I have been intrigued by the number of articles in the past few days drawing on the Sutton Trust findings, saying that it is the state educational sector's fault for the low number of working class students at top universities, and that the universities have nothing to do with this. Of course, I recognise that teachers at less established state schools will be less keen to recommend Oxbridge to their students, but this is fundamentally linked to the universities aura and attitude, so to say they have nothing to do with the class inequalities is wholly inaccurate.
An example of this type of article is one I found in The Independent by Dominic Lawson. The fact is that those who go to state schools, especially schools that are less acclaimed, even if the students have the grades are less likely to want to go to universities such as Oxbridge because of the elite culture that surrounds it. In sociology it is something that is called 'field', which Pierre Bourdieu conceptualised. Your class position (those in state schools are more likely to be working class) predisposes you to whether or not you fit in a particular field, which is a social situation such as university. Thus, the working class students are less likely to fit into the Oxbridge fields, and therefore, this is something that the universities themselves have to address, instead of passing the buck onto the state sector with articles such as Lawson's want.
Whether or not a student fits into a university’s field, relates to two other important Bourdieu concepts, which are cultural capital (knowledge etc.) and habitus (walking/talking/standing etc). In totality, your class background influences these, and those from a middle class background are more likely to have a cultural capital and habitus that fits into the field of elite universities.
There are other important factors to consider too, which all relates to why it is not just the state sector's fault for not encouraging their students to go to high education elite universities. These factors include travelling, as it is a proven fact that the working classes are more likely to go to local universities because of cost etc.
There is also the issue of social capital, which is another of Bourdieu’s concepts. This refers to how middle class families are more likely to have useful resources and networks that can help them get into the top universities. Thus, for example, they are more likely to have friends who went to Oxbridge that they can capitalise on in order to get their children into the best 'field' (university - colleges in terms Oxbridge) for them. Working class students are less likely to have this help.
He denies the claim that the elite universities have taken "an ever-lower proportion of candidates from the bottom end of the social scale". However, even if his denial is true, which I would actually claim to be false, it has to be said that the raison d'etre, is to make the universities look good in a society that is becoming more focussed on equality (even if it is not delivering it) by the day.
Lawson believes that the fact the Sutton Trust showed that "13 most academically selective universities took 39 per cent of their intake from independent schools 10 years ago, but now that figure has dropped to 33 per cent" and that "their intake from what the Sutton Trust described as "lower social classes" increased from 13 per cent to 16 per cent over the same period" is a sign that social mobility is increasing in terms of education. However, I asked myself when reading these figures, is this supposed to be a big change? To me, the answer is no.
As stated above, he argues that it is the state sector's fault for the still low levels of working class students at university. However, whilst I agree that teachers etc. from the state sector are less likely to recommend university to their students, for the reasons given above (social capital, field etc), I do not agree with his reason for why this is the case. He claims:
...it's very clear that the real social antipathy is not that of Oxbridge colleges towards schoolchildren from the state sector, but that of many teachers in the state sector towards Oxford and Cambridge. Perhaps some of them had tried and failed to get in themselves, and their disappointment or chippiness over this leads them to discourage their own pupils from making a similar attempt. Or perhaps they are simply unambitious on their pupils' behalf; either way, it is patheticAs stated before, I feel that the teachers may not suggest Oxbridge because they know enough about the culture of the universities to know it would conflict with their students. Furthermore, he needs to recognise that the students themselves may look into Oxbridge and be put off for reasons stated above. The article is just another example of how the Right try and put down teachers because of their trade unionist links, to take attention away from the real social injustice within the system.
A similar article in the FT also claims that "the report’s findings undermine regular attacks on leading universities for not admitting enough students from state schools." I do not think it undermines attacks on universities, because it fails to take into account the actual culture of the attitude, and the ways in which class backgrounds can put off or encourage students to apply. It is so simplistic to boil it down to blaming the state sector. Instead, this seems another way to pass the buck and not get down to tackling the fundamental problems within the unequal education system.