Don't stigmatise the working class

6th November 2009 at 00:00

The article on the class divide between teachers and pupils in the TES Magazine thankfully addresses the issue of teachers' negative stereotypes of working-class children ("From the other side of the tracks", October 30). It touches on issues taken up by the Language and Interaction Research Group at Sheffield Hallam University, comprised of academics in the fields of linguistics and communication studies.

We are concerned that the Government may be influenced to fund programmes of intervention for nursery and primary aged children based on the badly researched recommendations of the "Getting in Early" report, published last year by the Smith Institute and Centre for Social Justice.

This report attempts to examine the reasons behind, and possible solutions to, educational failure in white working-class children. Surprisingly, it makes no mention of the two publications cited in the TES Magazine article (Educational Failure and Working Class White Children in Britain by Gillian Evans, and Addressing Working Class Underachievement by Louise Gazeley and Mairead Dunne), which highlight class prejudice in the teaching profession.

In contrast, the "Getting in Early" report implies there is an inevitable link between economic disadvantage and linguistic and communicative deficits. The working-class family is held responsible not only for poor linguistic ability but also for general learning incompetence in reasoning, emotional skills and numeracy. The report characterises middle-class families as the model for competent parenting.

For example, the report claims: "Middle-class families tend to actively cultivate their children and to teach them language, reasoning and negotiation skills." On the other hand, on non-middle-class families, it notes that: "Headteachers speak of increasing numbers of children who hear little language at home beyond the 'daily grunt'."

The Language and Interaction Research Group rejects the cultural prejudices about the communicative skills of lower-class families that underlie these arguments. We are currently engaged in setting up a research project that will investigate the claims of the "Getting in Early" report in a systematic and scholarly way.

Dr Karen Grainger, Course leader, communication studies, Faculty of Arts, Computing, Engineering and Sciences, Sheffield Hallam University.

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