Cameron is attacking those he thinks ‘lack aspiration’. What would he know?

I’ve taught hundreds of pupils from
poorer backgrounds, and of course they want to get on in life

Share
Related Topics

David Cameron says that social mobility is being held back because people from outside the middle class can lack the ‘aspiration’ to make it into the top jobs.

I’ve worked as a teacher in an inner city school for five years, and run an education charity tackling low social mobility for five years – and I’ve never met a child without high aspirations.

Ask a student from a low socio-economic background what they want to do when they grow up and most of the boys will say ‘footballer’ and most of the girls will say ‘pop star’ (frankly, a very sensible first dream – you wouldn’t hear anything different in a leading public school), but ask again, and the kids’ more earth-bound aim is to graduate from a top university and get a graduate job.

It is infuriating to hear journalists and politicians talk about the need to raise aspirations firstly because it’s patronizing to families from lower socio-economic backgrounds. A common fallacy is that it’s tough for working class kids to go to top universities because they have to leave their families’ values behind. What rubbish. Good luck going to any schools’ parents’ evening and trying to put paper between the values of parents from different economic backgrounds.

The second reason it’s annoying when people say that the big problem is aspiration, is that it makes low social mobility seem much easier to solve than it really is. All you’d need to do would be to show disadvantaged kids how great top jobs and universities are, and the problem would be solved.

How could this be enough when 25 per cent of students from the poorest backgrounds fail to meet the expected attainment at the end of primary school, compared to 3 per cent of students from the most affluent backgrounds?

Here we have the real root cause of social mobility: poor academic attainment by students from low socio economic backgrounds.

It’s a problem which starts depressingly early – various studies have shown that the academic performance of a ‘bright’ baby from a low socio-economic background will drop below a ‘less able’ baby from a high socio-economic at about the age of five.

So what can be done?

Of all politicians, Alan Milburn speaks most sense on this topic. He has set out five long-term goals:

• Spending more on childcare rather than tax credits because "early education packs a double punch. It positively impacts children's development and it enables more parents to work".

• Doing more to help the less affluent with parenting, even if this requires "taking on the Daily Mail argument about the nanny state".

• Raising educational standards and closing attainment gaps, including incentivising the best teachers to teach in the worst schools.

• Opening up universities and prioritising vocational education.

• Ending the domination of the professions by a social elite by ending unpaid internships and tackling closed shops.

We know what the problem is, and here we have a set of sensible goals to work towards. David Cameron, please stop talking about aspiration. Instead, help us solve the problem of attainment.

Alex Kelly is Director of Unifrog, an award-winning online subscription service for schools which helps students choose the best universities for them. www.unifrog.org

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

English Teacher

£100 - £115 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Randstad Education are curren...

Web Developer (Infrastructure, JavaScript, jQuery, jQuery UI)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Web Developer (Infrastructure, JavaScript, jQuer...

DT Technician

£65 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: DT Technician required to start...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Manchester - Huxley Associates

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: One of SThree's most successfu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv  

Why do we stand by and watch Putin?

Ian Birrell
 

Daily catch-up: Underground, Overground, over the Irish Sea and clever pigs

John Rentoul
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor