Miriam David and Stephen Ball (2001) 'Making a
Difference?: Institutional Habituses and Higher Education
Sociological Research Online, vol. 5, no. 4, <http://www.socresonline.org.uk/5/4/reay.html>
To cite articles published in Sociological Research Online, please reference the above information and include paragraph numbers if necessary
Received: 12/10/2000 Accepted: 12/2/2001 Published: 28/2/2001
Schools develop processes that reflect their SES mix. Solidly middle class schools have strongly supportive student cultures which allow them to teach an academic, school-based curriculum and to organise and manage themselves relatively smoothly. Working class students who attend a working class school may often fail not only because of their own background but also because they are attending working class schools which cannot offer middle class types of school resources and processes. Conversely working class students who attend a middle class school are more likely to succeed because they are exposed, despite their individual class backgrounds, to the contextual benefits of a middle class school mix. (Thrupp 1999: 125-6)
Here we can see how wider socio-economic cultures impact on organisational practices within schools and colleges in ways which, we argue later, also shape opportunities and constraints within the higher education choice process.
There is a deputy head of careers as well as myself and then there are about three or four other people that help me quite a lot with various careers matters. We have got a careers consultant that comes in from Excel Careers, he comes in usually two days a week. (Dr Anderson, CB)
There is a lot of work that still needs doing because we are still losing students. It's about working at all levels, using home link people, getting parents or their children already at university to come back and using them as positive role models to try and persuade, but ultimately it's a long process because they will have come from communities where none of them have experienced this. So naturally they are suspicious. (Sarah, CCS)
There is a lot of concern about whether I can possibly afford to do this, whether I can possibly afford to take this risk, to take out student loans and to self finance my education. There's a process of having to sort of say although it is all pretty bleak there is a light at the end of the tunnel. But already some students are worrying, have a lot of anxiety about how will their families afford this. (Sarah, Head of Sixth, CCS)
Well, for me, it was (inconceivable), because basically people tell me this, that, that, that, regardless of who they are. For example, for universities, people will tell you this is good that is bad, and they did a similar type of thing. People were telling me do these A levels, do those A levels, but ultimately what I did was literally, just stood in the middle and just thought every decision out and crossed them out as I went along. (Hinal, CB)
I just picked up the ones, it was sort of, I was in a rush and I was panicking because I left it so late, which ones to choose, which ones to go to, and I just put down, Mr Russell said it would be better to choose these universities, so I just looked it up and said OK then, I'll just choose this. Because I was panicking at the last minute and the deadline was coming. (Shamina, CCS)
I started filling my UCAS form at the last minute and I was sort of in a panicking state. I just had to chose six quickly so it was just the ones I knew about. I did it really quickly. I had to.....if I could do it again I would take longer and look through things more. It was too much of a panic. (Ruma, CCS)
While Hinal's 'as I went along' implies an unrushed, almost leisurely process, Shamina, Ruma and their friends in Creighton community school talk in terms of 'panic' 'haste' and 'rush'.
My application from here is quite typical of everyone applying in that there are the top twenty universities and people do look at them like this, these are the ones Cosmopolitan Boys apply to.
A 'good' university is a university that has been there for a long time, and is well-established generally...... I think there is a sort of status feeling, you know, the highest status is to go to Oxford and Cambridge, the next one is to be going to Durham, Exeter or Bristol, and you go there regardless of how good the course is in your particular subject.
Dr Anderson's comment is one of many examples in the transcripts that illustrate the extent to which institutional habitus, shaped by the dominant familial habitus, limits the universe of possible university choices to a smaller range of manageable considerations.
We know from experience that some of the higher education organisations aren't very sympathetic to mature students, and we politely and discreetly suggest to our students that they don't apply there, because we know they will be very unhappy or they will drop out, because we have got them to this stage, we have sweated blood over these students and we don't want them to fail at the next hurdle, so there are some places we know are very sympathetic and very supportive, and ex-students have been very happy there, and those are the places we'll encourage students to apply to.
Credential inflation is intensifying the competition for credentials from elite universities because degree holders stand 'relative' to one another in a hierarchy of academic and social worth. When market crowding occurs, employers become more discerning about the 'status' of credentials. A degree from Oxbridge or an Ivy League University is judged to have greater capital value than one from a little-known university or college in the market for jobs. (Brown 1996: 741)
The school has a strong view that I should go to Cambridge, And they've got a sort of general view that that's the best thing to do full stop......so yeah, they think I should go to Cambridge, so that has been a pressure.
Her comments are reinforced time and time again by other HG students:
It's definitely suggested to girls that they apply. Everyone who has got a chance of getting in is encouraged to apply. They're really keen for girls to go to Oxbridge. (Martina)
Teachers were kind of pressuring me to apply to Oxbridge. Then I got grades for my modules last summer, which were really bad, and I decided there was no way I was going to apply to Cambridge, and then because the teachers here were so encouraging in the end I did. (Rebecca)
He's applied to St Hughes, because Mr King teaches history and has just been there six months on a sabbatical leave, so we left it up to the school. We had, at this point, been I suppose encouraging him slightly to apply to Worcester (....) And then the school came back and said they had connections with St Hugh's and they advised him to apply there so we said, you know, the school knows what they are talking about.
Both students are considered to be exceptional and achieved highly at GCSE, despite considerable social and material disadvantage. Moira has received free school meals throughout her education. She is the daughter of a lone parent who is dependent on Income Support to maintain the family. Debbie is also from a working class background and has shown considerable personal courage in dealing with her medical condition. I understand Cambridge is very keen to increase its comprehensive intake and sincerely hope these factors will be taken into account when Moira and Debbie are interviewed. (letter sent to Oxford, 30th December 1998)
Here there is no cosy intimate connection; none of CB's extensive network of contacts with Oxbridge, and Ms Keen has to rely on a much more distanced, formalised contact.
The school definitely pressured me. I don't know if that's because they want more people to go to Oxbridge, so it be in their league table or whatever. There was certainly quite a lot of pressure for me to apply. But I think it was more a kind of personal thing, they thought I'd enjoy it. And the reason that I was wary about it was just because I was scared of getting turned down and they talked me through that. They said I was setting my standards too low.
People are very passionate in places like this, being a woman, being a single mother, being black, being gay. You know, there is no doubt about it, but it is something that is a major issue for these people and they think that these things are going to be held against them when they go to interview and they feel places like UCL, King's and LSE won't want students like them but it just isn't true anymore. (Sophie FE student)
The other students that I'm working with, as well, they have been very helpful. A few of them, Carly and Debbie looked at it for me, gave me advice sort of thing. (Darren, FE college)
The other students have all been very supportive. Everybody helps each other, you'll say I'm thinking of applying for Middlesex or SOAS and someone has either been there or knows someone studying there so there's lots and lots of sharing of information. I guess I've learnt a hell of a lot from the other students. (Rick, FE college)
We are all a really great bunch, we get on terribly well, we are very supportive of each other, both academically and personally. And everybody really helps each other out, if someone has got a problem with something, or they have an obstacle block ........it really is a very good support network. (Lesley, FE college)
In contrast, the school students map out a far more individualised process:
Talking to friends hasn't been helpful. Not at all. Because everyone's in their own little world. Everyone's concerned about what they are going to do. So everyone goes - OK, if that's what you want to do. And they haven't helped, no. (Sheila, MU)
Quite a lot I did on my own actually, because most people were like panicking for their own sake and too busy to talk to you so... (Shamina, SCCS)
Diane: And did you talk much with friends about it? Susie: Not really. Maybe a bit. It depends on what course people wanted to do and stuff. Mostly where we decided to apply to, but not really. We mostly did it on our own. (Susie, MU)
I don't know why I haven't discussed it with any of my friends here, but I don't think anyone has much. I think it's quite sort of, I think everyone finds it quite a personal thing, what they want to do and where they go. And I don't think my attitude has influenced my friends that much, hardly at all really. (Tom, MU)
If you take a group of ten people and nine people have applied to these sorts of universities, like London ones, or you know, prestigious ones, and you don't really want to feel like - I am going to apply to this place just because I want to. And they will say - why are you doing that? Why don't you join the flow? This tends to happen, I find that we all flow with each other. We don't follow each other because we are not sheep, but we tend to flow, and everyone tends to apply to these universities and then you think - do they do my course? Yeah, well, I'll have a look at that. And that is how it tends to go, so...... It is sort of - oh, we are all going here, why don't you have a go and see if you like it, so you try it out and research it and if you like it you tend to follow that. (February 1999)
Now I can do design. Hardly anyone applies to Art College here it's like it's just not the done thing, too low status or something but it really is what I want to do and doing badly's given me the chance so now I'm going to Chelsea Art College and I'm really pleased about it. I think it's going to be much more fun than doing Medicine. (Omar, September 1999).
I dunno, just go to the one you want, really. It's all very laid back. Everyone seems to be going all over the place.
Yet again we can see the ways in which the expressive order of the school impacts on HE decision making. Schools like CB and HG have an institutional habitus informed by a stratified expressive order:
Stratified schools were schools where the units of organisation were based on fixed attributes or attributes thought to be fixed e.g. age, gender, ability, categories of discourse (school subjects). It was thought that where unit/categories were considered fixed then the school would develop explicit horizontal and vertical structures. These would provide an unambigious basis for the ritualization of boundaries and the celebration of consensus. (Bernstein 1996: 98)
BALL, S J., MAGUIRE, M. and MACRAE, S (2000) Choice, Pathways and Transitions Post-16: new youth, new economies in the global city. London: Falmer.
BERNSTEIN, B (1975) Class, Codes and Control Vol 3. London: Routledge.
BERNSTEIN, B (1996) Pedagogy, Symbolic Control and Identity. London: Taylor and Francis.
BOURDIEU, Pierre (1984) Distinction. Cambridge: Polity Press.
BOURDIEU, Pierre (1990) The Logic of Practice. Cambridge: Polity Press.
BOURDIEU, Pierre (1993) Sociology in Question. London: Sage.
BOURDIEU, Pierre. and WACQUANT. L (1992) An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
BOYLE, RP (1966) 'The Effect of High School on Student Aspirations' American Journal of Sociology.
BROWN, P. (1996) 'Cultural Capital and Social Exclusion: Some Observations on Recent Trends in Education, employment and the Labour Market Work, Employment and Society vol 9 (1), pp 29-52.
CHENG, Y (1995) Staying on in Full-Time Education after 16: Do Schools Make a Difference? DfEE Research Series Youth Cohort Report No 37.
FALSEY, Barbara and HEYMS, Barbara (1984) 'The College Channel: Private and public School reconsidered' Sociology of Education vol 57, pp 111-122.
GAMBETTA, D (1987) Were they pushed or did they jump? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
GANZEBOOM, H.B.G. and TREIMAN, D.J. (1991) Educational Expansion and Educational Achievement in Comparative Perspective Paper presented at International Sociological Association Conference Ohio State University USA.
KIRTON, A (1999) Lessons from Access Education in Tackling disaffection and Social Exclusion (ed) Annette Hayton London: Kogan Page.
LAREAU, A. (1989) Home Advantage. London: The Falmer Press.
MAGUIRE, M., BALL, S.J. and MACRAE, S. (2000) 'In the house and givin' it large: young women, feminism and 'choices' in the new millenium' Paper presented to the British Educational Research Conference University of Cardiff, September 2000
MCDONOUGH, Patricia (1996) Choosing Colleges: How Social Class and Schools Structure Opportunity New York: State University of New York Press.
PUGSLEY, L. (1998) 'Throwing your brains at it: higher education, markets and choice' International Studies in Sociology of Education vol 8 no 1, pp71-90.
REAY, D (1998a) 'Always Knowing' and 'Never being sure': Institutional and familial habituses and higher education choice' Journal of Education Policy vol 13 no 4, pp 519-529.
REAY, D (1998b) Class Work: Mothers involvement in their primary schooling London: University College Press.
REAY, D., DAVIES, J., DAVID, M. and S J BALL (2001) Choices of degree or degrees of choice?: Class, 'race' and the higher education choice process, to be published in Sociology.
REAY, D., DAVID, M. and S J BALL (2000) Syncronised or out-of- step?: The relationship between familial and institutional habituses Project paper King's College London.
ROKER, D (1993) 'Gaining an edge: girls at a private school', in Youth and Inequality Inge BATES and George RISEBOROUGH (editors) (pp 122- 138) Buckingham: Open University Press.
RUPP, JCC and De LANGE, R (1989) 'Social Order, Cultural Capital and Citizenship: An essay concerning educational status and educational power versus comprehensiveness of elementary schools' Sociological Review vol 37 no 4, pp 668-705.
SMITH, D and TOMLINSON, S (1989) The School Effect: A Study of Multi-racial Comprehensives London: Institute of Policy Studies.
SMITHERS, Rachel (2000) 'Third of Oxford colleges still take more independent school pupils The Guardian August 5th pg 4.
THRUPP, Martin (1999) Schools making a difference: Let's be realistic! Buckingham: Open University Press.
WEICK, Karl (1976) Educational Organisations as Loosely Coupled Systems Administrative Science Quarterly vol 21, pp1-19.