Cabinet Office think more spatially about aspirations

I recently discovered a briefing presentation from the Cabinet Office (published in January 2009), Aspiration and attainment amongst young people in deprived communities, which begins to add a new level of spatial sophistication to the Government’s analysis of how place impacts on young people’s aspirations.  The key findings from this report state:

Communities matter. Young people in certain types of neighbourhood are less likely to develop ambitious, achievable aspirations.  These neighbourhoods tend to have high levels of deprivation. (pg 2)

Nothing new or surprising there.  However, the next sentence takes the analysis in an interesting new direction:

However deprived communities are not all the same.  Young people in some very deprived communities have high aspirations (pg 2)

The Cabinet Office team have used MOSAIC geodemographic classifications to analyse the progression rates to higher education from different postcodes that figure highly on the Index of Multiple Deprivation.  They recognise that deprived inner city neighbourhoods with high concentrations of (certain) minority ethnic groups have significantly higher progression rates than many predominantly white working class neighbourhoods that have been blighted by deindustrialisation over the last 30 years.  They recognise that dense social networks may offer valuable mutual support in some circumstances but can lead to an isolated and insular local culture that mitigates against high aspirations for young people growing up in those areas.

This research has clearly fed into the development of the Government’s latest policy initiative to address young people’s aspirations at a community level.  The Inspiring Communities  programme was also announced in January and will be formally launched in the summer.

Interestingly, the socially deprived MOSAIC categories that the Cabinet Office identify as producing young people with high aspirations (Counter-Cultural Mix, Metro Multiculture, and South Asian Industry) are precisely the same types of neighbourhood that Pamela Garlick and I found large numbers of medical students from ‘widening participation backgrounds’ had been recruited from in our 2007 paper ‘Changing Geographies of Access to Medical Education’ published in Health & Place.

Despite these similarities, I think there is a danger of over-relying on geodemographics.  More work needs to be done to analyse what it is about the attitudes of these young people and their families that makes a difference.  The Cabinet Office identify that many deprived white working class communities tend to be isolated and inward-looking.  In this respect, I think they might be on to something – that the stance of a young person (and, by extension, that of their family and social network) in relation to the world may be crucial.  If you have an outward-looking orientation, looking to what Doreen Massey has called ‘place beyond place’, then you are more likely to have extensive social networks to draw on for support and inspiration, and you are more likely to be able to see opportunities for yourself beyond those that are immediately to hand in your locality.

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