Thursday, 1 September 2011

The Class Ceiling: mobility and angst

The Class Ceiling:click to find out more
I’ve just been listening to Polly Toynbee’s The Class Ceiling on BBC Radio 4. The main thesis of this first half of her presentation is that people from "working-class" backgrounds are being held back from ascending to the middle class by their upbringings.

I can’t profess a liking for the left-wing firebrand, but have to acknowledge her honesty in asking "what if I hadn’t grown up surrounded by books and parents who talked to me?" However, this is not class-based: you can hardly move in some blue-collar workers' houses for books, and many of us have mastered the art of making comprehensible noises in the direction of our children.

Where Toynbee’s programme hit home is when she interviewed an education neuroscientist who said that often when children start school their prospect for social mobility has been stunted by poor parenting skills. So why, then, do left-leaning politicians still champion teenage girls’ rights to their own flats if pregnant?

My daughter is one of the 68% of young people to have left school without five good GCSEs: the school’s guidance system was brilliant, but by the time she got there she’d had several years in a primary that didn’t understand her diabetes and saw her hypogycaemic attacks as an attention-seeking/time-wasting activity. Now liberated, she’s started her first business before she’s twenty. So is she a success or a failure?

Social mobility all too often is really about the mobility of those already in the upper branches to the top, propelled by those below, an exercise undertaken in different ways by Lenin and Blair. With education laid bare as a box-ticking exercise, blue-collar workers are realising that the cadre who broke it are not automatically entitled to their support: and that, I would suggest, is the real cause of Polly Toynbee’s angst.

Joe Daniels
300 words

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