Pupils `are prisoners of their backgrounds'

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MODERN BRITAIN is as class-ridden as it was in the Fifties. New research has shown that Thatcher's teenagers, who are turning thirty at the millennium, have suffered as much class discrimination as those born in 1958.

The findings, presented yesterday in Downing Street to Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, show that children born in 1970 from different social backgrounds have faced a persistent inequality of opportunity throughout their lives.

Although more people now go to higher education, the researchers found that the daughter of an educated professional father achieved, on average, three educational levels higher, a degree rather than GCSEs, than a daughter of an unskilled man who had left school before 16.

In contrast, the gender gap has narrowed. Women born in 1970 obtained similar levels of educational qualifications as men compared with women born in 1958 who achieved much lower educational qualifications than men. But both men and women, born in 1970, still got better jobs if they came from a more advantaged parental background.

The research, which was conducted by Professor John Bynner and Professor Heather Joshi, at the Centre for Longitudinal Studies at City University in London, is based on detailed analysis of 11,000 people born in March 1958 and 9,000 people who were born in April 1970.

"Although people have moved up classes, and the unskilled classes have shrunk, those who have stayed at the bottom end are worse off. In 1974 if you left school at 16 with no qualifications, you still got a job but now you are more likely to end up unemployed," said Professor Bynner.

"Children born in the lower classes are 20 per cent more likely to be unemployed than those from higher up the social scale," he said.

The researchers said that education was the key factor in breaking down the class structure. "Education is vital for success in the labour market but it is also the major vehicle for the transmission of inequality from one generation to the next," said Professor Joshi.

The research which was sponsored by The Smith Institute, a think tank set up in memory of John Smith, the late Labour leader, was initiated by Yvette Cooper, Labour MP for Pontefract and Castleford, who was born in 1970.

"This research provides the most comprehensive and up-to-date analysis of social inequality across the generations in Britain today. It shows that people my age are as much at the mercy of the class system when it comes to qualifications as those born in the Fifties," she said. "The challenge now for the Labour government is to stop this injustice being passed on to the next generation."