BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page was last updated in June 2007We've left it here for reference.More information

Accessibility help
Text only
BBC Homepage
BBC Radio
TodayBBC Radio 4

Listen Again
Latest Reports
Interview of the Week
About Today
Today at 50
Message Board
Contact Today

Contact Us

Like this page?
Send it to a friend!

Weekdays 6-9am and Saturdays 7-9am How to listen to Today
Latest Reports

Humphrys on Class


Social Mobility

John Humphreys went back to his old home in Cardiff to trace the decline in social mobility over the last few decades. He looks at the decline in aspiration both of parents and children at a school in Cardiff and the worries of those who live in the shadow of the Port Talbot steel works.

See more pictures in our gallery.

Listen again to John's report from South Wales

Mal Davies

Mal Davies is headmaster of Willows High School, Cardiff. Willows High School serves the south-east sector of Cardiff, principally the areas of Adamsdown, Butetown, Splott and Tremorfa. The area has a history steeped in working class occupations associated with the docks and the steel industry. When I arrived as Headteacher in 1994 these traditional industries were approaching the end of a long period of decline, which resulted in high levels of male unemployment in the area.

While schools were largely accepted by the community, parents had few or low aspirations for their children’s educational development. Largely parent attitude could be described in terms of education not doing much for them, thus they did not expect it to do much for their children.

Additionally the school faced another challenge in that it was not socially acceptable amongst pupils to study away from the classroom or at home. We described the situation of the ‘lonely learner’ who concealed books about his person so that he could take them home to study.

The schools level of achievement in public examinations was firmly fixed at 6% 5A*-C grades at GCSE.

Through tremendous efforts, both in and outside the classroom, of staff at Willows and our associate primary schools we have developed an extensive programme of educational programmes and out-of-hours learning opportunities for pupils, parents and any members of our community. These strategies, together with winning the support of the pupil opinion makers, to embrace studying, have caused a positive change in the attitudes towards education in our school and community. We now provide several homework clubs in school each week which record average attendance of 90 pupils. The school GCSE results last summer recorded 33% 5A*-C grades.

We believe that this intergenerational work is vital to changing the attitude towards education in challenging communities.


I grew up here and I think I’ve done pretty well so far in my life. I went to Sandfields Comprehensive school and was, in fact, head girl. I did my GCSE’s and ended up going to university. I think I’ve done really well in life so far, but I feel that’s down to my parents and background and things. My Dad’s lived here all his life and worked in the steelworks for years and years, and my Mum’s a care worker. So, it’s like the typical jobs round here. My parents gave me good boundaries in life and set me up for life with good values. I always looked up to my Mum and Dad, but I always wanted better than them. I’m not saying they’re not doing well in life, but I always wanted better than them. I feel I’ve got a lot of ambitions. I feel there was a different end of the scale. I feel maybe I was at the top end where I come from a background where my parents supported me a little bit more. Whereas I know some of my friends had parents who weren’t as supportive. Looking back some of my friends went on to college, some onto university, whereas others had children and just stayed on benefits and things like that. From what I can see in my year of people, they see being on benefits as easier because of having children. It’s not worth going on working cos they’ll get around the same money. Others are pure lazy.

Besma Ali

My name is Besma Ali and I am 15 years old. I used to live in London, but I had to move down to Cardiff and I’ve been here for 3 years. In the future, I think I want to work in the medicine sector. I want to do something to do with medicine and doctors, but I still don’t know what exactly. I’m terrified of blood, so I don’t think I’ll be a surgeon or anything like that. I’ll probably do a research job.

Our parents help us and push us towards what we want to do. Like my Mum, for example, and my Dad, know that I want to be a doctor and they push me to do all my coursework, give it in on time, and work hard and revise and stuff like that. They know what my dream is and they help me to achieve it. 

Click here to read more about John Humphrys in Middlesbrough

Back to Reports Homepage

Latest Reports

Back to Latest Reports Homepage

Audio Archive
Missed a programme? Or would you like to listen again?
Try last 7 days below or visit the Audio Archive page:


Today | Listen Again | Latest Reports | Interview of the Week | About Today | Today at 50 | Have Your Say | Contact Today

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy