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  • Created on: 28-11-16 12:03

Consensus Theory - Functionalist

  • Emile Durkheim argued that the education system was a key aspect of socialisation which ensures that people conform to social values, whilst acting as a form of social solidarity.
  • Talcott Parsons explained how school acts as a bridge between home and the wider society. He says that at home children are treated as individuals - particularistic standards.
  • In education, children learn through a meritocratic system where everyone gets treated the same no matter who they are - universalistic standards.
  • Functionalists are optimistic about the role of education for society and believe education responds to the needs of the economy and provides the right amount of workers for the particular skills that the economy demands.
  • Davis and Moore claim that education prepares people for their future roles through role allocation.
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Consensus Theory - New Right

  • New Right sociologists argue that the education system should be run like a business and enable parents ti have choice in the school they send their children to.
  • New Right thinkers are optimistic that the education system can offer opportunities for all but have concerns about the failings of the current education system.
  • Recently, they have aspired to make state education more like private education, viewing the private system as a better model of education.
  • The role and function of education for New Right thinkers is to enable individual choice so that individuals can achieve to the best of their abilities. 
  • Chubb and Moe argue that the introduction of market forces into education, known as marketisation, is beneficial to the education system as it helps improve standards and efficiency.
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Criticisms of Consensus Theory

  • Critics argue that Functionalist views ignore the persistent inequalities that occur in education.
  • Consensus theories also fail to consider the negative experiences that some students have at school, it assumes the education system is organised in a beneficial way for all.
  • New Right thinkers have been criticised for failing to acknowledge that when choice is introduced, not all students are able to utilise the choices available.
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Conflict Theories - Marxism

  • Marxists argue that the education system acts as a means of socialising children into their class positions, and to ensure they do not change the system.
  • Marxists point out that the education system supports capitalism by ensuring the working-class students are prepared for repetitive labour whilst middle-class students are encouraged to aspire to high levels of education.
  • Marxists challenge consensus theories, arguing that the education system is not meritocratic - they argue that this is a myth to ensure that the system seems fair.
  • Pierre Bourdieu developed the idea of education functioning in a way that advantages those with middle class ideas. He claims that the middle class also possess cultural capital, a set of ideas, tasks, interests and behaviour which aid them later in life.
  • Louis Althusser argues that the capitalist society cannot be maintained by force alone and argues that a number of institutions, including education, legitimise inequalities through subconciously introducing a particular set of ideas or ideology.
  • Bowles and Gintis claim that there is a hidden curriculum, which means that everything that is taught in a school is not formally on the curriculum. They also developed the correspondence principle, which identified the similarities between work and education and argues that the function of education is to prepare students for work.
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Conflict Theories - Feminism

  • Feminists still argue that the education system perpetuates a patriarchal ideology, leading to girls moving into lower-paid jobs and weaker economic positions in society.
  • Feminists argue that women were being overlooked in the education system and claimed that girls' relative underachievement was the result of patriarchal society.
  • Feminists have focused on two key concerns: gendered subject choices and the subsequent lower paid and lower-status jobs occupied by women, despite performing well in education.
  • Gendered subject choices occur when girls ten to choose subjects that are considered to be traditonally female, and this is the same for both genders.
  • Feminists argue that this is largely due to gendered socialisation at home but is also linked to processes in school which enourage girls to maintain traditional caring roles.
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Criticisms of Conflict Theory

  • Some disagree with the Marxist perspective of education and argue that education is fair or meritocratic, and is it true that education does offer some students the opportunity to do well and for them to increase their social position, a process known as social mobility.
  • Feminists have been critices for underestimating the change in girls' position educationally - young women in their early 20's are now earning more than men, which suggests that womens economic position is changing for the better.
  • Sociologists have also criticised feminists for failing to consider the issue of gender more broadly rather than women only, as there are now many concerns about boys, especially in terms of underperforming working-class boys.
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  • Postmodernists claim that education reflects the increasing individualism in society - which is reflected within educational policy as well as the experience of education.
  • There are now policies that reflect individual learning programmes and careful consideration is given to responding to students' individual learning style (Usher et Al).
  • Postmodernists argue that individual identity is becoming more fluid and that a range of factors shape and influence a person's identity and experiences in education.
  • Some postmodernists point out that increasing emphasis on the individual is positive and leads to a breakdown of one-type-fits-all-style education.
  • Faith Schools and Specialist Schools are customised school that represent the community and promote particular subjects.
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  • Interpretivists explore education on a micro level, looking at the processes that occur within education and attempting to understand the meanings of behaviour within and beyond school.
  • They don't regard education as positive or negative, and have developed an understanding the effects things have on their education and later life.
  • Interpretivists believe that teachers (and students) label some students positively and some negatively, which results in self-fulfilling prophecy.

Paul Willis (1977)

Paul Willis carried out research in a comprehensive school in Wolverhampton and using group interviews and participant observation, he found that working class 'lads' saw education as a waste of time, which resulted in them doing minimal amount of work. Willis argues that wider structural inequalities can be explored by taking a micro approach, exploring the meaning given to behaviours. The behaviour of the working-class lads revealed that school holds very little possibility for social mobility, because this group felt that they were simply 'learning to labour'. Willis' study a very small sample of 12 people, so the findings cannot be generalised.

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Criticisms of Interpretivist and Postmodernism

  • There are problems with the postmodern and interpretivist approaches.
  • They do not help explain why such inequalities continue to persist in education, for example, why working-class students continue to underperform.
  • They ignore structural inequalities and both fail to suggest how these might be overcome.
  • There have been increasing efforts to develop international educational qualifications, such as international GCSEs and A-levels. which reflects the fact that people are more likely to be studying and working all over the world in a globalised society.
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Social Class

  • At Key Stage 2, only 53.5% of students are eligible for free school meals, reach the expected level. Also, these children are more likely to attend the lowest-performing schools in deprived areas (Kerr and West, 2010).
  • Children who are eligible for free school meals are also disproportionately likely to have been in care and/or have special educational needs.
  • The patterns of inequality between social classes continues into further education, and higher education or university-level education. Students with GCSE results above the national average who have been eligible for free school meals are less likely to go on to higher education than more affluent students with the same results (National Equality Panel, 2010).
  • The number of young people categorised as not in education, employment or training has also been an issue that reflects continued class inequalities - NEETs are disproportionately working class and are more likely to have truanted or been excluded from school, have few educational qualifications, misuse drugs and alcohol, be a teenage parent or have mental health issues (Sodha and Margo, 2010) and more likely to be involved in crime (Cassen and Kingdon, 2007).
  • Sociologists have attempted to explain the impact of social class on educational outcome by looking at factors outside of school and factors in school.
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Home Factors

Evidence suggests that material deprivation is the cause of working-class underachievement. Material deprivation is a lack of things that money can buy that result in educational success. Materal deprivation may result in:

  • poor quality housing
  • poor diet
  • inadequate school uniforms
  • poor access to school supplies, including school trips, computers and internet access.

Poor quality housing and poor diet can lead to illness and school absences; inadequate uniforms or possessions may lead to bullying and absence, and a lack of school supplies may impact negatively on student's educationl progress.

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Material Deprivation

  • Material deprivation may lead to students having to work part time which can mean they are too tired to study at home or at school.
  • Leon Feinstein (2003) argues there is evidence that the effects of class difference are apparent, even before children reach nursery.
  • The National Equality Panel (2010) said that by the age of three, poor children have been assessed to be one year behind richer ones in terms of communication and in some disadvantaged areas, up to 50% of children begin primary school without the necessary language and communication skills.
  • Throughout compulsory education, the gap between the social classes continues to widen.
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Cultural Deprivation

  • Cultural deprivation theorists argue that working-class students lack the appropriate attitudes, norms and values that are necessary to succeed in education. They also link parental attitudes to working-class underachievement.
  • Students may experience a culture clash. The values of their family clash with the culture of the school, where they are expected to respect learning and their peers and teachers alike.
  • One of the first studies to highlight the importance of cultural deprivation was a longitudinal study conducted by Douglas (1964, 1970), which followed children born in the first week of March 1964 until the age of 16.
  • Douglas divided the students based on ability, and four different social class groups, and found significant variations in educational attainment between students of a similar ability but different social classes. He argued that it was dependendent on the parents' interest in their child. Douglas found that parental interest was most important when the children were older.
  • Barry Sugarman (1970) claims the working class has a particular culture that comprises four characteristics that prevent children doing well in education: collectivism, present time orientation, fatalism and immediate gratification.
  • Archer et al (2007) said that many working-class students believe that university is 'not for the likes of us'.
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Cultural Deprivation CONT'D

  • Low expectations have been frequently cited by both researchers and policy makers as one of the most significant barriers to working-class educational achievement (Demie and Lewis, 2010).
  • Cultural deprivation includes the view that teachers, typically being middle class, even use a different language to the working-class students.
  • Studies have explored the culture of the streets where many working class children spend time. Archer, Hollingsworth and Mendick (2010) describe the way that the street is perceived to be exciting, associated with danger and thus, the opposite of school.
  • They found that poorer students often also brought problems from home or their area to school, their estates often being a risky place to be - teachers saw the estate as being unstable and difficult, yet did not have good understanding of the problems children faced outside of school.
  • The researchers argue that these problems result due to working class students having low self-esteem and feeling looked down on by the rest of society.
  • Cultural deprivation has been criticised for two reasons: they tend to assume that being working class may be inferior when it might simply be different. Not all working class students underachieve, meaning that the theory does not fully explain why some working class children still manage to succeed.
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Cultural Capital

  • Bourdieu (1977) argues that middle-class students possess cultural capital, which gives them an advantage over over working-class pupils.
  • Cultural capital refers to the possession of the appropriate tastes, attitudes and values which lead to material rewards later in life.
  • It is what the middle class has that the working-class do not, meaning the working class is at a disadvantage in comparison.
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Language Deprivation

According to Bernstein (1972) there are two speech codes:

  • Elaborated speech which is associated with the middle class: it is a type of speech where sentences are more complex, with correct grammar and meaning is context free, meaning that something is described fully. Bernstein argues that the elaborated language code provides significant advantages for middle class children entering school, as this code is used by teachers.
  • Bernstein also argues that a restricted language code is used by the working class: language is simple with limited vocabulary and is context bound. This means that you need to be in the particular situation for the sentence to make sense. However, not all students with restricted codes underachieve. 
  • Bourdieu argues that, in effect, the working class is subject to symbolic violence in education and beyond. This means that they experience almost unconcious types of cultural and social domination in everyday social habits. Symbolic power becomes part of the discipline used against the working class to confirm an individuals position in the class structure.
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In-School Factors

  • Sociologists have carried out research that suggests teachers label students according to their social class and have different expectations of different students as a result: working-class students are labelled negatively and middle-class students are labelled positively. 
  • Labelling theorists like Becker argue that these labels become internalised resulting in a self-fulfilling prophecy (Rosenthal and Jacobsen, 1968).
  • This is reflected through streaming and setting, which reinforces class differences, with middle-class students often occupying the higher-ability streams.
  • Stephen Ball (1981) found that students were put into sets according to their perceived ability and not actual ability. Students themselves form groups, that reflect class differences with the working class forming an anti-school subculture.
  • Colin Lacey (1970) carried out research which found that teachers immediately differentiate their students into two groups: the higher achieveing group and the lower-achieveing group. Once labelled, the students are likely to gravitate towards the higher or lower achieveing end of the spectrum with which they have been associated. 
  • Critics of labelling theories argue that not all students accept their labels, in fact they may reject them. They say labelling theories also overlook other things which may influence a persons educational success.
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  • The 1988 Education Reform Act introduced market forces in education which meant that schools began to run like businesses - giving parents choices about which school to send their children to and encouraging competition between schools.
  • As part of the policy, public information was produced about the performance of each school.
  • Increased choice for parents benefited middle-class students, whose parents were more likely to be able to 'play the system'; for example, by moving into catchment areas of better-performing schools or paying for children to attend better schools.
  • Marketisation draws on both internal and external factors as it affects students, parents and the school in general. The constant focus on driving up standards within education as a result of marketisation policies reinforces processes within the school, which result in widening inequalities (Gilborn and Youdell).
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  • Until the early 1990's, boys significantly out performed girls in all levels of education, although girls had begun to improve their educational achievement in the 1980's.
  • The differences between girls' and boys' achievement are complex, and girls and boys have changed in different ways as Arnot, David and Weiner (1996) have pointed out. They express concern that there are certain myths about the recent gender differences being oversimplified by the media in particular.
  • There is no evidence that learning styles can clearly be seperated and neither is there evidence to suggest that these learning styles are gender specific (DCSF, 2009).
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Home Factors - Gender

  • Feminist campaigns have led to changing attitudes and laws focusing on increasing gender equality in the home, the public sphere and at work and over the past 40 years, there has been a rise in the percentage of women in employment.
  • Some sociologists claim that the activities they do outside of school help girls succeed in education. Kelly (1987) suggests that gender differences in spatial ability may be attributed to the types of toys children play with rather than their genetic make-up.
  • Angela McRobbie (1991) argues that the bedroom culture of girls, where girls can create their own subcultures and chat and read, which contributes towards their communication skills which are important and valued within education. Boys, however, tend to carry out activities that are more physical and do not contribute towards their education.
  • Boys subcultures in and outside of school tend to regard hard-working students negatively, placing significant pressure on them to maintain their image of doing the minimum amount of work possible.
  • Gendered socialisation often results in boys being socialised into being adventurous and physical, competitive and sporty. This creates conflict with the cultures of schools, which demand their children listen and conform. There are limited opportunities for boys to learn competitively which effects their education. The economy also now high value on office based jobs, presentational skills and interpersonal skills.
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School Factors - Gender

  • Becky Francis (2000) argues that teachers play a large role in the construction of gender identity in education as well as government policies. Francis is critical of media responses to the recent increase in girls' achievement.
  • The 1988 Education Reform act introduced the National Cirriculum, which meant that maths and science were compulsory to the age of 16, so girls could not opt out of subjects that were typically 'male' subjects. The act also introduced coursework.
  • 53% of teachers felt that there was a difference between boys' and girls' ability to do coursework (Bishop et al, 1997).
  • Girls and boys appear to relate differently to schooling and learning, and girls find it easier to succeed in school settings (Sukhnandan, 2000). Girls place a high value on the presentation of their work and spend more time to improve what they produce (Bray et al, 1997) and they derive more enjoyment from their school life (Arnot et al, 1996).
  • Machin and McNally (2005) examined the effect of the National Literacy Project which was designed to drive up standards in literacy in all students and found that new teaching methods did appear to have an effect on the gender gap, with boys doing better in English and girls doing better in Maths. However, they said that one policy alone could not close the gender gap.
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Feminisation of Education

  • The feminisation of education refers to the way in which education has become a female-dominated environment.
  • As girls achievement has improved, teachers have begun to label female students as more likely to succeed, thus creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Teachers are more likely to label boys negatively, and research shows it is harder for some boys to be seen as hard working as it does not match the 'laddish' bheaviour.
  • Epstein (1998) found in her research that working-class boys in particular often experience bullying or being negatively labelled if they are hardworking. Girls on the other hand often have subcultures that focus on working hard and doing well.
  • Forde et al (2006) argue that boys are more likely to be influenced by their male peer group, which might devalue school work and so put them at odds with academic achievement. It is argued that girls do not experience a conflict of loyalties between friends and school to the same extent as boys. They suggest that boys feel it is important to adopt a view of masculinity and see academic work as feminine. The type of masculinity they view clashes with their academic work meaning boys adopt various strategies: putting off working, withdrawal of effort and rejection of academic work, avoidance of the appearance of work and disruptive behaviour.
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Gendered Subject Choices

Becky Francis (2000) claims that despite the fact girls despite the fact that girls have recently caught up with boys in the sciences in terms of achievement at GCSE and continue to outperform boys at languages at this level, there remains a marked difference in subject choice at A-Level. A number of reasons have been suggested for gendered subject choices, including:

  • Gendered primary socialisation (Francis, 2000): girls are given toys which encourage them to conform a caregiving role, while boys are given toys which encourage them to be more active.
  • The creation of gendered identities at school and outside school through subcultures, the media and other institutions such as the family.
  • Peer pressure from both girls and boys and the 'male gaze' whereby male teachers and students behaviour reflects dominant ideas about masculinity, which encourages girls to behave in a stereotypically female way (Skelton, 2002).
  • Naima Browne and Carole Ross (1991) describe gender domains, which are imagined areas, tasks and activities that are male and female. These domains encourage girls and boys to choose subjects that tie in with ideas about female or male subjects.
  • These factors contribute to the gendered image that some subjects had which may or may not be further reinforced by school brochures, teaching and learning styles.
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Social Policy

  • New Labour introduced a range of policies to tackle boys' underperformance including the Raising Boys' Achievement prokect, which involved single-sex teaching, the Reading Champions Scheme, in which high-profile male public figures supported the boys reading and the Dads and Sons campaign, which included a set of initiative to encourage fathers and sons to read together.
  • The Education Act 2011 and the Education Minister Micheal Gove set out his plans to return to teaching traditional subjects and a reduction of coursework. The reduction of coursework might favour some boys who tend to do better in exam-based assessment.
  • Some feminists argue that schools continue to reflect partiarchal ideology, and gendered subject choices still remain marked. This means that where students have a choice over which subjects they study, male students tend to chose science and maths-based subjects while girls tend to pick stereotypically female subjects like health and social care and child development. 
  • Feminists argue that this reveals how much girls and boys are still encouraged to conform to gendered expectations and for women this means they often end up in lower-paid and lower-status caring professions.
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Within education:

  • There are still differences in attainment between ethnic groups amongst students who are eligible for free school meals.
  • Chinese students are the highest-attaining ethnic group whereas students of any black background remain the lowest-attaining ethnic groups.
  • Pupils for who English is not their first language, perform less well than students whose first language is English, however, they make better progress through the key stages but it varies between ethnic groups.
  • More black, Bangladeshi and Pakistani students are recorded as having special educational needs compared to white, Chinese and Indian students.
  • Black Caribbean students are more likely to be permanently excluded from school compared to white students. There are proportionately more black students in student refferal units.
  • Black (82%) and Asian (85%) people are more likely to stay on in full-time education at the age of 16 than young white people (69%).
  • Bangladeshi (44%) and Pakistani (32%) adults are the most likely to have no qualifications.
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External Factors - Ethnicity

  • Racism in wider society has resulted in certain ethnic groups experiencing greater rates of poverty, unemployment, poorer health and over-representation in prison. Meaning there is no suprise when these groups also underachieve.
  • The discrimination in wider society may be seen as contributing to the lower aspirations of some ethnic groups. This may lead to some feeling there is little point in trying since their chances in life are reduced by both unintentional or intentional racism.
  • Mike Noon (2007) points to evidence which suggests that in wider society, managers will overtly discriminate against certain workers based on assumptions about their ethnic group.
  • This pervading racism informs ethnic minorities of their position, which undoubtedly feeds into attitudes towards school, teachers and society.
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Material Deprivation - Ethnicity

  • Pakistani, Bangladeshi and African-Caribbean have a higher than average rate of poverty, meaning that they are less likely to be able to afford important school equipment and uniform.
  • As well as this, their diet and housing may not be adequate, leading to illness and adsences from school.
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Cultural Deprivation - Ethnicity

  • Some ethnic groups' culture may be seen as different rather than inferior. Some have argued that some ethnic groups regard education as less important, leading to a lower value being places on education and lower outcomes as a result.
  • Ethnic groups that regard education as important, such as Indian and Chinese families, have above-average results.
  • Research now reveals that many white working-class families have lower than average aspirations for their children, which is a significant factor in explaining their relative underperformance. This has become a key area for policy development.
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Family Structure

  • Tony Sewell (2010) argues that one of the reasons for black African-Caribbeans' underperformance is the absence of fathers, which is common in the black community.
  • 59% of black Caribbean children live in lone-parent households, compared with 22% of white children.
  • Sewell claims tha the lack of a male role model makes it harder for some boys to adapt to the demands of school.
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  • Bereitier and Engelmann (1966) argue that some ethnic minority students lack the language that is used in schools, which places them at an immediate disadvantage. The fact that English is not spoken at home for some students, has been linked to poorer educational outcomes.
  • The 2013 School Consensus showed that one in six primary school students do not have English as their first language. In secondary schools, the figure is one in eight. These figures have more than doubled since 1997.
  • The National Pupil Database finds that an increased presence of children who do not speak English as their first language is not detrimental to the educational attainment of native English speakers. 
  • Geay, McNally and Telhaj (2012) found that the number of white non-native English speakers grew dramatically since the EU's eastern enlargement in 2005, since many of the new immigrants were Polish, there was a big rise in the demand for Catholic schooling. In general, this group of immigrants do not underperform as a result of not having English as their first language.
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Internal Factors - Ethnicity

  • There are key differences in the ways that certain ethnic groups experience school life. 
  • Bernard Coard (1971) in his critique of the British Education System claimed that it actually made black children become educationally 'subnormal' by making them feel inferior. 
  • Coard stated that West Indian children were told that their way of speaking was unacceptable, implying that they themselves were second-rate as human beings.
  • There are a number of key processes in schools which contribute to the differences in outcomes of particular ethnic groups. These include labelling self-fulfilling prophecy, subcultures and the ethnocentric curriculum.
  • The ethnocentric curriculum is a curriculum that favours British knowledge and traditions over alternative cultures. For example, in a subject such as history, the contribution of various ethnic minority groups or individuals may be overlooked.
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  • Labelling, attaching meaning to behaviour, is significant in shaping the likely educational outcomes of different ethnic groups. This can result in a self-fulfilling prophecy, where the students internalise the label and it becomes true.
  • Fuller (1984) carried out research on black African-Caribbean girls in a London comprehensive and investigated how they responded to negative stereotyping from teachers. They did not try to gain approval from their teachers, who they often saw as racist, and instead worked hard whilst also appearing to reject the school rules.
  • This suggests that students have a variety of responces to labelling and also that negative labelling by teachers does not always lead to failure or underachievement of students.
  • Tony Sewell (1998) found that often teachers regard black students as stereotypically 'macho' and found that when black boys were labelled negatively or experienced racism, they tended to have a range of different responces.
  • There have been several policies focusing on raising aspirations and achievement of certain ethnic minority groups. There are known as compensatory education policies, for example, Sure Start which also aimed to tackle material and cultural deprivation.
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Institutional Racism

  • The intentional or unintentional discrimination that occurs in education may take many forms, for example, not recruiting some ethnic groups to senior management in schools or only offering certain languages in schools.
  • Mac and Ghaill (1988) described how black boys and girls might respond differently to institutional racism. They claim that black girls will comply with the formal rules but will withhold any real engagement with the organisation, while black boys will challenge the school culture, more directly and will therefore be more likely to be excluded.

Institutional racism refers to the intentional or untintentional systematic discrimination that takes place in an organisation such as a school.

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The Impact of Marketisation

  • Some ethnic groups are not able to access information about schools that is made available. For example, the school brochures may only be available in English.
  • Ethnic groups who experience the lowest educational outcomes are often among the poorest groups in society. They suffer from a lack of cultural capital that disadvantages them in terms of getting into schools through contacts and particular forms of knowledge that make students attractive to some schools.
  • Material deprivation in some ethnic groups means that parents are less able to arrange transport for their children to attend out-of-catchment schools. Poorer ethnic minority parents are also less likely to be able to move into more expensive catchment areas for the better performing schools.

David Gillborn and Deborah Youdell (2000) claim that recent educational reforms have raised standards of achievement but have also resulted in growing inequalities based on ethnicity and social class. League tables have created an A-C economy where schools and teachers are judged on the proportion of students attaining five or more grades at A-C. To meet these demands schools are developing new and ever more selective attemps to identify able students. This results in working-class and minority students being labelled as likely to fail.

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Conservative Government Policies 1979-1997

The 1988 Education Reform Act, which brought the introduction of market forces, which means they applied business ideas to education, creating a marketplace of education. It helps parents make consumer choices about their childrens education:

  • Making exam results visible meant that schools compete for the best results and drive up standards. It was also used to encourage middle class students to come to their school, to make their school look better, with poorer results becoming less successful.
  • OFSTED was introduced which measured the success of schools and other educational settings - which meant publishing the standard of education achieved by the school.
  • Encouraging schools to opt out of local educational authority control - this meant schools could manage their own finances, spending resources where they felt necessary to attract 'customers'.
  • The introduction of the national curriculum - a standard curriculum that all students have to follow, decided by central government, standardising what parents were choosing between in terms of areas to be studied.
  • Parents no longer had to send their children to a local school but could send them to a school of their choice. Sending a child to a school further away involves paying increased transport costs, which is more possible for middle class.
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Labour Government Policies 1997-2010

New Labour continued many of the Conservatives marketisation policies. Other key New Labour Policies include:

  • The introduction of academies - a new type of school partially finded by local businesses to tackle underperforming schools.
  • Free childcare for every preschool child - meaning that women could return to work and also helping to ensure that all children start school from a level playing field.
  • Sure Start - introduced in 1999 as a means by which children living in deprived areas of Britain could receive early intervention and support. It was introduced as a form of compensatory education through clinic and nursery support.
  • Excellence in Cities - launched in 1999 to replace the prior policy of Education Action Zones. It was another form of compensatory education policy targeted at deprived inner-city areas, particularly focusing extra resources to tackle truancy and exclusions.
  • Tuition fees for universities - meaning that there was a means-tested fee for university courses. This has the effect that university was only available to those who could afford it.
  • Stricter OFSTED guidance on improving failing schools.
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Key Concepts

Vocational Education has been a key area of debate amongst politicians. Wolf 2011 investigated vocational education and was very critical of existing courses, claiming that vocational education often does not lead to jobs and university. In her report, Wolf recommends that all students stay in compulsory education to the age of 16 and longer work-based placements for students aged 16 or older.

Selective Education is practised by many private schools and even some comprehensive schools. Where selection takes place, middle-class students are at an advantage as their parents can help prepare them by being more likely to be able to afford private tuition or to have the skills to prepare the child themselves.

Some sociologists argue that through the increased emphasis on parent choice the education system has become a parentocracy - parents are increasingly powerful in shaping the education system. Many sociologists argue that is it only some parents who are able to utilise educational choices. For example, some parents may not have the skills, time or energy to use the information that is available to make choices for their children.

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Coalition Government Policies 2010-2015

The Coalition government introduced a range of controversial changes to the education system. These include:

  • Education Maintenance Allowance cut - this scheme offered financial help to students with the transport costs, resources and food to encourage poorer students to stay in education until 18.
  • Tuition fees increased - universities in England were able to charge tuition fees of up to £9000 per year from 2012, as the government transfers much of the cost of courses from the state to students.
  • Emphasis on old fashioned discipline - strict uniform codes, and rules such as students standing up when teachers enter the classroom. A pledge to give teachers the powers they need to keep order.
  • A student premium for disadvantaged children to resource additional classroom support for students who need it.
  • OFSTED inspections to be targeted on failing schools.
  • An effort to get more science and maths graduates to be teachers.
  • The introduction of free schools.
  • Changing the A-level system and reintroducing the two year A-level.
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Impact of Policies on Social Class

Conservative (1979-1997): introduction of marketisation widens inequalities. National curriculum means there is less value placed on vocational education with its one-size-fits-all curriculum. The competition between schools means that middle-class parents parents move into catchment areas with better-performing schools creating a polarisation between high-performing schools and failing 'sink' schools. Better performing schools get more funding.

New Labour (1997-2010): Continuation of marketisation. Introduction of a greater variety of compensatory educational policies, such as the Education Maintenence Allowance and Sure start to try to tackle material and cultural deprivation. A focus on raising working-class boys' aspirations.

Coalition (2010-2015): A focus on driving up standards and the continuation of marketisaion, which results in further inequalities between working-class and middle-class students. Education Maintenence Allowance is cut; student premium replaces other forms of funding for materially and culturally deprived students. University fees are uncapped meaning that universities can charge more, meaking it too expensive for some students. A focus on a more traditional curriculum with a narrower range of subjects, which benefits the middle class.

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Impact of Policies on Gender

Conservative (1979-1997): The 1988 Education Reform Act had significant effects on gender differences. Girls' results improve partly due to the national curriculum, whicb means that girls cannot opt out of subjects such as maths and science. Coursework is introduced, which girls perform well at, further improving their results. Specific policies designed to get girls into science and technology.

New Labour (1997-2010): Continuation of coursework as girls' performance continues to increase. Compensatory policies aimed at encouraging boys to improve their literacy.

Coalition (2010-2015): A reduction of coursework and more emphasis on written exams, which has been proven to suit boys' learning style more. Limited policies focusing on compensatory education as funding for compensatory education is cut back significantly. 

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Impact of Policies on Ethnic Groups

Conservative (1979-1997): Increasing parental choice disadvantages some ethnic minorities who are unable to 'play the system'.

New Labour (1997-2010): Education Action Zones in inner cities with a high proportion of ethnic minorities as well as the introduction of academies to raise standards in failing schools in poorer areas.

Coalition (2010-2015): Greater emphasis placed on marketisation, further disadvantaging some ethnic groups, and less funding for poorer students which includes some ethnic minorities.

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Ethnicity and Education Policy

Since the 1960's there has been a growing recognition of the different ethnic groups in the UK, which has led to the development of multicultural education, which includes the curriculum and strategies used in schools. Multicultural education is a process of reform which challenges and reject racism and other forms of discrimination in schools and society, and accepts and affirms the pluralism (ethnic, racisl, linguistic religious, economic and gender) that students, their communities and teachers represent. 

There has been an increase in recognising the positive contribution of ethnic minorities since the 1960s. Some have criticised the national curriculum for its focus on white history, culture and general ethnocentrism.

New Right thinkers argue that the education system should focus on ways to drive up educational standards rather than trying to reduce educational inequalities. They also claim that education should focus on traditional subjects such as maths, English, the sciences, history and geography. The New Right also believe that education should not widen participation for all students to attend university. The set of ideas mean that working class students are unlikely to experience as much social mobility as they might, which increases their inequalities.

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Impact of Marketisation

Marketisation, or running the school like a business, has had a significant impact on the differences between the different groups achievement.

  • Class: allowing increased parental choice benefits the middle class.
  • Gender: some girls respond well to the pressure on then, and schools to perform, increasing the gender gap. Girls are often perceived to be achievers and are therefore more attractive to selective schools.
  • Ethnicity: some ethnic minorities have less cultural and material advantages which means that they are less able to utilise choices.
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Globalisation is the compression of time and distance, the world is becoming smaller and as a result the increased movement of people and ideas, education policies have become influenced and affected by other cultures. Globalisation has had two interesting effects on education:

  • Politicians, education specialists and teachers learn about alternative ways of teaching, learning and assessing students. 
  • Globalisation presents a new challenge for education which involves changing requirements of the economy as workers are required to be able to use technology and adapt their skills at a much faster rate, possibly also demanding greater geographical mobility and different work practices. 
  • This prevents challenges for educators who need to prepare students for the working environment. The other challenges faced by educators is the increasing flow of people into education from other cultures - meaning that schools must adapt to make sure that immigrants have adequate support and school places.
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Policies that Reflect Globalisation

An emphasis on lifelong learning: the economy demands a flexible workforce who can respond to such changes. A culture of learning that recognises knowledge and skills are not fixed. Greater opportunities in adult education, for example, access courses and wider participation of mature students at university.

Greater emphasis on individual learning: the greater individualism within society is reflected in education; students are encouraged to think about their own style of learning and to try to develop skills and qualifications that suit them rather than conforming to a general education.

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Greater Awareness Policies

  • The inclusion of global issues within the curriculum, learning about cross-cultural practices, ways of lfie and the influence of globalisation.
  • Policies to enrol more international students, at all levels of education,
  • The inclusion of citizenship studies which increase students' awareness of what it means to be a citizen in the UK, as well to recognise and value the increasingly multicultural nature of the UK and encourage a global view of the world.
  • School policites focusing on equality, diversity and inclusion, to reflect the increasingly diverse cultural backgrounds of students. OFSTED inspections assess schools in terms of their effectiveness in embracing diversity.
  • A greater emphasis on supporting students with English as a second language in educational settings.
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