Success against the odds!
: An analysis of the influences involved in accessing, experiencing and completing an undergraduate degree for white working class men

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Much of the research that deals with the education of white working class males in England concentrates on the lack of achievement and low post-compulsory participation rates of this cohort and searches for reasons to explain this long-standing ‘failure’. In contrast, this study explores the experiences of a group of white working class young men who would generally be regarded as educationally ‘successful’ because they have all gained a place to study at a university in England. A qualitative design was used to explore the experiences and perceptions of fifteen working class men who were attending elite and modern universities. The intention was to elicit what made a difference for a cohort who had ‘succeeded against the odds’. The research explored their pre-university experiences of schooling and the forms of support that had facilitated their access to higher education in order to address how more young men might be supported to stay in post-compulsory education. Each participant was interviewed three times in order to chart their progression over time which produced a corpus of forty-five in depth accounts. Two complementary lenses were deployed as the key analytical tools to illuminate the perceptions and experiences of the fifteen men all attending English universities. These were the Bourdieusian concepts of habitus, capital and field, and, theories related to dominant cultures of masculinity. The findings suggest that supportive parenting and early success in the primary school make a difference to white working class male’s longer term academic success. Most of the young men had the benefit of teachers who encouraged them academically and opened doors to higher education for them. Their experiences at school left them with positive learner identities. The young men themselves persisted when most of their peers gave up and they understood the value of education. The findings also suggest that being the eldest or coming from a small family correlates with academic success, regardless of socio-economic status. However, all the participants highlighted in-school practices that they recognised as undermining the progression of white working class men like themselves.
Date of Award2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorMeg Maguire (Supervisor) & Sharon Gewirtz (Supervisor)

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