One year on from the publication of this groundbreaking book, it is incredibly sad that working out how to close the widening gap in attainment between the haves and the have-nots is still one of the most intractable problems in modern education. Unfortunately successive governments, both in the UK and abroad, have gone about solving it the wrong way.
Exasperated by the claims of government to be working in the interests of families in poverty, yet whose actions have exactly the opposite effect, Ian Gilbert sees the purpose of his groundbreaking book, The Working Class, as being to challenge the prevailing narrative – a ‘neoliberal’ one, the book argues – that all that is needed for children from poverty to do as well as their more affluent peers is a ‘level playing field’. If they fail to seize the opportunity bestowed upon them, then they deserve what they get among the ranks of the ‘feckless poor’.
With child poverty in the UK at its highest level since 2010 – affecting almost a third of all UK children, two-thirds of whom are from households in work – this book is both a timely commentary on the impact of current policies and a valuable source of practical advice on what can be done to better support disadvantaged children in the school system.
‘In the UK, for example, there is no accurate figure for the number of food banks, but what no one is denying is that their numbers are increasing significantly. The sociological and neurological effects on children born into families undergoing such hardship are as indisputable as they are ignored by policies that focus on equality of opportunity and social mobility, not fairness of society,’ Gilbert says. ‘This book is our way of trying to reveal the bigger picture and the fact that there is always another way.’
Using his influential educational organisation Independent Thinking, a company he founded over twenty years ago, Gilbert put out a call for contributors via social media and by appealing to the many Associates – educational practitioners and innovators – who work under the Independent Thinking umbrella. His frustrations with policies that favour ‘no excuses’ and ‘compliance’, and that ignore the bigger picture of poverty and inequality, were clearly shared by many others across the sphere of education – leading to a book with over forty high quality contributions covering many aspects of education and poverty both in the UK and abroad.
What emerges is a number of controversial but important claims that challenge the current view on what’s best for children from poorer socio-economic backgrounds, including:
• It is not and never has been a level playing field
• Poverty is a neurological issue too
• Inclusion is as much about adapting the school to the child as it is about adapting the child to the school
• The purpose of education is not to make everyone middle class
• Never trust the results of a school that excludes more than it includes
• Resilience in the face of adversity is important, but so is changing the causes of adversity
• My culture may not be your culture, but it is still a culture
• ‘No excuses’ for all means ‘No chance’ for some
Furthermore, there are two themes that come through strongly in the book when you take into account the wealth of research that Gilbert draws together, combined with the personal and professional experiences of the contributors:
• It is more complicated than anyone says
• There is always another way
The Working Class is a unique book and its subject has never been more relevant! It assembles voices as diverse as those of academics, teachers, school leaders, performance poets and educational specialists, and has been edited and curated by award-winning writer Ian Gilbert. He was driven to put the book together after observing growing inequality and the effects of divisive capitalist policies not only in the UK but also in countries such as Chile, the United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong, in each of which he has lived and worked in recent years.
Written for policy makers and activists as well as school leaders and educators, this book has the potential not only to influence what goes on in individual classrooms and across schools in areas of poverty, but also to impact national policy and approaches in the UK and abroad.
Edited by Ian Gilbert with contributions from Nina Jackson, Tim Taylor, Dr Steven Watson, Rhythmical Mike, Dr Ceri Brown, Dr Brian Male, Julia Hancock, Paul Dix, Chris Kilkenny, Daryn Egan-Simon, Paul Bateson, Sarah Pavey, Dr Matthew McFall, Jamie Thrasivoulou, Hywel Roberts, Dr Kevin Ming, Leah Stewart, (Real) David Cameron, Sir Al Aynsley-Green, Shona Crichton, Floyd Woodrow, Jonathan Lear, Dr Debra Kidd, Will Ryan, Andrew Morrish, Phil Beadle, Jaz Ampaw-Farr, Darren Chetty, Sameena Choudry, Tait Coles, Professor Terry Wrigley, Brian Walton, Dave Whitaker, Gill Kelly, Roy Leighton, Jane Hewitt, Jarlath O’Brien, Crista Hazell, Louise Riley, Mark Creasy, Martin Illingworth, Ian Loynd, David Rogers, Professor Mick Waters and Professor Paul Clarke.