Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Educational Effects of Social Exclusion

Education is widely perceived as playing a pivotal role in the
prevention of social exclusion. It would firstly seem important to
assess briefly definitions of social exclusion in order to further
analyse its relationship with education. The degree to which education
can affect social exclusion is mediated by a number of interrelated
factors, which can be broadly categorized into ‘school’ and
non-school’ elements. These factors must be analysed in order to
ascertain how they effect individual attainment within the education
system, which thus affects the long-term biographies of individuals
and may perhaps hold some answers to the reproduction of social
exclusion. Following this discussion, it would seem necessary to
analyse the effects of educational attainment for the individual. The
majority of literature regarding this subject has focused upon
employment opportunities, an emphasis which seems justified for two
reasons. Firstly, while social exclusion’s multi-faceted nature is
accepted as self-evident, a central component is identified with the
poverty associated with limited prospects for employment. Secondly, a
disassociation, or rejection by, the labour market is seen as greatly
reducing both self-agency and self-esteem, compounding the problem of
securing employment further. Thus, it would seem fair to concentrate
upon employment and the labour market as a key area in which the
educational effects of social exclusion are of long-term significance
for the individual. However, poor educational attainment has also
been shown to be associated with other markers of social inclusion (or
exclusion), such as poorer reported general health, depression and a
lower probability of voting in general elections. However, as with
most elements of this subject, the issue of causality, as opposed to
correlation, must be considered.

Although the term ‘social exclusion’ has been used to refer to
existing concepts such as poverty or unemployment, a broader
definition is most typically used which centres around the notion of
integration rather than solely concerning the distribution of
resources. Burchardt et al. (1998) have thus defined social exclusion
as a long-term non-participation in ‘the economic, civic and social
norms that integrate and govern the society in which an individual
resides.’ Thus, in theory, attempts to capture the ways in which
education contributes to social exclusion should seek to capture the
ability of different population sub-groups to participate in a number
of key dimensions of social activity. Burchardt et al. identify the
key dimensions of participation as production, consumption, wealth,
political activity and social life. However, as mentioned above, the
area of production via employment, which is seen as creating
opportunities for consumption and the building of wealth, has been,
perhaps justifiably, focused upon.

As discussed later, many of the long-term risks of social exclusion
for the individual are rooted in educational attainment. However,
such attainment is determined by a variety of factors, many of which
are, in themselves, inextricably linked with social exclusion. A
number of macro-level factors can be identified as strongly
influencing what both schools and pupils can achieve in the domains of
formal qualifications and generic skills. Firstly, one must view
changing socio-demographic factors; most notably perhaps increases in
the rates of family instability, sole parenthood, teenage pregnancy
and motherhood, and immigration, asylum seeking and refugee settlement
(Sparkes and Glennerster 2002). Together, it has been argued, these
changes create conditions in which children and young people
experience higher levels of mobility, leading to interrupted
schooling, and greater insecurity. Secondly, changes in the structure
of the labour market can be seen to have affected demand for labour
and young people’s routes to independence and adulthood. Many
researchers have noted the decline in available stable and permanent
employment for young people and the increasing instability of this
sector of the labour market. This, in turn, has meant that the
transition to work is lengthening, becoming more fragmentary and more
dependent on the possession of qualifications. Green et al. (1998)
have noted that, in 1986, 62 per cent of jobs required qualifications,
whilst by 1997 this figure had increased to 69 per cent. Brynner
(2001) has argued that such trends are likely to continue and
intensify in the future, leading to increasing alienation from the
labour market for those without such qualifications which, in term has
long term significance for the individual in terms of social
exclusion. Finally, a number of studies have highlighted the impact
of policy changes geared to improving school performance and the
increasing parental choice of schools in creating marked divergences
in attainment between schools and between pupils of different ability
levels. This argument has been supported by findings that, despite an
aggregate improvement in attainment at all key stages, a long tail of
underachievement remains. Low attainment has been shown to be
particularly apparent among some ethnic minority groups and pupils on
free school meals (West and Pennell 2003). Thus, one could argue that
these macro-level changes have hindered the ability of education to
prevent a cycle of social exclusion that begins in childhood and
continues, and is perhaps exacerbated by, changes in
socio-demographic, labour market and policy factors.

In understanding factors that affect educational attainment, it seems
important to acknowledge the prevalence of both school and non-school
factors. Improvements in schools with disadvantaged pupils may seem
one clear way in which education can reduce social exclusion and thus
benefit the future of an individual. Indeed, case studies of schools
with ‘below average intakes’ (Sparkes 1999) who succeed ‘against the
odds’ have been found to emphasise the importance of leadership, built
on a team approach, a vision of success, careful use of targets, an
improved physical environment, common expectations regarding pupils’
behaviour and success and investment in good parent and community
relations (National Commission on Education 1996). However, it has
been argued that, ‘it cannot be assumed that such strategies will
contribute to greater social inclusiveness….If all schools performed
as well as the best schools, the stratification of attainment of
achievement by social class would be even more stark than it is now.
This would happen because socially advantaged children in highly
effective schools would achieve even more than they do now in less
conducive environments and the gap between them and their less
advantaged peers would increase’ (Mortimore and Whitty 1999).
Furthermore, the creation of targets and league tables for schools may
exacerbate this problem by encouraging teachers to focus upon those
pupils most likely to reach the desired level, consequently paying
little or no attention to those at lower levels. Thus, some processes
explicitly designed to raise standards within the education system may
exclude and create disaffection among pupils at the lowest end of the
spectrum of academic ability. These factors are argued to have
brought about a situation in which a large minority of troubled,
disadvantaged and ‘less academic’ children and young people do not
gain appropriate benefit from their education, and may become trapped
in a cycle of low attainment and poor self-esteem, and consequently
may be excluded formally from school or self-exclude via truancy.
Such processes, it has been argued, thus present the possibility that
schools may, in some cases, maintain or even exacerbate problems of
social exclusion that, as is argued later, have significant effects
upon the long-term futures of such individuals.

Truancy and formal exclusion have been widely reported to have
extremely detrimental effects for young people. The 1997 Education
Bill aimed to further strengthen schools’ powers of exclusion, which,
when combined with the pressure upon schools to meet targets and
perform well in league tables, have had dramatic effects upon the
rates of exclusion. Exclusion is associated with poor levels of
basic skills, poverty and unemployment, limited aspirations, family
difficulties, poor relationships ad racism (Walker and Walker 1997).
Although these factors should not be viewed in isolation, in
combination they may form part of a pattern that may have important
consequences for long-term social exclusion, especially as three
quarters of pupils permanently excluded at secondary level do not
return to mainstream schooling (Gillborn and Gipps 1996).

Another factor, which has emerged as an important determinent of
attainment, is the quality and behaviour of teachers in the
classroom. Dearden et al (1997) showed, using analysis of NCDS data,
that teacher experience, which is reflected in salary level, has
observable affects on pupils’ earnings in later life, although not
their attainment of formal qualifications. The explanation given for
this disparity is that more experienced teachers are more effective in
helping pupils attain the ‘generic’ or ‘soft’ skills favoured by
employers. This issue brings to light the important idea that
educational attainments cannot be measured simply in terms of academic
qualifications. Moss and Tilley(1995) found that, amongst American
employers, 86 per cent included ‘soft skills’ such as communication,
customer handling and team working, in a list of their most important
hiring criteria.

However, low educational attainment is also associated with several
‘non-school’ factors that can have long-term consequences for the
individual. Sparkes (1999) has argued that, in order to isolate the
value added by schools, ‘appropriate’ allowance is often made for
socio-economic variables and prior attainment to control for
differential school intakes. Thus, inequalities in final educational
outcomes arising from background factors may be at risk of becoming
acceptable and even regarded as inevitable. A child’s
characteristics, in terms primarily of poor health, psychological or
behavioural problems and experience of institutional care, have been
shown to be strongly associated with low attainment. However, the
personal characteristic reported as explaining the highest proportion
of variance in attainment is prior attainment. This, however has not
been found to be the result of innate variations in genetic
intelligence, but has been found to be strongly associated with
socio-economic variables. Consequently, a broad consensus can be
found in literature concerning this issue that there is potential for
intervention in the early years of development that can improve later
attainment (Bynner 2001). The association between poor or unstable
family circumstances and children’s educational attainment is long
established. Bynner and Parsons (2001) have shown the powerful role
of socio-economic factors in creating social exclusion. In particular
low income and poverty has emerged as having a strong and independent
effect on educational attainment. Hobcraft’s (2000) analysis of NCDS
data, which focused specifically on the roles of schooling and
educational qualifications in the emergence of adulthood exclusion,
has confirmed the key role of childhood poverty in predicting
‘negative adult outcomes’ and social exclusion, largely via low
attainment. Experience of family disruption, particularly early
experience of life in a lone-parent family or in a re-constituted
family before the age of five, has also been found to be of
significance in relation to educational attainment, whilst children in
institutional care are often pinpointed as those most affected. More
than 75 per cent of children in care leave school without
qualifications, whilst 80 per cent of care leavers remain unemployed
for 2.5 years after leaving school, compared to 9-16 per cent of the
general population.

The relationship between social exclusion and education is necessarily
affected by factors outside the confines of the school. In this way,
it seems possible to gain some understanding of the limits of the
educational system, in itself, to prevent a continuous cycle of social
exclusion throughout an individual’s life course, and how education
can benefit young people in highly variable ways. Furthermore,
non-school variables are highly interdependent, whilst their
cumulative effect may be greater than the simple sum of separate
factors. In this way, it is possible to view multiple disadvantage as
having devastating implications for educational attainment. Thus,
education can be seen in some ways as an uneven mediating factor
between childhood and adult social exclusion, which may serve to
widen, or at least reinforce such divisions, rather than preventing

Having assessed the ways in which rates of educational attainment can
vary according to both macro and micro level factors, it would now
seem important to assess how these differential attainments have
long-term significance for individuals. Educational attainment, in
the form of qualifications and test scores, during compulsory
schooling has been identified as ‘the most frequent and effective
childhood predictor of adult outcomes’, and of social exclusion
(Hobscraft 1998). Brynner and Parsons (1998) have also emphasised the
impact on adult outcomes of poor basic skills, especially for
individuals at high risk of social exclusion from other factors. Thus
indicating that, ‘individuals who leave schools with low levels of
educational attainment and poor basic skills are at a high risk of
experiencing social exclusion as adults, with those who lack basic
literacy and numeracy skills at particular risk’ (Sparkes 1999). This
assertion is supported by evidence that only 2 per cent of jobs are
open to those with Basic Skills Agency ‘entry-level skill’, and only
fifty per cent of jobs to those with skill level one (Sparkes and
Glennerster 2002). This study reports evidence not only of strong
associations between low attainment and poor access to the labour
market in the early stages of working life, but also higher risks of
spells of unemployment between the ages of 16 and 21, low earnings and
housing tenure at the age of 37. Robinson and Oppenheim (1998) found
that attainment of 1 to 4 GCSEs at grades A to C increased earnings by
17 percent, whilst five or more increased earnings by 41 per cent
compared with individuals with no qualifications. In terms of post
compulsory education, two or more A-levels increased earnings by 67
per cent, whilst a degree led to a 111 per cent increase. Thus, one
can conclude that the educational effects of social exclusion, and
subsequent variations in attainment, can have serious effects upon
employment opportunities which affect individuals in the long-term,
not only economically, but also in terms of self-identity and

An important division has thus emerged between education per se, and
educational attainment. The latter gives an individual the possibility
of long-term success and social inclusion; however, the former whilst
attempting to give this opportunity to the majority of young people,
stratifies such possibilities and seemingly holds them elusive to a
significant minority of pupils who are most at risk of longer-term
social exclusion. Whilst general levels of educational attainment
have improved in Britain, significant numbers of young people continue
to leave school without attaining qualifications. An analysis of GCSE
attainment shows a year on year improvement in the proportion of young
people attaining five GCSEs at grade A to C, however, the proportion
leaving with no GCSEs has remained stable since the late 1980s
(Sparkes 1999). Thus, in recent years, the gap between the highest
and lowest attaining pupils has grown. Furthermore, the more
consistent level of those leaving school with no qualifications is not
matched by a consistent availability within the labour market of
employment opportunities for such individuals.

In conclusion, educational attainment has the capacity to have
far-reaching and significant positive long-term effects for the
individual. However, the ability of education to offer such
opportunities is highly influenced by an existing social structure
which continues to reproduce itself due not only to the fact that
non-school factors and, in particular existing familial social
exclusion, have a large impact upon the likelihood of such attainment,
but also because the education system itself may serve to strengthen
and promote these divides. Whilst levels of educational
qualifications are increasing in Britain overall, there continues to
be a section of society which is, it seems, not able to reap the
rewards of these opportunities, and who remain socially excluded due
largely to measures seemingly designed to benefit the majority of
young people and reinforce the barrier between them and this
significant minority.