the participants to act positively to help students realise their potential.
It seems that social class is still a predominant factor of influence within children’s academic lives and experiences as students from more affluent backgrounds are able to experience more academic learning, even within their home. Parental social class and educational experience has a large part to play in this with regards to the trips in which families take and also their income as this influences access to additional educational learning, such as tutors. Teachers’ within the study felt that by combating the inequalities within assessment and impact that a tutor can provide for a more upper-class student, there will be space to ensure a more equal educational examination method which can provide equal opportunity for all. Schools could offer support for students from less affluent backgrounds by providing economic and cultural resources which they would not usually have access to. Many upper-class families utilise their economic and social resources (Ball., 2006; Garcia., & Weis., 2017) to ensure their child has a good education. Therefore, if schools have sufficient resources, they should provide these things for children whose access to these resources, such as tutors and laptops, would normally be limited. This would create a level of equality throughout education.
Both previous research and my own have identified that white working-class males are often the most disengaged within education, this could be due to their behaviour or their view of education and the ‘need’ for it. It is however apparent from my findings that teachers feel that creating a stable pupil-teacher and parent-teacher relationship has a positive influence on a child’s educational outcomes and experiences, as they feel more comfortable and willing to learn when the teacher provides an open and safe space.
Throughout this research, there have been a number of limitations which have occurred. The study involved just a small sample group and therefore it is important not to generalise the findings. However, whilst my research did not intend to gather findings that could be generalised, nevertheless, it still provides important insights into teachers views on the role of social class in children’s lives, and these views may be common to many other teachers and they are highly important given what we have learned from this. An additional limitation was that some teachers might not have felt comfortable consorting on such a private matter such as social class and so, next time I would use a mixed methods approach and incorporate questionnaires as well as face to face interviews to ensure the participant is comfortable. The area in which I chose to base my research is very broad as social class and background can be impacted by so many factors. I feel that future research would benefit from exploring key areas, perhaps specific year groups, on a bigger scale to provide data that could be generalised and use by the government and officials.
Social class is an issue which affects many children and their academic outcomes and experiences, and I feel that this study has identified a number of suggestions for the government to take on board in order to introduce policies to create an equal educational experience for all. The first suggestion would be that more funding needs to be distributed in order to enable the pupil deprivation grant to reach its full potential. This would insure productive professional development for teachers, ensuring they are trained to aid students from deprived backgrounds to the best of their abilities, and also ensure that every family in need of financial aid can be helped. The second suggestion in which I feel can be taken from this study to influence future governing decisions and policies, is that student achievement should be evaluated on a case by case basis. Organisations such as ESTYN have begun to adopt the view that children who do not achieve ‘top grades’ need more attention and that their progress should be celebrated. However, I feel this should be a policy implemented by the government to ensure each child is celebrated and given the opportunity to flourish within education. An additional suggestion I would make to the government would be that there needs to be a continual increase of teachers’ awareness of the impact of socioeconomic background on children’s engagement with education and their academic outcomes, as well as who within their class comes from a more deprived background.
Despite the findings of this study offering suggestions and awareness of social class within education, there is a gap within the literature as there is limited research specifically looking at teachers’ perceptions of social class. This information can be used to influence governing policies, just like teachers’ views were taken on board to develop the new curriculum. The findings of this study have succeeded in answering the research question on how teachers feel social class affects children/young people’s academic outcomes and experience. It can be taken from the data that teachers feel social class has become a large focus within their institutions, an improvement since they first began teaching, and this has enabled teachers and students alike to perform to the best of their abilities. The participants in this study all agreed that social class has an influence on children’s academic outcomes and experiences, however, they proposed that this can be managed by adopting an openness between teachers, parents and society.
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How long have you been teaching?
What years do you teach within school?
I’m interested in finding out about the social backgrounds of the children you teach. Please
tell me about the children you teach in terms of their social backgrounds (without
individual children, in general terms, what is the social profile of your class like)?
– Would you say you have children from a range of social backgrounds in your class?
– Are you aware of their social/family backgrounds?
– How do you become aware of this?
How do you feel that children’s social or cultural background effects their learning or
achievement in school?
When you think of the term ‘high achieving’, how would you describe a child who is high
How would you describe a child who is ‘low achieving’?
Do you think that children from different social class backgrounds engage with education
How do you think that children from different social class backgrounds can be better
supported in education?
In your opinion, do you feel that the level of support available for children from differing
social or cultural backgrounds have changed throughout your time teaching?
– Prompt – is this good or bad
Prompt- is there anything specifically that you think could support students (i.e. resources,
extra support etc).
Consent form – Please provide a signature next to the statements below.
|1. I confirm that I have read and understood the information sheet for the study.|
|2. I understand that my participation is voluntary and that I am free to withdraw at any time, without giving any reasons.|
|3. I am happy for the information I provide to be used (anonymously) in academic papers.|
|4. I am willing for the interview to be audio recorded.|
|5. I agree to taking part in this study|
|6. I agree to the researchers processing my personal data in accordance with the aims of the study described in the Participant Information Sheet.|
Exploring Teachers views on social class within Education
Information sheet for participants
Who am I and what is the purpose of my study?
My name is Danielle Joyce and I am a student at Swansea University, studying Education.
My research aims to understand, from a teacher’s point of view, the role of social class in young people’s academic achievement and experiences in school. I feel it is important that we, as educators, understand the impact social class has within young students’ everyday lives and how inclusion can be ensured for all within education.
Why have I been invited to take part in the study?
You have been invited to partake in my study as I am extremely interested in teachers’ points of view on this subject. As a teacher, your experiences of working with young people of all ages and backgrounds within different settings will be invaluable to my project. I hope that by talking with you I will be able to gain a greater understanding of issues relating to the role of social class and socio-economic disadvantages in young people’s school experiences.
What will participation in the study involve?
If you agree to take part, you will be invited to take part in a one to one interview with myself. The interview will last around thirty minutes and you will be asked about your views on topics relating to the role of social class and socio-economic disadvantage in young people’s educational experiences and inclusion in education. You will also have an opportunity to add any information you feel is relevant. I will record the interview using a digital voice recorder and I will make some additional handwritten notes during the interviews.
Do I have to take part?
No, participation in this study is entirely voluntary. If you change your mind throughout the study you can also decide to withdraw at any point, without supplying a reason.
What will happen to the interview recording?
The recording of the interview will be transcribed by myself. All electronic data will be stored on a password-protected computer file located on a personal laptop. The audio recordings on the device will then be deleted and your personal information will be kept separately from the recordings. The data will be stored up until June 2020 and deleted after this date. Your data will only be viewed by myself and my supervisor.
Will the focus group discussion be anonymised?
Yes, I will make every effort to ensure that any identifiable information about you, or information you provide during the interview is anonymised and kept confidential meaning that it cannot be traced back to you. Your name and any names mentioned during the focus group (for example, names of students/pupils, staff at the school) will be anonymised. Your consent information will be kept separately from your responses in order to minimise risk in the event of a data breach. This means that if I discuss my research, I will ensure that you cannot be identified.
What will the information be used for?
The information provided in the interviews will be used for my Education (BaHons) dissertation and for any researchers who are also interested in this topic. Therefore, the information provided (which will be anonymised) could be discussed with people who are interested in this.
Are there any risks associated with taking part?
The research has been approved by the College of Arts and Humanities Research Ethics Committee. There are no significant risks associated with participation.
Data Protection and Confidentiality
Your data will be processed in accordance with the Data Protection Act 2018 and the General Data Protection Regulation 2016 (GDPR). All information collected about you will be kept strictly confidential.
Please note that the data I will collect for my study will be made anonymous as soon as the data is transcribed, thus it will not be possible to identify and remove your data at a later date, should you decide to withdraw from the study. Therefore, if at the end of the interview, if you decide to have your data withdrawn, you must let me know before you leave
The data controller for this project will be Swansea University. The University Data Protection Officer provides oversight of university activities involving the processing of personal data, and can be contacted at the Vice Chancellors Office: [email protected].
Your data will be processed in accordance with the Data Protection Act 2018 and the General Data Protection Regulation 2016 (GDPR).
Who can I contact for more information about the study?
If you would like to find out more information about my study before taking part please feel free to contact me (Danielle Joyce) by emailing daniellejoyce2@icloud,com. I’m really happy to answer any questions you might have about the project. Participants can also contact my supervisor, Ceryn Evans at [email protected].
Note from www.wales.press – The above dissertation is from Danielle Joyce who has kindly agreed that we can republish her work on our network of websites. Whilst most articles on our network are licenced under Creative Commons (meaning that you can republish on your own platform), this article remains the property of Danielle Joyce. If you would like to republish or for any other information, please contact Danielle directly via email: [email protected]