Class Differences in Achievement


Class Differences in Achievement

  • Educational achievement can be affected by factors inside and outside the school system.
  • Internal factors include: labelling, self-fulfilling prophecy, pupils subcultures and marketisation and selection policies.
  • External Factors include: cultural deprivation, material deprivation and cultural capital.
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Internal - Labelling

  • Labelling: the process of attaching a definiton/meaning to a group of people or an individual.
  • Studies show teachers attach labels regardless of pupil's ability or attitudes.
  • Instead, they make stereotypical assumptions based on class background. Working class are often labelled negatively whilst middle class are labelled positively.
  • Becker (1971): interviewed 60 teachers and found they shared a picture of ideal pupil and this was used as a benchmark for the pupils they taught. Ideal pupil = motivation and good behaviour.
  • Pupils judeged close to this ideal were likely to be middle class and working class were furthest from the ideal, being labelled as unmotivated, having behviour problems and unlikely to succeed.
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Internal - Labelling: Rist study

  • Labelling starts from day 1 of child's educational career. 
  • Rist (1970) study of American kindergarten: teacher used information on home background and appearance to place children in groups. Those considered 'fast learners' were neat and middle class ('tigers'). She showed this group the greatest encouragement.
  • Other two groups were labelled 'cardinals' and 'clowns' and were given fewer opportunities to demonstrate abilities. More likely to be working class.
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Internal - Labelling: Keddie study

  • Some studies not only show how labelling is applied to pupils but how it is applied to the knowledge they are taught.
  • Keddie observed the introduction of Humanities course designed for all abilities.
  • Pupils were streamed (children are seperated into different ability groups or classes) but all streams followed the same humanities course and covered same content.
  • However, Keddie found even though teachers thought they were teaching pupils in the same way, they weren't. When teaching stream A they gave abstract, theoretical and high status knowledge, but stream C were given commonsense, low status, descriptive knowledge.
  • Lower streams generally contained working class (labelling) so withholding this knowledge is likely to maintain/increase class differences in achievement.
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Internal - Labelling: Gillborn and Youdell

  • Did a study that shows how schools use teachers notions of ability to decide which pupils have potential to achieve 5 A*-C GCSE's.
  • They found working class and black pupils were less likely to be percieved as having ability so were placed in lower sets and entered for lower-tier GCSE's.
  • This again widens class gap in achievement.
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Internal - Self-fulfilling Prophecy

  • Self-fulfilling prophecy is where a label is attached and the person it is applied to becomes a product of that label.
  • Rosenthal and Jacobson: study of calafornian primary shows self-fulfilling prophecy at work.
  • They told the school they had a new test that was designed to identify pupils who would spurt ahead, but it was just a IQ test.
  • All pupils were tested and they picked random 20% and told the school the test had identified these pupils.
  • After a year, the researchers returned and tested the pupils again, they found 47% of those identified had made progress.
  • Although they didn't observe classroom interaction, they claim teachers expectations can affect their pupils performance. Facial expressions, manner, posture, friendliness and encouragement produces self-fulfilling prophecy.
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Internal - Self-fulfilling Prophecy ***.

  • Self-fulfilling prophecy can also produce underachievement.
  • If teachers have low expectations and communicate those in their interaction, pupils may develop a negative self-concept.
  • They may start to see themselves as failures and give up trying, fulfilling the original prophecy.
  • Studies show self-fulfilling prophecy occurs when pupils are streamed. 
  • Becker: teachers don't see working class as ideal pupil, so they are more likely to be streamed lower. 
  • Pupils in lower streams get the message that teachers have written them off as no-hopers.
  • Creates a self-fulfilling prophecy as pupils live up to low expectations by underachieving.
  • Also works the opposite way around. Middle class benefit as streamed higher and develop more positive self-concept.
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Internal - Pupil Subcultures

  • A subculture is a group of people within society who share norms, values, attitudes and beliefs that are in someway different or opposed to mainstream culture.
  • Lacey (1970): uses concepts of differentiation (process where teachers catergorise pupils according to how they perceive their ability/attitude/behaviour) and polarisation (process where pupils respond to streaming) to explain how subcultures develop.
  • In his study of Hightown boys grammar school he found streaming polarised boys into a pro or anti-school subculture.
  • Those who formed pro-school subculture were streamed higher and were middle class. They gained status in approved way by academic success. Values matched those of school. 
  • Working class streamed lower so found alternative ways of gaining status. Did this by turning school values upside down and misbehaving.
  • Likely to become a self-fulfilling prophecy of educational failure.
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Internal - Pupil Subcultures ***.

  • Ball (1981): he found even in schools where banding and streaming didn't take place teachers continued to differentiate between pupils.
  • In his study of Beachside Comprehensive he found teachers continued to catergorise pupils differently and were more likely to label middle class cooperative and able.
  • Exam results reflected this suggesting a self-fulfilling prophecy occured.
  • His study shows class inequalities can continue as a result of teacher's labelling even without effect of streaming and subcultures.
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Internal - Limitations of Labelling Theory

  • The studies looked at are good at highlighting that schools are not neutral environments and create class inequalities, nevertheless, labelling theory has been criticised for determinism (the belief that indivudal's activities are controlled by their situation and environment and they hae no free choice/will on how they behave).
  • Labelling theory assumes pupils who have been labelled have no choice but to fulfill the prophecy and inevitably fail.
  • However, there are studies that show this isn't always the case. 
  • The labelling theory is descriptive rather than explanatory, e.g. it blames teachers for labelling pupils but fails to explain why they do.
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Internal - Marketisation and Selection Policies

  • School policies can also affect class differences in achievement.
  • One of these policies is marketisation as this introduced a funding formula, league tables and competition between schools.
  • Schools need to achieve a good leauge table result to attract pupils and funding.
  • This can widen class gap in achievement as schools are put under pressure to select pupils.
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Internal - Marketisation and Selection Policies: T

  • The policy of publishing league tables creates what Gillborn and Youdell call the A-C economy.
  • This system is where schools concentrate on those pupils they perceive as having the potential to achieve 5 grade C's at GCSE in order to boost position in leauge tables.
  • This process they call the 'educational traige;.
  • By this they mean schools catergorise pupils into 'those that will pace anyway', 'those with potential', and 'hopeless cases'. 
  • This is done by using notions of ability whereby working class and ethnic pupils are labelled as 'lacking ability'.
  • Therefore producing the self-fulfilling prophecy and failure.
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Internal - Marketisation and Selection Policies: C

  • Marketisation also explains why schools are under pressure to select more able, largely middle class pupils.
  • Those with a good leauge table position will be better placed to attract more able students.
  • This in turn will affect the results and position in the leauge table, increasing its popularity.
  • Whilst, unpopular schools have to take less able students, so results stay poor and position in league table doesn't attract more able students.
  • Evidnce suggest marketisation and selection process create a polarised education system.
  • On one side of extreme there is the popular, successful schools with middle class intake and on the other there is the unpopular, failing schools with less able, working class pupils.
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External - Cultural Deprivation

  • Cultural deprivation theorists argue that children begin to acquire the basic values, attitudes and skills needed for success through primary socialisation. 
  • The basic 'cultural equipment' includes language, self-discipline and reasoning skills. 
  • However, cultural deprivation theorists argue many working class families fail to socialise their children adequately, therefore such children grow up 'culturally deprived'.
  • There are 3 main aspects of cultural deprivation: intellectual development, language and attitudes and values.
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External - Cultural Deprivation: Intellectual Deve

  • This refers to the development of thinking and reasoning skills, like the ability to solve problems and use ideas and concepts.
  • Cultural deprivation theorists argue that many working class homes lack the books, educational toys and activities that would stimulate a child's intellectual development.
  • JWB Douglas (1964): working class pupils score lower on ability tests than middle class. He argued this was because working class parents were less likely to support their child's intellectual development through reading with them or other educational activities.
  • Bernstein and Young (1967): the way mothers think about and choose toys has an influence on child's intellectual development. Middle class mothers are more likely to choose toys that encourage thinking and reasoning skills that prepare kids for school.
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External - Cultural Deprivation: Language

  • Bernstein found forms of communication used by working class were different from those required by school.
  • He developed a theory that related social class, family relationships, speech patterns and educational experience.
  • He identified 2 forms of speech patterns:
  • Restricted code - type of shorthand, explanations not given, info taken for granted, considerable amount of shared knowledge between speaker and listener.
  • Elaborated code - meanings are explicit, explanations and detail given. Tends not to be tied to a friendship grouping, meanings can be understood by everyone.
  • Bernstein argues middle class are socialised in both codes but working class are limited to restricted code.Working class are then placed at disadvantage as unlikely to understand what teachers say
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External - Cultural Deprivation: Attitudes and val

  • Cultural deprivation theorists argue parents attitudes and values are a key factor affecting educational achievement.
  • JWB Douglas (1964): working class parents place less value on education, were less ambitious for kids and gave less encouragement.
  • They also visited schools less and were less likely to discuss child progress with teachers - children had lower levels of motivation. HOWEVER, he fails to remember they may work two jobs or full time and can't attend parents evening.
  • Feinstein (1998): working class parents lack of interest was main reasons for kids underachievement.  It was found more important than financial hardships or factors within school.
  • He argues middle class are more successful as parents provide them with necessary motivation, discipline and support.
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External - Cultural Deprivation: Attitudes and val

  • ***.
  • Theorists argue lack of parental interest reflects subcultural values of working class. 
  • It is argued large sections of the working class have different goals, beliefs, attitudes and values from the rest of society and that is why their kids fail.
  • Hyman (1964): values and beliefs of lower classes are a 'self-imposed barrier' to success.
  • Lower classes believe they have less opportunity for individual advancement and place little value on achieving high status jobs so see no point in education.
  • Less willing to make sacrifices involved in staying on at school and leave early to take manual work. 
  • Subcultural beliefs ensure they neither want educational success nor know how to get it.
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External - Cultural Deprivation: Compensatory Ed

  • Compensatory education is a policy designed to tackle problem of cultural deprivation by providing resources to schools and communities in deprived areas.
  • Compensatory education programmes attempt to intervene early in socialisation process to compensate kids for the deprivation they experience at home.
  • Best known of these programmes is Operation Head Start in the US: a multi-billion dollar sceme of pre-school education in poorer areas introduced in the 60's. Included improving parenting skills, setting up nursery classes, home visits by health workers and education psychologists and the creation of intensive learning programmes for deprived children
  • Sesame Street was part of this, was a means of reaching young children and transmitting values for educational success.
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External - Cultural Deprivation: Compensatory Ed

  • ***.
  • In Britain there have been several compensatory education programmes.
  • Educational Priority areas introduced in 60's and Education Action Zones introduced in 90's.
  • A nationwide programme, Sure Start aimed at pre-school children and parents was launched in 2000.
  • Although this has non-educational goals like improving children's health it has similar qualities to earlier compensatory education programmes.
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External - Myth of Cultural Deprivation

  • Keddie (1973): says cultural deprivation is a myth and sees it as a victim-blaming explanation.
  • She disagrees with idea that failure at school can be blamed on a culturally derprived home background.
  • She points out that a child cannot be culturally deprived in its own culture and instead she argues working class are simply culturally different not deprived.
  • Blackstone and Mortimore (1994): working class parents attend fewer parents evening not because of lack of interest but because they work longer, less regular hours or are put off by middle class atmosphere. They may want to help their child but lack the education to know how to do so.
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External - Material Deprivation

  • Material deprivation refers to poverty and lack of material necessities such as adequate housing and income.
  • Poverty is closely linked to educational underachievement.
  • E.G. in 2006 only 33% of children receiving free school meals gained 5 or more GCSE's at A*-C compared to 61% not receiving free school meals.
  • There is a close link between poverty and social class as working class families are more likely to have low incomes or inadequate housing. These factors can affect their child's education in several ways.
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External - Material Deprivation: Housing

  • Poor housing can affect pupils' achievement both directly and indirectly.
  • Overcrowding can have a direct affect as it makes it difficult for the child to study and disturbed sleep from sharing bedrooms.
  • Young children especially can have development affected by lack of space for safe play and exploration.
  • Indirect effect is on the child's health and welfare. In crowded houses there is greater risk of accident.
  • Cold, damp hoses can cause ill health, which means mroe absences from school.
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External - Material Deprivation: Diet and Health

  • Howard (2001): children from poorer homes have lower intake of energy, vitamins and minerals.
  • Poor nutrition affects health through weakening immune system and lowering energy levels, this may result in more absences from school and further problem of focusing in class.
  • Children from poorer homes are also more likely to have emotional or behavioural problems.
  • Wilkinson (1996): among 10 year olds, the lower the social class the higher rate of hyperactivity, anxiety and conduct disorders. All of these are likely to have a negative effect on the child's education.
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External - Material Deprivation: Finance and cost

  • Lack of financial support means children from poorer families have to do without equipment and miss outon experiences that would enhance educational achievement.
  • Tanner et al (2003): study in Oxford: the cost of items such as transport, unifroms, books, computers, calculators and sports, music and art equipment places a heavy burden on poor families.
  • Poor children have to make do with hand-me-downs and cheaper but unfashionable equipment, which may result in being stigmatised or bullied. 
  • Lack of funds means children from low income backgrounds need to work.
  • Ridge (2002): children in poverty take on jobs (baby sitting, cleaning and paper rounds) which has a negative impact on schoolwork,  such financial restrictions explain why kids leave school at 16 and why few go to uni.
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External - Cultural and Material Factors

  • While material factors clearly play a part, the fact some children from poor families succeed suggests material deprivation is only part of the explanation.
  • Cultural, religious and political values of the family may play a part in creating and sustaining a child's motivation, despite poverty.
  • Also the quality of the school may play an important role in enabling some poor children to achieve.
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External - Cultural Capital

  • Cultural capital is the knowledge, attitudes, values, language, tastes and abilities that the middle class transmit to their children.
  • Bourdieu (1984): both cultural and material factors contribute to educational achievement and are not seperate but interrelated.
  • The term capital usually refers to wealth but Bourdieu identifies further: educational capital (refers to qualifications and cultural capital.) 
  • He sees middle class culture as a type of culture because like wealth it gives an advantage to those who possess it.
  • Like Bernstein he argues through socialisation middle class kids aqcuire the ability to grasp, analyse and express abstract ideas. They are more likely to develop intellectual interests and an understanding of what the education system requires for success.
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External - Cultural Capital ***

  • This gives middle class an advantage at school where such abilities and interests are highly valued and rewarded with qualifications.
  • In contrast, working class find that school devalues there culture as 'rough' and inferior.
  • Their lack of cultural capital leads to exam failure. Many working class 'get the message' that education is not for them and respond through truanting, leaving early or just not trying.
  • Bourdieu argues cultural, economic and educational capital can be converted into one another, for instance, middle class with cultural capital are more equipped to meet the demands of the school curriculum to gain qualifications.
  • Likewise, wealthier parents can convert their economic capital by sending their children to private schools or paying for extra tuition.
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External - Cultural Capital 3

  • Leech and Campos (2003) study of Coventry: middle cass parents are more likely to be able to afford a house in the catchment area of a school that is highly placed in league tables.
  • Sullivan (2001) tests Bourdieu's ideas: she used a questionnaire to survey 456 pupils in 4 schools. In order to assess cultural capital she asked them about things like reading, TV viewing habits and whether they visited art galleries, museums and theatres.
  • She found those who read complex fiction and watched serious TV developed a wider vocab and greater cultural knowledge. Those with greatest cultural capital were children of graduates and more likely to be successful at GCSE. 
  • Also found, cultural capital accounted for only a part of the class differences in achievment. Where pupils from different social classes had same level of cultural capital middle class still did better.
  • She concludes the greater resources and aspirations of middle class families explain the remainder of class gap in achievement.
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External - Marketisation and Parental Choice

  • One key question sociologists have been asking since 1988 ERA is whether increased parental choice has benefitted one social class more than the other.
  • Gerwitz study of 14 London schools and Bourdieu's ideas are used to explain findings: found differences in economic and cultural capital lead to class differences in how far parents can exercise choice of secondary school.
  • She identifies three main types of parents:
  • Privelliged-skilled choosers
  • Disconnected-local choosers
  • Semi-skilled choosers
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External - Marketisation and Parental Choice

  • Privileged-skilled choosers: these are mainly professional middle class parents who use their economic and cultural capital to gain educational capital for their children.
  • Such parents use cultural capital to approach schools, present and mount a case, maintain pressure and make an impact.
  • Their economic capital meant they could afford to move their child around the education system to get the best e.g. paying extra travelling costs.
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External - Marketisation and Parental Choice

  • Disconnected-local choosers: these are working class parents whose choices are restricted by their lack of economic and cultural capital.
  • They found it difficult to understand school admissions and are less confident in their dealings with the school.
  • Distance and cost of travel is a major restriction and with their funds limited the local comprehensive was often the only realistic option for their children.
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External - Marketisation and Parental Choice

  • Semi-skilled choosers: these were also mainly working class parents but unlike the disconnected-local choosers they were ambitious for their children.
  • These too lack cultural capital and had difficulty making sense of the education market and often had to rely on others' opinions of the school.
  • Gerwitz concludes middle class families are better placed to take advantage of opportunities due to cultural and economical capital.
  • In theory, the education market gives everyone a choice but in practice it is those who possess cultural and economic capital who have more choice.
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