Sociology - Education


The Role of Education

1870 Education Act - declared that schools needed to be set up in inadequate areas .

1918 Education Act - The State were responsible for children's education until they were 14. In 1997 this was raised to 18.

The main reason for rapid expansion of education in Britain - was the belief that an improved education was required for economic success. Education was starting to be seen as important.

The State Education System, started teaching values and beliefs, which would benefit society.

Today education is seen as important, as it teaches and encourages certain attitudes and values.

However sociological perspectives have different views about the Education System and its values.

The 5 perspectives are - Functionalism, Marxism, New Right, Feminism, Postmodernism

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  • The education system benefits the individual and society.
  • The education system is fair.
  • Meritocracy - if you work hard and are talented, then you will succeeed, so everyone has an equal chance of succeeding.
  • Education plays a part in 'Secondary Socialisation' and passes on 'Core values'

Durkheim and Parsons

  • Durkheim - education is an important part of socialisation - it allows people to integrate fully into society - this encourages social solidarity.
  • Parsons - school helps improve particularistic standards of the home (you are an individual) to the 'universalistic standards' of school (everyone is equal) - Children will be treated differently by their parents according to personality.

Davis and Moore (1945)

  • School acts as a bridge between the home and the rest of society - preparing children for the economy. 
  • Education provides skills the economy needs, e.g IT skills
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Criticisms of the Functionalist's argument

It is wrong to claim that the education system is meritocratic - as there are differences in class, gender and enthnicity and its connection to education.

Marxist argue that Functionalism ignores the inequalities and unequal power that exist in education e.g. working class boys and some ethnic groups persistently underperform.

Functionalists ignore the negative experiences of education.

Functionalism does not look at how education serves the interests of particular groups in terms of ideology and values

Interactionists (interpretivists) think that functionalists don't focus enough on the individual.

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The New Right

  • Education should be based on the same ideas as a free market or business.
  • Parental choice is positive and important in education - parents should be allowed to pick and choose the school they send their children to and schools should compete against each other.  e.g. League Tables 
  • The Education System should offer everyone the same opportunities, and that all children should be able to choose a school that suits their needs and have individual choice
  • They are concerned with the current education system.  

New Right - 1979-97 - emerged when Margaret Thatcher was PM - she wanted to privatise and reduce the role of the State on education. Therefore the education system should provide the key skills and values to encourage young people to take responsibility for themselves.

The Coalition Government 2010-15 - Michael Gove, developed the marketisation and privatisation within schools. However New Right politicians wanted to return back to A - levels with fewer subjects and create better parental choice through a wider range of school.

The Conservative Government 2015 - Parents should still have access  to a greater number of schools. Many schools have become funded academies. There is a strong emphasis on British Values to combat extremism - keen to expand grammar schools.

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New Right Criticisms

New Right policies have increased inequalities within education and widened the gap between the Working Class and Middle Class.

Although parents and students appear to be offered a greater choice of schools - this is an illusion as a choice is only available to those who can afford it and have the skills to succeed e.g. Private Schools, Grammar Schools, Boarding Schools etc.

Many Working Class families cannot afford to send their children to school, if it is not the local comprehensive. Marketisation has led to a greater gap between the student who succeeds and the student who does not. 

Privatisation of education does not produce a positive outcome as these ideas don't need to be brought into education. The quality of education goes down when money and profit  and results become the priority over the welfare of the students.

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Marxist View

  • The Education System maintains the Capitalist System by producing willing and docile workers. It is there to brainwash children into accepting their position within the class system.
  • The Education System encourages the correct values and attitudes to uphold capitalism e.g. reward for hard work, competitions etc

Bowles and Gintis (1976)

  • The Myth of Meritocracy - the idea that the education system claims to be fair and offers everyone equal opportunities for success. Instead it produces class inequalities. Working Class pupils go through education without achieving very much, wheras the middle class learn how to be sucessful.
  • The Correspondence Principle - The education system mirrors the world of work - school is preparing students for their future roles at work. (W/C - get low paid jobs M/C & U/C - become owners for the means of production, with high status and high paid jobs)
  • The Hidden Curriculum - learning which is not directly taught in schools e.g. Punctuality, Uniform, accepting authority. The schools transmit messages to the students about the important values and norms of society deemed acceptable and expected from everyone.
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Marxist View 2

Education legitimises inequalities through Ideology 

Althusser (1971)

  • Education shapes the ideas of students, so they think the education system is fair - students are less likely to challenge the education system - this allows for a capitalist society to continue.
  • The Education System is part of the Ideological state apparatus - this means certain institutions shape people's ideas so they don't challenge capitalism.

Bourdieu (1977)

The Middle Class have an advantage within the education system as they possess a 'Cultural Capital' - a set of ideas and tastes which are converted into material rewards later in life. Middle Class and Upper Class students have been raised to allow for greater success in schools - as the school values will be similar to their values at home.

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Marxism Criticism

Marxists are too deterministic - they just assume that all working class pupils are going to fail their education - this is not always the case. Some pupils work very hard, to help their families.

There are other factors, not just social class that affect educational outcomes. e.g. Ethnicity, Gender etc

In today's society the education system is very complex and no longer an agreed consensus. Therefore how relevant can Marxist views be considered.

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Feminist View

Until the early 1990s girls were overlooked in education and their results were much lower than boys. Recently girls' results have improved dramatically, with girls now outperforming boys at all levels of education. 

  • However according to Feminist View, the education system still maintains patriarchal ideology (ideas which reflect male dominance) 
  • Liberal Feminist - agree that in the last 20 years girls achievement has increased.
  • However girls still choose predominantly 'female" subjects and go on to take less powerful and lower paid jobs. The Hidden Curriculum reinforces gender differences.

Gendered Subject choices

Francis (2000) - even though girls do better than boys, they still conform to gendered ideas - when students choose their subjects, most girls go for written based subjects e.g. English, RS, Sociology than the STEM subjects, whereas for the boys they go for the STEM stubjects. This pattern continues through to A- levels and degree level. 

Feminists argue that women choose careers with lower pay because: Gendered Socialisation -internalisation of norms and values in society. Creation of gender identity in schools. The 'male gaze' - women conform to men's expectations. Gender domains - imagined spaces that are perceived to be male and female orientated

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Interpretivist views

They don't seek the structural influences of education, rather explore the meanings behind why they exist within education. 

  •  Becker (1960/70s)
  • Labelling Theory - teachers assign powerful labels to students - these labels have an affect on the chances of the students' success in education. These students internalise this label and start to follow a 'self fulfilling prophecy' - and the student starts to live up to the label. Marxist and Willis (1977) have developed the labelling theory.
  • Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968)
  • The effect of labelling theory - Teachers were given false information about 20% of their students. The strong students were told they were failing and weaker students were told they were succeeding. These students showed significant progress at the end, wheras there was an opposite effect for the other pupils.
  • Willis (1977)
  • Macho lads - he researched these working class lads - These lads saw learning as a waste of time - they were learning how to do a bare minimum amount of work to succeed - they were aiming for low paid jobs
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Postmodern Views

We live in a Postmodern era. Education needs to be understood in terms of the changes to the wider society. e.g. Globalisation.

Education is responding to changing workforce demands e.g. IT skills

Usher et al (1997)

Schools are focusing on individual's learning styles, using developed technology. Post modernists focus on the role of technology in changing pupils' experience of education.

Education and Globalisation 

  • Postmodernists point out that the Education System is influenced by the process of globalisation - as seen by the way politicians are being influenced by international policies.
  • Globalisation process helps with assessing how people access education in different societies.
  • Globalisation has resulted in an increase in migration - affecting the education system e.g. English is their 2nd language.
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Social Class and Educational Achievement

Perry & Francis (2010) - social class is the most important factor in determining educational outcome.
Free school meals can be used to measure social economic differences in education.
Poorer children are more likely to go to the lowest performing school or the free comprehensive. More likely to have special educational needs.

Both home (external) and school (internal) factors can explain different educational outcomes.


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Material Deprivation

'Refers to a lack of things leading to a poor educational outcome. Mainly associated with working and lower class families'.

  • Poor Diet - leading to poor health, resulting in time off school - wrong type of food can lead to behavioural problems e.g. too much sugar leading to hyperactivity.
  • Poor Housing - unsafe work conditions - over-crowded homes, mean that there is insufficient  workspace, so students struggle with revision, assignments and homework.
  • School Uniform - may lead to bullying if they can't afford the latest uniform or fashion. Further increase of labelling from teachers and pupils - leading to truancy.
  • Lack of resources - e.g. computers/internet -  making it very difficult for students to complete work outside school.  Parents may struggle to help their child with school work.
  • Finance - parents may be in financial difficulty so need to work long hours, meaning there is a lack of communication between parents and children, lack of bonding. 
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External Factors - Cultural Deprivation

'Refers to the lack of appropriate norms and values'  which leads to lower educational outcomes 

  • Language Codes - Bernstein (1972) - the language they learn from their parents at home can affect educational success. Language used in school is predominantly middle class - so those from a middle class background will feel comfortable in that environment.
  • Types of Language code - Restricted language code - associated with working class. Elaborated language code - associated with middle class. Middle class pupils will have an advantage in English (written and spoken) as their grammar and vocabulary will be more sophisticated.
  • Culture Clash - between home and school - working class pupils see school as very different from their home,  so struggle to settle into school life - while middle class pupils love school and find the transition easier.
  • Douglas (1964) - lack of support from parents e.g. with homework, attending parents evenings and general support.
  • Bourdieu (1977 - Marxist) Cultural Capital - middle class pupils have the same tastes, values and interests which give them an advantage within education. e.g. Introduced to Shakspeare and similar texts
  • Sugarman (1970) - Collectivism: Time Orientations: Fatalism: Immediate Gratification - these 4 features of working-class culture prevent working class pupils succeeding
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Internal Factors

Becker (1971)

  • Labelling and Self - fulfilling prophecy - is a powerful process in education. When a child is labelled it can have a positive or negative effect on a child's education. e.g. typically, according to some teachers,  working class pupils are deemed to be less bright and less well behaved, whereas middle class pupils are 'ideal students'.
  • Becker argues that once the label is placed, it cannot be undone - pupils internalise the label - leading to a self-fulilling prophecy. Not everyone accepts their label - some reject them and even though some have a negative label they do well, to prove the teacher wrong.

Lacey (1970)

  • Teachers label students as being able or not able 'pro-school and anti-school' - The 'pro-school' are mainly middle class and the 'anti - school' are often working class.

White (2005)

  • What is taught at school, or the curriculum, is based around middle class knowledge - putting working class children at a disadvantage. School rewards pupils who have extra knowledge (typical middle class) - putting working class pupils at a disadvantge.
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Gender, Educational Achievement - External Factors

The Changing Role of women - there are more and more women role models promoting the idea that  women can succeed in education and their careers. Women are becoming more career centred.

Sharpe (1994) - compared the changes in the aspirations of girls in the 1970s and the 1990s, to show that girls' priorities had changed from being home and family centred in the 1970s, to prioritising their careers in the 1990s.  For men the world of work is changing from what was once a male dominated manual labour workforce, to becoming integrated with administration and communication, which appear to suit some women more - leading to a 'crisis of masculinity'.

Laws and policies - laws promoting equal opportunities for men  and women have helped women feel more able to be treated equally in the workplace and encouraging them to do well at school.

Out of school activities

Kelly (1987)boys and girls engage in different activites outside of school, which encourage different skills in education .

McRobbie (1991) - outside school, girls have a 'bedroom culture' - working hard and being tidy is more of a priority.- whereas boys are more sporty and physical and don't do work effectively.

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Gender, Educational Achievement - Internal Factors

Labelling - Francis (2000) - teachers are important in creating gender identity in school - teachers label girls as hard working and capable, whereas boys are seen as less able and more disruptive.

Subcultures - Epstein (1998) - boys often feel pressured by their friends to be 'hard' and have a bad work ethic or else they may be bullied and be subject to peer pressure. Girls tend to go for 'pro-school subcultures' - however there are many exceptions when it is the other way round.

Gender and Subject choice

  • Francis (2000) - Even when given a choice, boys and girls choose stereotypical subjects associated with their gender.


  • Browne and Mitsos (1991) - gender domains - imaginary territories that are male and female e.g. science is male, English is female
  • Skelton (2012) - Encouragement from teachers and parents - to go for subjects they feel are more suitable for that child's academic ability and sometimes gender.
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Ethnicity and Educational Achievment

There is a strong pattern between ethnicity and educational achievement.

  • e.g. Chinese students achieve well above-average,
  • Whereas Pakistani students get below average.
  • Black Afro - Caribbean students are 3x more likely to be excluded from school.
  • For students where English is their 2nd language, varies from group to group, but these groups are likely to make more progress.

There are both Internal and External factors which can be applied to Ethnicity

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Ethnicity - External Factors

Discrimination in wider society - Some ethnic groups experience higher rates of poverty and discrimination and are over-represented in prison population. Suggesting differences in education is more complex. Discrimination against job applicants with foreign-sounding name.

Material Deprivation - there is a correlation between poverty and educational underperformance - there are high levels of poverty in Pakistan, Bangladesh - there is poor housing, diet and lack of money for materials for schools.

Cultural Deprivation - Every ethnic group reacts differently to their culture - some groups place high value on education e.g. Indian and Chinese - while other groups don't. Indian and Chinese families focus on honour of the family and failure is not an option, they instill a strict workforce.

Family Structure - Sewell (2010) - the reason why Black Afro-Caribbean students don't do well in education is because they lack  a male role model - 59% of families are female-headed single parent families.

Language - In England, one-in-six students has English as their second language - this can be a barrier to some students, who have to learn this language. Engelmann and Bereitier (1966) - claimed that  language has a significant impact on school progress.

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Ethnicity - Internal Factors

Lupton (2005) - Based on the 2001 school census and population census - ethnic minorities experience higher levels of isolation and segregation within school than outside school.

Labelling - Teachers attaching a label based on class, gender and ethnicity - this leads to either a positive or negative self-fulfilling prophecy. While some ethnic groups are labelled positively e.g. Chinese and white middle class pupils. others are labelled negatively e.g. Afro-Caribbean students - who can be threatening.

Institutional racism - Intentional or unintentional repeated cases of racism taking place within an industry. e.g. disciplining some ethnic groups more harshly.

Marketisation - Running a school like a business can actively disadvantage some ethnic groups who may not be fully aware of how to play the system - e.g. glossy prospectuses - might be in a different language - or they may not understand the application process - some ethnic groups might not be able to afford to send their children to school.

Ethnocentric curriculum - a curriculum that reflects the views that British culture is superior to other cultures is called ethnocentric. e.g. following a Christian calendar, festivals and celebrations but not exploring other cultures. A focus on 'British values'

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Relationships and Processes within Schools

Labelling - Teachers label students in different ways e.g. achievers, low-achievers, trouble maker, teachers pet. Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968) - refer back to other cards

Subcultures.- a small group within a larger group with norms and values which are in some way different to those of the wider society. Lacey (1970) - 2 subcultures - Pro-school and Anti-school - depending on the group, depended on the success rate. - Refer back to other cards

Social Class - Middle class form pro-school subcultures and working class students form anti-school subcultures - refer back to other cards.

Ethnicity - Subcultures and labels can create barriers. Fuller (1984) - Afro Caribbean girls rejected their labels and developed strategies to do well, independently of their teachers.

Gender - Girls do better in schools, forming pro-school subcultures - McRobbie (1991) - girls have a  'bedroom culture' - refer back to other cards. 

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Streaming and Setting & the Curriculum

Streaming and Setting

Placing students into groups according to ability has several advantages and disadvantages. The intention is to ensure that students share a similar level of ability to provide teaching levels that suit them - to help improve confidence and progress.

  • It is a powerful form of labelling which can shape students' educational outcomes - may reject the class, prefer to be with friends etc.
  • Gillborn and Youdell (2000) - setting helps schools improve their percentage of students who get GCSE A* - C and A-C at A level - a massive result due to Marketisation.


  • The 'National Curriculum' - is written by the Government. It affects Class, Gender and Ethnicity 
  • Class - benefits Middle Class students - it is less relevant for Working Class students 
  • Gender - differences throughout the cirriculum e.g. more coursework favours girls than boys.
  • Ethnicity - Coard (1971) - the curriculum is ethnocentric
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Teachers Expectations and School Rules

Teachers can impact on educational achievement by acting as a role model to the students.

  • Class - Teachers are qualified and likely middle class - can form a culture class for working class students making it difficult to connect with home and school. Middle - class pupils can relate to teachers.
  • Gender - schools have become increasingly dominated by female members of staff - Sewell (2010)  the 'feminisation of education' - resulting in fewer male role models.
  • Ethnicity - There are fewer ethnic minorities in senior teaching positions - especially in schools where there are higher numbers of ethnic minorities. This may discourage ethnic minorities  -  lack of role models.

School Rules

Include: Behaviour, the timetable, calendar, Uniform. Some rules can conflict some ethnic groups and reinforce powerful messages  

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Resources within education

This includes: Textbooks, visual aids, equipment, wall displays, food.

School Prospectuses - the materials used promote the school - e.g. glossy paper - they reflect the important values of the school - they talk about the 'ideal student'.

It is harder for students with English as their second language or don't speak English to understand the prospectus.

Some parents may struggle with the admission procedures, league tables etc so may struggle to decide which school to send their child to. Middle Class parents are more likely to move into the catchment area of good schools.

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Educational Policies 1

Educational policies before 1979

  • 1870s Education Act - every child in Britain had access to education
  • 1918s - Education Act extended compulsory education to 14
  • 1944 Butler Act - compulsory education to 15 - 11+ test was introduced - this determined what school you went to - Grammar, Technical, Comprehensive.
  • The Butler Act was introduced to create 'vocational education' - give pupils training, so they can go straight into work.
  • 1965 - the Comprehsive school - became a 'one size fits all' school - where Working Class and Middle Class students mixed - however this formed subcultures.
  • 1979 - education became compulsory to 16.
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Educational Policies 2

New Right : Conservative policies 1979 -97

  • Education Reform Act (1988) - created by Margaret Thatcher 
  • The National Curriculum - all students, regardless of class took the same core subjects till they were 16. This meant girls could not opt out of science  and maths - this improved their performance.
  • Parental Choice - this Act offered parents the chance to decide which school they felt most suited their child. However parents would have to pay for transport  or move to the area where the better school was - introduction of Parentocracy
  • Ofsted - a Government System which inspected all schools across the country to check their level of performance, and publishing exam results and reports on the school. Mainly Middle Class parents used these stats.
  • League Tables - exam results of all schools were published for the public to be able to compare 'success rates' - mainly middle class parents used this data
  • Opting out of local authorities - schools could manage their own finances and decide what to spend their money on.
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Educational Policies 3

The New Labour era 1997 - 2010

Tony Blair - the marketisation of education - but make education fair for all students.

  • Academies were introduced - independent, state funded  schools, which receive funding from the Government rather than the Local Authority.
  • Free Childcare for pre school children - to allow mothers to return to work and all pre school children are ready for school - created to reduce cultural deprivation and everyone enters school at an equal level.
  • Sure Start - initiative aimed at improving parent skills to reduce cultural deprivation. e.g parent groups, free activities etc
  • Excellence in Cities 1999 - raise the aspiration of working class students, by giving extra funding for schools in deprived areas e.g. laptops and Learning Support Centres.
  • Stricter Ofsted guidance on 'failing schools - schools that were persistently underperforming have to show a sign of improvement or risk closure.
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Educational Policies 4

The Coalition Government 2010 - 15 

David Cameron Conservative Party, merged with Nick Clegg Liberal Democrates - Micheal Gove was appointed Education Minister - who made many changes.

  • Introduction to 2 year A-levels - making it impossible for pupils to re-sit AS levels and raise their overall A-level grade. Reduce the amount of coursework -based assessments and cutting subjects.
  • A Pupil Premium - help disadvantaged children in schools
  • The Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) - this allowance aimed to help disadvantaged children to continue with futher education was scrapped.
  • Tuition fees increased - making it difficult for poorer students to get into higher education 
  • Reintroducing old fashioned discipline in schools - education is necessary and correct - refer to New Right Policies.
  • Introduction of free schools - parent run schools as an alternative.
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Educational Policies 5

The Conservative Government 2015

  • Futher cutting in funding for schools and marginalising children with a focus on cost effective schools
  • Introduction of private companies within schools
  • Pressure for Secondary Schools to become academies
  • Set texts will be used for English at GCSE and A-level
  • British Values are being pushed more than ever - as a deterent to preventing radicalisation  and terrorism.
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The effects of polices on Class, Gender and Ethnic

Social Class

  • Marketisation put great pressure on schools to perform. Gilborn and Youdell (2000) - marketisation results in the rationing of education.
  • Parent choice favours Middle Class  parents who are able to use their cultural capital and skills to choose good schools.
  • Increase in tuition fees mean Working Class students are unable to afford to go to university, even with student loans.


  • The 1988 Education Reform Act had a huge impact on girls educational outcomes 
  • Polices aimed at increasing girls' participation in science and technology - WISE and GIST


  • There are attempts to make the curriculum and the experience of school more multicultural. However Micheal Gove keeps pushing to prioritise British Culture and British Values in English and History.
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The Impact of Globalisation on education

Globalisation - the world is becoming more interconnected. increasing opportunities for Trade and exchange of ideas.

  • There is a greater awareness in the UK of education in various parts of the world resulting in different styles of teaching and learning in other parts of the world.
  • Micheal Gove has highlighted the importance of international league tables e.g. universities - Cambridge and Oxford.
  • There is a greater use of technology, both inside and outside the classroom, changing the way teaching and learning is conducted. Children are exposed to a variety of cross-culture ideas and images.
  • Helps adapt  the required skills for work all over the world.
  • High increase of immigration in the UK.

Policies linked to globalisation

  • The adoption of initiatives from other countries e.g. free schools
  • Policies in schools focusing on multiculturalism and inclusion
  • The inclusion of globalisation in subjects and qualifications e.g. geography,sociology, RS  
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Theoretical theories and their response to policy

Consensus theories (aims and consequences as positive)

Functionalism - Education forms part of the superstructure of society. Education policies create a meritocratic education system.

New Right - they are critical of the existing education system and want to improve it. They aspire to privatise the education system. They believe schools should be self-funded. with a traditional curriculum.

Conflict theories (Education is reproducing inequalities in society, rather than reducing or challenging inequalities.)

Marxist - Education is produced by the Ruling class who aim to use schooling to produce working class docile workers. They are critical of policies connected with marketisation and parental choice since they only benefit middle class parents.

Interpretivists - explore the impact of education on a small-scale rather than a large scale.

Postmoderists - policies reflect the growth of migration and how people work all over the world. Also the increase of immigration means schools need to adopt policies to support immigrant children.

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