An important strand of UK government education policy over the last two decades has focused on ‘raising aspirations’ as a way of increasing social mobility and overcoming disadvantage. Within this, some aspirations are classified as high and others as low. High aspirations are generally equated with middle-class pathways into higher education followed by professional occupations. This is evident in 2014 statements from a government advisor that ‘working class children must learn to be middle class’ and ‘that children from poor homes need help to change the way they eat, dress and conduct personal relationships to get ahead in life’. Similar attitudes have pervaded Labour Party education policy. But last September, Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour leader gaining the votes of an unprecedented quarter of a million people. His policies and ideas mark a significant shift for the Party. In this post, I argue that we can we take inspiration from the Corbyn political revolution to reclaim the word ‘aspiration’.
Posts Tagged ‘aspiration’
Talk of aspiration has been running through social policy in the United Kingdom and beyond for decades. Labour and Conservative politicians see it as a way to address inequality and to get working-class people to become more socially mobile. Prime Minister David Cameron called the UK an ‘aspiration nation’ and opposition leadership candidate Andy Burnham opened his campaign with his intention to make Labour ‘the party of aspiration’. In such pronouncements, aspiration remains alarmingly vague. In this guest post, Garth Stahl explores how we can use the theoretical tools of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu to study the identity negotiations surrounding aspiration, and particularly the aspirations of working-class young men and their sense of value.
We learnt about a lot of things from the young people who we interviewed for this project. YouTubers opened up a whole new world of micro-celebrities, people whose fame derives from their channels on this website rather than via the more traditional media of television and film. Although there’s a growing number of influential young women beauty vloggers, the YouTubers who came up in our data were mostly male gamers, animators or comedians. But two women stood out: Tampon Girl who was hated and Jenna Marbles who was loved. As we explored their channels, Jenna Marbles struck us as someone challenging dominant ideas around women, weight loss and fashion. In her latest and 200th video, which we discuss in this post, she challenges dominant ideas of aspiration, success and the future.
Last week, Laura and Kim were invited to speak at a brilliant one-day conference organised by CRESC and the University of Manchester, entitled ‘A sense of inequality’. They drew on findings from the project to attend to young people’s everyday negotiations and understandings of inequality. In this short blog post, Laura and Kim give a brief report on their presentation and the day itself.
This week, the Telegraph newspaper – often referred to as ‘Torygraph’ – published a highly provocative article, entitled “Working class children must learn to be middle class to get on in life, government advisor says” which reported on recent comments made by Peter Brant, head of policy at the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission. Leaving aside for a moment that this is not exactly what Brant said, this piece is oozing with symbolic violence and provides another example of the narrow and problematic notions of aspiration, class and social mobility held by our politicians, policymakers and the right-wing media. In this guest blog post, Jessie Abrahams – a ‘working class’ student who attended an elite university and has researched social class and belonging – offers an alternative perspective.
Over the life of this project, the CelebYouth team have challenged government rhetoric of low aspirations, arguing that this not only lacks any evidence base, it also neglects the broader structural context within which young people’s ideas about their future are formed and realised. In this post, guest blogger Tristram Hooley argues that the provision of career support can be pivotal in helping young people to realise their aspirations. He argues that many young people have high aspirations, but are unable to fully realise them because of lack of support. Tristram has recently published a research report which describes how resources, staffing and political support for career education and guidance have declined since the election of the Coalition Government. As he explains, this decline has resulted in a dramatic loss of support for most young people and deleterious consequences.
In case you didn’t see it, on Wednesday, Sir Michael Wilshaw – Chief Inspector for Schools (Ofsted) – released his annual report on the state of education in England. Identifying major gaps and regional variations in educational attainment, Wilshaw blamed low expectations and mediocre teaching while dismissing ‘real poverty’ :
I suppose what I would say to them [regions that are struggling] is to raise your aspirations and make your aspirations for your young people really clear and that poverty is no barrier to success and I think that is what London has proved more than anything. (BBC 11/12/13)
As you will know from our past blog posts, Wilshaw is the latest in a number of politicians and government figures who have explained educational differences through recourse to individualised explanations rather than structural causes – ignoring both a raft of research (including our own) that reveals that young people from ‘disadvantaged’ backgrounds have no shortage of aspirations, and an international body of evidence that shows time and time again that unless income inequality and poverty are tackled, schools and teachers can only do so much.
Such comments come at a time of growing poverty in England – evidenced by the tripling of families using food banks, and growth of in-work poverty - arguably exacerbated by the government’s punitive welfare reforms. To ignore the role of poverty in shaping young people’s lives and educational outcomes is not simply ignorant but irresponsible.
After a flurry of calls and cajoling from her university press office, Kim was interviewed by Channel 4 reporters on Wednesday afternoon. She appears very briefly in this Channel 4 report – aired on Wednesday night – challenging Wilshaw’s comments that poverty of aspiration rather than real poverty is to blame for educational inequality.
(Bit of a shame they spelt Kim’s name wrong but you can’t have it all…..)
Jon Rainford is a Teacher of Art in a large Secondary School in Buckinghamshire. He came across the work of the Celeb Youth through their twitter account and through happy coincidence was at a digital sociology study day where some of the early findings were being discussed. This sparked an interest in finding out if these ideas resonated with the young people he works with in a pastoral role. In this blog post he describes what happens when he asked his teenage tutor group about celebrity culture…