UK Secondary Education Social Mobility and Links to the PATA Theory
Financial disadvantage for children and families in the UK is a historical, persistent, and increasing issue, which affects young people’s long-term future well-being and life chances (The Equality Trust, 2022; Social Mobility Commission, 2014). For students in secondary education the achievement gap between those from low socio-economic (SES) households and their more affluent peers continues to increase, amplifying inequalities and disrupting opportunities for progression (HM Government, 2015; 2017, 2021). Social mobility in an educational context focuses on how best to ‘narrow the educational gap’ and thus reduce economic disparity between those from low SES households and their more affluent peers (The Equality Trust, 2022). Eyles et al (2022, p6) recognise that, ‘low social mobility levels suggest some degree of inequality of opportunity in society, with adult outcomes too dependent on children’s backgrounds’. Despite significant research, strategic funding and schools providing innovative interventions (Eyles et al, 2022; HM Government, 2021a), the educational gaps between those from low SES backgrounds and their more affluent peers continue to widen.
Research undertaken within a higher education context provides background detail of a new lens in which the approach to the educational and social mobility conundrum could be viewed. The ‘psychosocial and academic trust alienation’ theory (PATA) (Jones, 2021; Jones and Nangah, 2020), focuses on identifying barriers to student engagement by analysing a student’s individual psychosocial status and the relationship this can have on academic trust. Furthermore, Jones and Nangah (2020), acknowledge the increased effects and influence of traumatic exposure experienced by disadvantaged students as an additional layer contributing to barriers to educational engagement. As a consequence of these research insights (Jones 2021; Jones and Nangah, 2020) it seemed prudent to investigate this new theoretical concept within the secondary education context.
These insights led to the systematic review whereby the lens of the PATA theory (Jones, 2021) was applied to the secondary education sector to seek further understanding of the education and social mobility issues experienced currently (Jones, 2022). The PATA theory (Jones, 2021; Jones and Nangah, 2020) was broken down into themes of educational social mobility and disadvantage, disengagement and alienation, and trauma and trust. The key findings of this systematic review (Jones, 2022) identified that;
- Northern cities and coastal towns of England are continuing to present with the highest levels of educational and socio-economic deprivation (Marmot, 2020). For disadvantaged secondary school students, in-school attendance and engagement are key to improving educational outcomes and equality of opportunity. However, SES students who are excluded or not in school regularly, disengaged or feel alienated from school may also be at a higher risk of being drawn into child exploitation or criminal county lines activity (Children’s Society, 2022; Lamrhari et al, 2021). This exposes the additional harmful impact of alienation within education.
- Disengagement and alienation act as barriers to disadvantaged students’ educational progress and thus affect social mobility progress.
- Unaddressed gaps in educational ability for disadvantaged students within secondary school were found to exacerbate educational gaps and, thus alienation.
- Students presenting with challenging classroom behaviours in the form of alienation and disengagement characteristics were also found to create significant problems for teaching staff and schools.
- In addition, disadvantaged students’ self-concept and self-esteem (psychosocial) status can affect their ability to engage in education positively or negatively.
- Home to school approaches for disadvantaged secondary students and changes in ‘nurturing’ pedagogical practices from primary education were found to also impact disengagement and alienation for disadvantaged students. Positive student/teacher relationships in secondary education were identified as critical to minimise alienation and disengagement.
- Alienation can be owned by the student but can also be enforced by the behaviour management practices of the school system.
- Furthermore, it was identified that neurological changes caused by traumatic experiences can underly disadvantaged young people’s responses or behaviours in the school environment and may significantly affect trust.
- Behaviour management systems and strategies used within secondary schools can also affect a disadvantaged student’s ability to build trust. School-wide positive behavioural interventions embedded in the school’s vision, mission and cultural ethos can work towards improving trust for disadvantaged students.
- Nurturing relationships with school and teaching staff can help to shape trust, based on transparent evaluation practices, mutual respect and supportive and consistent relationships.
- Disadvantaged students who have experience of trauma and who are also displaying disengaging and alienating behaviours need stronger interventions to build trust to develop their self-concept and self-esteem (psychosocial) levels and therefore, academic trust levels within an educational context.
The results found that secondary education was identified as a pivotal milestone, where efforts to drive change for educational progress contributing to social mobility progress for disadvantaged students were identified. In addition, this systematic review, acknowledged that specific literature related to the PATA theory positioned within the disadvantaged secondary school student context was not present. This asserts the originality of the new concept in the field of education, social mobility, children and society (Jones, 2021; Jones 2022). Finally, this systematic review provides evidence of the intricacies of the PATA theory and the links to educational social mobility issues (Jones, 2022). These identified links could be a useful tool in which to review current educational practice for disadvantaged students. Thus, highlighting the impact of the insights reported here, which could be of interest to the children and young people sector, educational psychology community, educational policy makers and international groups who share similar social policy, social mobility demographics and educational systems.
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Jones, C. (2021) An investigation into barriers to student engagement in Higher Education: Evidence supporting ’the psychosocial and academic trust alienation theory, Advances in Educational Research and Evaluation, 2(2), pp. 153-165. doi: 10.25082/AERE.2021.02.002 https://www.syncsci.com/journal/AERE/article/view/AERE.2021.02.002
Jones, C. S. (2022) Education and the Social Mobility Conundrum: An examination of the ‘psychosocial and academic trust alienation theory’ in the context of disadvantaged students in the UK secondary education sector. Children and Society Journal, pending.
Jones., C, S., and Nangah, Z. (2020) Higher education students: barriers to engagement; psychological alienation theory, trauma and trust: a systematic review, [online] Perspectives: Policy and Practice in Higher Education, 25:2, 62-71, DOI: 10.1080/13603108.2020.1792572. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13603108.2020.1792572
Lamrhari, D., Maitland, H., Morris, C., and Petty, J. (2021) Youth Voice on School Exclusions. The Children’s Society. [online] https://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/sites/default/files/2021-04/youth-voice-exclusions.pdf
Marmot, M., Allen, J., Boyce, T., Goldblatt, P., and Morrison, J. (2020) Health Equity in England: The Marmot Review 10 years on. Institute of Health Equity. [online] file:///C:/Users/55131884/Downloads/Health%20Equity%20in%20England_The%20Marmot%20Review%2010%20Years%20On_full%20report.pdf
Social mobility and Child Poverty Commission. (2014) Cracking the code: how schools can improve social mobility. London: Social mobility and Child Poverty Commission. [online] Cracking_the_code_Final.pdf (publishing.service.gov.uk)
The Equality Trust. (2022) Social Mobility and Education. [online] https://equalitytrust.org.uk/
For more information, please check out the Open Access publication at Children & Society:
Jones, C. S. (2022). Education and the Social Mobility Conundrum: An Examination of the ‘Psychosocial and Academic Trust Alienation Theory’ in the context of disadvantaged students in the UK secondary education sector. Children & Society. https://doi.org/10.1111/chso.12677
Caroline Sarah Jones, MA in HE, PGCHE, BA (Hons), SFHEA, Dip Ed, Associate CIPD, Member of the Society for Research in Higher Education (SRHE), Manchester Metropolitan University, Brooks Building, Birley Campus, Bonsall Street, Hulme, Manchester, M15 6GX