Disadvantage gap

How to ensure cross-sector work doesn’t feed inequality

Many well-meaning initiatives to support ‘disadvantaged’ schools and pupils actually perpetuate the divides they purport to challenge, writes Heidi Heinemann

Many well-meaning initiatives to support ‘disadvantaged’ schools and pupils actually perpetuate the divides they purport to challenge, writes Heidi Heinemann

30 Jan 2023, 5:00

Classism and inequality have been hot topics recently. The BBC’s How to Crack the Class Ceiling showed young people receiving lessons on how to present themselves as middle class for interviews. Meanwhile, research has brought to light the gaps in pay, opportunity, access to politics and life expectancy experienced by those receiving private versus state education.

At The Roots Programme, I work with young people and teachers from state and private schools to bridge class, cultural, racial and religious divides that exist between state and private schools. I believe firmly that cross-sector work between state and private schools has the potential to re-shape future leaders’ approaches to class and inequality, challenge biases, reconstruct ideas about those from different backgrounds, and educate people about different class cultures and the varied challenges they face.

Without careful consideration however, cross-sector work can perpetuate inequality and classism. While much cross-sector work between schools can appear promising, private schools are often placed in positions of assumed superiority. They might be asked to use their ‘expertise’ to help state schools. Or private school pupils might ‘mentor’ state school pupils in order to develop ‘leadership skills’. Such approaches are patronising and tokenistic.

This issue is sometimes mirrored by organisations pertaining to work with ‘disadvantaged’ young people. For example, a recent post on LinkedIn celebrated the ‘transformation’ of some young participants in an employment programme. Images showed young Black boys originally in tracksuits and puffer jackets now wearing suits. “What a change a suit makes,” read one comment. “Young men who [now] look investable,” said another. Apart from reinforcing stereotypes among employers and others in positions of power, this approach also conditions those involved to perceive their culture and forms of expression as inferior and problematic.

Some approaches are patronising and tokenistic

Working as a teacher in a rapidly gentrifying area of London, I recently assisted a 15-year-old boy – one of the kindest and most intelligent students I have worked with – to prepare for a public speaking competition. His speech was titled ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’. In it, he described peoples’ reactions to his everyday clothing (hoodies, tracksuits, puffer jacket): people crossing the road to avoid him, the countless times he had been subject to stop and search, feeling shamed in front of his community. And yet, the negative conception of working-class young people (those of colour in particular) places the onus to change on him.

But problematic social divisions exist at all levels of society. So while, as Richard Beard suggests, “the sense of community at private boarding schools is not with the rest of the country but with boarding school boys back through time,” I have also encountered young people from private school being poked fun at, spat at, objectified and hated because of the type of school their families have chosen to send them to.

No one is left unharmed by these divisions, and if we are going to challenge them and avoid the kind of problematic approaches that perpetuate them, we must hold ourselves to a better standard in our cross-sector work.

First, we must model the ideals we are aspiring to. If we want to create a more equal society, our approaches and methods must reflect that ambition. All parties must begin on equal footing by taking an assets-based approach, recognising that all involved have something to offer as well as something to learn.

Second, involvement must be consent-based. We will struggle to create change and will encounter divisive behaviours if an opportunity is being forced upon young people (or indeed staff).

Third, success depends on integrating a relational approach. According to social identity theory, humans subconsciously form ‘in-groups’ (people we identify with ourselves) and ‘out-groups’ (those who we perceive to be different). To promote change, we must actively re-shape those ‘in-groups’ to include those from different backgrounds. This can be achieved when people have the opportunity to connect authentically in both formal and informal spaces.

Reducing inequality is not something we will achieve by doing it to, for or against others, but by all pulling together on equal bases. The growth in cross-sector work and the number of teachers and schools interested in this work offers hope, but we must start with challenging ourselves and our own practices if we are to create real change within our society.

Latest education roles from

Internal Quality Assurance Employability and Distance Learning

Internal Quality Assurance Employability and Distance Learning

Capital City College Group

Distance Learning Tutor

Distance Learning Tutor

Capital City College Group

Event Support Team Leader

Event Support Team Leader

MidKent College

E-Sport Technician

E-Sport Technician

MidKent College

Digital Technician

Digital Technician

MidKent College

Student Welfare Officer

Student Welfare Officer

MidKent College

Sponsored posts

Sponsored post

Navigating NPQ Funding Cuts: Discover Leader Apprenticeships with NPQs

Recent cuts to NPQ funding, as reported by Schools Week, mean 14,000 schools previously eligible for scholarships now face...

SWAdvertorial
Sponsored post

How do you tackle the MIS dilemma?

With good planning, attention to detail, and clear communication, switching MIS can be a smooth and straightforward process, but...

SWAdvertorial
Sponsored post

How can we prepare learners for their future in an ever-changing world?

By focusing their curriculums on transferable skills, digital skills, and sustainability, schools and colleges can be confident that learners...

SWAdvertorial
Sponsored post

Inspiring Education Leaders for 10 Years

The 10th Inspiring Leadership Conference is to be held on 13 and 14 June 2024 at the ICC in...

SWAdvertorial

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *