Reflections on being working class in a middle class profession
I am a trainee educational psychologist (EP). I am also from a working-class family. I grew up in a council house and I am the first in my family to attend university.
Before starting the training course, I had never significantly considered my working-class background, or how it has influenced the person I am today. Social mobility has remained “virtually stagnant” since 2014 in the UK (Social Mobility Commission, 2019) and so, as I enter my final year of training , I feel prompted to reflect on my experiences as a trainee from a working-class background entering into a predominantly middle-class profession.
The coronavirus pandemic has exposed many of society’s inequalities; the national closure of schools, Marcus Rashford’s fight for summer food vouchers for low- income families, and the unfairness of the exam algorithm. These recent events have provoked my thinking on social disadvantage and the accessibility of our profession. Having recently engaged in online discussions about ‘Being working class in clinical psychology’ (see Twitter #classclinpsych), I felt it was time to reflect on the parallels within educational psychology.
Why is social class relevant to EPs?
Social class forms part of our culture, our identity, and shapes our beliefs and values. It impacts every aspect of an individual’s life, from their education and health to housing and neighbourhood. Why then is social class often overlooked by professionals and remains a relatively unexplored area of multiculturalism amongst practitioner psychologists? (Spence, 2012).
Being “culturally sensitive” necessitates open-mindedness to other people’s beliefs and values, while also viewing people’s lives through their own cultural lens (Roysircar, 2004). However, considering social class on its own is not enough when learning about a person’s lived experience (Smith, 2005). As psychologists, we have a duty to understand and address power imbalances between us and the people we work with (HCPC, 2015). Therefore, we need to prioritise thinking about the complex intersectionality of, among other markers, ethnicity, identity, gender, language, age, and sexual orientation.
Feeling out of place in a middle-class profession
When I began the Doctorate, I was told: “you don’t become an EP for the money. The money is not great”. I was amazed by this statement. Growing up, I would never have dreamed of being in the 40-50k salary bracket! I have worked hard to get to where I am today, yet I think there will always be a voice inside telling me I do not belong here.
This is not “imposter syndrome” but is intrinsically linked to my identity being deeply rooted in my past, my upbringing, and my family’s social, cultural, and economic circumstances. I am proud to be from a working-class background, but it can be challenging being in a predominantly middle-class profession.
Class, identity, and accessibility to the profession
What has my “working-class” identity got to do with educational psychology? Why am I writing this blog? I have experienced privileges in my life that have allowed me the opportunity to attend university and train as an EP, so I am aware that I am likely to possess a worldview that has become distanced from my upbringing. I have started to reflect on young people who have not been granted such privileges. Below are some thoughts I have about the accessibility of the Doctorate training route:
- How does the profession improve access to the Doctorate for people from working-class backgrounds?
- Should the profession be having more uncomfortable conversations about discrimination, privilege, and intersectionality? Could these discussions be included in doctoral training programmes?
- Do we reflect enough on social class and the impacts of our upbringing on our implicit and explicit assumptions about the families we work with?
- Could the EP community be doing more to encourage people from working class backgrounds to pursue a career in educational psychology? How does the profession begin to do this?
- How might we seek to address our own biases and assumptions in relation to social class and other disadvantages?
These are merely reflections and I welcome thoughts from readers on how we might go about addressing some of these points. My aim in writing this blog was not to provide answers to these difficult questions, but to provoke reflection and discussion.
This blog has barely touched the surface of the intricacies of social class in educational psychology, nor has it considered the wider profoundly complex nature of intersectionality and systems of oppression. There are much deeper discussions to be had on these matters. What is clear though is that educational psychology continues to be largely dominated by the white, middle-class.
I think it is time to start acknowledging the uncomfortable truths that exist within our profession. Only then can we begin to take action to address the lack of diversity and improve participation and accessibility to the profession for people from much wider backgrounds.
For anyone who uses Twitter and would like to engage in further discussions about class within educational psychology, please use the hashtags #TwitterEPs and #classedpsych.
HCPC. (2015). Standards of conduct, performance, and ethics. London: HCPC.
Roysircar, G. (2004). Cultural self-awareness assessment: Practice examples from psychology training. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 35 (6), 658- 666.
Smith, L. (2005). Psychotherapy, classism, and the poor: Conspicuous by their absence. American Psychologist, 60, 687-696.
Social Mobility Commission (2019). State of the Nation 2018-19: Social Mobility in Great Britain.
Spence, N. (2012) Cultural competence: Social class – the forgotten component. Clinical Psychology Forum 230, 36-39.