The W word: Witchcraft labelling and child safeguarding in social work practice.

We are very proud to have published an important new title, The W Word: Witchcraft labelling and child safeguarding in social work practice by Prospera Tedam and Awura Adjoa. In this post Prospera and Awura outline their reasons for writing the book and the approach it takes.

We are delighted to see our book published and wanted to write this first blog to reiterate our commitment to halting the practice of witchcraft labelling which we know is ongoing in some of our communities. In the last year, we have continually reflected on Awura Adjoa’s childhood experiences and considered how things may otherwise have been for her.

Our motivation to write this book emerged from our shared desire to expose the practice of witchcraft labelling and the impact on its victims. We outlined the psychological, emotional and physical impact on Awura Adjoa and examined the ways in which her migration and family dynamics placed her in a vulnerable position and open to witchcraft labelling.

We were particularly concern about the widely held view that witchcraft labelling is a recent phenomenon in England and sought to explain how this form of child abuse is often hidden and silenced within communities and in families. We make the case for a more robust framework for assessing families where witchcraft labelling may be occurring.

We appreciate that the book makes difficult reading in parts, due to the honest and deeply concerning narrative presented by Awura Adjoa, however we felt there was no way to present this information to the audience for whom it is intended. Awura Adjoa would like to see parents and families engage with this book in order to evaluate their own parenting particularly if they hold beliefs about the presence of witchcraft.

We felt that this book would provide social workers and child safeguarding practitioners with additional insight into this form of abuse and develop their skills in identifying, assessing and intervening in families where children have been labelled or are at risk of witchcraft labelling.

A prominent theme in the book is the role of the faith leader or pastor in the labelling process. Awura Adjoa essentially had two pastors determine her fate- the one who labelled and the one who cleared her. Conversations must be ongoing with faith groups and leaders if we are hoping to address this growing issue.

The role of the school and educational establishments is also considered in the book, particularly around what could have been done to identify that Awura Adjoa was at risk at home and within her community.

The need to understand complex family forms and dynamics is another key area we wanted to bring to the attention of readers. Complex family systems can impact on the effectiveness of any intervention with and for children who may have been labelled.

The 3 main arguments proposed by the book are:

  • Witchcraft labelling in England is not new. It is a real and present concern among some communities and within some faith groups.
  • There are multiple actors associated with this form of child abuse. It is never a ‘secret’ and members of the family and community will be aware of the accusations and label.
  • Witchcraft labelling requires intervention from child care practitioners who are culturally aware and sensitive, non- oppressive and who understand the complexities of working cross-culturally.

Gay (2010) suggests that stories are told for multiple purposes- to entertain, educate and inform or to evoke emotion. The W word is by no means entertainment. It will evoke various emotions as it did for us as the authors and its primary aim is to educate and inform. Consequently, we make no apology for the content, it is Awura Adjoa’s lived experience and needed to be told in the way that is has.

Awura and Prospera

Evidence-based teaching in primary education

The following post is written by Val Poultney, editor of Evidence-based teaching in Primary Education published by Critical Publishing in April 2017.

School improvement is not an exact science. First, the term is a very general one, yet it is applied to many schools as a ‘given’ by politicians and the media. To turn a school around from one that is classified as ‘failing’ or ‘requires improvement’ takes time, commitment and a new approach to teaching and learning. Proponents of the evidence-based teaching approach argue that there should be equal collaboration between educational practitioners, policymakers and researchers and a link established between research outcomes that are seen to be effective in education and how such outcomes could be used in the real-world context of school practice. What might constitute effective school improvement is, arguably, fashionable, context-specific and based on small-scale samples which possibly have little impact on raising standards nationally.

Yet in today’s context of fast-paced schooling, heads and teachers need to be able to plan and respond rapidly to change agendas imposed externally, without the time or space to fully evaluate the worth of the proposed change as it might impact on their school.   Evidence-based teaching as a means of generating an evidential claim to knowledge is a powerful approach but possibly only as ‘local knowledge’ that is very much bound to school context and arguably harder to generalize except to those schools in comparable circumstances.

What constitutes ‘good’ research evidence in these contexts is not for university academics to judge but it should be recognized that these data are but a small part of a bigger picture on the school improvement landscape.  If we are to be truly concerned with raising standards in primary schools then there has to be something more in it for teachers beyond ‘tips for teaching’ and yet another new initiative. We would hope all teachers see themselves as professionals with a contribution to make to the continuing development of their learners and to the profession itself. The literature is replete with references to EBT as a way of providing focused staff development that is meaningful to teachers that helps to build a knowledge-base to supplement the normal statistical school data.  EBT is regarded as a means of giving teaching a real purpose, to instil a confidence in and to ’re-professionalise’ teachers. It opens up opportunities for networking, dissemination and debates about the outcomes of teacher research and challenges teachers to adopt a more inquiring and reflective perspective on their work.

Building and sustaining capacity for everyone to be a learner is one of the crucial roles of any primary school leadership team. These leadership teams become leaders of learning for all staff and children where they develop the potential to change hearts and minds and encourage teachers to focus on their pedagogy in order to make learning happen. School leaders drive the development of a critical epistemological base for practice that provides scope for teachers to reflect upon and explore their own professional practice. Capacity building goes beyond organization and structure however; it allows practitioners to work together in new ways. It is about establishing trust between colleagues and a collective will to want to work together. School leaders are therefore charged with investing in changing the school climate so that they, teachers, support staff and children become central to the work of teaching and learning with internal alignment of teams, structures and resourcing that supports the development of personal and interpersonal capacity. It is about creating a collective capacity where learning is an integral part of everyone’s role in school: leaders, teachers, support staff, estate workers, parents and governors. It is about creating an environment where teachers develop an analytical approach to their own practice and where they begin to see their classrooms through an analytical lens.

In the spirit of taking responsibility for improvement of learning, school leaders may avail themselves of an opportunity to work with an intermediary such as an HEI academic. This affords closer contact with current educational research that can be used to inform and drive inquiry and can act as a means of galvanising a change in practice. Historically, there have been various views on the role of HEI academics in this context, ranging from the notion of bringing rigour to school-based decisions to, more recently, the consideration of research as a means of addressing the disenfranchisement of teachers, where teachers are challenged to develop their own body of locally held knowledge.

Beyond improving teaching and learning, evidence-based approaches can have wider positive ramifications. Teacher research or teacher inquiry can encourage teachers to work together more collegially, promote a proper focus on how to analyse and use existing school data and help to build wider confidence as part of professional development. In turn teachers learn how to make informed choices about practice and use empirical data to cope with future change agendas. Teacher inquiry, if deployed school-wide, can become greater than the sum of its parts and can help to foster a professional learning community. Teachers learn how to evaluate and critique their own practice and that of others to help them make informed choices. The role of the HEI academic as partner, coach, mentor or ‘objective other’ can help to maintain the focus on learning for everyone and to direct teacher reflections on practice. In turn, and with increased levels of confidence, teachers themselves can take on the role of consultants, advisors and critical friends. They can begin to challenge their own commonly held practices, develop their own discourses and reconceptualise their practice.

With these points in mind our recent edition ‘Evidence-based Teaching in the Primary School’ provides the reader with an account of how one primary school used EBT as an approach to improving teacher’s and children’s learning. As a school in challenging circumstances and previously seen as requiring improvement, the Head decided to use this approach over a two year time frame in order to engage and enthuse staff to take a close look at their practice. With the help of a local university academic mainly to advise on research methodology, the staff were offered the opportunity to engage in their own research, be part of some wider research being undertaken by the academic and to come out of their comfort zones to present their findings within and externally to school. There was no blueprint for our work over these two years; the Head acted as a role model for EBT (often unsuccessfully) but he built a community of teachers who began to see the merit of EBT in their own classrooms. EBT became a whole school approach that is on-going today. As a university academic I learnt early on that my credibility with teachers would only stretch so far – what really counted were the perspectives of the teachers engaging in EBT. To their credit, not only did these teachers take on EBT as a whole school initiative but they used its outcomes to widely disseminate their findings culminating in this book. As editor I have tried to present not just the accounts as we remembered them but also some of the ‘uncomfortable messages’ that come with the nature of this work: limitations of the EBT, how to manage rising staff confidence, challenges to school leadership and many more. If you are interested in such work, the book may help to guide you through the trials and tribulations of an EBT approach. All you have to do is to supply your context!

 

 

GREAT EXPECTATIONS – WHAT DO MENTEES WANT FROM THEIR MENTORS AND THEIR SCHOOL?

Today we have a new blog post from one of our fantastic authors, Jonathan Gravells, author of Mentoring: Getting it Right in a Week. Here he explores what exactly mentees want from their mentors and their schools.

Agreeing clear expectations, at both and individual and school level, is one of the proven ingredients of successful mentoring. Here are some expectations that would come at the top of our list.

6 things you should expect from your mentor

  1. Credibility & competence – There are skills and knowledge associated with being a good mentor and you should expect your mentor to have taken the trouble to acquire these. Do they have to have more experience than you as a teacher? Well not necessarily, as plenty of successful peer mentoring partnerships can demonstrate. However, mentoring partnerships often benefit from mentors having different experience, as this enriches the learning.
  2. Willingness to learn – Competence does not mean your mentor knows it all. We can all get better at what we do and your mentor should role model this. Furthermore, in the best mentoring partnerships the mentor learns from exploring their mentee’s experiences too.
  3. Attention – Good listening is important of course, but great mentors do so much more than this. They give their full attention to their mentee, in an effort to really understand what motivates, frustrates or frightens them, and to find ways forward that will really suit them, rather than simply conform to some established formula or standard.
  4. Empathy – Because they have taken the trouble to really understand what makes you tick, great mentors will be able to put themselves in your shoes and realise why you respond to situations and events in a particular way. But they will also remain objective enough to help you question these responses.
  5. Challenge – So, empathy and supportiveness are key to good mentoring, but we also learn from having our assumptions and preconceptions challenged. The best mentors help us to tackle things we might not otherwise have had the confidence to address.
  6. Freedom to be your best self – Great mentors do not impose their strategies or recipes on you. They acknowledge that good teachers are not all stamped from the same mould, and the most successful ideas and improvements will be those that suit your personality and strengths.

6 things you should expect from your school

  1. Clear purpose for the mentoring – Unless your school is clear about what it wants to achieve from mentoring as an institution, then what kind of message is it sending mentors and mentees?
  2. Proper evaluation and improvement – Demonstrating the impact of mentoring, justifying the continued investment of time and money on this aspect of continuing professional development, and finding ways of making it work even better will reinforce everyone’s commitment to the process.
  3. Proper training and ongoing support – As the recent National Standards for ITT mentors rightly point out, mentors (and I would argue mentees) need not just adequate initial training in the skills and techniques of mentoring, but processes to ensure continued improvements in practice.
  4. Time – Unless schools find ways of allocating sufficient time to mentoring as part of staff development, the evidence suggests mentors and mentees will struggle to maintain commitment to the process.
  5. A positive environment – Another crucial observation from the National Standards is that mentoring can only thrive in the right environment. This means a sensible separation from performance assessment and monitoring , demonstrable support from the top, and respecting the need for mentoring to take place within a safe space.
  6. Agreed definition and ground rules – This positive environment will benefit significantly from clarity around mentoring roles and responsibilities and the basic ground rules governing these learning conversations.

Jonathan Gravells, Director of Fargo Associates, January 2017

If this blog post interests you, why not look a bit further? Details of Jonathan’s Mentoring: Getting it Right in a Week can be found on the Critical Publishing website. In addition, why not have a look at the other titles in the In a Week series; Lesson Planning: Getting it Right in a Week by Keith and Nancy Appleyard and Behaviour Management: Getting it Right in a Week by Susan Wallace.

If you have any questions, you can reach me at keisha@criticalpublishing.com – as always, we would love to hear from you!

Keep up to date by subscribing to our newsletters, following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Invisible Educators or Connecting Professionals?

Today we have a new blog post from one of our lovely authors, Jim Crawley of Bath Spa University! Here he discusses teacher education in PCE.

Here are a few interesting things about Post Compulsory Education (PCE) you may not know.

There are 773,000 16– 18- year- olds who study in colleges, compared with 442,000 in schools. A further 71,000 16- to 18- year- olds undertake apprenticeships through colleges and two million adults study or train in English colleges (AoC, 2015 ).

Even with the impact of austerity measures and budget cuts, over 30,000 PCE teachers still gained teaching qualifications in 2012/ 13 (ETF, 2015 ).

In the three decades up to the 2015 election there had been 61 Secretaries of State responsible for skills policy in Britain. Between them they produced 13 major Acts of Parliament and skills policy had flipped between government departments or been shared between departments on ten different occasions (City and Guilds, 2014, p 1).

All of these feature in a new book, the first of its kind, about Teacher Education in PCE.

The third of these ‘interesting things’ really emphasises the volatility and change (an almost incredible amount in the case of this example) which the PCE sector experiences. You would be forgiven for wondering how the first two were ever achieved. The ‘Cinderella sector’ is rightly proud of its achievements, but in a sector which is often almost invisible to governments and many of the public at large, finds it difficult to get its voice heard. Within this professional invisibility, one group of professionals is even more invisible than many of the others, and that is Post Compulsory Teacher Educators (TEds), despite the volume of teachers trained in the sector.

The UK Post Compulsory Education (PCE) sector and its community of TEds has experienced particularly difficult times over the recent period of austerity, even though the mainly workplace-based partnership model of PCE teacher education resonates well with key thinking and current developments in the broader field of teacher education.

The new book, ‘Post Compulsory Teacher Educators – Connecting professionals’ is about PCE teacher education and written by PCE TEds, and it aims to demonstrate that this particular group have much to be proud of, and that their work is one of the key connecting aspects of the development and improvement of teachers in this much under-rated sector.

The book’s authors, Jim Crawley (the editor), Carol Azumah Dennis, Vicky Duckworth, Rebecca Eliahoo, Lynn Machin, Kevin Orr, Denise Robinson and Nena Skrbic are all well-known and well-respected practitioners in PCE. They have produced eight lively, accessible and engaging chapters using their research, ideas and stories from their own work at the front line of training teachers for PCE.  The result is a book which is book is authoritative, critical, rooted in experience and thought provoking, making use of current research and newly-developing thinking. The book will appeal to and be enjoyed by academics and teaching professionals at all levels.

The chapters include an introduction to this group of ‘invisible educators’; how the work they do can be described as having an ‘even more’ quality; what the PCE sector is now, how it has arrived there and where it may go next; the history and development of PCE teacher education; enacting teacher education values; showing how PCE Teacher educators are ‘connecting professionals’; learning lessons from teacher education globally and looking at growing connections as the future for PCE teacher education.

This timely book calls together all those with an interest in PCE teacher education and encourages them to work together for a brighter future.

 

Dr Jim Crawley – Bath Spa University – November 2016

References: 

Association of Colleges, College Key Facts 2015/16. Available at: https://www.aoc.co.uk/sites/default/files/AoC%20College%20Key%20Facts%202015-16%20WEB.pdf 

Zaidi, A., Howat, C. et al., Initial Teacher Education (Provision in FE and Skills). Available at: https://www.aoc.co.uk/sites/default/files/AoC%20College%20Key%20Facts%202015-16%20WEB.pdf

City & Guilds – Sense & Instability: Three decades of skills and employment policy. Available at: http://www.cityandguilds.com/~/media/Documents/news-insight/oct-14/CGSkillsReport2014%20pdf.ashx

If this blog post interests you, why not look a little further? Details of Post Compulsory Teacher Educators: Connecting Professionals can be found at www.criticalpublishing.com.

If you have any questions, you can reach me at keisha@criticalpublishing.com – as always, we would love to hear from you!

Keep up to date by subscribing to our newsletters, following us on Twitter, Facebook and on Instagram.

 

Learning to be a Primary Teacher

The Carter Review for initial teacher training (DFE, 2015) identified the importance of core curriculum content for all teacher training programmes. The review highlighted the importance of all programmes embedding core content on aspects such as: subject-specific pedagogy, assessment, behaviour management, special educational needs and disability, planning, differentiation, child and adolescent development and professionalism. Carter also highlighted the critical role of the school-based mentor in ITE programmes and the need to improve the quality of mentoring.

My new book, entitled Learning to be a Primary Teacher: core knowledge and understanding, published by Critical Publishing in 2016, addresses much of the core content that Carter specified. It also provides a chapter on evidence-based teaching and provides ideas to trainees on how to access educational research. The theme of evidence-based teaching also runs throughout each chapter and trainees are introduced to some of the latest educational research which points to ‘what works’ in schools and classrooms.

Initial teacher training is currently experiencing a phase of transition. In addition to provider-led programmes, providers have in recent years accredited school-led models of training in collaboration with their partnerships, through the introduction of School Direct. Various models of School Direct exist and there is no one blueprint for how School Direct should operate. Postgraduate trainees now have more choice than ever before in relation to how they wish to train as a teacher. They might choose traditional university routes or School Direct routes. Some might choose to train through School-Centred Initial Teacher Training programmes (SCITT) and others might choose assessment-only routes. There is a highly prestigious Troops to Teachers programme as well as other routes such as Teach First.

The diversity of routes into teaching can cause confusion for potential trainees. They need clear, impartial advice on which route is best for them and trainees need to research what is available before they make an application. However, once they are on the programme trainees need similar core content, regardless of the route they have chosen. My book will provide them with the background knowledge that they need to start a career in teaching and it will raise questions for critical debate. The text is accessible and current and directly relevant to classroom practice.

Teaching is a challenging choice of profession.  Many teachers choose to exit the profession each year due to the demands of the role. Trainees will certainly experience stress and exhaustion during their training and may feel like they want to quit. However, it is important in times of stress to recall the reasons for entering the profession in the first place. Teacher make a real difference to the lives of children that they educate. Everyone remembers a good teacher. The best teachers motivate and inspire their learners. They change lives. This book will hopefully give you a step up into a deeply rewarding and interesting profession.

Is this acceptable?

Dr Jonathan Glazzard, EdD, MSc, MEd, MA, PGCert(HE), BEd(Hons)

Head of Academic Development

National Teaching Fellow. Leeds Trinity University

Personal Value System vs Professional Value System

This is the winning Social Work entry in the 2016 Critical Prize for Writing. It was written by Brendan McDaid, a final year student at Ulster University. Brendan was nominated by his lecturer Denise MacDermott.

Brendan McDaid.png

Critically evaluate possible tensions, conflicts and collusions within and between your personal and professional value system as related to social work practice

This assignment shall critically discuss how personal and professional values can come into conflict in modern day social work practice. In order to do this, the difference between personal and professional values will be considered, as well as relevant theories in order to gain a better understanding of how these values can often conflict. Once this has been established, two examples will be used to demonstrate varying ways in which a practitioner’s values can be challenged, with appropriate links also being made to critical reflection and emotional intelligence.

Values can be somewhat problematic to define as it is a term that can be used vaguely and can also have a variety of different meanings. In fact Timms (1983:107), in his study of social work values, quotes 180 different definitions of the term. Perhaps this is indicative of the very nature of values, particularly personal values; they can be comprised of ideologies, attitudes, preferences, beliefs, desires, opinions and therefore differ for every individual. It has been accepted that a value describes what an individual considers worthy (Barndard, Horner & Wild, 2008:29) and it is something we give high priority or importance to when making choices (Beckett & Maynard, 2005: 7). Particularly relevant regarding social work practice, values often signify the moral imperative in the decision making process as they ‘determine what a person thinks he ought to do’ while also representing ‘the general standards and ideals by which we judge our own and others’ conduct’ (CCETSW, 1976:14). What is unique about personal values in comparison to professional values is that they can often change and alter as the individual develops, through life experience, societal influences, political awareness and as their understanding of people develops. Professional values, on the other hand, are not personal to the individual; they are a formal guide social workers must adhere to which aim to create a professional culture that improves practice and attempts to draw boundaries around what is deemed acceptable conduct (Dominelli, 2004:63). Embodied in codes of ethics, these professional values and principles compel the social worker to commit to practice in a manner that safeguards the service users’ rights to privacy, self-determination and to be treated with dignity and respect (Conmartin & Gonzales-Prendes, 2011). The British Association for Social Workers (BASW) code of ethics comprises of five core basic values to which social workers must be committed. These are human dignity and worth, social justice, service to humanity, integrity and competence (BASW, 2002:2). More specific to Northern Ireland, the NISCC code of ethics consists of six professional values which guide social work practice and detail the standards of conduct practitioners and students alike are expected to meet (NISCC, 2003). The NISCC code of ethics importantly encourages social workers to examine their own practice by placing a responsibility on social workers to be accountable for the quality of their work and ensure they continually improve their skills and knowledge base (NISCC, 2003:6).

It is generally accepted that the traditional values of social work were greatly influenced by the legacy of Biesteck (1961) (Dominelli, 2004:63). Therefore, when discussing values in social work practice and potential conflicts that arise, it is important to consider Biesteck’s principles and how theories on values and ethics have developed as a result. Biesteck’s 7 casework principles were individualisation, purposeful expression of feelings, controlled emotional involvement, acceptance, non-judgemental attitude, service user self-determination and confidentiality. These principles are still very much pertinent in modern social work practice, however in terms of theory, possibly the more significant Biesteck principles are individualisation and service user self-determination (Banks, 2006:32).

Having briefly outlined Biesteck’s influence, the two oppositional theorists regarding values and ethics shall now be detailed for the purposes of this discussion. Kantian or deontological ethics, also known as the duty based approach, focuses on the fundamental dignity each and every person possesses as a rational human being, who should be treated “never solely as a means but always also as an end.” (Kant, 1964:96) Kant felt that the individual person is worthy of respect simply because he or she is a person, and this has been intrinsically linked to the principle that is credited as being the foundation of social work ethics and moral thinking (Plant, 1970); ‘respect for persons’. The Kantian theory focuses on the rights and self-determination of each individual service user and promotes carrying out ones duty to that service user regardless of the outcome (Banks, 2006:35) or consequences for society as a whole. By contrast, the utilitarian theory, also known as the consequence based approach, advocates promoting the public good or the well-being of the society in general over the needs of any particular individual; in other words, ‘the greatest good to the greatest number.’ (Beckett & Maynard, 2005:39) According to Banks (2006), ‘the basic idea of utilitarianism is that the right action is that which produces the greatest balance of good over evil’ (Banks, 2006:35). Advocates of the utilitarian approach feel that it is more realistic in terms of modern practitioners; they are employed by agencies, work within procedural constraints and consider the consequences of their decisions. As the relevant theories regarding values have been detailed, this piece shall now consider the application of both personal and professional values in terms of modern day social work practice.

Cormier, Nurius and Osborn state that “when personal values of helpers are consistent with professional standards of conduct, helpers are more likely to interact genuinely and credibly with clients and other professionals” (Cormier, Nurius & Osborn, 2009:32). Therefore, in theory, personal and professional values will ideally complement each other in social work. However, in practice, the reality is that personal and professional values often conflict. Going back to the idea of values representing the moral imperative, the difficulty and conflict that often comes with being a social worker is that what you think you ought to do may not be the same as what you want to do, what is in your interest to do or what in fact you actually do. (CCETSW, 1976:14) Therefore, social workers are regularly confronted with decisions that represent an ethical dilemma, which is said to exist when “acting on one moral conviction means behaving contrary to another or when adhering to one value means abandoning another.” (Blumenfield & Lowe, 1987:48) Such is the nature of social work, these conflicts and dilemmas are not limited to practitioners and have also become apparent to me as a student during lectures and interactions with service users, which shall now be critically discussed.

During our ethics and values lecture, I identified respect of persons as a core value of mine, and my reason for this is you never know what an individual’s story is or what they may have been through. The right to self-determination for a service-user is also a value that I attribute worth to on a personal level; it was one of the fundamental principles that made me want to become a social worker. Therefore, my personal values are more in line with the Kantian approach to ethics in that they are concerned with the individual circumstances and decisions of the service user.  However, when listening to a service user (hereafter X) speak about his experience of living in a care home, I identified a potential conflict in my personal and professional values regarding looked after children. According to current policy and procedure for looked after children, regardless of the history, individual circumstances or indeed the wishes of the service user they are required to leave the care home at the age of 18 and live independently. For many social workers, this policy may be acceptable on a professional level as it is in keeping with the NISCC code of ethics for ‘promoting independence of service user while protecting them from harm.’ (NISCC, 2003:3) X also detailed how, many years previously, he had been sent to live with a foster family against his wishes and seemingly without being consulted on the matter. Again, in a strictly professional sense this may be correct in keeping with the ‘right to respect for private and family life’ under article 8 of the Human Rights Act (1998), which is considered one of the core areas of social work practice (White, 2004:29). However, I believe this policy regarding looked after children is framed in a way that is very much utilitarian and is in contrast to my personal values and ‘occupational self-concept’ (Payne, 2006) of social work practice.

I am aware that being a practitioner brings with it a function regarding social control, resource rationing and issues relating to fair distribution of welfare (Banks, 2006:35), meaning there are procedures a practitioner must adhere to. However, one of the key roles I will have to fulfil as a practitioner is to support individuals to represent their needs, views and circumstances to achieve greater independence (DHSSPS, 2003). In order to do this, a practitioner must advocate on behalf of the service user. X explained that in his own personal experience and the experience of many of his peers, their needs and views were not represented as they were not mentally prepared for independent living. He elaborated that they did not wish to leave the care home and as a result he was faced with an overwhelming sense of vulnerability and anxiety. My immediate response when listening to his experiences was to question whether, in following this procedure, practitioners are indeed promoting independence or in fact negligent in their duty to advocate for and protect the service user from harm? Furthermore, it raises doubts as to whether self-determination within the current welfare system regarding looked after children actually exists, or whether it is simply defined persuasively to justify decisions against service user’s real interests that may go against their will. (McDermott, 1975).

Having considered what X had said, my initial feeling was that in order to effectively fulfil the key role of supporting looked after children and representing their needs, a more Kantian approach is necessary. Listening to X, it could be claimed looked after children are being categorised, stigmatised and treated as such, as opposed to being judged as a visible human being whose autonomy is respected. (Beckett & Maynard, 2005:38) Therefore, my immediate response as a practitioner would be to identify with Banks’ (2001) view proposing social workers have a responsibility to strive to change policy that supports what they feel to be a form of oppression (Conmartin & Gonzales-Prendes, 2011).

X’s input has been extremely beneficial to me in terms of my social work education as it gave me a valuable insight into the conflicting and challenging nature of social work. Regardless of personal values, I fully appreciate the need for professionalism in social work as practitioners are required to follow policy that is in place and are bound by the NISCC code of ethics, which is the framework or screen through which…personal world views must be drawn to determine the acceptability in social work practice” (Spano & Koenig, 2007:3). To be considered a competent practitioner, it is imperative I am aware of my emotions and am capable of managing them in a setting where my personal and professional values conflict. Emotional intelligence is particularly important in these circumstances as it enables the practitioner to “…(be) able to motivate oneself and persist in the face of frustrations” (Goleman, 1996:34). As child protection is the area of social work practice I am most likely to be employed in (Crossing Borders, 2001:14), it is important that when tuning in to the thoughts and feelings of future service users (Shulman, 2009) I am able to critically reflect on what I learned from X’s emotions regarding his experience and my own emotions having empathised with what he went through. This enables me to “(return) to the experience, attending to feelings connected to the experience and also re-evaluate the experience by recognising potential implications and outcomes.” (Boud & Knights, 1996:26)

X’s experience has made me aware of the use of authority in terms of social work and how it can be perceived by the service user. This will be extremely important in terms of my future practice as I am now conscious of the power dynamic that can exist from the service user’s perspective, meaning I can attempt to negate it. This demonstrates moral sensitivity, and I believe my views and concerns expressed above regarding X’s experience also illustrate elements of moral judgement and motivation. Although in practice it may become challenging, I feel my personality traits and values indicate that I also possess the moral character to stand by my convictions, meaning I now feel capable of moral behaviour (Banks, 2006:158) when practicing.  Being aware of this power vacuum should also help ensure that my future practice is anti-oppressive, as it is “based on an understanding of how concepts of power, oppression and inequality determine personal and structural relations.” (Dalrymple & Burke, 2003:48) Furthermore, X’s experience has enabled me to explore, resolve and reflect upon conflicts between my personal and professional values before I had to face this dilemma in a professional capacity. This forced me to consider my future practice, and in doing so I concluded that I may perhaps be a professional practitioner, however I aim to maintain some elements of the committed/radical approach.  Although my initial thought regarding current policy for looked after children was that it needed to be challenged, through the discussion that followed X’s experience and reflecting on how my feelings have evolved regarding the matter, I now appreciate that as a practitioner I am bound by the NISCC codes of ethics and policy and procedure that is in place.  However, I continue to identify with Bank’s view that it is important to hold on to your personal values in order to challenge laws, policies and practices regarded as unjust or oppressive (Banks, 2006:133).

The second issue that shall now be considered involved working with a service user, as opposed to listening to their experiences in a learning environment. I currently work as a support worker in a hostel for homeless men. My role requires me to work with and provide support for individuals who have a history of alcohol abuse and who have experienced a breakdown in family relationships. As part of my role I was also required to work with an individual (hereafter Y) who has a history of committing sexual offences, and it immediately became apparent to me that this was going to conflict with my personal values and beliefs regarding forms of abuse. Rightly or wrongly, at that time I felt that sexual abuse was a particularly despicable crime and that I may find it difficult to engage with and provide effective support to a perpetrator of this type of act. I was also concerned that my feelings regarding sexual abuse would be an obstacle in terms of my ability to empathise with Y. Therefore, I was faced with the ethical dilemma of whether to help Y, thus going against my views regarding abuse and oppression, or choosing not to work with Y, which in itself is a form of oppression as I would be devaluing the service user as a member of a group socially configured as inferior. (Gray & Wedd, 2010:160)

As a student social worker, I was aware that in choosing not to work with Y, my decision would conflict with the NISCC code of ethics requiring social workers to protect the rights and promote the interests of service users while striving to establish and maintain the trust and confidence of service users (NISCC, 2003:1-2). Therefore, if I was unable to manage my personal values and beliefs regarding this matter it would raise questions regarding my competence for practice. Furthermore, one of the key roles for social work practice is having to prepare for and work with individuals, families, carers, groups and communities to assess their needs and circumstances (DHSSPS, 2003). In keeping with this key role, I chose to accept Y for who he was and show him the respect and dignity of every human being (Banks, 2006: 33) as all individuals, regardless of their behaviours, are worthy of the profession’s skills and knowledge in order to improve their social functioning and quality of life (Conmartin & Gonzales-Prendes, 2011). In order to do this, however, I would need to demonstrate emotional intelligence and self-awareness, which is what we already know about ourselves, what we learn when encountering new experiences and what we learn through contact with others (Trevithick, 2005:43), in order to effectively manage my feelings and ensure I remained anti-oppressive by avoiding ‘othering’ (Gray, M. & Wedd, S, 2010: 161) Y in our interactions.

According to Butler, Knott and Scragg, “understanding feelings and emotions is essential, if we are to understand the complicated, often messy, emotionally charged situations which social workers are faced with.” (Butler, G. Ch.3 in Knott, C., Scraff, T, 2007). This is imperative as “failure to manage feelings compromises the balance between thought, feeling and action….what is required, instead, is the ability to harness all emotion as sources of information and to seek to promote a positive climate within which best decisions are likely to be made.” (Morrisson, 2007:5) By becoming emotionally aware of and critically reflecting on my emotions regarding sexual abuse, I now appreciate that perhaps my initial views regarding working with sex offenders were influenced by societal influences, the media, a negative perception and the stigma that is attached to perpetrators of sexual abuse. This enabled me to view the service user holistically and understand that he too may have encountered a history of victimisation himself (Conmartin & Gonzales-Prendes, 2011)

I feel this experience will have a positive impact on my future practice as it enabled me to develop my emotional intelligence and become more self-aware regarding my own emotions in this value conflict, meaning I am able to manage my feelings, understand them and also understand how they may potentially influence my future behaviour and practice (Bruce, 2013). Banks feels that practitioners only begin to realise the limitations of their self-awareness when presented with problems that trigger reactions inappropriate to the situation (Banks, 2006:157) and before I encountered Y, I was unaware of what my emotions were regarding sex offenders. However, as a result of this process I feel I have an increased self-awareness in terms of biases and attitudes that may have been previously went undiscovered (Conmartin & Gonzales-Prendes, 2011:1). This is beneficial in terms of my self-development and enabled me to successfully manage and reflect on this complex ethical dilemma, which is a practice foci for one of the key social work roles; demonstrate and be responsible for professional competence in social work practice. (DHSSPS, 2003) In terms of future practice, if I were faced with a similar situation I would refer to the previously mentioned Biesteck principles, with particular consideration given to controlled emotional involvement, acceptance and adopting a non-judgemental attitude, to ensure I am able to empathise effectively, while also providing the support that the service user needs.

In conclusion, when considering the points and literature above, it is pertinently clear that maintaining congruence between personal and professional values can be quite challenging, even for the more experienced practitioner. As modern social work practice moves away from the Kantian approach to a more bureaucratic or utilitarian approach, this will no doubt lead to further ethical dilemmas for practitioners to manage. Therefore, it is essential that practitioners develop and maintain practice that is critically reflective, emotionally intelligent and self-aware. Although practitioners are bound by professional values and codes of ethics, it is as equally important to possess a ‘moral impulse’ (Bauman, 1993) and maintain your personal values in order to challenge laws, policies and practices regarded as unjust or oppressive (Banks, 2006:133). By maintaining one’s own values, as well as the changing ethical priorities of the profession, it enables the practitioner to have a healthy anticipation of incongruence between personal and professional values. The result of this will be a social worker who is able to manage their own values, as well as understanding and applying the ethics and values of social work, which should be the benchmark for any capable practitioner.

References

Banks, S. (2006). Ethics and Values in Social Work (3rd Edition), Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan.

Barnard, A., Horner, N. and Wild, J. (eds) (2008) The Value Base of Social Work and Social Care: An Active Learning Handbook. Maidenhead. McGraw-Hill.

BASW, 2002, Code of Ethics. Available at http://cdn.basw.co.uk/upload/basw_112315-7.pdf. Last accessed 14/12/14.

Bauman, Z. (1993) Postmodern Ethics, Oxford, Blackwell.

Beckett, C. and Maynard, A. (2005) Values & Ethics in social work: an introduction. 1st edn. United Kingdom: Sage Publications Ltd.

Blumenfield, S. and Lowe, J,I. (1987) A template for analysing ethical dilemmas in discharge planning. In Health and Social Work, NASW, Vol.12, No.1, Winter 1987.

Boud, D. and Knights, S. (1996). Course Design for Reflective Practice, Aldershot: Ashgate

Bruce, L. (2013). Reflective Practice For Social Workers: A Handbook For Developing Professional Confidence. McGraw-Hill International

Butler, G. Ch.3 in Knott , C.,  Scragg , T. (2007),ReflectivePractice in Social Work , Exeter, Learning Matters

CCETSW (1976) Paper 13, Social Work Curriculum Study. London: CCETSW

Conmartin, E.B., & Gonzales-Prendes, A.A. (2011). Dissonance between personal and professional values: Resolution of an ethical dilemma. Journal of Social Work Values and Ethics, 8(2), 5-1-5-14.

Cormier, S., Nurius, P. S., & Osborn, C. J. (2009). Interviewing and change strategies for helpers: Fundamental skills and cognitive-behavioral interventions (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Crossing Borders: resource pack for social workers.

Available at http://www.scie-socialcareonline.org.uk. Last accessed 14/12/14.

Dalrymple, J. & Burke, B. (2003), Anti-Oppressive Practice: Social Care and the Law, Berkshire, Open University Press.

DHSSPS (2003) Northern Ireland Framework Specification for the Degree in Social Work. Available at http://www.dhsspsni.gov.uk/dhssps_sociawork_doc.pdf. Last accessed 02/01/15

Dominelli, L. (2004). Social Work: Theory and Practice for a Changing Profession, United Kingdom: Polity Press

Gray, M. and Webb, S. (2010) Ethics and value perspectives in social work. United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmiillan

Kant, I. (1964) Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, New York, Harper & Row.

McDermott, F. (1975) ‘Against the Persuasive Definition of Self-Determination’, in F.McDermott (ed.), Self-Determination in Social Work, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, pp. 118-37

Morrison, T. (2007). Emotional intelligence, emotion and social work: Context, characteristics, complications and contribution. British Journal of Social Work, 37(2), 245-263.

Payne, M. (2006). What is professional social work? (2nd ed.) Chicago, IL: Lyceum Books.

Plant, R. (1970) Social and Moral Theory in Casework, London, Routeledge & Kegan Paul.

Shulman, L (2009). 6th ed. The Skills of Helping Individuals, families, Groups and Communities. United States of Amerca:Brooks/Cole

Spano, R., & Koenig, T. (2007). What is sacred when personal and professional values collide? Journal of Social Work Values and Ethics, 4(3).

Available at :http://www.socialworker.com/jswve/content/view/69/54/ Last accessed 18/12/14.

Trevithick, P. (2005). Social Work Skills a practice handbook (Second Edition), Berkshire: McGraw-Hill Education

White, C. (2004) Northern Ireland Social Work Law. Ireland: Butterworth Ireland

If you have any questions you can reach me at hannah@criticalpublishing.com – as always we’d love to hear from you.

Keep up to date on all offers by subscribing to our newsletters, following us on Twitter, Facebook and on Instagram.

Political Sociology of Education

This is the winning Education entry in the 2016 Critical Prize for Writing. It was written by Rachel Kurtz in her final year studying BA Education and Psychology. Rachel was nominated by her lecturer Dr Sophie Ward.

ED Winner Rachel Kurtz

Political Sociology of Education

In 2013, UK Prime Minister David Cameron said “Just opening the door and saying ‘we are in favour of equality of opportunity’, that’s not enough. You’ve got to get out there and find people, win them over, get them to raise aspirations, get them to think they can get all the way to the top.” Why have attempts to promote equality of opportunity in schools in the UK and/or other countries failed?

There are many points and questions raised by the above quote. In what ways does David Cameron consider his government to be ‘opening the door’? How does he think the task of raising aspirations should be tackled? By what mechanisms are the suitably motivated masses expected to clamber to the top? The answer to that final question is generally assumed to be education but educational interventions aiming to reshape society, as we shall see, are not working. The biggest issue with Cameron’s words, however, is not in the implications and interpretations of what is said, but of what is not said. At no point does he take account of the environmental reasons for societal disparity. Instead he places the responsibility for creating a more equal society on those who are least empowered to make change, while (and I admit my cynicism on this point) the contribution from those at the top is simply to cheer them on. The foundation of his strategy is the unquestioned, underlying assumption of a hierarchical social and political structure, which by its very nature necessitates the division of the population into more and less privileged classes. Cameron is neither acknowledging the role of the hierarchy in creating and perpetuating inequality, nor suggesting that the establishment intends to or even should change in order to create a more equal society. This being the case, the sincerity of Cameron’s claim of commitment to equality is cast into doubt.

My mental image of this hierarchy is a giant human pyramid gone wrong. In this grotesque image the foundations of the pyramid look something like Frans Francken’s painting The Damned Being Cast into Hell, a mass of bodies: some looking fearfully upward, some hiding their faces to block out reality, some in chains; all being tortured by the occasional demon and crushed by the weight of those above as they try to resist the downward pressure. Looking at this image it is possible to make out routes of escape – ways that an opportunist might ascend from the pit – but this is only possible at the expense of those around them. It is only by scrabbling, shoving and climbing over other people that an individual can make their way to the top. In my mental image, way up at the top of the pile, a little below the billionaires and multinational CEOs, David Cameron is peering down through the mass of bodies yelling words of encouragement, perhaps somewhat selectively, because after all, not everyone can rise to the top or the foundations of the whole structure would fail.

There are particular groups of society that form cornerstones, keystones and pillars that between them hold the whole thing up. If one or two individuals from these groups are able to take advantage of a momentary shift in the crushing pressure from above and work themselves free enough to respond to the aspiration-raising politicians at the top, there is no real threat to the hierarchy; but if there were movement en masse, the whole thing would topple. Perhaps the reason this does not happen is because the lower one is, the greater the threat of injury therefore the more concerned one becomes for one’s own safety and survival and the less one is aware of the bigger picture. The pyramid is as evident in education as in every sphere of social life.

Equality of opportunity is the concept that everyone, regardless of social status, geographical location or family background, has access to the means with which to succeed in whatever they choose to do. Its main engine is education, through which social mobility is achieved by access to training appropriate to the desired field. This transformative function is the foundation of a meritocracy, since, in theory, any person can follow their dream to excel in their chosen profession. But how common is that story? There are indeed high achievers, take former prime minister and grocer’s daughter, Margaret Thatcher, for example, but for each lucky individual who scrambles upward, there are hundreds who do not.

In reality school attainment is reliably predicted by family background and the numbers of working class people attending university are comparatively low. The disparity begins early and continues throughout education. Cognitive ability at 22 months is a reliable predictor of future attainment when combined with family background: those who score lower at this age but come from rich or well-educated families tend to catch up with peers, whereas similarly performing disadvantaged children do not (Feinstein, 2003). Reports from the Sutton Trust (2015) indicate that an elite minority are disproportionally represented in Britain’s top universities, a situation exaggerated in Oxford and Cambridge, where almost half the admissions come from 200 of the UK’s 3,700 schools (Sutton Trust, 2008). Furthermore, between 2002-2006 the top 30 independent schools accounted for 13.2% of Oxbridge entrance, compared to 7.5% from the top 30 state grammar schools, despite similar attainment at A level (Bolton, 2014). This means that a student has almost double the chance of being accepted from an independent school than they might at an equally performing state school and consequently better access to the associated career opportunities. The statistics demonstrate similar bias across all measures: Higher education and social class (Bolton, 2010, Jerrim, 2013), social mobility (Sutton Trust, 2015), school attainment (Noden & West, 2009).

At every level of education there is a tendency for societal inequalities to be recreated and even entry into a top university is not enough to guarantee access to the best opportunities. For example, over 30% of internships available to university students are unpaid and will incur living costs of around £5,000 (Sutton Trust, 2014), thus are unaffordable for anyone without substantial financial backing. Other opportunities come through family connections and networks that disadvantaged students are unlikely to have. Success, in many situations is dependent on who you know and how much money you have (Lin,1999).

Clearly, if your background is disadvantaged you are less likely to succeed and if it is privileged your money and connections will gain you access to superior opportunities. Thus the inequalities of establishment institutions are self-perpetuating, some might suggest, intentionally so. As Ivan Illich puts it, ‘Schools select for each successive level, those who have, at earlier stages in the game, proved themselves good risks for the established order’ (Illich, 1970, p.34). Children brought up in households that understand, accept and value that established order thus have an advantage and social disparity is continued.

It is not just institutions that perpetuate the status quo, however, children quickly learn to conform to their place in the social order. Performance of low and high caste Indian boys, was shown to be dependent on knowledge of other another’s caste, with the low caste children marginally out-performing high caste when status was unknown and a large fall in scores in the low-caste group once caste was revealed (Hoff & Pandey, 2014). Adults’ assessments of children’s potential and ability are made through a lens that is too often biased by social prejudice and children deliver what is expected of them. Free of these expectations it seems that children can achieve more, guided only by their peers and their own curiosity. Mitra’s (2006) hole in the wall experiments and the resulting concept of self organizing learning environments (SOLEs) (Dolan et al., 2013) demonstrate that minimal adult intervention, offered only if children’s learning plateaus, is all that is required to acquire expertise. It is worth noting that children in these groups are generous in sharing their knowledge and equitable in their approach, slipping easily between teaching and learning roles, with younger children often teaching older ones. This is contrary to the hierarchical structure of most schools and work environments. Considering SOLEs alongside the findings on caste and performance, we might conclude that negative expectations of adult teachers most likely impede the progress of deprived and under-performing children, due to their compliance with externally imposed norms.

Family environment is also influential, since parents and other relatives provide strong role models. Children brought up in homes without books are inevitably less interested in reading (Payne et al., 1994). Furthermore, families can resist the socialising influence of school. Parents in deprived areas of London actively resist the middle-class influence of education because it seems to run contrary to their values of living for the present and enjoying life. Consequently, they tend not to push their children academically and allow them more freedom than their middle class counterparts (Evans, 2006). One positive result of this is that an academically motivated working-class child will be working hard for their own satisfaction, however they may also be discouraged without family support and valuing of their work. Still others may never realise that they have the interest and ability to succeed.

Educational inequalities, then, cannot be divorced from societal inequalities, however they are becoming increasingly important due to the polarisation of the latter in a neoliberal context. Successive British governments have essentially acted as puppets for multinational companies, offering them tax breaks and employment laws that encourage them to invest in the country, but these jobs benefit the employers more than the employees. This makes poor working conditions the norm that smaller, less profitable companies adopt: zero hour contracts, instability, minimum pay, all work in favour of increasing profit margins. Job insecurity makes it more difficult to rise through the ranks in employment, as early school-leavers were traditionally able to do, because so many contracts are short-term (Allen & Henry, 1997). Thus those without a university education, if they find a job at all, are likely to end up in a dead-end job with no prospects.

Evidently it is virtually impossible for the disadvantaged to succeed on merit alone, since the odds are against the poor from birth through to higher education. I would speculate that even those who play the game and gain qualifications have no guarantee of employment due to wider social issues and the consequences of failure appear to be increasingly severe. I have noticed an increase in the numbers of homeless people on the streets, even in areas where this has not previously been a problem. Unlike the usual hardened, weathered-looking substance users, the latest influx are mostly fresh-faced young men who seem frightened and out of their depth. It has troubled me to the point that I occasionally stop and talk to them, ask their story and buy them some food. Their stories are strikingly similar. These are not, as might be supposed, education’s dropouts. Most of the young men I have talked with are qualified in a trade of some sort and have been left homeless after a relationship breakup. If they were addicts they would be considered vulnerable enough to qualify for assistance, but instead they are left to fend for themselves, unable to get work because they have no address and unable to take on a home because they have no paid work. Evidently education is no guarantee of employment. Government statistics show that rough sleeping has increased by half in the last 5 years and of the 28,460 applications for housing assistance in autumn 2014, less than half were accepted as homeless, 25% were considered not homeless, 18% homeless but not priority and 9% intentionally homeless and priority (Gov.uk, 2015). That leaves large numbers of ‘low priority’, mostly young people without help. One might be forgiven for imagining that this situation is intentional.

Whereas homelessness used to be associated mainly with mental illness or substance misuse, threats to domestic security can now be traced directly to government policy. The backdrop to the scene is the continuing sell-off of council houses, which means that low-cost social housing is increasingly difficult to come by; the introduction of the ill-advised bedroom tax has left people choosing between food, heating and rent payments for the sake of £20 a week (Taylor, 2014), and the recent ruling that homeless shelters are ineligible to accept housing benefit has left many vulnerable and led to hostel closure (Clarke 2014). The strain on services is such that only the most needy are prioritised and in many cases being classed as homeless results in being added to a waiting list rather than receiving immediate help. Healthy young men are consequently the ones left to fend for themselves.

At the other end of the scale we have bankers being bailed out by the state; superrich, celebrity lifestyles flaunted in the media; growing numbers of jobs with six-figure salaries and enormous bonuses; multinational companies exploiting their workforce for huge profits without contributing to the tax system of their host country, and politicians fraudulently claiming expenses that they are more than able to pay (Jones, 2015; Chomsky, 2012). Societal injustice and inequality seem to have become a defining feature of the early twenty-first century.

Aside from the consequences for those immediately affected by inequality, there appear to be detrimental effects at a societal level. The Spirit Level (Wilkinson & Pickett, 2010) shows how virtually all societal ills relate to inequality. Counties with the biggest disparity have higher rates of mental health issues and drug use; poorer health and life expectancy; higher rates of obesity (in nations where wages are above subsistence levels); poorer educational performance; higher teenage birth rates; higher levels of violence and imprisonment, and less social mobility. Furthermore, the data are not simply pulled down to a low average because of the poverty at the lower extreme; the rich are affected too. For example, health and life expectancy are worse for the rich in unequal countries than in more equal ones. Inequality breeds competition, raises anxiety levels and leads people to judge themselves by comparison, which impacts health and happiness at all levels (Wilkinson & Pickett, 2010). Evidently inequality is not good for anyone.

This being the case, it is surprising that governments are doing so little to reduce inequality. Simply raising aspirations as Cameron suggests is not good enough in a hierarchy because firstly there are not enough high-flying jobs available for all, and secondly, the type of people who succeed are, through necessity, more likely to be ruthless, determined and competitive; qualities that further undermine efforts towards equality. All that this strategy achieves is a few success stories and generations of people who feel they have failed. Cameron’s words show no appreciation that there are alternative and equally valid priorities that people might choose over a career – caring for a relative or children, travel, spiritual devotion, or volunteer work may well be more important to some people than a successful career. Disparity in income makes spending a visible marker of success and people literally buy into consumerism to show their status, effectively reducing the meaning of life to the simple fact of earning power. In reality, fulfilment and self-esteem rest on more than the size of a pay packet. While this might sound contrary to current trends, Children in more equal societies have less inflated aspirations (UNICEF, 2007), possibly due to the fact that there is less stigma attached to low-status jobs in more equal societies. If the government truly want to create equality, simply raising aspirations is not the way forward; what is needed is greater valuing of aspects of life other than career path.

Equality of opportunity, then, is not simply an educational issue. Inequality in education is a mirror image of inequality in wider society, which makes tackling it far more complex than opening doors and raising aspirations, and social policy needs to reflect this. As an institution however, education is better placed than most to engineer change. Differences in cognitive ability are evident by the age of 3 and consequently recommendations have been made for early interventions (Doyle et al., 2009). One approach that goes some way towards ameliorating early disparity is time spent in preschool, which has been reliably associated with equality of educational outcome. The longer children attend preschool before entering formal education, the smaller the disparity with regard to family background. The resulting later school entrance appears to be inconsequential (Schütz et al., 2008). This may be socially equalling because children are exposed to the influence of peers raised differently and learn the middleclass language and expectations of a school environment (Evans, 2006) before formal learning occurs. Lower national proportions of private, as opposed to state school, education are also associated with equality (Schütz et al., 2008). As we have already seen, fee-paying schools give pupils an edge when it comes to applying for university (Bolton, 2014) and it is unlikely that the privileged few will give up this advantage. Nonetheless it is an advantage afforded at the expense of the rich not just the poor, since educational attainment is higher at all levels in more equal societies (Wilkinson & Pickett, 2010). Lastly, the younger pupils are streamed into ability groups, the more unequal the educational outcomes (Schütz et al., 2008). Compulsory ‘setting’ of children according to attainment is currently a hot topic in education (Wintour, 2014a; Wintour, 2014b) and although the government do not plan to introduce it since it compromises school autonomy, setting has its supporters within the educational establishment, including OFSTED (Wintour, 2014b).

With regards to equality of opportunity as a societal, rather than simply an educational issue, I would like to return to Francken’s painting, The Damned Being Cast into Hell. What is needed as a first step towards rectifying this scene is not the current strategy of helping specially selected individuals who already conform to establishment expectations. This is neither fair nor will it result in equality because it does nothing to dismantle the pyramid and, for the majority, all the external familial, societal and cultural pressures and influences will remain, countering and resisting any number of aspirational speeches. Nor would a quick, brutal demolition be the way forward: one only need consider the cruelty and blood-shed of various revolutions and the inevitable instability or misuse of power in their wake to know the price of brutality for the greater good. Rather than making a tweak here and there it needs to be turned on its axis by 90 degrees so that the vertical becomes a horizontal. What is needed is nothing less than a paradigm shift so that instead of ‘opening doors’ and ‘raising aspirations’ the government are examining the responsibility of the establishment in keeping people ‘in their place’ and valuing all its citizens.

Rather than accepting the hierarchy, the aim needs to be more equitable, as in the parable of the long spoons, in which both heaven and hell are identical but in order to eat people must use a spoon with a handle so long that they can’t reach their own mouth when holding it. In hell they go hungry, whereas in heaven they feed one another. In this image the solution is simple and until this government takes serious steps towards this ideal, I reserve the right to be cynical about their motives.

References

Allen, J., & Henry, N. (1997). Ulrich Beck’s risk society at work: Labour and employment in the contract service industries. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 180-196.

Bolton, P (2014). Oxbridge ‘elitism’. Retrieved 1 May 2015 from: www.gov.uk

Bolton, P. (2010). Higher Education and social class. Retrieved 1 May 2015 from: www.gov.uk

Chomsky, N. (2012). How the world works. London: Hamish Hamilton.

Clarke, J.S. (2013). Salford homeless shelter forced to close after funding ruling. The Guardian. Retrieved 1 May 2015 from: www.theguardian.com

Dolan, P., Leat, D., Mazzoli Smith, L., Mitra, S., Todd, L., & Wall, K. (2013). Self-organised learning environments (SOLEs) in an English school: an example of transformative pedagogy? Online Education Research Journal, 3(11).

Doyle, O., Harmon, C. P., Heckman, J. J., & Tremblay, R. E. (2009). Investing in early human development: timing and economic efficiency. Economics & Human Biology, 7(1), 1-6.

Evans, G. (2006). Educational failure and working class white children in Britain. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Feinstein, L. (2003). Inequality in the early cognitive development of British children in the 1970 cohort. Economica, 70 (277), 73-97.

Frankenberg, F. (1605 – 1610). The damned being cast into hell [Painting]. Salzburg, Residenz Galerie

Gov.uk (2015). Homelessness statistics. Retrieved 1 May 2015 from: www.gov.uk

Hoff, K., & Pandey, P. (2014). Making up people—the effect of identity on performance in a modernizing society. Journal of Development Economics, 106, 118-131.

Illich, I. (1971). Deschooling Society. Retrieved 12 May 2015 from: http://www.preservenet.com/theory/Illich/Deschooling/intro.html

Jerrim, J. (2013). Family Background and access to ‘high status’ universities. Retrieved 10 May 2015 from: http://johnjerrim.com/about/

Jones, O. (2015). The Establishment: and how they get away with it. London: Allen Lane.

Lin, N. (1999). Social networks and status attainment. Annual review of sociology, 467-487.

Mitra, S. (2006). The Hole in the Wall: Self-organising systems in education. New Delhi & New York: Tata-McGraw-Hill Pub. Co. Ltd.

Noden, P., & West, A. (2009). Attainment gaps between the most deprived and advantaged schools. London: The Sutton Trust.

Payne, A. C., Whitehurst, G. J., & Angell, A. L. (1994). The role of home literacy environment in the development of language ability in preschool children from low-income families. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 9 (3), 427-440.

Schütz, G., Ursprung, H. W., & Wößmann, L. (2008). Education policy and equality of opportunity. Kyklos, 61(2), 279-308.

Sutton Trust (2008). University Admissions by Individual Schools. Retrieved 1 May 2015 from http://www.suttontrust.com

Sutton Trust (2014). Internship or indenture? Retrieved 9 May 2015 from: http://www.suttontrust.com

Sutton Trust (2015). Improving social mobility through education. Retrieved 1 May 2015 from http://www.suttontrust.com

Taylor, A. (2014). Bedroom tax is forcing poorest citizens into unmanageable debt. The Guardian. Retrieved 8 May 2015 from: www.theguardian.com

Unicef. (2007). Child poverty in perspective: An overview of child well-being in rich countries (No. inreca07/19). UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre. Retrieved 30 April 2015 from: http://www.unicef.org/media/files/ChildPovertyReport.pdf

Wilkinson, R. G., & Pickett, K. (2011). The Spirit Level: Why equality is better for everyone. London: Penguin Books Ltd.

Wintour, P. (2014a), Compulsory setting: schools face being forced to separate pupils by ability. The Guardian. Retrieved 8 May 2015 from: www.theguardian.com

Wintour, P. (2014b), Nicky Morgan denies she plans to back compulsory setting in schools. The Guardian. Retrieved 9 May 2015 from: www.theguardian.com

If you have any questions you can reach me at hannah@criticalpublishing.com – as always we’d love to hear from you.

Keep up to date on all offers by subscribing to our newsletters, following us on Twitter, Facebook and on Instagram.