Marxists argue that schools are produced by and run by the middle class. The forms of knowledge, values and ways of behaving in school are middle class. Middle class students possess these middle class skills, which Bourdieu, a Marxist sociologist, calls cultural capital. Working class pupils are unlikely to possess cultural capital therefore don’t have the same chances to succeed. Bourdieu argues that middle class students are more likely to do better at school than working class students because they possess cultural capital.
Sullivan carried out a questionnaire on children approaching school-leaving age in four schools in England. He found that children were more likely to be successful if they read more complex fiction and watched TV programmes such as science and current affairs documentaries. Pupils who read widely and watched sophisticated TV developed wider vocabularies and greater knowledge of cultural figures and this was reflected in exam performance. Graduate parents in higher professions had children with the most cultural capital and who were most successful in exams.
A criticism on Bourdieu’s explanation of cultural capital is that surely working class students can learn the forms of knowledge, values and ways of behaving.