View from the staffroom

25th August 2006 at 01:00
Here is a selection of teachers' views on whether university expansion has helped disadvantaged students, posted on the TES online staffroom forum this week

Stroodpaul: British education has always favoured the middle classes. In the 1870s the intention was to provide bulk education as cheaply as possible for the masses. Ever since then the middle classes have grabbed the best of everything on offer. The system favours the middle classes because it gives more to those who are already privileged - it is not designed to challenge the status quo.

Celticqueen: No (it has not helped working-class students). The difference is that the word "chav" has been invented. The world has changed. Industry has died in many areas. When I left school, we had an idea of what we were going to do. That was: job or further education. Today nearly everyone tends towards further education. That no longer secures you a job.

Tiddly wink: Mass higher education is at present an obstacle to the breakdown of the class system. Much "higher" education is so dumbed down that even virtual illiterates are accepted. Then students from poorer families get into huge debt in order to finance a degree that is virtually useless as so many people have these degrees, they have become devalued currency. They then find they have no better prospect of a good job.

The drop-out rate among poorer students is escalating rapidly. What is the point of pretending that 50 per cent of young people are suited to higher education when not even that percentage gets five GCSEs at A*-C?

What would make a big difference is a respected system of vocational training. It is iniquitous for the Government to pretend access to a tinpot degree will do away with class distinctions.

TBBC: Personally, I have managed to move from the working classes to the heady heights of the lower middle classes . Wow! I now eat olives and rocket and have a university education. I reckon though it's much harder now for my little cousins as they have to pay fees.

Sadly, I teach in London so I will not be joining the ranks of the home-owning classes anytime soon.

Ralpha: Education was once the great leveller. When the country had grammar schools, any child could qualify for a top education. Now it is becoming a way to divide the country back into the different classes, because not every child has access to these fine schools. The advent of fees has further weeded out the "lower classes", as those capable of degrees have to carry heavy debt in order to do them . So, yes and no - at one time, it had impact in levelling. Now, it is dividing.

Grunwald: The British class structure remains intact, but its composition is altered. The unskilled working class has largely disappeared (because of technology, automation etc) and the artisan class has also largely gone (disappearance of apprenticeships, secondary moderns etc). In its place, the lower middle class has increased with employment in service industries.

Education must be affected by this change, which leads to greater staying-on rates at school and higher education attendance much higher than the 5 per cent who went to university 40 years ago. Worryingly untouched by education is the growing underclass of the "dispossessed".

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