Class Differences

Class Differences, Education, Internal Factors, External Factors, Labelling, Self-fulfilling prophecy, Pupil subcultures

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  • Created by: Harriet
  • Created on: 03-04-11 12:25

Explaining Class Differences

  • Social class background - powerful influence on child's chance of success in education.
  • On average, children from middle class families perform better than children from lower class backgrounds.
  • An explanation of this could be better-off parents can afford to send their children to private schools.

Internal and External Factors:

  • Internal Factors - Factors within schools and education system.
  • External Factors - Factors outside the education system.
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External Factors

1. Cultural Deprivation:

  • Intellectual Development - thinking and reasoning skills, ability to solve problems and use ideas and concepts. Theorists argue many working-class homes lack books and educational toys to stimulate intellectual development. J.W.B Douglas found working class pupils scored lower on tests of ability + argues that working-class parents are less likely to support their child's intellectual development. Bernstein and Young found that the way mothers think and choose toys has an influence. Middle-class mothers are more likely to choose toys that encourage thinking and reasoning.
  • LanguageBereiter and Engelmann claim that language used in lower-class homes is deficient, describing them to use gestures, single words or disjointed phrases. Bernstein believes there are two types of speech code, Restricted Code (working class - limited vocab, speech is predictable, descriptive, not analytical, context-bound) and Elaborated Code (middle-class, wider vocab, more varied, abstract ideas, context-free). These differences give middle-class children an advantage as the elaborated code is mainly used within schools.
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External Factors

(Cultural Deprivation)

  • Attitudes and Values - Douglas found working class parents placed less value on education. Feinstein found working-class parents' lack of interest was the main reason for children's underachievement. Hyman argues the values and beliefs of lower-class subculture are a "self-imposed barrier" to educational success. Sugarman argues working-class has four key features that act as a barrier to educational achievement: Fatalism ("whatever will be, will be" nothing you can do to change this), Collectivism (valuing being part of a group more than succeeding as an individual), Immediate gratification (seeking pleasure now rather than later), Present-time orientation (seeing the present as more important than the future). 

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External Factors

2. Material Deprivation:

  • Housing - Overcrowding can have a direct effect by making it harder for the child to study. It also means less room for educational activities and no room for the child to study. Development can be impaired through lack of space for safe play and exploration. Families living in (B&B) temporary education may have to move frequently, resulting in disrupted education. Also indirect effects such as cold/damp housing causing ill health and meaning time off school.
  • Diet and health - Howard noted young people from poorer homes have lower intakes of energy and vitamins and minerals, which affects health as it can weaken the immune system. More likely to have behavioural problems. According to Wilkinson, among ten-year-olds, the lower the social class, the higher the rate of hyperactivity, anxiety and conduct disorders.
  • Financial Support and the cost of education - Children from poor families have to do without equipment. David Bull refers to this as the "cost of free schooling". Tanner found that the cost of items (uniforms, transport, books, equipment) places a heavy burden on poor families. Mortimore + Whitty argue that material factors have a greater effect on achievement than school factors.
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External Factors

3. Cultural Capital - Pierre Bourdieu argues that both cultural and material factors contribute to educational achievement and aren't separate but interrelated. He uses the concept of "capital" to explain why the middle class are more successful.

  • Cultural Capital - Refers to the knowledge, attitudes, values, language, tastes and abilities of the middle class. Sees middle-class as a type of capital because, like wealth, it gives an advantage to those who possess it. Like Bernstein, he argues that through their socialisation, middle-class children acquire the the ability to grasp, analyse and express abstract ideas.
  • Educational and economic capital - Middle-class children with cultural capital are better equipped to meet the demands of the school curriculum and gain qualifications. Also, middle-class parents are more likely to be able  afford a house in a catchment area of a school high in the league tables.
  • A test of Bourdieu's ideas  - Sullivan used questionnaires to conduct a survey of 465 pupils in four schools. To assess their cultural capital, she asked them about a range of activities, and found that those who read complex fiction and watched serious TV documentaries developed a wider vocabulary and greater cultural knowledge. Sullivan concludes that the greater resources and aspirations of middle-class families explain the remainder of the class-gap in achievement.
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Internal Factors

Labelling: Labelling means to attach a meaning or a definition to someone. Studies show that teachers often attach labels, but usually to the child's social stereotyped background (middle-class children are bright and hard working, working-class children are incompetent).

Labelling in secondary schools - Becker carried out an interactionist study of labelling, and based on 60 interviews with high school teachers, he found that they judged pupils according to how closely they fitted the image of an "ideal pupil". Cicourel and Kitsuse's study of educational counsellors shows how such labelling can disadvantage working-class students, and that they judged students mainly on social class and/or race.

Labelling n primary schools - Rd that the teacher used information about the children's home background and appearance to place them in separate groups, labelling them by their appearance. 

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Self-fulfilling Prophecy

Self-fulfilling Prophecy - A prediction that comes true simply by virtue of it having been made.

Streaming and the self-fulfilling prophecy - This involves separating children into ability groups. studies show that the self-fulfilling-prophecy is likely to occur when children are streamed. As Becker shows, teachers don't usually see working-class children as ideal pupils, they tend to see them as lacking ability and have low expectations of them. As a result, working class children are likely to find themselves put in a lower stream. This creates a self-fulfilling prophecy as the children are likely to live up to expectations of under-achieving. In contrast, middle-class children usually benefit from streaming as they are place in a higher streams and are likely to develop a positive self-concept of themselves.

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Pupil Subcultures

Pupil Subcultures - A group of pupils who share similar values and behaviour patterns. Often emerge as a response to the way pupils have been labelled and in particular as a reaction to streaming. 

Lacey's concepts of differentiation and polarisation explain how pupil subcultures develop:

  • Differentiation - The process of teachers categorising pupils according to how they perceive their ability, attitude and/or behaviour. Streaming is a form of differentiation.
  • Polarisation - The process in which pupils respond to streaming by moving towards one of two opposite poles/extremes.

The Pro-School Subculture - Pupils placed in high streams (usually middle-class) tend to remain committed to the values of the school.

The Anti-School Subculture - Lacey found that those placed in low streams (usually working-class) suffer a loss of self-esteem. They usually find alternative ways of gaining status by inverting the schools values of hard work.

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Pupil Subcultures

Abolishing Streaming - Stephen Ball found that when the school abolished banding, the basis for pupils to polarise into subcultures was largely removed and the influence of the anti-school subculture declined. However, teachers continued to label pupils.

The Variety of Pupil Responses - Woods argues other responses are also possible:

  • Ingratiation - Being the "teacher's pet"
  • Ritualism - Going through the motions and staying out of trouble
  • Retreatism - Daydreaming and mucking about
  • Rebellion - Outright rejection of everything the school stands for
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Marketisation and Selection Policies

Marketisation brought in: A funding formula (gives a school the same amount of funds for each pupil), Exam League Tables (rank each school according to their exam performance) and Competition (among schools to attract pupils).

Will Batlett argues that Marketisation leads to popular schools:

  • Cream-Skimming - Selecting higher ability pupils who gain the best results and cost less to teach
  • Silt-Shifting - Off-loading pupils with learning difficulties, who are expensive to teach and get poor results
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this is a lot more understanding than the book, thnks


glad to help:)


Very nice resource, plenty of information.

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