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Formal and Informal education

Education can be the learning of subjects, but also a form of socialisation as we learn norms, cultures and values.

Formal Education: Knowledge of a skill learnt in a formal setting such as a school or college e.g. Maths and Science that will prepare you for later life and develop new skills.

Informal Education: Where people develop knowledge and skills by observing what goes on around them. 

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Functions of Education:

Social Control-Schools teach acceptance of rules and authority. They encourage students to conform.

Secondary Socialisation- Schools continue the socialisation started by the family and teach the norms and values of society.

Serving the needs of the economy-Education prepares a labour force with the skills needed for working life.

Social Cohesion- Schools bring people together as a community 

Selective Role- Education acts like a sieve, grading students and placing them in careers best suited to their abilities.

Creating effective citizens- Schools transmit the shared values of society. It helps individuals identify themselves.

Social Mobility-Education improves people’s life chances. It affects their job opportunities.

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Functionalist view of education:


-The main function of education is to share society’s norms and values. Subjects like humanities teach shared norms and values, and encourage pupils to see themselves as part of society.

-Through the use of sanctions at school and by respecting the school’s rules, pupils learn to respect rules in general.

- In an industrial society, education equips children with the skills necessary for future work roles.

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Durkheim Criticism

 - Marxists argue that education systems share ideas that benefit the ruling class and not society as a whole.

- Feminists argue that schools teach a patriarchal culture

- Some students don’t accept either the school or society’s rules.

- The education system doesn’t necessarily teach skills that prepare students for their future workplace.

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Functionalist view of education 2:


-The education system is the main form of socialisation in modern society. It  prepares children for their adult roles.

-In the family, we have an ascribed status (son, daughter), and are treated with particularistic standards. In society, status is achieved based on universalistic standards. Schools prepare pupils for this in future life.

-Role allocation- the education system matches individuals to their future jobs and status in society based on abilities. In meritocracy, the most able reach the top jobs.

- Schools promote two key values—achievement and equality of opportunity. Wider society continues this by rewarding people who achieve well and work hard e.g. promotion at work. 

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Parson Criticism

-Some feminists question whether the education system is based on meritocracy and whether it provides equal opportunities, for both genders 

-Critics question meritocracy and role allocation. People with the best qualifications don’t always get the best jobs.

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Marxist view of education

Serves the interests of the ruling class- By passing on the beliefs that benefit the bourgeoisie  (that capitalist society is fair and meritocratic), education serves the interests of the ruling class.

Reproduces class structure- Education appears to be meritocratic, but it favours pupils from privileged backgrounds. Over time, education reproduces the advantages that some social class groups have over others.

Breeds competition- Through exams and sport at school students are encouraged to accept values such as competition. This helps to maintain capitalism, which is based on competition.

Secondary socialisation-Working class students learn norms and values at school that prepare them for their lower position in society, such as learning  to accept hierarchy at school and to obey rules.

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Bowles and Gintis

Key Ideas:

-The main role of the education system is to reproduce a workforce with the necessary qualities to meet the needs of the capitalist economy. For example, being hardworking, disciplined and reluctant to question authority.

-Schools reward students who display these qualities with high grades. Students who show greater independence and creative thinking are more likely to get lower grades. Schools produce an unquestioning attitudes for exploitation. 

-The education system produces the workforce for capitalism through the way the school is structured (e.g. hierarchy of power).

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The Correspondence Principle

Bowles and Gintis:

-Bowles and Gintis use the term correspondence principle to describe the way education and work connect or fit together (correspond) in capitalist society.

For Example:

Their is a hierarchy in schools (Head Teacher, Deputy, Teacher, Students), similar to the workplace (CEO, Boss, Supervisor, Worker)

At the end of school you recive qualifications, which is seen as a reward, whereas at the end of eqach month, your reward is your pay.

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Bowles and Gintis Criticism

Criticisms of Bowles and Gintis

They assume that students accept the values taught by the hidden curriculum. However, many students reject these values of the school and resist authority.

They exaggerate the power of the education system.

 Businesses today are looking for creative, independent and questioning employees, they don’t want  unthinking workers.

Many teaching methods now encourage creativity.

Functionalist approaches see the education system as based on meritocracy and equality of opportunity.

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Structure of the education system

Early Years-Ages 3-4 - State Nurseries offer 30 hors per week free childcare/ education

Primary School- Ages 4-11 - Free education for boys and girls 

Secondary School- Ages 11-16- Includes comprehensive, free, private and grammar schools

Further Education- Ages 16-18- Courses ran by College and Sixth Form. Legal requirement tthat all leavers must say in some form of education (can include apprenticeship) until they are 18. 

Higher Education- Ages 18+ - Most likely University and degree courses. 

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The Tripartite System

The 1944 Education Act set up the tripartite system.

Its aim was to provide free state education to children based on their individual abilities.

Pupils were allocated one of three types of school (Grammar school, secondary modern and secondary technical) based on the results of the 11-plus exam.

Some local authorities still have grammar schools with admission based on an entrance exam.

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Comprehensive Schools

Comprehensive schools cater for all abilities. There is no entrance exam so no pupil is left feeling like a failure.

Children from all social classes attend so it breaks down social barriers.

Comprehensive schools are normally quite large so there are a wider range of subjects on offer.

Even though all social classes attend comprehensive schools, classes are still streamed for abilities so pupils in lower sets are "Failures"

More academic students are held back in mixed ability groups.

Comprehensives limit parental choice. Students are expected to attend their closest school regardless of its reputation.

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Different Types of Schools

Faith Schools- Schools with a certain religious background e.g. Catholic school. Students get an education that supports their religious belief but faith schools can prevent social cohesion 

"Special Schools"- Schools that cater for the needs of students with special educational needs SEN. Specialised facilities and smaller class sizes. Students have the right support but do not have access to the full curriculum 

Independent Schools- Better known as private schools. They set their own curriculum and parents pay fees. Achieve excellent results but often do not teach the full curriculum.

State Schools- Government run schools that operate on a catchment area basis, most socially mixed but limited parental control 

Academies- Schools granted extra status by the government and recieve extra funds nad perks. First wave is a school that was in special measures that was re-opened. Second Wave is a good school rewarded for their work.

Free Schools- A school ran by an organisation that isn't controlled by local authority, do not need to follow curriculum

Specialist schools- Have a subject that have a special status in eg Business. 

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Ethnicity and Educational Achievement

Generally, students from some minority ethnic groups (such as Chinese) achieve better results in public exams than others (such as Black Caribbean)


Material deprivation—Many ethnic groups suffer from material deprivation such as poor housing and a lack of resources.

Language- For many children from immigrant homes English is not their main language. Therefore their education is carried out in a foreign language. 

Parent’s attitudes- It has been argued that parents from some ethnic groups are more or less interested in their children’s education than parent’s from other groups. 

Cultural Capital- Some ethinic groups may not have the cultural capital to support their children in education.

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Ethnicity and Educational Achievement 2

Ethnocentric Curriculum- The curriculum is focused around White British Culture (e.g books and history) and neglects ethnic minority groups. 

A lack of black teachers-Teachers from ethnic minority backgrounds are significantly under represented in schools.

Institutional racism-Some teachers have stereotyped views and expectations of students based on their ethnic group.  Research has shown that teachers believe that children from a Black Caribbean background are less academic. Teachers expect less, so black pupils are not as encouraged which can lower achievement. 

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Gender and Educational achievement

Traditionally boys got better A Level results than girls.

Towards the end of the 1980s this gender gap began to close.

By the early 2000s, girls were doing better than boys at both GCSE and A Level.

However, results at A Level in 2014 suggest the gender gap is starting to close again following the lack of coursework.

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Girls achievement

Girls Do Better Because:

Feminism has changed attitudes towards gender roles. Girls are now just as focused on having a successful career as boys.

Laws such as the Sex Discrimination Act (1975)  have made gender discrimination illegal

Many schools have introduced equal opportunity policies to address inequality.

The National Curriculum provides girls and boys with equal access to the same subjects.

However—some feminists argue that the educational system remains patriarchal. For example girls still experience sexism in schools and men are more likely than women to become secondary school heads.

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Boys Underachievement

Male performance is improving but they still appear to be underperforming.

The feminisation of primary school is one explanation, boys do not get enough male teachers to act as role models to reduce macho or ‘laddish’ behaviour.

Masculinity Crisis—the traditional male identity is under threat, this impacts on boy’s self esteem and motivation at school.

Laddish cultures emphasise that it is ‘uncool’ to work hard. Some peers might encourage anti-learning attitudes.

Some teachers might have lower expectations of male students and this label may lead to a self fulfilling prophecy.

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Gender Subject Choices:

Gender socialisation at home:  Girls might be encouraged to help at home with housework and play with dolls boys might have more science related toys. This will influence the subjects chosen at school. 

Gender stereotyping in text books can influence subject choice, i.e most nurses are Female in books. 

Teacher attitudes to gender and gendered subjects for example in P.E the curriculum has different sports for boys and girls. 

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Marketization of Education

Ball, Bowe and Gerwitz (1994)

Interviewed staff and governors in 15 schools, and parents of primary school children. They also used secondary data.

Ball et al focus on the effects that parental choice and competition between schools has on the education system, in particular whether it leads to greater inequality. They found…..

League tables—The requirement to publish results means schools put more rescources into higher achieving students so they can boost the schools ranking, which attracts prospective parents. 

Middle Class parents are more likely to know the education system and will ensure their children can get into the best schools.

Parents with their own transport have a wider choice of schools.

Marketization of the education system reinforces the advantages of MC parents and make education less equal.

They believe that schools are now more interested in attracting the more able and gifted students, rather than the educational achievement of all. 

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Social Class and Achievement

In general middle class students achieve better results than working class students.

Reasons for differences in achievement:

Parental values and expectations: Parents in professional jobs often value education and expect their children to do well at school. W/C children may have less parental interest, support and encouragement.

Economic circumstances W/C children more likely to live in overcrowded housing so have no study space and are more likely ti study from relative and material deprevation, so they can't afford revision guides textbooks etc. 

Cultural Deprevation: M/C families are more likely to support their child's education through theatre trips, foreign holidays etc.  which would increase their cultural capital. 

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Interactionist perspective of Education

Teachers unavoidably and subconsiously make judgements about pupils. Teachers judge the well-behaved middle class children as ‘bright’ but are more suspicious of the performance of working class. Students might be typecast on early impressions e.g. appearance, manners, speech and homes. This leads to the ‘halo effect and the ‘self fulfilling prophecy’.

1. A student is labelled by their teacher (e.g. trouble maker).

2. The teacher treats them according to their label (e.g. Sending them out of class)

3. The student begins to believe in their label ( “ I cant be bothered trying anymore I’m a failure).

4.The label becomes a reality (the student messes around in lesson and gets told off).

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Rosenthaal and Jacobsen

Key Study:

In a school in California they told the teachers that they had a new specially designed test to identify those pupils who would ‘spurt’ ahead educationally. However, this was untrue because the test was just a standard IQ test. The fact that the test was not special did not matter, what mattered was that the teachers believed it to be special.

The researchers tested all the pupils and then picked 20% at random. This random sample which would have represented many different abilities, was given to the teachers as a list of gifted pupils who would achieve high grades. When the re-searchers returned to the school one year later they found that almost half (47%) of the pupils on the imaginary gifted list had made significant progress. The effect was greater on younger pupils.

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Setting And Streaming

Setting is dividing pupils inot groups based on their academic attainment in that subject e.g. Set 1 Maths, Set 3 Spanish. 

Streaming is the dividing pupils according to their supposed ability. Students will be in the same stream for all subjects- English set 2, History Set 2. 


It creates a competitive atmosphere 

Allows students to work at the right pace eg pushing higher ability 


Labels Pupils which can result in an a self fufilling prophecy and anti-school subculture. 

Can be linked to social class discrimination


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Paul Willis

Key Study:

Willis researched into anti school subcultures.

An anti-school subculture is a group of students who reject the norms and values of their school establishment. 

Wills studied Working Class Boys and discovered that the boys showed signs of "Lad Culture" and that they "Just wanted to have a laugh", as they believed due to their class and position in society they believed they would never get anywhere in life. 

They also highlighted the masculinity crisis of males in education by calling boys who did conform to the school rules "cissies".

They also displayed anti school subculture behaviour by playing truant and drinking and smoking on school site.

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Wills Crticism:

Feminists argue it ignores the educational achievement of girls.

The sample size was of 12 boys, so is too small to draw any real conclusions.

Willis didn't interview any of the conformist boys to find out their experiences 

Functionalists would argue it acts as a part of role allocation. 

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School Alternatives

Vocational Education is work or career related education suh as hairdressingRecently the government has placed an emphasis on work related qualifications and training for 14 to 18 year olds.This reflects the functionalist view that education has to provide the skills necessary for working life. New NVQ courses and Applied A Level qualifications have been introduced.

Home Schooling - Childen are taught at home by patents or tutors 

Deschooling- Illich came up with the idea that school is oppressive and should be abolished in favour of learning webs, where chidren decide what they want to learn and how they should learn in explorative ways. 

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Education Act 1988

The act involved:

Marketization of education such as funding based on school performance and kleage tables being published

Sats - would be taken by 11 year olds in England in their last year of primary school. Pupils sit written tests in English and maths. The results are published by the government and are used to compile primary school league tables.

OFSTED was established to conduct inspections in all state schools and colleges. This was to ensure schools were doing a good job. Inspection reports would be published and schools were required to take action to improve any weak areas identified

The National Curriculum was introduced in 1989. It established core subjects that must be taught in all schools. The aim of this was to raise standards across the country and ensure consistency of what was being taught.

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Labour Education Changes

Many of these were introduced to reduce inequality 

Educational Maintenance Allowances (EMAs) -payments for disadvantaged students to encourage them to carry on into post-16 education ( this has been cut since 2010).

Excellence in cities—developed the use of mentors to help gifted students regardless of their background.

The Aim Higher programme—encouraging students from disadvantaged backgrounds to continue onto higher education.

The Sure Start programme—to support families with pre school children (this has been cut since 2010).

The Connexions service—offering personal support to young people. It brought together schools, career services and youth services.

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Policies since 2010

The introduction of academies- More and more schools are being encouraged to become academies as they have freedom ourtside local authority and have more choice over teacher pay. Most schools granted academy status today are second wave academies 

Free schools- Schools set up by the government but ran by parents or oragnisations that are away form the National Curriculum. They are meant to offer more choice. 

Pupil Premium- Extra funding for disadvantaged students that can pay for school meals, trips or extra classroom support etc. It was intended to encourage schools to be less selective and take on more disadvantaged students. 

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