Teachers are often "uncomfortable" talking about class, despite its impact on education, academics at Sussex University have found.
During the research project in 2005, 12 trainee teachers interviewed 12 subject teachers, 10 heads of year, and 51 pupils at their training schools, aiming to explore the barriers to learning that are experienced by underachieving working-class pupils. The project concluded that negative views about working-class children and parents are "deeply ingrained in the teaching profession".
"Stereotypical views of middle-class and working-class pupils and parents perpetuate disadvantage and contribute to the underachievement of some working-class pupils," reported Louise Gazeley and Mairead Dunne, in Addressing Working Class Underachievement.
But the research suggested that teacher training could play an important role, giving students "opportunities to reflect on their own attitudes and values and to recognise when these may influence actions and interactions, especially at an unconscious level".
Dr Gazeley and Dr Dunne have drawn up a course for Multiverse, an initial teacher education resource network that is funded by the Training and Development Agency for Schools. One exercise is to look at a series of comments by teachers and then consider where they fit on a scale, from high expectation to low expectation.
Pupil 1 (working-class boy with statement of educational needs) "Expected to pass one or two GCSEs at best. Extended work experience."
Pupil 2 (working-class girl eligible for free school meals) "Less chance of reaching tertiary education. Seems to have a lower confidence, so lower expectations."
Pupil 3 (middle-class girl) "Will do whatever, because she is hardworking and she loves it. As she embarks on to college she will find her confidence and excel. Definitely university candidate."
Pupil 4 (working-class boy) "Will depend on motivation and self-confidence, but has the ability to go on to further education. Also depends on effect of home life."
Pupil 5 (middle-class boy) "Has the ability to go on to university and achieve whatever his ambitions are. However, this will depend upon his motivation to do so."
More details on the research at www.multiverse.ac.uk.