Class Differences in Achievement

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Cultural Deprivation Theory

  • Some parents fail to transmit the appropriate norms, values, attitudes, knowledge and skills - the 'right' culture for educational success.

There are 3 factors which are responsible for working class underachievment:

Intellectual Stimulation - working class parents are less likely to give their children educational toys, and activities that will stimulate their thinking and reasoning skills, and they are less likely to read to them.

    • Affects their intellectual development, so when they begin school they are at a disadvantage compared to middle class students.

Speech codes - BERNSTEIN distinguishes between elaborated and restricted code:

RESTRICTED: (working class). Less analytical and more descriptive, it has a limited vocab and simple sentences. It is particularistic, it assumes the listener holds the same view as the speaker so they don't spell out what they mean.

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Cultural Deprivation Theory

ELABORATED: (middle class). More analytic, with a wide vocab and complex sentences. Its universalistic - speaks spell out their meanings explicitly and doesn't assume the listener shares them.

  • Elaborated code is used by teachers, in textbooks and exams and by university interviewers - gives the middle class and educational advantage.

Working Class Subculture - 3 aspects that contribute to underachievment:

  • IMMEDIATE GRATIFICATION - wanting rewards now rather than making sacrifices, working hard now to get future rewards. (Deferred Gratification practised by the middle class)'
  • FATALISM - 'whatever will be, will be'. Working class children don't believe they can improve their position through their own efforts.
  • LOW VALUE OF EDUCATION - HYMAN: working class don't value education so they don't try. DOUGLAS: working class parents show less interest in their children's education and give them less support. E.g. less likely to attend parents evenings.
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Criticisms of the Cultural Deprivation Theory

  • It ignores the importance of material factors such as poverty.
  • It ignores the impact of school factors, such as negative labelling by teachers.
  • It blames the victim for their failure. Critics argue the working class arent culturally deprived, they simply have a different culture from the school and are therefore at a disadvantage.
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Material Deprivation

Poor Housing - overcrowding, cold/damp rooms means pupils have nowhere quiet to do work. Being homeless or living in temporary accomodation may mean frequent moves and changes of schools

Poor Diet - can lead to illness, absences from schools and lack of concentration in class due to hunger.

Low income - it can affect educational achievment in several ways:

  • Lack of educational materials e.g. books, computer, wifi.
  • Lack of the right uniform/fashion items, may lead to bullying.
  • Not being able to afford university fees.
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Cultural Capital Theory

BOURDIEU (marxist) argues middle class pupils are more successful than working class pupils as their parents possess more 'capital' or assets. The capital comes in two forms:

  • CULTURAL CAPITAL - the attitudes, values, skills and knowledge etc of the middle class.
  • ECONOMIC CAPITAL - the wealth that middle class families own.


  • Middle class use their greater economic and cultural capital to give their children an advantage by using it to obtain educational capital - QUALIFICATIONS.
  • This allows their children to get middle class jobs, and more economic capital - reproducing the advantages of the middle class from generation to generation.
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School Factors

Labelling: meanings/defintions we attach to someone or something to make sense of them. Labelling underlies many of the other processes within schools that causes underachievment.

BECKER - teachers label middle class children as 'ideal pupils' and prefer to teach them rather than working-class students.

The self-fulfilling prophecy: A prophecy is a prediction made about something or someone and the prophecy comes true simply because it has been made. Teachers can create self-fulfilling prophecys through labels - studies show 'what teachers believe, pupils achieve'. Teachers believe middle class students to be bright, they succeed, Whilst working class children are likely to be labelled negatively and therefore fail.

Streaming: its an instiutionalised form of labelling, it puts all pupils of a similar ability together in the same class or 'stream' for all subjects. 'Bright pupils' are put together in the TOP stream, and 'thick' students in the bottom. It often creates a self fulfilling prophecy.

LACEY - describes streaming as differentation, a way of separating sheep from goats and then educating them differently.

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School Factors

Pupil Subcultures: a subculture is a group whose beliefs, values and attitubes differ to some extent from the culture of wider society.

  • Pro-school subcultures: formed by pupils in higher streams. They accept the schools values and goals of hard work, regular attendence and respect for teachers etc. They enjoy school, participate enthusiastically in activities and intend to continue in education.
  • Anti-school subcultures: formed by pupils in lower streams. They reject the schools values and often invert them. They dislike its school, flount the rules, disrespect teachers, avoid doing schoolwork, play truant and sabotage their uniform.

LACEY - pupils join/form anti-school subcultures as they are deprived of status by being labelled as failures by the school. These pupils create their own status heirarchy: gain status from their peers by rejecting the schools values and breaking its rules.

They often lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy: members of pro-school subcultures work hard and are successful, whilst those in anti-school subcultures mess about, truant and fail.

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