Class differences in achievement

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Cultural depriviation

Cultural deprivation theorists argue most of us begin to acquire the basic values attitudes and skills during primary socialisation in the family. The basic ‘cultural equipment’ includes things such as language, self discipline and reasoning skills. According to cultural deprivation theorists, many W/C families fail to socialise their children adequately.

culturally deprived - lacking the cultural equipment needed to do well at school so they underachieve.

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intellectual development

Cultural deprivation theorists argue that many W/C homes lack the books, educational toys and activities that would stimulate intellectual development. Thus children from such homes start school without having the intellectual skills needed to progress.

Douglas found that W/C pupils scored lower on tests of ability than M/C pupils. He argues this is because W/C parents are less likely to support their child's intellectual development through reading with them or other educational activities at home

Bernstein and Young reached similar conclusions. They found the way mothers think about and choose toys has an influence on their child’s intellectual development. M/C mothers are more likely to choose toys that encourage thinking and reasoning skills and prepare children for school

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Bereiter and Engelmann claim that language used by W/C is deficient. Lower class families communicate by gestures, single words or disjointed phrases. Results in children being brought up incapable of abstract thinking and so unable to take advantage of the opportunities schools present to them.

Bernstein similar to B & E  also identifies differences between W/C and M/C language effect on achievement. Distinguishes between two types of speech code:

Restricted code - W/C limited vocabulary, grammatically simple sentences,predictible  context bound: the speaker assumes that that the listener shares the same set of experiences.

Elaborated code - M/C wider vocabulary, grammatically more complex sentences, communicates abstract ideas. context free. used in school

Critics argue that Bernstein is a cultural deprivation theorist because he describes the W/C speech as being inadequate. However unlike cdt, he recognizes that the school - and not just the home - influences children’s achievement. He argues that w/c pupils fail not because they are culturally deprived, but because schools fail to teach them the elaborated code. +

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attitudes and values

Douglas w/c parents placed less value on education, less ambitious for children,gave less encouragement, took less interest, visited schools less often - result was children had lower levels of motivation

Fernstein w/c parents lack interest was main reason for their children’s underachievement. He argues m/c children are more successful because their parents provide them with the necessary motivation, discipline and support.

Hyman values and beliefs of lower class subculture are “self imposed barrier” to educational and career success. L/C feel they have less opportunity for individual advancement and place little on achieving high status jobs, so see no point of education. Less willing to make sacrifices involved staying at school and leave early to take manual work. neither want or know how to get educational success


W/C subculture has 4 key features that act as a barrier to educational achievement:

  • Fatalism - belief in fate - whatever will be will be & there is nothing you can do to change ur status. contrast with M/C which emphasise that you can change ur position through ur own efforts

  • Collectivism - valuing being part of a group more than succeeding as an individual contrasts m/c view that individual should not be held back by group loyalties

  • Immediate gratification - seeking pleasure now rather than making sacrifices in order to get what u want in the future. Contrast to m/c emphasises deferred gratification, making sacrifices now for greater rewards later

  • Present-time orientation - seeing the present as more important than the future and so not having any long term goals or plans. m/c culture has a future term orientation that sees planning for the future as important

w/c children internalise the beliefs and values of their subculture through socialisation and this results in them underachieving at school

Sugarman argues fact that m/c jobs are secure careers offering  prospects for continuous individual advancement. This encourages ambition, long term planning and willingness to invest time and effort in gaining qualifications. w/c jobs are less secure and have no career structure through which individuals can advance. few promotion opportunities and earnings peak at an early age.

Cultural deprivation theorists argue that parents pass on the values of their class through primary socialisation. M/c equip for success


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Tackling cultural depriviation

Compensatory education

Policy designed to tackle cultural deprivation by providing extra resources to schools and communities in deprived areas.

attempt in intervene early in socialisation process to compensate for the deprivation they experience at home

E.g of compensatory education programmes

Operation Head start - US multi-billion dollar scheme of pre school education in poorer areas.

aim - planned enrichment of the deprived child’s environment to develop learning skills and instil achievement motivation

included - setting up nursery classes, home visits by health visitors & educational psychologists


Education priority areas -  late 1990s

Sure Start- 2000 - aimed at pre school children and parents, although mainly based on childrens health, has similarities to CE programmes

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Myth of cultural depriviation

Keddie  describes cultural deprivation as a myth and sees it as a victim blaming explanation.

dismisses idea that failure at school can be blamed on a culturally deprived home background

points out child can not be deprived of own background and argues w/c children are culturally different, not culturally deprived.

They fail because they are put at a disadvantage in the education system which is dominated by m/c.

Keddie argues that rather than seeing the w/c as deficient, schools should recognise and build on its strengths and should challenge teachers anti-working class prejudices

Troyna & Williams argue the problem is not the child's language but the schools attitude towards it. Teachers have a speech hierarchy - m/c highest, w/c , then black speech

Blackstone & Mortimore reject view that parents are not interested in childrens education

they attend fewer parents evenings because they work longer or less regular hours or are put off by the schools middle class atmosphere. lack knowledge and education to help child progres. w/c have less effective system of parent-school contacts

Critics argue compensatory education acts as a smokescreen concealing the real cause of under-achievement - social inequality and poverty - Material deprivation

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Material deprivation

Poor Housing

overcrowding - less room for educational activities, nowhere to do hw, disturbed sleep from sharing beds

temporary accommodation - move frequently resulting in constant changes of school and disrupted education

health and welfare - crowded homes = more accidents. cold/damp houses = ill health temporary accommodation = psychological distress, infections and accidents

Diet and Health

Howard notes that young people from poorer homes have lower intakes of energy, vitamins and minerals. Poor nutrition affects health- weakened immune system more likely to have behavioural problems

Wilkinson - 10yr olds lower the social class the higher the hyperactivity, anxiety and conduct disorders

Financial support

Bull - cost of free schooling - children without equipment and miss out on educational activities


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Cultural capital

Bourdieu - 3 types of capital  - cultural capital - having norms and values required by society to succeed e.g parents reading to children regularly and parents taking children to theatre

Economic capital - having the wealth needed to but things for educational purposes. e.g parents buying a computer to help with hw and sending child to private school

Educational capital - having a better understanding of how the education system works to support your children. e.g parents writing an effective appeal letter against a childs school allocation and parents 

Leech & campo conducted a study in coventry. found that m/c parents are more likely to afford a house in the catchment area of a school that is highly placed in the exam league tables. - selection by mortgage

Sullivan used questionnaire of 456 pupils across 5 schools. asked them about a range of activities  e.g reading and whether they attended museums, theatre etc also tested vocabulary and knowledge. Those that read complex fiction and watch documentaries developed a higher vocabulary and wider cultural knowledge

Sullivan found that cultural capital only accounted for part of the difference in class achievement . Where pupils of  different classes had same level of cultural capital, m/c pupils still did better.

encouraging children to do past papers

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Marketisation and subject choice

Gewirtz marketisation and subject choice

Since creation of education market in 1988 Education reform act

studied 14 london schools based on interviews with teachers and parents and on secondary data

privileged skilled choosers

mainly professional m/c parents who used their economic and cultural capital to gain educational capital for their children. being confident and well educated the knew how school admission system worked

disconnected-local choosers

w/c parents whose choices were restricted as a result of their economic and cultural capital. -found it difficult to understand school admission system, less confident- attached more importance on safety and quality of school facilities than exam league tables.

semi-skilled choosers

w/c but ambitious for children. however lacked cultural capital


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