Meritocracy and Social Mobility through Education: An Obtainable Aspiration or Political Myth

In the Report ‘Bridging the Social Divide’ there is a clear focus on increasing social mobility through education (SMCP, 2015). Current UK policy contests that social mobility is the reward for those able to engage with meritocracy through intellectual ability and high levels of motivation and they are then considered as deserving of success. This paper contests that within the UK meritocracy is socially constructed and thus weighted through the acquisition of what Bourdieu calls cultural capital in favour of the wealthy elite rather than based purely upon equal access to educational (Cosin, 1997: 122).
. . . by the age of 16, children from the most disadvantaged families who were high-achieving at 11 are typically out performed by pupils from the best-off families who were average achievers at age 11 (Gov.UK, 2014).
UK policy is set within a structural-functionalist perspective where meritocracy is legitimised and given an illusion of agency when in reality cultural capital ensures that upward social mobility is an unobtainable myth (Durkheim cited in Dillon 2010; Udagawa, 2013). Within this context social mobility could be considered obsolete, as to function it necessitates the persistence of inequality and the preservation of the ‘status quo’. This illusion of meritocracy encourages the poor to aspire to upward mobility through ‘hard work and education’ whilst ensuring the status quo. The aim of this paper is to consider the implication of this illusion of agency through education for learners and society at large.