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Cultural Capital and Education Classes

(page 75) To test Bourdieu's argument on cultural capital we must assume that parents who
have passed through the academic institutions of grammar school, public school, or university
will have a greater understanding of the educational system and its culture and will be better
equipped to help their children cope with the demands of that system. Their children will be
more likely to acquire 'that system of predispositions' necessary for success in the competitive
selection tests that have been prevalent in the English educational system throughout our
period. We would therefore expect the children of these 'educated' parents to have substantial
advantages in the competition for selective school places. In addition, as we suggested in
Chapter 4, we might expect the reforms of the 1944 Act to have shifted the balance of power
further towards those with cultural capital, and away from those with financial capital only. We
shall test these two expectations in this chapter; but the most rigorous test of Bourdieu's
theory we must postpone to Chapter 8. There we shall consider whether children from
educated backgrounds profit more from school in the form of examination successes than do
those from less educated backgrounds. Bourdieu could reasonably argue that it is not mere
attendance at a selective school which is important, but the acquisition of those academic
credentials which our educational system offers to all but dispenses unequally. In the
meantime, however, the question of attendance at selective schools is not uninteresting, and
the results are given in Table 5.1.

Table 5.1: Parents' and Respondents' Secondary Schooling
                                              Private         State         Non-
            Parental Schooling                                                             All
                                              schools       Selective     selective
One or both parents attended private
                                            47.7 (2.2)**   31.1 (1.4)    21.1 (0.9)    99.9 (4.5)
secondary schools* (N=383)
One or both attended state selective                                                   100.0
                                            11.7 (1.7)     44.7 (6.3)    43.6 (6.2)
schools (N = 1204)                                                                     (14.2)
Both parents attended non-selective                                                    100.0
                                            3.1 (2.5)      25.2 (20.5)   71.7 (58.3)
schools (N = 6923)                                                                     (81.3)
All (N=8510)                                (6.4)          (28.2)        (65.4)        (100.0)

*Where one parent attended a private secondary school and the other attended a state
selective school, the parental schooling has been coded

** Figures in brackets give the cell or marginal frequency as a percentage of the total.

Table 5.1 in effect takes the outflow form of a conventional mobility table with parents and
sons categorized as members of 'education classes'. Looked at in this way, it appears that the
diagonal cells are dominant, i.e. there is considerable self-recruitment between generations of
the education classes. Sons tend to follow the secondary-school example of their parents. It
should be noticed, however, that the highest degree of self-recruitment is in the lowest
education class (72 per cent). This feature parallels the findings of Goldthorpe and Llewellyn
[7] with respect to intergenerational mobility among occupational classes. They have
emphasized, by contrast with the findings of the earlier LSE (1949) study, that it is the working
class and not the service class that tends towards closure or intergenerational continuity. In
fact a parallel change in the structure of opportunities occurred in education as in the
occupational sphere, giving increased opportunities 'at the top' for sons compared with
fathers. Goldthorpe and Llewellyn demonstrate this in their occupational mobility analysis.
Table 5.1 does the same in the case of the education classes: the off-diagonal cells are not
empty, those to the left and below the diagonal representing upward mobility, while downward
mobility is represented by those to the right and above.
The extent of upward and downward mobility is best seen through the bracketed figures in
Table 5.1 which are percentages of the total sample. As much as one-fifth of our respondents
came from 'uneducated' parents and went (page 77) to state selective schools. These figures
also show more generally that over two-thirds were intergenerationally stable (the diagonal
cells) between education ' classes, nearly a quarter were upwardly mobile (lower left cells)
and only 8 per cent were downwardly mobile. Educational expansion in our period therefore
produced marked net upward mobility, the bulk of it being short-range from the 'uneducated
home' to the state selective school class. This is largely a consequence of the shapes of the
distributions and of their rate of change. The private sector is so small that even if all its
members were recruited from the intermediate educational class only 45 per cent of the
members of that class would be upwardly mobile. And since there is in any event a high
degree of self- recruitment in the private sector, it is not surprising that only 12 per cent of the
intermediate educational class were upwardly mobile. In contrast, 28 per cent of the lowest
educational class were upwardly mobile, the great majority of these 'mobile' individuals
moving into the grammar and technical schools. These respondents can be regarded as 'first
generation' grammar-school boys and technical-school boys, and Table 5.2 shows that they
constituted a huge majority of those at grammar and technical schools. Eighty per cent of
those at technical schools came from what may crudely be termed 'uneducated' backgrounds,
and two-thirds of those at grammar schools. This is a striking result. It means that the state
selective schools (much more than the private schools) were doing far more than merely
'reproducing' cultural capital; they were creating it, too. They were bringing an academic or
technical training to a very substantial number of boys from homes that were not in any formal
sense educated. They were not the preserve of an educated middle class in the same way,
and to the extent that the independent HMC schools were, and accordingly they were not
merely maintaining a 'cycle of privilege' in which cultural capital is acquired by those from
educated homes. They were at least offering an opportunity to acquire cultural capital to those
homes which had not secured it in the past. True, as we have already noted, mere
attendance at a grammar or technical school does not ensure the acquisition of educational
skills and credentials. The question of whether cultural capital in the family determines
success within selective schools remains an open one. For the moment, however, it is clear
that at least formal, if not effective, opportunity is offered to many boys from 'unschooled'

Table 5.2: 'First Generation' pupils at Selective Schools* (percentages)
Technical                80.0
Grammar                  67.5
Direct Grant             47.4
Independent non-HMC      47.6
Independent HMC          27.1

* 'First generation' pupils are defined as pupils at selective schools both of whose parents had
attended only non-selective schools.

We should also note that the extent of net upward mobility is not a product (page 78) only of
the shape, and rate of change of this 'educational class structure'. The expansion of the state
selective schools does indeed mean that some net upward mobility was inevitable but this
alone would not necessarily have generated the observed pattern. Following Boudon, we can
compare the actual pattern of mobility with the one that would have occurred, if all places had
been allocated on a strictly hierarchical basis. By a strictly hierarchical allocation we mean
that all boys from privately educated backgrounds are allocated to private schools themselves
and the remaining surplus of places (due to expansion, differential fertility, and so on) are
then given to boys from intermediate backgrounds (that is, from homes in which one or both
parents was educated at a state selective school), all the remaining boys from intermediate
backgrounds are then allocated to state selective schools, the remaining surplus of places
being finally given to boys from the lowest educational class. Table 5.3 gives the results, and
it shows that the expansion of the selective schools in this hierarchical model would
necessarily have led to upward mobility for 19.5 per cent of the members of the lowest
educational class. This contrasts with the actual figure of 28 per cent, one that is considerably
nearer to the 34.5 per cent that would be expected on the basis of random allocation than to
the figure from the hierarchical model. Clearly then, something was going on in addition to the
growth of the 'education' classes and their tendency to reproduce themselves. The proneness
towards self-recruitment within each class is consistent with substantial mobility both upwards
and downwards, the actual movement being considerably in excess of that forced by changes
in the educational structure.

Table 5.3: The Hierarchical Model* (percentages)
                                 Respondent's Education
Parental Education
                      Private   State Selective Non-Selective
Private               100.0     0               0             100
State Selective       13.0      87.0            0             100
Non-Selective         0         19.5            80.5          100

* For explanation, see text.

Trends Towards Meritocratic Secondary Education?

Is this unforced surplus of educational mobility a reflection of a trend towards meritocratic
selection for secondary education? We shall pursue this question with the aid of cohort
analysis, emphasizing first the parallels and departures of our findings on educational mobility
compared with those in Chapter 4 on class chances. The pattern of outflow in successive
cohorts to selective secondary schooling is shown in Table 5.4. As in the social-class pattern
of secondary schooling, there is both self-recruitment and mobility. But there is also a crucial
difference. The pattern of the log distances is quite different from the ones we (page 79) saw
in Chapter 4. First of all, the distances between the 'highest' (private parental education) class
and the 'lowest' (non-selective parental education) show no significant narrowing throughout
the whole period. Indeed, there is a slight widening at the end of the period. On the other
hand, there is a marked drop in the post-war period in the distance between the 'middle' (state
selective parental education) and the 'lowest' education class. Here at last we have found an
interesting, and sustained, drop in differentials. It is a drop, too, that we had not predicted.
Our earlier remarks in Chapter 4 had suggested that the 1944 Act might rather have
increased the differential by making it easier for educated but less affluent parents to secure a
selective education for their offspring. However, we now see that the 1944 Act did not make it
easier for educated parents to get their children into selective schools. On the contrary, the
advantage which these parents had over those with no selective schooling actually declined.

Table 5.4: Attendance at Selective Schools by Birth Cohort and Parental Schooling
                                                      Birth Cohort
          Parental Schooling
                                         1913-22 1923-32 1933-42 1943-52          All
                                         71.6    82.4     89.2     75.7          78.8
One or both at private secondary schools
                                         101*    98       101      108           102
                                         58.0    71.6     57.7     49.4          56.4
One or both at state selective schools
                                         80      84       57       65            69
                                         26.1    30.8     32.5     25.8          28.3
Both at non-selective schools
                                         0       0        0        0             0
All                                      29.6    37.0     38.8     34.8          34.6

Following the line of argument which we used in Chapter 4, two possible explanations for this
drop immediately suggest themselves. First, as we showed in Chapter 4 an expansion of
selective school places relative to both the service class and the population as a whole would
enable higher proportions of all classes to attend; in terms of our Figure 4.1 this meant that
the line E moved to the left, leading to more equal class chances. The same argument could
apply in the case of our 'education classes'. Alternatively, if selection procedures became
more meritocratic, this would also lead to a decline in differentials. In terms of Figure 4.1
again, this would mean that the lines come closer to the vertical. We can test these rival
explanations as we did in Chapter 4 by seeing what pattern of differentials our meritocratic
model predicts over time, starting from the following assumptions:

(i) the number of vacancies at selective schools, and the number of children from the different
'education classes', that is, supply and demand, changed in the way they actually did;

(ii) procedures remained throughout perfectly meritocratic, with selective schools as a group
having first choice of pupils, and choosing solely on the basis of measured intelligence.

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