The reality about the white working-class. Is outrage helping?

Amanda Spielman has been ruffling a few feathers with her comments at the Festival of Education recently:
“We are having to grapple with the unhappy fact that many local, working-class communities have felt the full brunt of economic dislocation in recent years, and, perhaps as a result, can lack the aspiration and drive seen in many migrant communities.”

And the response from many has been quite a reactive one:

Sadly, Amanda is right. And our resentment of what she said, towards the organisation she leads, or our anger at the wider social injustice doesn’t help to change the reality for people from these backgrounds.

Our armchair outrage is simply just that.

We are offended and annoyed because of our biases without ever really seeing the situation for what it is. How many airing their views live in the communities of which are being spoken about? Are we having the debate around the people who our words affect without actually hearing their voices? And would we like what we heard if they had a say?

I’ve written about why I think we’re failing the disadvantaged here, here and here but that’s not for this post.

Yes aspiration is low in many white-working class areas because communities are more isolated from schools (and other institutions which were historically considered hubs of the community) than they’ve ever been but not because of Ofsted or them being “exam factories”. Schools now represent the establishment, other aspects of community institutions (like churches, pubs and libraries) are a dying breed so people become more isolated and lose their sense of belonging. And our view of aspiration from a position of concerned comfort is very different from those living and breathing the reality.

We know what’s best for them.

So who is volunteering to come and live on the council estate where my mum lives to help build a sense of belonging, raise aspiration and show white working-class communities like this that education is what’s best for them? Who is going to want to work in the local secondary school that is struggling to recruit and retain teachers not because of its Ofsted report or poor exam results (although neither are great) but simply because the town has very little to offer people with qualifications and aspirations of a better life?

Well it’s all gone quiet over here.

No volunteers?

Yet we’re happy to criticise Amanda Spielman for telling it like it is.

The issue here is that we look at a headline, confirm our own biases and jump straight into outrage. Well done keyboard warriors, you’ve done precisely zero to help. This is where our righteous indignation is damaging.

Wigan is the neighbouring town to St Helens, two very alike working-class communities with similar issues. Though they look familiar on paper, I wouldn’t try to apply my experience of teaching in a neighbouring town to leadership of a school in Wigan without at first getting to understand the place itself. And I wouldn’t even try to insult the expertise of colleagues in parts of real deprivation like Blackpool by telling them how to do their jobs because the reality for people in these coastal towns is much more of a bleak affair. In many instances these are white-working class ghettos where there is mistrust for authority of any kind and a comfort in familiarity.

So thank you but I don’t want to hear you using headlines to peddle your own personal bias unless your outrage is going to convert into action. The only way we’ll ever break the cycle of deprivation and low-aspiration is by winning hearts and minds, by understanding exactly what the issues facing an individual community are and by getting involved; by investing in it long-term.

If not, then please don’t pretend to care and don’t use the latest headline to do it.

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