Class differences in achievement-Internal Factors

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Labelling in secondary schools.

 Becker- He carried out an important interactionist study of labelling. He interviewed 60 high school teachers in America, he found they judged pupils according to how closely they fitted an image of an 'ideal pupil'. Pupils work, conduct and appearance were key factors influencing teachers' judgements.

He saw that middle-class pupils were the closest to the ideal pupil, and the lower working-class as furthest away, because teachers regarded them as badly behaved.


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Labelling in primary schools

Rist's- Did a study of an American kindergarten , he found that the teacher used information about children's home background and appearance to place them in seperate groups. The fast learners tended to be middle-class and had a neat, clean appearence, the teacher would put these students closest to her and showed them the greatest encouragement.

The other groups were seated furthest away, and these groups were more likely to be working-class. They were given fewer opportunities. 


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High and low status knowledge.

 Keddie- found, both pupils and knowledge can be labelled as high/low status. The high school classes she observed were streamed by ability. Even though teachers believed they were teaching all pupils equally, in practice they taught using abstract, theoretical, high status knowledge (elaborated code- Bernstein).


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The self-fulfilling prophecy.

Self-fulfilling prophecy- a prediction that comes true simply by virtue of it being made. Interactionists(focuses on small-scale interactions between individuals and groups.Use qualitive methods) argue that labelling can affect pupils' achievement by creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. For instance: The teacher labels a pupil as smart, the teacher then treats the pupil accordingly, and then the pupil acts how he is being treated, so the prediction came true. 


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Teachers' expectations.

Rosenthal and Jacobson- Suggest that the teachers' beliefs about the pupils had been influenced by the supposed test results. This demonstrates the self-fulfilling prophecy:simply by accepting the prediction that some children would 'spurt' ahead, the teachers' brought it about. 

They used the field experiement.

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Streaming and the self-fulfilling prophecy.

Streaming involves seperating children into different ability groups/classes called streams. 

Becker- shows that teachers do not usually see working-class children as 'ideal pupils'. They see them as lacking and therefore have lower expectations of them. This creates the self-fulfilling prophecy in which the pupils live up to their teachers expectations of them by under-achieving. (Douglas found that pupils placed in a lower stream at a young age, had suffered a decline in their IQ test at a older age.)

By contrast middle-class pupils tend to benefit from streaming (Douglas proves this when he found pupils placed in a higher stream at a young age improved their IQ result when they were older)

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Pupil subcultures

A pupil subculture is a group of pupils who share similar values and behaviour patterns, they often emerge as result of labelling, and also as a reaction to streaming.

Lacey- uses concepts of differentiation and polarisation to explain how pupil subcultures develop:

  • Differentiation- The process of teachers categorising pupils according to how they percieve their ability, attitude and behaviour. Streaming is a form of differentiation, since it categorises pupils into seperate classes. 
  • Polarisation- The process in which pupils respond to streaming by moving towards one of two opposite extremes.

Streaming-Children are seperated into different ability groups/classes (streams).

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Abolishing streaming.

Ball- He found that when the school abolished banding(a type of streaming) the basis for pupils to polarise(Lacey) into subcultures was largely removed and the influence of the anti-school subculture declined (pupils placed in low streams suffer loss of self-esteem).

The positive labelling was reflected in better exam results, suggesting the self-fulfilling prophecy had occurred. Ball's study shows that class inequalities can continue as a result of teachers' labellin, even without the effect of subcultures/streaming.

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The variety of pupil responses

Woods- Responses to labelling and streaming.

  • Intigration- being the 'teachers pet'
  • Ritualism- going through the motions and staying out of trouble
  • Retreatism- daydreaming or messing around
  • Rebellion- outright rejection of everything the school stands for.
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The limitations of labelling theory.

The labelling theory is accussed of determinism. It assumes that pupils who are labelled have no choice but to fulfill the prophecy and will therefore inevitabley fail. However Fuller's study shows that this is not always true.

Marxists(Believe we all serve the needs of capitalism) criticise the labelling theory for ignoring the wider structures of power within which labelling takes place. The labelling theory blames teachers for labelling pupils, but fails to explain why they do so.

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Marketisation and selection policies.

Marketisation brought in;

  • A funding formula: which gives schools the same amount of funds for every pupil. 
  • Exam league tables: that rank each school according to its exam performance and make no allowence for the level of ability of its pupils.
  • Competition: among schools to attract pupils.
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The A-C economy and educational triage

These changes explain why schools are under pressure to stream and select pupils. For instance, schools need to achieve a good league table position if they are to attract pupils and funding.

Gillborn and Youdell- The policy of publishing league tables creates what Gillborn and Youdell call the 'A-C economy'. Schools categorise pupils into 'those who will pass away', 'those with potential' and 'hopeless cases'. Teachers do this using notions of ability in which working-class and black pupils are labelled as lacking ability.

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Competition and selection.

Marketisation also explains why schools are under pressure to select more able, largely middle-class pupils who will gain the school a higher ranking in the league tables.

Bartlett- These pressures have resulted in the increased social class segregation between schools. Bartlett argues that marketisation leads to popular schools:

  • Cream-skimming: selecting higher ability pupil, who gain the best results and cost less to teach.
  • Slit-shifting: off-loading pupils with learning difficulties, who are expensive to teach and get poor results.
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