Education - Social Class


Social Class - Material Deprivation 1/2

Material deprivation = a lack of basic necessities such as an adequate diet, housing, clothing, or the money to buy these things

Poor quality housing: overcrowding can make it harder for children to study whilst development in small children can be impaired by a lack of space for safe play and exploration. Crowded children have a higher chance of having an accident. Moving frequently to different temporary accommodation can result in constant changes of school and disrupted education (as well as psychological distress) whilst cold/damp housing causes health problems, which means more absences from school

Poor diet: Howard (2001) noted that young people from poorer homes have lower intakes of energy, vitamins and minerals - poor nutrition can affect health, resulting in more absences from school. Children from poorer homes are more likely to have behavioural problems which have a negative effect on their education - Blanden & Machin (2007) found that children from low-income families have a habit of engaging in externalising behaviour such as fights and tantrums which disrupt schooling.

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Social Class - Material Deprivation 2/2

Inadequate school uniform: hand-me-down uniforms may result in isolation, stigmatisation and bullying by peers, and suitable clothes are essential for fitting in and self esteem - the fear of stigmatisation explains why 20% of those eligible for free school meals don’t take up their entitlement

Fear of debt: going to uni requires going into debt to pay for tuition, living costs, books, etc. Callender & Jackson (2005) found that working-class students are more debt averse as they see it as something negative to be avoided, and tend to focus more on the cost of uni rather than the benefit. Working class students who go to university are less likely to receive financial support from their families, and only 43% of lower-class students receive financial support from families compared to 81% of other economic classes. Financial factors also limit working class students in choice of university and chances of success as they apply to local universities to avoid the cost of housing.

Poor access to school supplies, including school trips, computers and internet access: there are, however, bursaries available and schools can pay for the cost of trips to compensate for this form of material deprivation

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Social Class - Cultural Deprivation 1/3

Cultural deprivation = members of the working class cannot easily acquire cultural capital, hampering their access to education and upward social mobility

“University is not for the likes of us.” - Said by working-class students thinking about the future, who have a strong dislike for anything related to the upper class, meaning they aren’t the right sort to attend university. This frame of mind deters a whole subgroup of society from attending higher education and makes education an exclusive right only the middle/upper classes have. 

Sugarman (1970) claimed the working class has a particular culture of four characteristics that prevent children from doing well in education: present time orientation, fatalism, immediate gratification, and collectivism. 

‘Good’ parental attitudes towards education: attending school events, interest in school/homework/equipment, sanctions for not doing work/achieving, contacting school, reward good grades/praise, respect for teachers

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Social Class - Cultural Deprivation 2/3

Theorists argue working-class students lack appropriate attitudes, norms and values necessary to succeed in education, and link parental attitudes to working-class underachievement, stating that parents may be unwilling or unable to create a positive attitude towards education - helping their child with homework and encouraging a work ethic. 

Students may experience a culture clash; the values of their family clash with the culture of school where the are expected to respect learning and their peers and teachers alike. Cultural deprivation leads to students having low confidence and low aspirations as reflected by low rates of participation in further education. 

Short term consequences of cultural deprivation: students are unwilling to learn, have poor behaviour, attendance and achievement; students fail because they think they will (self-fulfilling prophecies as a result of fatalism)

Douglas (1964): parental encouragement, expectation and interest is the most influential factor in educational achievement. Middle class parents: make more visits to school, being interested and encouraging of education. Feinstein et al. (1999) and See et al (2012) also found that parents who show little interest hinder their child’s progress. 

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Social Class - Cultural Deprivation 3/3

 Archer (2007) found that working-class students have low expectations and this is one of the biggest barriers to working-class education achievement. 

Cultural deprivation includes the view that teachers are typically middle class and even use a different language to working-class students, who, some argue, lack the cultural capital to succeed in education.

‘The Street’ - explores the culture of streets where many working-class students spend time outside of school. Archer, Hollingsworth & Mendick (2010) describe how ‘the street’ is perceived to be exciting, associated with danger - the complete opposite of school. Poorer students also brought problems from their estates to school. With estates often being seen as ‘risky places to be’, teachers would see these areas as difficult and unstable and do not have a good understanding of out-of-school issues faced by working-class students. 

These problems result in working-class students having low self-esteem and feeling looked down on by society, leading them to generate feelings of self-worth through attachment to material objects such as jewellery and expensive TVs, phones, trainers, etc. 

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Social Class - Language Deprivation 1/2

According to Bernstein (1972), there are two speech codes: elaborated and restricted. 

Elaborated speech code: associated with the middle class, sentences are more complex, correct grammar, meaning is context free (everything has been described fully so you are not required to have there to understand). The speech code is beneficial as it provides significant advantages for middle-class children entering education where an elaborated speech code is used by teachers. 

Restricted language code: Bernstein argues this is used by the working class. Language is simple, uses a limited vocabulary and is context bound. This means that you need to be in the situation for the sentence to make sense.

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Social Class - Language Deprivation 2/2

Bordieu suggested that the working class are subjected to ‘symbolic violence’, meaning that they experience unconscious types of cultural and social domination, even in everyday social habits like communication. They are treated unfairly as a result of how they communicate. Symbolic power becomes part of the discipline against the working class to confirm an individual’s position in the class structure. 


  • this theory ignores the situations where teachers don’t use/have elaborated language codes,
  • ignores children with restricted language codes that don’t underachieve
  • doesn’t take into consideration the changes in language (the relaxation of formal rules in other aspects of society, online, etc) or how cultural values don’t always include an elaborate language code. 
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Social Class - Internal Factors 1/3

While external factors (cultural, material, language deprivation) play an important role in explaining differences in achievement, factors within the education system also play an important role. 

Equal Opportunities Policies: campaigns and feminism mean policymakers are more aware of gender issues, teachers are more sensitive to stereotyping, and boys and girls and different social classes are entitled to the same opportunities: introducing the National Curriculum in 1998 removed one source of inequality by making everyone study the same subjects, and schemes such as GIST (girls into science and technology) encourage groups into education they would otherwise miss

Positive Role Models in Schools: increase in female teachers and heads in teaching means that these senior positions  act as role models for girls, showing them that women (and similar for representatives of other groups) can achieve positions of importance and giving them non-traditional goals to aim for

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Social Class - Internal Factors 2/3

GCSE and Coursework: changes in the way that pupils are assessed have favoured one group over another (girls over boys), and the introduction of coursework has helped exaggerate the differences between groups (i.e girls have started to outperform boys), though this isn’t thought to be a general failing of boys but simply a product of the changed assessment system. Girls tend to succeed more with coursework because they spend more time on work, take more care with presentation, and are better at meeting deadlines

Teacher Interaction: the way teachers act with certain groups differs, depending on how much attention they require due to behaviour/reprimands delivered, and the amount of attention received affects students attitudes. Communication styles differ between groups (i.e boys dominate whole class discussion whereas girls are better at pair work and listening/cooperating) and this may explain why teachers may prefer certain groups (i.e girls whom they see as cooperative), which may raise students’ self-esteem and achievement levels

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Social Class - Internal Factors 3/3

Challenging Stereotypes in the Curriculum: removing stereotypes from textbooks and reading schemes and other learning materials in recent years removes barriers against achievement and stereotypes about ability that may otherwise dissuade groups from taking certain subjects or paths

Selection and League Tables: marketisation policies create a more competitive climate in which schools see those who achieve better exam results as more desirable, and the introduction of exam league tables has improved opportunities for high achieving groups, who do better and are attractive to schools whereas low achieving groups are less attractive, and a self-fulfilling prophecy is created (because high achieving groups are more likely to be high achieving because they go to these schools)

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Social Class - Labelling Theory 1/3

Research suggests that teachers label students according to social class and have different expectations of different students; working-class students are labelled negatively, middle-class students are labelled positively. Labelling theorists such as Becker argue that these labels become internalised, resulting in a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Streaming and Setting: judgements about working-class and middle-class students are often reflected in streaming and setting; with middle-class students occupying the higher-ability streams. Ball (1981) found that students were put into sets according to their perceived ability, not their actual ability, and student groups reflect class differences, with the working class forming negative, anti-school subcultures, while the middle class tend to form subcultures that are positive/allow them to succeed 

Teacher Stereotyping and Labelling: teacher stereotyping can be both positive and negative; teachers judge pupils in various ways, through appearance, behaviour, body language and ability and label a student, which can impact that student’s identity and relationship with that teacher.

Halo effect: a stereotype produces the halo effect; the teacher forms a good impression of a student in one way that makes them look more favourably at other areas too. (the opposite can also occur, a teacher forms a bad impression of a student who is then constantly looked down on by the teachers)

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Social Class - Labelling Theory 2/3

Waterhouse (2004) studied four schools and found that impressions formed over a period of time had implications on the way the teacher interacted with a student, and called this ‘pivotal identity’. Students have a core identity which becomes dominant but can pivot ever so slightly, e.g. they might be stereotyped as deviant but have some episodes of being normal, but they are deviant the majority of the time (according to the teacher). This is an example of teacher labelling, and labelling can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy and the formation of an anti or pro-school subculture. 

Labelling theory: Becker (1971), an interactionist, is the main theorist. Teachers initially evaluate pupils in relation to their stereotypes of the ‘ideal pupil’. Hempel-Jorgensen (2009) suggests the ‘idea pupil’ identity includes things like hard work, concentrating and listening to teachers and having good ability. Hempel-Jorgensen carried out her research over a year and used observation and interviews with teachers and found that pupils themselves also share a similar concept of an ‘ideal learner’. The identities arise out of the daily teacher-pupil, pupil-pupil interactions inside school. 

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Social Class - Labelling Theory 3/3

Hargreaves, Hester & Mellor (1975) - conducted overt participant observations and unstructured interviews in two schools; one school was urban, one was suburban. Showed how teachers label students in three steps - speculation: teachers begin to make guesses about students based on their appearance, enthusiasm and relationships; elaboration: teachers test their hypotheses, which are either confirmed or contradicted and stabilisation: the teacher’s hypotheses became fixed and attached to the child. At the end of this process, teachers think they know the child and know what makes them ‘tick’ and interpret all of their behaviours in terms of the label. Teachers say that labelling is useful as it allows them to form a sense of what their class is ‘like’ and how to deal with them. Students say that they are stereotypes and not based on evidence. 

Social groups and labelling: Harvey & Slatin (1975) showed photographs of children from different ethnic and social backgrounds to a sample of 96 primary school teachers. White, middle-class pupils were identified as more likely to be successful. GiIlborn (2011) agrees with this and suggests that the ‘ideal pupil’ stereotype favours white children and that black children were denied opportunities which could affect their life chances, e.g. through being put in lower sets. 

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Social Class - Marketisation 1/2

Increased parental choice benefitted middle-class students whose parents were more likely to ‘play the system’; for example by moving to catchment areas of better performing schools or paying for their children to attend better schools further away. 

Marketisation draws on both internal and external factors as it affects students, parents and the school. The constant focus on driving up standards within education as a result of marketisation policies reinforces processes within the school which results in widening inequalities. 

The 1988 Education Reform Act introduced market forces into education, meaning that schools began to be run like a business — giving parents choices about which school to send their child to and encouraging competition between schools. As part of this policy, public information was produced about the performance of each school.

(the increased marketisation means that parents are likely to move to get their child into the best school’s catchment area. However, poorer families can’t afford to do this, so their child attends a poorer school. This is known as the post-code lottery and Marxists feel it increases social inequality.  The increased tuition fees mean that many poorer working-class students can’t afford higher education, again increasing social inequality.)

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Social Class - Marketisation 2/2

Education Reform Act of 1988:

  • Introduction of Ofsted, regular inspections every six years;
  • SAT’s introduced, children aged 7,11, 14 sit national tests, results published annually in league tables
  • Local management of school budget taken away, giving control of schools to head teachers - given control and responsibility
  • Schools were grant-maintained, though state schools were given the opportunity to opt out from LEA control if parents voted in support, giving schools control over budgets
  • CTCs introduced in inner-city areas, specialising in tech/art/science, financed by local industry
  • national curriculum introduced for pupils aged 5-16,

Marxists such as Althusser/Bordieu/Marx feel these policies, and the increased marketisation, benefits wealthy families, thus increasing social inequality, because richer parents are likely to be better educated and able to consider schools in greater depth, studying Ofsted reports and league tables. This knowledge, which a lot of working-class parents won’t have, allows richer parents to send their child to the best school and gain the best education.

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