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“Work hard to be successful” might not be the best advice for our children as social class still matters

It might seem like a sound advice but working hard will not guarantee success for all children, a new BBC Radio 4 documentary argues. Telling the story of Hashi Mohamed, an immigrant that became a barrister, argues that class and accents still matter, in some instances more than hard work.

A new BBC Radio 4 documentary tells the story of Hashi Mohamed, an immigrant arriving in the United Kingdom at age 9, together with his 11 siblings, speaking no English. Hashi succeeded in becoming a barrister but in his eyes, hard work had not that much to do with his success.

Hashi’s own experience shows that while children from privileged backgrounds easily slide form one good school to another, for children coming from poor families, reaching the top is still a challenge that cannot be overcome solely by working hard.

“I attended some of the worst performing schools in inner-city London and was raised exclusively on state benefits,” Hashi said to the Guardian.

He was lucky enough to get a scholarship at Oxford but Hashi says that his story will not be possible for the next generation.

“What I have learned in this short period of time is that the pervasive narrative of “if you work hard you will get on” is a complete myth. It’s not true and we need to stop saying it. This is because “working hard, and doing the right thing” barely gets you to the starting line,” he says in the same article.

For Hashi, privilege, class and accent still matter and people with the right background will always have it easier.

And the privileged background has a long lasting effect if we are to believe a Deloitte study that showed that students from the least advantaged backgrounds earn, on average, nearly 10% less than their most advantaged peers six months after graduating from the same subject. The biggest difference was recorded exactly of Hashi’s field.

Law graduates from under-privileged backgrounds bring home 15% less than their better off peers. Next in line are computer science graduates, earning 13.8% less and social studies students.

David Sproul, Deloitte’s senior partner and chief executive asked then for reforms that will change the status-quo.

“Action is required to improve access to education, ensure equality of employment opportunities and equip young people with the skills they need to succeed in a digitally-driven economy. Leaders of the UK’s higher education institutions and employers are increasingly aware of these problems and we are beginning to see some positive change,” Sproul said in a statement.

There are also studies that show that Hashi is right when he talks about privilege in the classroom. A study conducted by Sutton Trust and the Department for Business shows that children form private schools are twice more likely to apply to top universities as those from state schools.

But other research shows that this is not a particularly British problem. The United States, Germany and France are facing the same issues when it comes to social mobility.

Sylvia Jacob