AQA Sociology - Education

AQA Sociology - Education

  • Processes within school
  • DEA* & gender, ethnicity, social class
  • Social Policy
  • Functionalist Approach
  • Marxist Approach

*DEA stands for Differential Educational Acheivement, i.e. why some students achieve better grades than others.

Processes within School (1)


Labelling - attaching meaning to an individual or group e.g. trouble makers, hard worker.

Self-fulfilling prophecy - individuals live upo to the label which has been applied to them

Ideal pupil - teachers have a list of charachteristics which they look for in students (often middle class characteristics)

Evidence - Rosenthal and Jacobson

  • Told teachers which 20% were more likely to become higher achievers.
  • High achievers were in fact picked at random 
  • Returned 18 months later, found named children were achieving better
  • Concluded that teacher expectation is a central varibale in pupil attainment
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Processes within School (2)

Streaming, Banding and Subcultures

Streaming involves seperating students into different ability classes.

streaming/banding leads to different expectations and different access to knowledge.

This combined with labelling may lead to the formation of subcultures

Subcultures can be pro-school or anti-school

Evidence - Willis

  • 'Education doesnt turn out an obedient workforce'
  • The 'lads' rejected school and formed antischool subculture.
  • Coped with school and then manual work by 'having a laff'
  • Working class kids still get working class just but they aren't obedient

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DEA & Social Class (1)


  • Pupils from professional backgrounds are more likely to enter higher education than those from unskilled backgrounds
  • Middle class pupils are more likely to study A-levels whereas working class pupils are more likely to take vocational subjects
  • Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to leave school at 16
  • Pupils from unskilled backgrounds tend to achieve lower scores on SAT's and GCSE's and are more likely to be place in lower streams/bands

Explanation - Inside School Factors

  • Internationalist look at how processes in school influence levels of achievement, such as labelling, streaming and subcultures
  • These explanations are useful as they look at day-to-day experiences of school
  • Labelling theory is said to be too deterministic
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DEA & Social Class (2)

Explanation - Outside School Factors

Cultural Deprivation

Douglas - The most important factor in affecting achievement in the level of parental interest.

Bernstein - Working class students were comfortable with the restricted code of slang and quick conversation. Middle class students had access to an elaborate code of language that is used by teachers. In terms of language, the working class experience a disadvantage.

Sugarman - Pupils from manual backgrounds were fatalistic and lived a life of immediate gratification. The non-manual pupils were ambitious and deferred their gratification but investing time in studying and planning for the future.

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DEA & Social Class (3)

Explanation - Outside School Factors

Culture Capital

Bourdieu - Middle class students are at an advantage as they have the language, skills and attitudes similar to the expectations in the education system, and therefore have a higher chance of success

Material Deprivation

Harker - Poor quality, overcrowded housing, less space to play/study, increased risk of bullying, disruption moving from house to house, health, stress and mental illness are all linked with educational underachievement.

Douglas - found that children in unsatisfactory living conditions (poor housing, lack of nutritious food, overcrowding etc.) didn't do so well in ability tests 

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DEA & Social Class (4)


DEA and social class seem to be caused by many factors i.e. there is a multi-causal explanation.

Social class combined with ethnicity and gender (e.g. working class boy from an ethnic minority) forms a multiple oppression.

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DEA & Gender (1)


  • Girls get better results at all levels
  • Girls get better results in the majority of subjects at SAT's
  • Women are more likely to go to University
  • There are still differences in subjects
    • Girls - communication - english, sociology, drama, art
    • Boys - Technological - science, maths, dt

Explanations - Inside School Factors

  • Teaching has become more feminised - more female teachers, text book examples, coursework (more suited to girls - organisation, long periods of concentration)
  • National Curriculum forces girls to do more male subjects
  • LEA & government initatives encourage girls  to do non-traditional subjects
  • Boys having an identity crisis so form anti-school subcultures to deal with it
  • Lack of male role models as less male teachers
  • Teacher expectations are lower for boys who tend to have a self fulfilling prophecy
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DEA & Gender (2)

Explanation - Outside School Factors

  • Policies create equal opportunities for boiys and girls
  • Growth in the service sector
  • There are now more positive role models for girls
  • Sue sharpe found that girls' priorities have changed. Instead of wanting marriage and family, many girls want a career first, and education helps girls achieve this
  • The femenist movement caused a change in female expectations.


DEA and social class seem to be caused by many factors i.e. there is amulti-causal explanation.

Social class combined with ethnicity and gender (e.g. working class boy from an ethnic minority) forms a multiple oppression.

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DEA & Ethnicity (1)


  • The GCSE grades of Indian and other Asian pupils have  always topped the chart but have still made a huge improvement in the last 15 years.
  • Afro-Caribbean and Pakistani pupils have the lowest percentage of A*-C grades at GCSE and although they have imoroved they are still quite a bit lower than that of white pupils.
  • In 2003 Black Caribbean pupils were the most likely to be permenantly excluded from schools in England (37 pupils per 10,000 compared to 14 per 10,000 white pupils)
  • Chinese and Indian pupils were the least likely to be excluded: only 2 pupils per 10,000.

Explanations - Genetic

Based on the idea that intelligence in inherited. Groups underachieve because they have inherited a low IQ. Hernstein found that in America some ethnic minority groups had higher IQ's than others. However the Swann Report took into account social factors and biased testing and found no relationship between ethnic group and IQ.

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DEA & Ethnicity (2)

Explanations - Inside School Factors

  • Teachers expectations differ for different ethnic groups. Gilborn found Afro-caribbean students had been negatively labelled which resulted in a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.
  • There is an issue about whether the school curriculum is ethnocentric (focussed on one culture at the expense of another) and eurocentric (focussed on achievements within europe, not taking into account cultures out of europe)
  • British Education might be seen as being institutionally racist. This is where policies and attitudes unintentionally discriminate again other ethnic minotiry groups. Wright found that even though members of staff were comitted to equal opportunities, Asian girls got less attention from teachers.
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DEA & Ethnicity (3)

Explanations - Outside School Factors

  • Language differences - First generation underachievement look at how language was a barrier for Asian and Afro-caribbean pupils, although the Swann Report found this isn't such an issue in later generations
  • Family differences - Driver and Ballard 
    • Close-knit, extended families with high parental expectations increase levels of achievement in Asian communities. 
    • High levels of divorce and single-parent families in Afro-caribbean households could result in material deprivation. 
    • Independence of Afro-caribbean women may offer positive role models for Afro-caribbean girls.


DEA and social class seem to be caused by many factors i.e. there is amulti-causal explanation.

Social class combined with ethnicity and gender (e.g. working class boy from an ethnic minority) forms a multiple oppression.

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Social Policy (1)


1870 - Forster Act - Free state education for all children aged 5-10 years.

1944 - Tripartite System - 11+ exam. Filtered into Grammar, Secondary Modern or Technical school.

1965 - Comprehensive System - One school instead of three. Aimed to overcome class divisions and make education meritocratic.

1983 - New Vocationalism - Gave students the skills needed in industry

1988 - Education Reform Act - establishment of National Curriculum and SAT's

1997 - New Labour - Compensatory education to raise achievement of students for materially and culturally deprived backgrounds

                               - Education Action zones (to provide additional resources), Aim Higher program (to raise aspirations) and EMA (Payment to students from low-income families).

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Marxist Approach to Education (2)

Bowles and Gintis

  • Correspondence between pupils' experience of school and adult work
  • Hidden curriculum prepares pupils for work
  • Meritocracy is an ideological myth


  • Education doesn't turn out an obedient workforce - the lads resisted control, therefore they're destined for unskilled work that capitalism requires
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Functionalist Approach to Education (1)

Functionalists general view:

  • Education is meritocratic
  • Education teaches skills needed in work and the economy
  • Education sifts and sorts people for appropriate jobs - role allocation
  • Education passes on core values though secondary socialisation

Parsons' view:

  • School is a focal socialising agency
  • A bridge between the family and adult roles in society
  • Passes on universalistic value (accepted by everyone, all the same) of achievement
  • Selects children for appropriate roles as it is meritocratic
  • Helps create value consensus 

Davis and Moore - Inequality is fair as if you have the talent and put in the effort you get rewarded.

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Functionalist Approach to Education (2)


  • Evidence that achievement is influenced by social class rather than ability
  • 'Who you know' still more important than 'what you know' - meritocracy fails
  • Marxists argue education transmits ruling class ideology, not shared values
  • Functionalists assume people are puppets on strings that passively accept all they are taught and never reject school's values
  • Interactionalists criticise  functionalists for their oversocialised view of pupils that see them as passively accepting everything
  • We do not have meritocracy as functionalists suggest. For example, ability and effort are not the only factors that determine achievement.
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Functionalist Approach to Education (3)

The New Right

Similar views to functionalism:

  • Some people are naturally more talented
  • Favour an education system run on meritocracy
  • Education should socialise pupils into shared values

Different views to functionalism:

  • Education is not currently reaching its goals
  • they like marketisation; league tables, OFSTED reports, exam results
  • Chubb and Moe propose voucher system which would introduce same market forces that are in the private sector
  • Marketisation will raise standards in schools
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Marxist Approach to Education (1)

Marxist views in general:

  • Education prepares children for the world of work in terms of skills and values
  • Education justifies inequality
  • Education passes on ruling class ideology that supports capitalism


  • Sees education as part of the Ideological State Apparatus
  • Passes on ruling class ideology that society is fair
  • Education reproduces an obedient workforce
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Alternative Veiws

Illich: Deschooling

Feminism: School reproduce patriachry

Post-modernism: education produces diversity not inequality

Morrow and Carlos: class is not the main source of inequality, ethnicity, gender and sexuality should be viewed equally

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Problems with Theories


  • hidden curriculum assumes pupils are passive victims. over exaggerates how much working class are socialised into docility.
  • If people are aware of inequality, ideology has failed. People aren't in a false state of consciousness


  • DEA & gender, ethnicity and class shows education is not meritocratic
  • Who you know not what you know
  • Collins argues education doesn't prepare us for work. Skill needed aren't taught at school
  • Doesn't look at how certain values may serve interest of particular groups in terms of ideology. Fails to explain the conflict
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Really helpful, thankyou :)



This is AMAZING! Thank you so so much! 

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