From Warrington to Salisbury- A break in the chain of an already broken system.

This is a story about people who grow up in less affluent backgrounds and how it effects their prospects in later life.

Growing up in Warrington during the late 90’s into the 2000’s seems like a different life to the one I have been blessed with now. My parents were extremely supportive of all of my choices (even the ones that didn’t work out so well) and they provided everything I needed to grow up with most options still open to me. I am sure that a large number of people will have had similar upbringings with a really supportive family but we cannot disregard those that didn’t, and as a society we often do.

During my years in school, university always seemed like an alien concept only available to the mega-rich and extremely intelligent. A few people I attended school with did go to university but the large majority didn’t. We were never told about university life in school and even the idea of college or sixth-form felt like a giant step (this is before you had to stay in education until you were 18). Most people living in working-class areas like Warrington came out of school at sixteen and went straight into full time employment. For us this was the norm.

I was very fortunate to have a supportive family and the opportunity to attend university and have since become a secondary school teacher and I often look at where I am and think how did I manage to get here?

I believe that the two main factors that got me to where I am today were the support from my family and having teachers at school who genuinely believed in their students. I struggled with English at school and because I struggled I hated it, until I changed teacher and was fortunate enough to make English more enjoyable and took the time to make sure everyone understood it. I think this is the main reason that I am now an English teacher and I try to instil the same motivation and attitude in the students I am fortunate enough to teach.

However, if we go back to early childhood it seems that many children in this generation grow up with a different outlook on the world. Some claim that only the “privileged” and the “well off” get to go to university giving them a higher change of obtaining the better employment prospects. I wish I could shake them and tell them that this isn’t true. There is an old cliché that I believe in 100% and it’s that hard work and a positive attitude can get you anywhere in life. Yet the system says otherwise…

In subjects such as Humanities and English, students develop and obtain information much easier if they have a better understanding of the world around them. We call this “Cultural capital”, but knowing this and acknowledging that people who grow up in less affluent backgrounds are less likely to have the opportunities to go to other countries and visit places such as museums; we are admitting that they are already behind.

We also have to think about environmental factors. As I have already mentioned many people from my school year did not attend university or any form of higher education and that is because their parents, family and even older friends didn’t. My parents left school at sixteen and went straight into a job and I was one of the first in my family to attend university. In this I am very lucky, but I am definitely an outlier in the data. We as a society do not create the environment in which people can challenge social norms. To this day people still think university is for the rich, middle class and highly privileged. This needs to stop, we have to break the barrier between environment and possibility. We have to inspire the next generation to aim for the stars yet we have a high proportion of people (of all ages) who fail once, feel extremely deflated and give up. We need to stop categorizing people into economic subsections because by doing this you are sending the subconscious message that they are not good enough.

There is one thing that I feel people should understand if they ever feel deflated, defeated or even depressed. Feeling down and failing are two different things. Our ability to succeed comes from taking the factors from our life, whatever they may be, and building on them. It shouldn’t be about social class or privilege or money. We need to praise and support; award hard work over the finished product and teach that anything is possible with the right mind-set and a little bit of courage.

“If you score a fish on how well it can climb a tree it will forever think it is not good enough”

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English teacher with a masters in linguistics focussing on teaching and developing language.

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Thomas Bate

English teacher with a masters in linguistics focussing on teaching and developing language.