AQA Sociology AS: Education

• The role and purpose of education, including vocational education and training, in contemporary society.

• Differential educational achievement of social groups by social class, gender and ethnicity in contemporary society.

• Relationships and processes within schools, with particular reference to teacher/pupil relationships, pupil subcultures, the hidden curriculum, and the organisation of teaching and learning.

• The significance of educational policies, including selection, comprehensivisation and marketisation, for an understanding of the structure, role, impact and experience of education.

• The application of sociological research methods to the study of education

  • Created by: Chloe
  • Created on: 13-02-12 12:22

Differences in Achievement


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Class Differences in Achievement: Middle Class vs

Despite great improvements in the educational level of the nation as a whole since state education began in 1870, social class differences continue. Middle-class = non-manual occupations. e.g. doctors, techers, managers, owners of businesses, 'white collar' office workers. Working-class = manual occupations. e.g. plumbers, electricians, waitresses, lorry drivers, cleaners, labourers.

  • Class has 6 x more impact on education than gender or ethnicity.
  • Children from middle-class families perform better than children from working-class families on average.
  • Middle class: Do better at GCSE, stay longer in full-time education and take big majority of university places.
  • Private school’s class sizes are less than half of those in state schools.
  • 7% of Britain’s children are educated in private schools and over 90% of these go to university.
  • Nearly half of all Oxford and Cambridge University students are from private schools.
  • Evidence from Youth Cohort Study (2007) where percentage of pupils gaining 5 or more GCSE grades A*-C in England and Wales from 2004 =
  • ‘Higher Professional’ parents (77%)
  • 'Unemployment/not classified' (33%)
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Many theorists argue that primary socialisation from the family teaches basic values, attitudes and skills that are needed for educational success. Basic ‘cultural equipment’ includes language, self-discipline and reasoning skills.

However, according to theorists, many working class families fail to socialise their children. These children grow up culturally deprived. Therefore, they under-achieve.

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EXTERNAL: Cultural Deprivation - Intellectual Deve

1) Intellectual Development: Thinking and reasoning skills. Skills not developed in working-class children because they lack the books, educational toys and activities

a. Working class pupils scored lower on tests of ability than middle class pupils. This is because working class parents are less likely to support intellectual development through reading to them or educational activities (Douglas, 1964)

b. Middle class mothers more likely to choose toys that encourage skills to prepare children for school. (Bernstein and Young, 1967)

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EXTERNAL: Cultural Deprivation - Language

2) Language: Lower-class people have an inadequate use of language. Bernstein (1975) identifies differences between working class and middle class language with two types of speech code:

a. Restricted Code – Typically used by the working class. Limited vocabulary, short, often unfinished, grammatically simple sentences. Predictable and not analytic. Context-bound (speaker assumes listener shares same set of experiences).

b. Elaborated Code – typically used by the middle class. Wider vocabulary and longer grammatically complex sentences. Speech is varied and context free (speaker does not assume listener shares the same experiences) therefore language is explicit.

  • Middle class seen to have advantage over working class children because the elaborated code is used by teachers, textbooks and exams.
  • Middle class children feel more ‘at home’ in school & more likely to succeed. 
  • Working class are likely to feel more excluded & be less successful. 
  • Critiques say Bernstein describes working class speech as inadequate. However, recognises that working-class pupils fail because schools fail to teach them how to use the elaborated code, not just because they are culturally deprived.
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EXTERNAL: Cultural Deprivation - Attitudes and Val

  • Working class parents place less value on education, were less ambitious for their children, gave them less encouragement and took less interest in their education. (Douglas, 1964) value, ambition, encouragement, interest.
  • Values and Beliefs of lower-class subculture are a 'self-imposed barrier' to educational and career success. They believe they have less opportunity to achieve, place little value on achieving high status jobs & so see no point in education. (Herbert Hyman, 1967).
  • Barry Sugarman (1970) - 4 key features acting as a barrier to educational achievement.
    • Fatalism: belief in fate - what will be, will be & cannot change your status 
    • Collectivism: value on being a part of a social group rather than succeeding
    • Immediate Gratification: Wanting rewards now rather than in future. Deferred gratification is the opposite.
    • Present-time orientation: Seeing present as more important than future. No long term goals or plans or importance on this.
  • Conclusion: Middle class equip their children for success whereas working-class fail to do so.
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EXTERNAL: Compensatory Education

Compensatory Education

  • A policy designed to tackle the problem of cultural deprivation by providing extra resources to schools and communities in deprived areas.
  • Aim to attempt to intervene early in the socialisation process.
  • E.g. Operation Head Start in the US - scheme of pre-school education in poorer areas introduced in 1960s.
  • Sesame Street TV programme - a part of Head Start.
  • Educational Priority Areas created in 1960s.
  • Education Action Zones introduced in late 1990s.
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The Myth of Cultural Deprivation - THE CRITIQUE

The Myth of Cultural Deprivation? - THE CRITIQUE

  • A victim-blaming explanation. It cannot be blamed on a culturally deprived background. Working class fail because they are put at a disadvantage by the education system that is dominated by the middle-class (Nell Keddie, 1973)
  • Schools should challenge teachers' anti-working class prejudices.
  • Teachers have a 'speech hierarchy' - middle class, then working class then black speech. Problem is not the child's language but the school attitude towards it. (Barry Troyna & Jenny WIlliams, 1986)
  • Reject view that parents aren't interested in their children's education.
  • Parents attend fewer parents evening because of work, less regular hours or put off by schools middle-class atmosphere.
  • Schools with mainly working class could have less effective parent-school contacts. - harder for parents to keep in touch with child's progress.
  • Argue that real problem is not cultural deprivation but poverty and material deprivation.
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The term 'material deprivation' refers to poverty and a lack of material necessities such as adequate housing and income.

Poverty is closely linked to educational under-achievement.

  • 2006: only 33% of children receiving free school meals achieved 5 GCSE's grade A*-C compared to 61% of pupils who do not.
  • Non-attendance can arise from money problems in younger children (Flaherty, 2004)
  • 90% of 'failing' schools are located in deprived areas.


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EXTERNAL: Material Deprivation - Housing - Diet &

1) Housing

  • Poor housing e.g. overcrowding - makes harder for a child to study. Less room for educational activities, nowhere to do homework, disturbed sleep from sharing beds/bedrooms. Lack of space for safe play. 
  • Health issues with overcrowding - greater risk for accidents. Cold/damp housing can cause ill health, respiratory illnesses THEREFORE more absences from school.
  • Moving constantly - constant changes in school/disrupted education.


2) Diet and Health

  • Young people from poorer homes have lower intakes of vitamins, minerals and energy. (Marilyn Howard 2001)
  • Poor nutrition = illness = more absences from school
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EXTERNAL: Material Deprivation - Financial Support

3) Financial Support & the Costs of Education

  • Lack of money - no equipment for school.
  • Uniforms, books, transport, computers, calculator, sports, music, art equipment - a burden on poor families. (Emily Tanner et al, 2003)
  • Could lead to bullying.
  • Fear of stigmatisation could help explain why 20% of those eligible for free school meals do not take up entitlement. (Flaherty)
  • Children may need to work. e.g. babysitting, cleaning, paper rounds - could have negative effect on school work.
  • Explains why many working-class pupils don't go to university - debt
  • Working class students spend x2 as much time in paid work to reduce debt compared to middle class students. (The National Audit Office, 2002)

4) Cultural or Material Factors?

The fact that some children from poor families succeed suggests material deprivation is only part of explanation. e.g. cultural, religious or political values, quality of the school. However, Peter Mortimore and Geoff Whitty (1997) say that material inequalities have greater effect on achievement than school factors. Peter Robinson (1997) argues that tackling child poverty would boost achievement.

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Bourdieu (1984): Three types of capital

  • Pierre Bourdieu's idea that material and cultural deprivation are interlinked. 
  • The term 'capital' refers to wealth, educational capital (qualifications) and cultural capital. 
  • He says that the middle class generally possess more of all 3 types of capital.

1) Cultural Capital

  • Agrees with Bernstein - that middle class acquire ability to grasp, analyse and express abstract ideas through socialisation.
  • Middle class have an advantage.
  • Education System is not neutral, favours and transmits middle-class culture.
  • Working class children find that school devalues their culture & lack of cultural capital leads to exam failure.
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EXTERNAL: Cultural Capital - Educational & Economi

2&3) Educational (Qualifications) and Economic Capital (Wealth)

  • Middle-class children with cultural capital - better equipped to meet school curriculum and gain qualifications.
  • Wealthier parents can convert economic capital into educational capital e.g. Private School or Extra Tuition.
  • Middle-class parents can afford house in catchment area of a good school (high on league table). This is called 'selection by mortgage' because housing demand is high and excludes working-class families.
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EXTERNAL: Cultural Capital - Testing Bourdieu's Id

Testing Bourdieu's Ideas

  • Alice Sullivan (2001): questionnaires, 465 pupils in 4 schools. Asked on a range of activities e.g. reading & TV habits, whether they visited art galleries, museums & theatres. Tested vocabulary and knowledge of cultural figures.
  • FINDINGS: Complex fictions & watched serious TV documentaries = wider vocab, cultural knowledge & so greater cultural capital. They were more likely to be successful & are children of graduates.
  • HOWEVER: although middle-class more likely to have greater cultural capital, Sullivan found that cultural capital only accounted for part of difference in educational achievement. Pupils of different classes with same cultural capital, middle-class still did better.
  • CONCLUSION: Greater resources & aspirations of middle-class families explains remainder of gap.
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EXTERNAL: Cultural Capital - Gewirtz

2) Disconnected Local Choosers

  • Working-class parents whose choices were restricted because of lack of economic and cultural capital.
  • Found it difficult to understand school procedures.
  • Less confident with dealing with schools.
  • Less aware of choices/opportunities.
  • Less able to take full advantage.
  • They put more importance to safety and facilities rather than league tables.
  • Restrictions on distance and cost of travel.

3) Semi-Skilled Choosers

  • Also mainly working class but unlike disconnected local choosers, were ambitious for their children.
  • However, lack cultural capital & found system hard to understand.
  • Frustrated at inability to get children into the schools they wanted.

Conclusion: Those who have cultural and economic capital have more choice. Marketisation has not led to more opportunities for working-class children. Instead, it allowed middle-class to use their wealth and knowledge even more effectively than before (Geoff Whitty, 1998)

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EXTERNAL: Cultural Capital - Gewirtz

Gewirtz: Marketisation and Parental Choice

  • The creation of the 'education market' since the Education Reform Act (1988) = looking at effect of increased parental choice that Act introduced.
  • Sharon Gewirtz (1995): Class Differences in Parental Choice of Secondary School. 14 London schools. Interviews with teachers and parents & secondary data such as school documents. Findings: differences in economic and cultural capital lead to class differences in how far parents can exercise choice of secondary school. three types of parents.

1) Privileged-Skilled Choosers

  • Mainly professional middle-class parents.
  • Used economic capital to gain educational capital for children.
  • Could take full advantage of opportunities.
  • Could afford to move children around education system to get best deal out of it. e.g. paying extra travel costs so children could attend better schools.
  • Confident with dealing with schools
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Differences in Achievement



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Ethnic Differences in Achievement: Evidence/facts

Lawson and Garrod (2000) define ethnic groups as 'people who share common history, customs and identity, as well as, in most cases, language and religion, and who see themselves as a distinct unit'.

  • Children from minority ethnic backgrounds - 21% of the pupils in English schools.
  • DfES (2007) graph with pupils gaining five or more GCSE grades A*-C shows that Chinese GIRLS are the highest achieving and the lowest being White MALES.
  • DfES (2007 - in 2006, only 24% of white boys on free school meals gained five A*-C grades at GCSE.
  • Minority groups are improving more rapidly - whites may soon become the worst performing ethnic group.
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EXTERNAL FACTORS: Cultural Deprivation








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Intellectual & Linguistic Skills, Attitudes & Valu

A) Intellectual and Linguistic Skills

  • The lack of intellectual and lingustic skills in minority children seen as a major cause of under-achievement.
  • E.g. from low-income black families
  • Poorly equiped for school because they dont have reasoning & problem-solving skills.
  • However, Swann Report (1985) found that language was not a major factor in under-achievement - indian pupils do very well despite often not having English has home language.

B) Attitudes and Values

  •  Lack of motivation seen as a major cause of under-achievement for black children.
  • The idea of 'live for today' attitude that does not value education
  • Does not equip for success
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Family Structure and Parental Support

C) Family Structure and Parental Support

  • Failure to socialise children adequately as a cause of a dysfunctional family structure & leading to under-achievement
  • Many black families have lone mother, financial stuggle, less care, no male bread winner.
  • Boys lack role model of male achievement.
  • Murray (1984) - high rate of lone parenthood & lack of positive role models lead to the under-achievement of some minorities.
  • Comparason of black & Asian pupils - Asians are higher achievers because their culture is more resistant to racism. Black caribbean culture is less resistant to racism so may have low self esteem & under-achieve (Pryce, 1979)
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Asian & White Families

D) Asian Families

  • Driver & Ballard (1981) - Asian family structures bring educational benefits. Parents more positive attitudes towards education & more supportive.
  • Ruth Lupton (2004) argues that adult authority in Asian families is similar to authority in schools - respectful behaviour in schools.
  • However, some sociologists see the Asian family as an obstacle to success - Verity Khan (1979) says Asian families are stress ridden, bound by tradition & with a controlling attitude, especially girls.

E) White Working Class Families

  • 80% of 11-16 yr old ethnic minority pupils aspired to go to uni against 68% of white pupils (MORI, 2004)
  • Could be because of low aspiration & achievement rooted from lack of parental support.
  • Gillian Evals (2006) - street culture in white working-class areas can be brutal so young people have to learn how to withstand intimidation. Power games in schools & disruption. COMPENSATORY EDUCATION TO TACKLE CULTURAL DEPRIVATION
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F) Critique of Cultural Deprivation

  • Geoffrey Driver (1977) - theory ignores positive effects of ethnicity on achievement. Says that the black caribbean family is far from dysfunctional because it provides girls with positive role models of strong independent women. - Argued that why black girls do better than black boys.
  • Racism causes under-achievement - not low self-esteem.
  • Keddie sees cultural deprivation as a victim-blaming explanation. Ethnic minority children are culturally different, not culturally deprived. They under-achieve because schools are ethnocentric - bias.
  • Citics oppose compensatory education because they see it as an attempt to impose the dominant white culture on children. Alternatives: multicultural education (recognises minority cultures & includes in curriculum) & anti-racist education (challenges discrimination & prejudive that exists in schools & wider society).
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Material Deprivation and Class

2. Material Deprivation & Class

  • Lack of physical necessities.
  • Working-class more likely to face poverty & material deprivation.
  • Educational failure because of material deprivation.
  • Flaherty (2004):
    • Pakistanis & Bangladeshis - over 3x more likely than whites to be in poorest fifth of the population.
    • Unemployment - 3x more likely for African & Bangladeshi/Pakistani people than for whites.
    • 15% of ethnic minority households live in overcrowded conditions - only 2% of white households do.
    • Pakistanis nearly 2x as likely to be in unskilled or semi-skilled jobs compared to whites. Ethnic minority workers more likely in shift work.
  • Inequalities parallel those in educational achievement
  • Class differences explain why Bangladeshi & Pakistani pupils tend to do worse than Indian & White pupils.
  • Social class - at least 50% of the difference in achievement between ethnic groups.
  • Gillborn & Mirza-social class factors do not override the influence of ethnicity
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Racism in Wider Society

3. Racism in Wider Society

  • David Mason (1995) 'discrimination is a continuing and persistent feature of the experience of Britains citizens of minority ethnic origin'.
  • John Rex (1986) - shows how racial discrimination leads to social exclusion & how this worsens the poverty.
  • In employment - Mike Noon (1993) sent idential pairs of letters of enquiry about future employment opportunities to the top 100 UK companies. In terms of both number & helpfulness of replies, the companies where more encouraging to the white candidate.
  • Explains why members of ethnic minorities are more likely to face employment & low pay - negative effect on childrens educational prospects.
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INTERNAL FACTORS Labelling and teacher racism

  • Attaching a meaning or definition to someone.
  • Interactionist study labelling & found that teachers often see black & Asian pupils as far from the 'idea pupil'
  • Negative labels for ethnic minority pupils, disadvantages them & may result in failure.

Black Pupils:

  • Gillborn (1990) - teachers were quicker to discipline black pupils.
  • Gillborn & Youdel (2000) - argued that this is the result of 'racialised expectations'. Conflicts stem from racial stereotypes teachers hold.

Asian Pupils

  • Wright (1992) - Teachers in primary school hold ethnocentric views - took for granted the english language and british culture. Assumed that asian pupils would have a poor grasp of English so they were left out of class discussion or were spoken to in simplistic language. Pupils felt isolated.
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INTERNAL: Pupil Responses and Subcultures

  • The way that pupils respond to racism and labelling

Fuller and Mac an Ghaill: Rejecting negative labels

  • Mary Fuller (1984) - study of a group of black girls in year 11 of a London comprehensive school. Atypical because were high achievers. They rejected their negative labels and channelled anger into educational success. Did not seek approval of teachers.
  • Able maintain a positive self-image. Important because shows that pupils may succeed even when they refuse to conform. & that negative labelling does not always lead to failure. No self-fulfilling prophecy.

Mirza: Failed strategies for avoiding racism

  • Mirza (1992) - studied ambitious black girls who faced teacher racism. They failed to achieve their ambitions because their coping strategies restricted their opportunities and resulted in under-achievement.
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INTERNAL: Pupil Responses and Subcultures

Swell: the variety of boys' responses

  • Swell (1998), like Mirza, examines responses and strategies black pupils adopt to cope with racism. Found that teachers had a stereotype of 'black machismo' - all black boys are rebellious, anti-authority & anti-school. More likely to be excluded from school.

Merton's (1949) 4 classifications-

1. The Rebels: most visible & influential group. Small minority of black pupils & often excluded from school. Conform to black macho lad stereotype.

2. The Conformists: Largest group. Keen to succeed accepted schools goals & had friends from different ethnic groups.

3. The Retreatists: Tiny minority who were disconnected from school & black subculture. Despised by rebels.

4. The Innovators: 2nd largest group. Pro-education but anti-school. Valued success but didnt seek teacher approval.

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INTERNAL: The Ethnocentric Curriculum

Ethnocentric Curriculum

  • Gives priority to one particular ethnic group while disregarding others.
  • Troyna & Williams (1986): British schools are ethnocentric because it gives priority to white culture and the English language.
  • However, its not clear what impact the ethnocentric curriculum has. E.g. While it may ignore Asian culture, Indian and Chinese pupils' achievement is above the national average.

Institutional Racism

  • Individual racism - results from the prejudiced views of individuals.
  • Institutional racism - discrimination that is built into the way institutions operate.
  • The Ethnocentric Curriculum: Could be seen as a prime example of institutional racism.
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Melissa. Bevan


Really good, summarizes pretty much everything I need for my mock tomorrow, although it may be a little too late ahh 

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