Held back by tradition

24th February 2006 at 00:00
Many pupils in disadvantaged housing schemes in the Glasgow area want the best qualifications they can achieve - but still opt for traditional non-professional jobs.

Girls want to become beauticians and hairdressers and boys want to be joiners and mechanics, a study by the Glasgow Centre for the Child and Society has found.

Backed by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the study reports that young people and their parents recognise the importance of education and qualifications in finding more interesting and better paid jobs.

"However, many had access to a limited supply of advice and guidance when it came to new forms of work (such as creative and media occupations) or jobs not traditionally entered into by people from disadvantaged backgrounds (such as medicine or law)," the Glasgow University-based team states.

"For some, limited income and well-learnt avoidance of debt could also affect their capacity to meet the costs of entering higher education and taking on student loans."

Parents in four disadvantaged west of Scotland communities had high aspirations for their children and wanted them to have more opportunities than they had. Many expected them to move away to better their prospects.

The researchers believe schools should capitalise on parents' support and pull them into behaviour management strategies. Schools must also challenge "over-simple" assumptions that some areas have a negative culture of parenting and that peer group activity is largely antisocial.

Malcolm Hill, lead researcher and director of the Glasgow Centre for the Child and Society, told The TES Scotland: "Parents felt that, because they came from a disadvantaged area, schools were blaming them for their children's bad behaviour."

The researchers say young people felt themselves at risk in their communities from gangs and violence but "saw school as a haven", although some were bullied there.

"Pupils described how they felt safer at school. There was something about being there that seemed to inhibit them - and others - from identifying themselves as a group and expressing any aggression," Professor Hill said.

Parents often went to considerable trouble to arrange organised activities for their children because these were seen to be safer, the researchers found. Young people avoided risky contacts, often kept a low profile and asked a friend or parent to go with them to leisure activities. Some parks or sports centres were seen as off-limits because of the risks.

The report recommended that school premises be made more available for community activities, which Professor Hill said would strengthen relationships between parents and schools.

Bill McGregor, general secretary of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, commented: "It is a big problem in education to make sure that children from disadvantaged backgrounds get the best deal. But teachers do realise that pupils from all kinds of background can display bad behaviour."

The issue of careers education was a "hot potato", Mr McGregor said. "The main problem is one of parents underestimating their children - for example, wanting a girl who could do an economics degree to take up a job in Tesco. The pastoral care in secondary schools is good, but we have got to raise expectations."

Judith Gillespie, development manager with the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, said: "There is a tendency in education to judge everything against middle class norms, and a failure to appreciate anything which does not come in that wrapper."

Mrs Gillespie added: "Teachers tend to judge parents on their visibility - whether they turn up at parents' meetings or school concerts. They can forget that there are many working class parents doing a very good job at raising their children within their own homes."

Parenting and children's resilience in disadvantaged communities. By Peter Seaman, Katrina Turner, Malcolm Hill, Anne Stafford and Moira Walker.

Published by the National Children's Bureau.

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