Expansion benefited the rich

February 28, 2003

Surveys show education is hardening the class divide. Claire Sanders reports

"Lucky" rich children have benefited from the expansion of higher education at the expense of brighter children from poorer backgrounds, according to an article published this month in CentrePiece , a journal from the London School of Economics.

The introduction of GCSEs in 1988 led to more children from poorer backgrounds staying at school post-16, but no corresponding increase in the proportion going into higher education.

"Even the sharp expansion of university participation of the 1990s did not benefit poorer children. If anything, it strengthened the position of the middle classes," says the article by Paul Machin, director of the Centre for the Economics of Education at the Department for Education and Skills.

The new GCSE examination led to rising staying-on rates: 36 per cent of 17 to 18-year-olds stayed on post-16 in 1979, 44 per cent in 1988, and 73 per cent in 2001.

In 1968 one in 12 children lived in families with an income below half the national average. By the late 1990s, this figure was one in three.

Professor Machin said: "As income gaps have widened, any positive link between education and family income will disproportionately benefit children from richer families and disadvantage children from poorer families."

Many more children of higher-income parents went into higher education in the 1980s and 1990s.

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