Stepping-Up? The Effects of an Intervention Programme on White Working-Class Boys' Achievement in a State Secondary School in the North of England

  • Philip Dore

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This research investigates the experiences of ten white working-class boys, at a comprehensive school in the north of England. It mobilises Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus, field, cultural capital and symbolic violence to consider the consequences of their participation in Step-Up, an intervention entailing withdrawal from multiple GCSE subjects to undertake an alternative curriculum of modular learning on a variety of personal, social, citizenship and health topics. The research seeks to both tell the individual stories of the ten participants and contribute to our understanding of working-class boys’ achievement.

Bourdieu’s ideas of habitus, cultural capital and symbolic violence are used to understand how StepUp was experienced by the participants. Students were interviewed three times over the course of the study. The data suggests that the field of school was a difficult one for them to navigate and their changing expectations, sense of identity and future options were negatively affected by their school experience, both directly and indirectly by the intervention. In Year-9, the boys were viewed as a collective group by many others in the school, and although initially excited about the intervention they displayed feelings of personal isolation. An egalitarian habitus began to emerge in Year-10 as the boys began to consider what were the best and worst-case scenarios within the limits of the possibilitises they felt were open to them, until the emergence of a habitus clivé which was experienced individually in Year-11. The shifts and changes which occurred over the three years of this longitudinal research showed that the boys’ emerging understanding of class was felt in some collective ways. However, as they came towards the end of their compulsory schooling, the boys felt he symbolic violence of Step-Up alienated and disadvantaged them in deeply personal ways. StepUp inadvertently affected the boys’ performance in Maths and English negatively. Surprisingly, there was a divergence between the boys’ collective identity as the intervention continued. Ultimately, the participants felt isolated and lost within the field of school in disparate and individual ways.
Date of Award2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorRobin Simmons (Main Supervisor)

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