Social class still has an impact

30th October 1998 at 00:00
AGAIN, the huge impact of social class on girls' attainment is played down. I experienced extreme frustration when reading, "Inspectors say girls' schools are the best," in your coverage of the Association of Maintained Girls' Schools conference (TES, October 9).

The report makes good use of unpublished Office for Standards in Education data to show that girls' comprehensive schools come out on top in a number of key areas, though not attainment. However, it fails to give significant emphasis to the huge impact social class continues to have on working-class girls' (and boys) attainment. Working-class girls are, after all, a majority group.

Women (mainly middle-class) form the majority of higher education students. Low-attaining working-class girls are just as likely to drop out of education as working-class boys. Young people from the wealthiest backgrounds are 12 times more likely to enter higher education than those from the poorest backgrounds. This is why the Higher Education Funding Council plans to allocate Pounds 30 million a year to widen access for working-class students as well as those with disabilities.

Jannette Elwood, from London's Institute of Education concluded that gender differences cannot be seen in isolation to class and race. My own talk, "What can educated, working-class women tell us that can improve the situation of working-class girls today?" focused on the ways in which family, peer group and schooling impact on identity, academic success and self-worth to the detriment of able working-class girls.

Schools can make a difference to working-class girls' lives - if first we acknowledge the problems.

Dr Gillian Plummer. High Houses. Butley, Woodbridge, Suffolk

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