Class dismissed: Getting in and getting on in education

Tuesday 24-04-2018 - 11:02

This week our Poverty Commission report dropped. A highly anticipated review of the barriers working class students face to getting in, and getting on, in education.

So what is it?
The report is a result of a years work led by our National President, Shakira Martin. You can read the full report here. It has already garnered insane amounts of interest. On the day of it’s launch (23 April 2018) our ground breaking report has already been covered by the BBC, TES, Huffington Post, WonkHE, FE news, independent, THE, The Guardian.

To begin with the Poverty Commission started with 1 question: ‘What are the barriers to accessing and excelling in post-16 education for working class people?’ unsurprisingly to us, there was  A LOT of answers to this.

Who was involved?
To help us understand each problem, we brought together a board of 12 commissioners. People who truly understand the poverty premium that working class people are facing in the UK. The Poverty Commission board understands that despite ‘widening participation’ chat rolling of the lips of politicians, who you are and where you’re from STILL results in a variety of barriers to getting in, and on, in education. From barristers, economists, activists and students’ you can find out more about our board here and why they are the right people for the job.

The board  met between October - December 2017 and heard from 70 organisations, across the UK, on the impact and links of poverty and class. This is where the Poverty Commision research began.

What we found
Our research digs deeper than the top level shallow stats, that the UK Government are focusing on to support their narrative of ‘social mobility’ and ‘widening participation’. UK Government ministers like to tell us that 2017 saw the highest number of disadvantaged students’ entering higher education in England, but this isn’t the full story. Where you are from is still impacting your chances of getting to university. In Kensington and Chelsea 50% of the most disadvantaged young people go to university, while in Hastings, Barnsley or Eastbourne it’s just 10%.

We also know that working class people are struggling to stay in education, our report looks at the full picture of this: 10.3% of Black students’ from disadvantaged backgrounds are leaving before the second year of their course, 11.6% of  mature students’ are leaving and it gets worse still for part-time students’ with a third not continuing past their second year of university.

Top results are needed to go on to continue in an academic career so it’s unsurprising that the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) found that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to progress to postgraduate or research programmes. Students’ from working class backgrounds often pay higher costs in order to access post-16 education as a consequence of class and poverty and with interest rates, yet again rising, where is the incentive and more importantly, support, for working class people to continue in education?

Those top grades and qualifications that we’re told to strive for take time to achieve, but when 46% of students’ are worried about affording stuff like bread and milk sticking to the recommended 15 hours of work alongside their course, is not an option. Meanwhile ‘top’ politicians are supporting  a "Let them eat cake" rhetoric and seem unable to realise like ‘bank of mum and dad’ is not an option and living on the poverty line is not a ‘lifestyle choice’ working class students made.

During our research GMB trade union reflected the low quality of work available for students, with many being reliant on insecure forms of work and open to greater risk of harassment and stress as a result. As women, Black people and disabled people are more likely to be in insecure work, this compounds the discrimination they can face. The financial pressure to work along study is hitting groups of students – such as student parents and those on courses with placements – harder as time for such work is limited.

The pressure to fund studies is fueled by the increasing level of debt that students face, which disproportionately affects working class students. Debt for the poorest 40% of students is rising to around £57,000 for a three-year course. This £14,000 more debt, than the richest 30% of students’ who leave with around £43,000 of student debt. Yet, where is the student support? Years after the abolition of EMA there is still no genuine replacement. in it’s last full year of operation the total EMA budget was £560 million, compared with the 16–19 bursary budget of only £180 million in 2016/17.

Is it any wonder then that working class students in England remain more debt averse than their better-off peers? University of Bristol Students’ Union found that “students who defined as working class, received FSM or who had a household income of £25,000 or below were more likely to agree that they worried about repaying future debts from education costs compared to other students.”

This is just a snapshot of the problems our full Poverty Commission highlights. Over the coming weeks we will be looking further at the specific problems and our recommendations for the future.

You can read all of the Poverty Commission recommendations and research in our report: Class Dismissed: Getting in and Getting on in Education. If you have a story you want to share contact

Team Poverty Commission
#Poverty Premium


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