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Academic success still determined by social background

May 3, 2021

first_imgData collected from Britain and Sweden has shown that clever children from more privileged social backgrounds had double the chance of completing A-levels than children of similar intelligence but more disadvantaged backgrounds.5,000 people, from the 1940s to the 1970s, were included in a study designed to establish the links between social background and educational attainment.The waste of human resources was the key concern of the study. The organisers also highlighted the fact that, despite the headway made into social mobility, family resources were still the deciding factor for academic success.A collaboration between Oxford’s Department of Social Policy and Intervention and the Swedish Institute for Social Research were responsible for the findings. They defined social background as made up of the following factors: social status, social class and the educational attainment of the parents.The educational attainment of our parents plays the most important part in determining how well we will do in school, the study shows. It is a more important variable than natural ability, which was examined through cognitive testing on children aged between 10 and 13.These assessments demonstrated the clear link between being bright and doing well academically later on. However, for the most able fifth of British children born in the 1970s, the most advantaged had an 80% chance of passing A-levels, while the prospects of the most disadvantaged stood only a 40% chance.The findings rang true for children from Sweden as well as Britain, despite the oft-envied Swedish education system.Lead researcher Dr. Erzsébet Bukodi, said, “We see that in both the British and Swedish educational systems, even the very brightest children are hampered if they come from a disadvantaged background.”However, Oxford Professor John Goldthorpe pointed out some differences between the British and Swedish data. He explained, “In Britain, if the child was both bright and from an advantaged background, they did particularly well academically. While, in Sweden, we find children of low ability but from advantaged backgrounds do better than they would have done in Britain.”St Anne’s medic George Gillett questions the study’s assertion that social background is the main problem, pointing towards the differing provision of education. He said, “The report ignores the fact that children from different social backgrounds will be more likely to go to different types of schools. Children from more privileged social backgrounds are more likely to go to higher achieving schools, which contributes to the disparity in attainment.”Some, like linguist Evelyn Snow, find too narrow a definition of ‘success’ in the report. Snow commented, “People such as Alan Sugar have no ‘qualifications’ in terms of academics really but he is one of the most successful men of the previous generation. It is far more difficult now that so many more people are able to attend university as soon everyone will have a degree in something, even if something not previously seen as ‘academically viable’ which makes the already straining professional job market even more competitive.”Somerville classicist Claudia Swan went on to suggest that the report’s measure of attainment, being A-level results, could have been flawed, saying, “The exams are so formulaic that without being instructed in what examiners are looking for intelligence is no guarantee of success.”last_img

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