Letter: Education: is there room at the top for working-class children?

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The Independent Online
Sir: Professor A. H. Halsey's findings that the proportion of working-class students going to university or polytechnic has 'scarcely increased during the last 20 years', should surprise no-one who has risen from a working-class background (report, 26 August).

His conclusion displays the kind of unintended condescension which ensures that many working-class people will never seek to improve their minds. His claim that 'resources are much better in some homes than others' while obviously true, is certainly not the reason. Many working-class people simply do not wish their children to 'be better' than themselves and loathe the idea that their offspring might be better off financially. There is also fear that higher education might affect political beliefs and few things among the traditional working-class evoke such contempt as the 'working-class Tory'.

For many years I worked in factories and met very few people who sent their children to university. This had more to do with attitude than money. The Twenties, Thirties and Forties spawned a working-class generation who believed higher education was beyond their grasp - intellectually, financially and politically unacceptable. My father gained a scholarship to grammar school, but was denied entry by his parents. He subsequently believed that higher education was beyond any of his own children and did nothing to encourage it.

Opportunities for working-class students were never better than during the last 20 or 30 years (with the exception of the last five years, I guess). Their parents were better off financially and the grants available comparatively higher than today, and yet the proportion of their children going on to higher education remained the same.

During those years nowhere in these isles was inverted snobbery more entrenched than in the working class. So-called 'middle-class' values were deeply despised and mistrusted, perhaps because many middle-class people are actually working class who aspired to better themselves, and subsequently tried to camouflage their origins.

Yours faithfully,

A. FREEMAN

Barnet, Hertfordshire

26 August

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