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Schooling inequality: aspirations, institutional practices and social class reproduction

Abrahams, Jessica 2016. Schooling inequality: aspirations, institutional practices and social class reproduction. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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Despite a mass expansion of the higher education sector in the UK since the 1960s, young people from disadvantaged backgrounds remain less likely to enter university (and in particular elite institutions) than their advantaged counterparts. Governmental approaches to narrowing this gap have tended to revolve around the provision of greater information and a raising of aspirations. This thesis contributes to sociological knowledge through exploring young people’s aspirations and opportunities in light of this context, paying close attention to how these are shaped through interactions with the institution of education. It does so through a focus on three schools in one city in England. Grand Hill Grammar (an independent fee paying school), Einstein High (a state-maintained school in a wealthy area) and Eagles Academy (a state-maintained school in a disadvantaged area). The fieldwork included a survey of over 800 pupils in years 7, 9 and 11 in each school, semi-structured interviews with 6-8 pupils per year per school and one careers advisor per school (n=60). Overall, whilst there were notable differences in the expression of occupational and educational aspirations across the three schools, my findings question a direct causal relationship between social class and aspiration. I found many young people in all schools aspiring to attend university and get a ‘good job’. Nevertheless, this thesis highlights the everyday institutional structures and practices at play which were powerfully rendering young people more or less able to pursue a desired pathway. This was largely manifest in the differential structures of GCSE and A Level options alongside variations in the practices of careers advisors in each school. In this thesis I offer a critique of the dominant political conception of ‘aspiration’, offering instead a Bourdieusian account which considers the role of what I call institutional concerted cultivation in the reproduction of social class inequality.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Funders: ESRC
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 4 May 2017
Last Modified: 03 Nov 2021 15:22

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