As the festivities come to an end for another year, it is important to remember that although it is a period of great joy for many, for some it is a very difficult time, filled with feelings of isolation and loss, and for others who cannot afford to celebrate it is dominated by feelings of being excluded.Last month I wrote about the high levels of poverty in the United Kingdom and also the health inequalities that all Governments of whatever persuasion have failed to close. The recently published Sutton Trust report[i] on social mobility clearly shows the same is true of educational inequalities, where the authors found that there has been a decrease in intergenerational social mobility over recent years that is clearly linked not only to income but also to educational inequalities.
When the current Labour party came into power in 1997 it set up the Social Exclusion Unit with its aim to tackle ‘disadvantage’ by adopting a ‘joined up’ approach to government and it saw social exclusion in the following way
“Social exclusion happens when people or places suffer from a series of problems such as unemployment, discrimination, poor skills, low incomes, poor housing, high crime, ill health and family breakdown. When such problems combine they can create a vicious cycle.
Social exclusion can happen as a result of problems that face one person in their life. But it can also start from birth. Being born into poverty or to parents with low skills still has a major influence on future life chances”[ii]
As can be seen from the above definition, social exclusion is about more than income poverty; it also includes areas such as education, health and participation in society. Poverty in its very limited sense, however, is still likely to be at the core. However, concentrating merely on income fails to address some of most difficult aspects, which come under the broad heading of participation.
In my view, if people do not feel a part of a society, then by definition they will feel excluded. This is not just people like the homeless, the unemployed, but also people who feel they have no hope and are isolated and cut off. If we are to address these issues, we need to address both the skill levels in some of our communities and also the schooling of some young people, because what is being clearly shown is that too many young people are being ‘written off’ very early in their academic career. What the Sutton Trust report plainly shows is that both parental skill and educational levels are interlinked with the success or failure of children, because, as the report states, “Parental background continues to exert a very powerful influence on the academic progress of children”.[iii]
From my own limited experience both as a parent and a social worker, the vast majority of parents want the best for their children. However, if the parental experience of education is dominated by failure, criticism and feelings of never been listened to, they will find it very difficult to become involved in their children’s education, because their involvement as an adult will mirror their own experience as a child.
If we are serious about tackling some of these issues we need to involve parents in the discussions in a proactive way. Merely tackling the failure of the young person in most cases means that they in turn are doomed to failure. To tackle the educational underachievement in our young, therefore, means also tackling the poor skills level in adults.
[i] see http://www.suttontrust.com/reports/Summary.pdf (accessed 22/12/2007)
[ii] http://archive.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/seu/pageac0b.html?id=96&pId=27&url=page.asp?id=213 (accessed 22/12/2007)
[iii] See: http://www.suttontrust.com/news.asp#a04 (accessed 22/12/2007)