AQA Sociology: The Role of Education (1) Functionalism and the New Right

What are functionalism and the New Right?

What functions do functionalists see education as performing?

What is the New Right View of the role of the market in Education?

What criticisms have been made of functionalist and New Right views of education?

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  • Created by: Chloe
  • Created on: 23-05-12 12:38

Functionalist Perspective on Education

  • A consensus view that sees society as harmonious.
  • Society has basic needs including the need for social order.
  • Needs social solidarity through everyone sharing the same norms and values. Otherwise, society would disintergrate.
  • Education perfrms positive functions for both society and individuals by socialising new members and by helping to create and sustaining social solidarity.
  • A conservative view of society.

Main contributers to functionalist perspective:

  • Durkheim
  • Parsons
  • David and More
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Durkheim (1903)

Education performs two basic functions:

1) Promotes social solidarity - (transmits societies norms and values). Teaches children to follow universalistic rules which are essental for cooperation in society. 

2) Education prepares young people for work - Equils individuals with specialist skills needed to participate in work in a modern economy.

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Parsons (1961)

Socialisation and Meritocracy

"the school is the "focal socialising agency" of modern society. And is a minature version of wider society - both are meritocratic.

Secondary Socialisation: Education is a bridge between family and wider society, teaching universalistic standards where everyone is treated the same.

Meritocracy: Basic upon 2 key values:

1) Individual Achievement - everyone achieves their status through their own effords and abilities.

2) Equal Opportunity - for every individual to achieve their full potential.

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Davis and Moore (1945)

The main function of education is role allocation - the selection and allocation of individual to their future work roles.

  • Some people are more talented than others.
  • Some work roles are more complex than others and require greater skill.
  • Most talented people need to be allocated to most important jobs.
  • Higher reqards for these jobs to motivate everyone to strive for them.
  • A meritocratic education system allows everyone to compete equally. 'Sifts and sorts' individuals so that most talented get best qualifications & allocated to most important jobs.
  • As result, society is more productive because most able people so most important jobs.

Human capital theory - the skills of the workforce are a modern industrial society's main economic asset or 'capital'.

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Evaluation of Functionalism

  • Marxists argue that values trasmitted by education are not society's shared values but rather those of the ruling class.
  • Education is not meritocratic, because schools discriminate against some groups and don't give them equal opportunity to achieve.
  • Hargreaves (1982) - schools place more value on competition and developing individuals than on developing a sense of social solidarity.
  • Sometimes difficcult to see a direct link between subkect studied at school and what is required of workers in their jobs. 
  • Interactionalists argue that view of socialisation is too deterministic. Not all pupils passively accept the schools values.
  • A persons characteristics - class, gender & ethnicity are more important in determining their income later in life than their achievement in school.
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New Right Perspective on Education

More of a political than a social perspective. Its a more recent conservative view than functionalism & has influence educational policy in Britain and elsewhere.

  • Some are naturally more talented than others.
  • Education should be fun on meritocratic principles of open principles.
  • Believe that education should socialise pupils into shared values & provide a sense of national identity.
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Market versus the State

The effects of state control - Too much state control of education has resulted in inefficiency, national economic decline and a lack of personal and business initiative. Disagrees with functionalism

One size fits all - belief that the state (and education) cannot meet all peoples needs.

Marketisation - The solution to how to make schools more responsive to their consumers. Idea of choice and competition within education. New Right argue that creating an education market, forces schools to respond to the needs of pupils, parents and emploters.

Chubb and Moe (1990) - Compared achievements of 60,000 pupils from low income families in 1,015 state and private high schools in the USA. Pupils from low-income families do about 5% better in private schools. - Suggests that state education is not meritocratic. State education fails to create equal opportunity.

Solution: Create market system in state education - give control to consumers. Via voucher system to spend on buying education from a school of their choice.

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State Role in Education & Evaluation

State Role in Education

  • The state should create the framework for competition between schools.
  • The State still has to ensure that schools transmit society's shared culture through a curriculum that emphasises a shared national identity (through teaching of British history)


  • Although school standards seem to have rise, there are other possible reasons for this improvement apart from introduction of a market.
  • Critics argue that low standards in state schools are the result of inadequate funding rather than state control of education.
  • Gewirtz argues that competition between schools benefits middle class who can get children into more desirable schools.
  • Marxists argue that education imposes the culture of a ruling class, not a shared culture or national identity as the NR argue.
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Thats really useful ... appreciate it :)

Isabella Swan .. Edward Cullen ***

very good! :D

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