70 per cent of working class students feel class is a barrier to them

“Once we got the letter saying that we’d got into university, that’s when we thought that educational and social inequality had ended. When I got into university it was clear within the first three weeks that this wasn’t the case.”


On the 16th of February, two young graduates from the North tackled educational inequality by heading to the capital to demand that young working class students are heard. Terry Manyeh and Martha Hilton argued that even though universities are perceived as a catalyst for social mobility, they are in fact effectively entrenching inequality.

Xavier Greenwood, a final year Classics student at Oxford University’s Balliol College, spoke of social exclusion because he could not afford the social activities of his peers. He went on to say, “the expectation that Oxford is a social leveller is, quite frankly, a myth.”

Society is the most fragmented it has been for generations. Working class students are still likely to be paid on average £2,242 less, even if they have the same qualifications as their better off peers. Education should be the solution, yet is at the heart of the problem.

Educational inequality simply leads to societal inequality. Our countries leaders do not sound, look, or represent the marginalised and neglected working class communities they often claim to. Our education system in its current state is not fit for purpose.

Research finds that working class young people are still failing to see these institutions as a ‘place for them’ and lack the same sense of entitlement and belonging as their middle class peers. The Educating All survey found that over 70 per cent of students who identify as working class feel that their class is a barrier when integrating at university, compared to only 12.5 per cent of those who did not identify as working class. Furthermore, 87 per cent of those who attended state comprehensives felt that they ‘did not fit in at university’ compared to 60 per cent of those from private schools.

It is time to move away from the status quo and provide a voice to those who for too long have not had say in decisions that affect them and Educating All as a rare youth led research project, aims to do just that.

Sophie Hannaway, a Law graduate from the University of Bristol, said: “Once we got the letter saying that we’d got into university, that’s when we thought that educational and social inequality had ended. When I got into university it was clear within the first three weeks that this wasn’t the case.”

The research was carried out by two former Manchester state school students who faced significant barriers and feelings of imposter syndrome themselves and asked that RECLAIM, a Manchester based youth leadership and social change organisation, to fund their work to produce the research. 

Educating All discussion table

The report was presented in London at the New Economics Foundation where they presented their findings to universities and policy makers from around the country; The event featured four guest speakers who spoke about social mobility within higher education from different perspectives. Sam Baars, Director of Research at the education and youth think-tank LKMco, spoke about his research into the underrepresentation of white working class boys in HE, defining the term ‘working class’ and why research into this area is so vital.

The second speaker was Aaron Townsend, a Biomedical Sciences Graduate from the University of Manchester. Aaron spoke about the intersections of race and class and how it shaped his experience at university. A third speaker, Anne-Marie Canning, spoke about her work as Director of Widening Participation at Kings’ College London as well as the importance of equality and diversity in higher education. Shelly Asquith finished by speaking about her personal experience as a working class student and her work as the Vice President of the NUS, the Importance of student voice and the need for work such as Educating All.

The event was the start some much needed honest and meaningful discussions. Educating All will be placing working class young people at the heart of the change that needs to come and will be working with universities do so.

Find out more about Educating All here. 

If this is an issue that is close to you or your institution contact [email protected]

You can also find Educating All on Twitter @educating_all