Mutual disdain of the chavs and chav-nots

7th September 2007 at 01:00
THEY ALL have iPods, PlayStations and fashionable clothes. They all worry about dangers lurking around street corners. And they all have the same level of disdain for "chavs" and "posh people".

But, while private school pupils spend their spare time attending music lessons, sports matches and science clubs, council estate pupils prefer to hang out in public places.

Academics from Loughborough University interviewed children who lived on a council estate and attended the local comprehensive and pupils at a Pounds 5,000-a-term private school. The aim of the study was to examine their perceptions of themselves and others.

Neither set of pupils saw themselves as rich or poor. Instead, they all claimed to be from average backgrounds. One girl at the private school said: "We live in a nice big house with a drive, but I wouldn't say I was more highly put than anybody else, really."

Both groups of pupils identified the terms "rich" and "poor" with one dimensional caricatures. Beggars and starving children in Africa were poor; people with gold bath-taps and a fleet of cars were rich.

They had a far more complex sense of what it was to be either "posh" or "chav". The private pupils said chavs were distinguishable by their tracksuits, hoods and baseball caps. A boy at the private school said: "Common people are chavs."

By contrast, the estate children equated wealth with snobbery, believing that private school pupils would have trouble making friends. One estate boy said: "We have the fun without the money, and they have the money without the fun."

But some cliches did hold true. Private school pupils took part in a range of activities, from hockey to horse riding. Many also belonged to school science or maths clubs.

The estate children associated school with coercive control, discipline and restraint, feeling that they were often shouted at for not knowing what to do. They viewed extra-curricular activities purely as a continuation of the school day.

Most were keen to leave school at the end of the day and accused those who stayed behind of being "swots". They spent their spare time hanging out with friends or playing communal games outdoors.

Often, these took a quaintly innocent form. They played hide-and-seek or tag. Younger boys often built dens to use as hideaways.

For estate pupils, public space was vital, enabling them to congregate with their friends.

Whatever children do after school, a survey by the Alliance and Leicester found that parents are spending on average pound;3 billion a year on extra curricular activities for their offspring.

Many children feared the influence of "druggies" and gangsters. One girl defined her ambition as: "Don't ruin your life."

Private pupils were equally fearful of malign influences on street corners. This fear was often passed down from their parents, who worried that their children would be attacked or mugged. One private school girl said: "I'm allowed down to the postbox at the bottom of our close... if you are not back within 10 minutes, they'll call the police."

The Loughborough researchers conclude that children's antagonistic talk of "chav" and "posh", and their lack of understanding of those from other social backgrounds, should be tackled through citizenship lessons at school.

Liz Sutton, who led the research, said it was important for teachers to understand how pupils conceive of themselves and each other, and how they see their place in society.

She said that their perception of classes revealed an understanding beyond stereotypes and was based on their own experiences.

"Citizenship education has tended to focus on responsibilities, rather than wider issues in society," she said. "Children know there's inequality in society, but they don't always understand the implications for themselves. We should engage them in debate about inequality and democracy, and what kind of society they want to live in."

* "A Child's-Eye View of Social Difference" by Liz Sutton, Noel Smith, Chris Dearden and Sue Middleton, Loughborough University

Further details of all the Joseph Rowntree research on these pages can be found at

I spend most of my time on my bike but I want to join a kung fu club

Ross Kalarus is 11 and lives on a housing estate in Camden, north London. He has just started at London Nautical School.

Rich people live in mansions and drive Ferraris and get driven about in limos by chauffeurs. They're not people I see or know, but you see them on TV and in films. Poor people are those who are homeless and can't even afford to eat. People who say poor people live on council estates are wrong as they can at least afford to pay rent to live there and lead a normal life like others, just in a different way.

"Homework is boring, but I always do it because I have to. I'll do it in the living room or kitchen while my mum's watching the TV. Mum sometimes helps me, but my Dad isn't around to as he doesn't live with us.

"I make sure I do it quickly, so I can spend my evening watching TV and playing my computer games. I do read sometimes but prefer my PlayStation.

"I do a couple of extra-curricular activities, but spend most of my time riding my bike in the park and on the estate with my friends. I like martial arts like boxing and kung fu, so I'm going to join some of those clubs at my new school.

"People who send their children to private school obviously think they're better than us and don't want them mixing with state school kids, which I think is wrong."

Photographs: Jess Hurd; Richard Lea-Hair

I play rugby and have piano and French horn lessons at school

Tom Ball is 12 and in Year 8 at pound;4,193-a-term Dulwich College in south London.

Quite a lot of people in my class stay behind after school and mess around. It's relaxing to wind down. So it's not bang, bang, bang, lessons and homework. I usually come home and spend a few minutes just being. I cuddle the dog, have a few words with Mum and then I start homework at the kitchen table.

"I'm an only child, so it's quite quiet. My parents let me get on with it. If there was something I couldn't work out, they would help.

"I have piano and French horn lessons at school and I've had singing lessons since Year 6 and I'm in the choir. I go cross-country running. There's a caveman aspect about it: running around trying to chase things. And I'm in the school rugby team. With friends, I might watch a few DVDs, then kick a rugby ball around in the park. I try to get Mum or Dad to drive me to Peckham because the local park is rubbish.

"I wouldn't say we're rich. We're middle class. But if you're happy with what you've got, you're rich. I do hang out on the street a bit and if old people saw me they might be intimidated. But I'm not intimidating. I'm a bit too posh.

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