Education and social mobility: leader and learner voices within the prism of perspectives

Holbrook, N., 2018. Education and social mobility: leader and learner voices within the prism of perspectives. EdD, Nottingham Trent University.

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In this thesis I argue that the classic 'get good grades get a good job' narrative of education's relationship with social mobility is a misappropriation and represents cruel optimism for most learners.

In policy, a contemporary education has been framed by the incumbent and successive governments as an emancipatory tool and therefore a premier conduit for social mobility in England. In Theory, a contemporary education is accused of primarily being a reproductive mechanism as educational outcomes possess symbolic power which legitimises class inequality as justly unequal thus presenting an apparition of meritocracy.

The aim of this thesis, then, was to understand better how secondary school leaders and learners understood social mobility and its seemingly dystopian relationship with education in practice. Using a social constructivist ontological perspective, semi-structured interviews with three head teachers and three semi-structured focus groups with 14 learners, the perceived role of education in the processes of social mobility were illuminated. Specific focus within the interpretive phenomenological analysis was how social, cultural and economic capital were believed to play out within the leader and learner's specific contexts.

Key findings noted that the head teachers overwhelmingly credited a contemporary education with being the single most important conduit for social mobility with a maintained class structure. Paradoxically, it was also conceded by all head teachers that inequality was systemically inbuilt and therefore education served, on the whole, to maintain not eradicate English class structures. Learners were almost absolute in the belief that outcomes of a contemporary education would deliver social mobility. They saw the accumulation of symbolic capital (formal qualifications) as almost a direct and assured exchange mechanism for accumulation of high levels of economic capital and thus a worthy pursuit. This symbolic capital to economic capital exchange mechanism was viewed as dichotomous in nature as dominant narratives centred around a lack of symbolic capital leading to destitution.

Finally, the learners perceived the labour market to be meritocratic and credentials were the legitimate, and unquestioned, currency with barely a mention of the importance of cultural or social capital when seeking employment. This was evidenced by their apparent inability even to identify what may constitute as social and cultural capital and how they might be employed in the processes of social mobility.

I conclude by recommending that educational leaders do what they can to arm learners with an understanding of societal inequality and problematise any simplistic views that guarantee a learner will be socially mobile with only symbolic capital to employ. For this deeper understanding to occur, leaders and learners need not only an understanding of what social and cultural capital are but how they are an important and underappreciated part of the equation of converting symbolic into economic capital. Limitations of these conclusions are in line with the chosen qualitative research paradigm and further questions raised from this study centre around where the leaders and learners' beliefs stem from. An understanding of this may further assist the field of knowledge surrounding social mobility which has been accused of being so poorly understood. Given limited space at the top of society and myriad nuanced barriers needed to be overcome to get there; social mobility for all appears at best as oxymoronic as the cruel optimism it arguably represents.

Item Type: Thesis
Creators: Holbrook, N.
Date: September 2018
Rights: This work is the intellectual property of the author. You may copy up to 5% of this work for private study, or personal, non-commercial research. Any re-use of the information contained within this document should be fully referenced, quoting the author, title, university, degree level and pagination. Queries or requests for any other use, or if a more substantial copy is required, should be directed to the owner of the Intellectual Property Rights.
Divisions: Schools > School of Education
Record created by: Linda Sullivan
Date Added: 17 Apr 2020 14:09
Last Modified: 17 Apr 2020 14:09

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