Importance of social capital in BAME communities

Head of Projects, Gurmeet Kaur, talks about the importance of social capital in BAME communities.

The inequalities in the UK education system are far and wide with an ever increasing chasm between the rich and poor. OECD data from 2018 suggests that ‘46% of disadvantaged students attend schools where other children tend to be deprived’ and the gap in achievement starts from early years, following individuals into their adult life. This is further exacerbated by the institutionalised racism disproportionately affecting students from BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethics) communities.

While the term ‘BAME’ can be unhelpful in lumping communities together with vastly different cultural experiences, there is key research that is helpful when analysing the common thread of inequality amongst these communities. It is particularly striking that, whereas communities across the UK are becoming more diverse, young people have little access to role models that look like them or share cultural experiences. It’s of significant concern that of the most direct role models young people have access to – teachers – only 13% of state school teachers are from BAME communities.

Whilst the education system and third sector have focused on the educational attainment in closing the gap between young people from disadvantaged communities and those from a more privileged background, the importance of increasing young peoples’ social capital remains an important part of the equation.

Social capital is ‘the links, shared values and understandings that enable individuals and groups to trust each other and so work together’ (OECD Insights). At Future First, social capital is a key predicate of how we go about in achieving social mobility across the country. We want to enable young people to tap into informal networks of their school and college alumni, connecting them to role models from a range of backgrounds and shared experiences. Amongst the pool of their alumni will be those who share ethnic backgrounds with current school communities, therefore removing the ‘social distance’ between role models and students and making their connection more impactful.

There is a long held belief that social capital can be gained at universities which can act as ‘equalisers’ in access to opportunity. However, as a recent study from King’s College social mobility unit demonstrated, it is not enough to secure a place at university for young people – we must also support them all throughout their education, guiding them to navigate and expand on their social networks by taking up extra-curricular activities and securing internships. Many disadvantaged students who are taught to value educational attainment in state education may therefore crucially miss out on the importance of building their social capital at university. Tackling this in primary and secondary education by connecting them to informal networks of role models is a key way of building this knowledge in BAME communities.

Where young people lack the visible representation of success i.e. that ‘people like me’ can go on to be academically and professionally successful in their schools, local communities and wider media representation, alumni can be powerful role models. By connecting with these role models in mentor relationships, school workshops and assembly speakers, BAME students will begin to identify less with the complicated process of being trailblazers, but rather as the norm in following in the footsteps of former students who show that people like them are successful.


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