As a country where a person’s class has always played a major role in social attitudes, England still struggles with the way in which conceptions about status and educational policy intersect. For many working-class families, the UK offers little in the way of social mobility, and many working-class students feel that their efforts often go unrewarded by a system that prizes family history and earning power above merit.
That emphasis on status is ingrained in the very educational system that in many cases determines the career trajectory of students throughout the country. More often than not, the best jobs in the United Kingdom continue to go to graduates of some of the country’s most expensive boarding schools such as Eton and Harrow, where tuition and boarding costs can often exceed 30,000 GBP per annum, a rate that is higher than the average salary of most individuals in the UK.
Schools such as Eton and Harrow also give graduates a leg up towards securing places to elite universities such as Oxford and Cambridge, which in turn offer students access to recruiters from some of the world’s biggest financial firms. For an Eton-and-Oxford educated student, in other words, the ability to secure a prestigious job dwarfs that of a state-school graduate without the means, resources, or encouragement to attend a top-ranked university, even if both students have similar potential to perform a job well.
If a child from a working-class family does manage to beat the odds and secure a place to Oxford or Cambridge, however, they may run up against a further barrier, which is that they may feel unwelcome in upper-middle or upper-class environments. Without the advantage of a “posh” public school accent or the “right” social connections, working-class students can stick out like a sore thumb in elite circles, meaning that they will often feel discouraged from pursuing a career that society too often deems “beyond” them.
The question remains as to whether a new generation of students in England will face the same kind of class discrimination that exists in the United Kingdom of the present day. With the right policies put in place and access schemes for scholarships and bursaries widened to include more working-class students, a greater number of would-be scholars could attend top-ranked boarding schools, and merit-based initiatives and a greater acceptance of class differences could improve the country’s level of social mobility on the whole. For now, change seems far off but certainly possible if taboo social issues can be addressed in a famously tight-lipped nation.