White males from low-income families are the least likely group to attend university, according to the Department of Education. It bring into the spotlight, once again, the working class education gap.
With the students receiving free school meals being the most underrepresented alongside those from Traveller backgrounds, there is a clear divide between affluent and low-income students in terms of educational opportunity.
There are many factors that contribute to why working-class students are continually under-represented in higher education.
Inequalities can crop up in a child’s educational career long before university. While free schools take in more funding than comprehensive schools, they also tend to take in few pupils in receipt of free school meals, the Guardian reports. Working class and disadvantaged students are predominantly educated separately from their affluent peers. Half of free school meal children are educated in one fifth of schools in the UK. This means that the funding per capita is much lower for these students.
Another factor is the way achievement is measured. Arranging students in different sets from an early age can damage their self-esteem. Studies have shown that schools avoid mixed attainment grouping, even at the expense of improved outcomes.
For lower-income students, activities such as dance, theatre, and music are often not financially viable. These types of activities can come with high price points for equipment and classes. They also require additional transportation. As a result, working class students with an aptitude for these activities often aren’t given the opportunity to fulfill this potential.
Lack of Information About Support
Often working class families will rule out university as an option because of the high price tags attached. There is a gap between the availability of loans and funds and the awareness of these support networks. More promotion and education surrounding student finance could help solve this disparity and allow those who believe university is not possible for them to reconsider their options.
Reframing the Issue
All too often, the onus is on a working class individual to adapt and fit into higher education. Instead, it might be time for universities to ask themselves how they can adapt and fit the needs of working class students, in order to diversify their student body. Working class students have a wide array of talents and abilities to offer universities, if the door is opened to them. Their presence in academic institutions is valuable, and should be treated as such.