Middle class

Definition and commentary
Definitions of the term ‘middle class’ will very according to how social class itself is defined (see glossary item on social class for more on this). The term ‘middle class’ is associated with higher levels of educational qualifications, especially university level education, and with higher status occupations that provide professional status and greater degrees of autonomy in the workplace. There is some feeling that social class is less relevant today than in the past – see for instance the link below to The Times article ‘We’re all middle class now’. However, middle class pupils continue to significantly out perform working class pupils (see further links below for more on this) and this continues to impact on future life chances (see glossary entries on Life Chances and on Social Mobility for more on this). Although the underachievement of boys is a continuing cause of concern, middle class boys actually perform much better in terms of 5 A* – C GCSE passes than working class girls (see for instance Connolly 2006. Full reference below).

The term ‘middle class’ has increasingly been associated with values and attitudes that are considered to be mainstream and this is particularly evident in recent policy initiatives that emphasise the role of parents as co-educators without acknowledging that some parents are better equipped than others to fulfil this role. The persistent ideal of the ‘supportive’ parent resonates with these assumptions. Much academic research in this area indicates that middle class parents are more proactive. This is evidenced by the choices middle class parents make in securing places at successful schools for their children and in using the appeals system for school exclusions. Middle class pupils also benefit from having parents who have a better knowledge of school processes and a greater affinity with teachers and other professionals that leads to them experiencing more equal relationships and experiencing less difficulty getting their voices heard. Some research defines this in terms of access to ‘cultural capital’ and ‘social capital’ (see glossary entries on Bourdieu and on Cultural Capital for more on this).

Connolly, P. (2006) The effects of social class and ethnicity on gender differences in GCSE attainment: a secondary analysis of the Youth Cohort Study of England and Wales 1997-2001, British Educational Research Journal, 32, 1, pp. 3-21.

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Louise Gazeley, University of Sussex

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