Education & Social Class


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  • Created by: Amy
  • Created on: 09-05-12 22:28

Out of School Factors

External factors:

Material deprivation refers to a lack of money and the things money can buy. Children from working class households (particularly lower working class) are more likely to experience material deprivation. Material deprivation can affect children in terms of housing, health and resources, all of whom could be detrimental to their education.

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  • Overcrowding – limited space to work (leads to health problems, as illness spread easily)
  • Likely to live in the catchment area of a poor school
  • Poorest areas most at risk of crime/criminal activity
  • Poor heating (leads to poor health)
  • Social stigma of living in bad housing/area
  • Arguments in family due to lack of money


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  • Poorer diet – lower immune system
  • Poorer areas = poorer health care
  • Poor health/weaker immune system


  • Computer and internet & books - poor resources for delving into deeper into education
  • After school activities
  • Up to date uniforms – social isolation
  • Lack of Personal tutor
  • Schooling
  • Equipment
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Frequent illness of the children will cause them to take days of school, which will affect their progress at school, as they would not be present to receive it.

This might affect the children as they grow into adult life, as they would still feel negatively about themselves. Moreover, they would have lower qualifications and lower health, which will prevent them from getting a highly paid job, which will then affect their own children, as their own children would live in poverty.

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Cultural Deprivation

Cultural deprivation refers to a lack of appropriate values, attitudes, language, knowledge and skills necessary for educational success. Working class pupils are more likely to experience cultural deprivation. This theory places the blame for the poor performance of working class pupils on their parents and the way they socialise their children.

Sugarman- class subcultures:

Sugarman argues that the norms and values of working class subcultures do not encourage education success, but those of middle class subcultures do.

(Note for me - look at the table :D)

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In School Factors

Douglas: parental values and interests:

Douglas argues that parental interests and encouragement is the most significant factor in a child’s education. Working class children parents do not place a high value on education, have a lack of ambition for their children, offer less encouragement and take less interest in their child’s education compared to middle class. Working class parents are less likely to visit the school to speak to teachers (although this could be due to many WC jobs involving shift work) and they are less likely to buy educational toys or engage in educational activities such as reading to their children. This may be because many WC parents have been able to gain successful employment with few qualifications so do not see the value of education.

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Bernstein: speech patterns

Restricted code uses a smaller vocabulary and makes less use of adjectives and adverbs, shorthand speech

Elaborated code provides details and background information also explanations and reasons.

The code spoken by working class pupils is the restricted code whereas middle class pupils spoke in elaborated code and restricted it when people talk in elaborated code, especially their teachers

The WC pupils may not understand it when people talk in elaborated code, If the WC pupils keep getting criticised for their speech patterns, it can affect their self esteem, making their attitude more fatalistic by losing confidence

Restricted code can limit a WC child’s chances of success in exams because they won’t be able to fully explain each answer because they wouldn’t know how to.

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Criticism of cultural deprivation

Keddie argues that cultural deprivation theory blames the family and parents for not adequately socialising their children into the appropriate value of education. But a child cannot be deprived of its own culture: working class children have their own culture; it is simply different to the middle class culture of education.

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Cultural Capital

Cultural capital refers to the knowledge and understanding of the values and the culture of education. This knowledge can lead to good grades, which, in turn, can lead to high status, well paid jobs. Middle class pupils have more cultural capital because they understand the culture of the middle class education system. Furthermore, their parents have the cultural capital to understand how the education system works and ensure their children get into the best schools. Working class children on the other hand, lack cultural capital so many underachieve in school. This then maintains a social class divide in both education and wider society.

1.       Middle class mothers have greater cultural capital than working class mothers because they had more qualifications and more information on how the system operated.

2.       They use this to help their children with their homework, bolstering their confidence and sorting out problems with the teachers.

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Social Capital

1. Social capital is the support and information provided by contacts and social networks which can be converted into material rewards

2. Middle class parents can use their greater social capital to help their children by using their social networks to talk to parents whose children are attending schools on offer. They collect and analyse information and are used to negotiating with teachers and administrators. As a results, they are more likely to gain a place in a good school for their children

3. The school/parent alliance is where the middle-class parents want to send their children to middle class schools to achieve good grades; and the schools want middle-class children to join them and produce good grades so the school looks better in education market.

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Gewirtz: cultural capital, class and marketisation

Gewirtz argues that marketisation policies of parental choice benefit middle class pupils most because middle class parents are more equipped to make choices about their child’s education as they have more cultural capital. She identifies three types of ‘choosers’:

·         Privileged skilled choosers: middle class parents who know how the education system works and how to get their children into the best schools

·         Disconnected local choosers: working class parents whose lack of cultural capital means they lack confidence in dealing with the education system

·         Semi-skilled choosers: working class parents who struggled to understand the education system but had high ambitions for their child’s education

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1. Privileged-skilled choosers reflect greater cultural capital because they are professional middle class parents who, due to cultural and economic capital, are able to take full advantage of the choices open to them, as they are confident and well-educated themselves. They know how school admissions systems work, how to approach schools, present and mount a case, maintain pressure, make an impact and be remembered. They understand the importance of putting a particular school as first choice, meeting deadlines and using appeals procedures and waiting lists to get what they wanted. 

2. This benefits their children because they know how handle schools to get what they want. As a result, their child is sent to a good middle-class school where they can achieve good grades.

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In school factors

Labelling theory: A label is a way of defining an individual. For example, a teacher may label a pupil as disruptive or lazy, or as polite and hard-working. A label can have a significant impact on a child’s education as it can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy, where an individual lives up to their label.

According to Becker, teachers hold an image of their ‘ideal pupil’: hard working, polite, interested in the subject, punctual etc. Middle class pupils tend to be the closest to this image; therefore, they receive more positive labels leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy of success. Working class pupils, on the other hand, were furthest from this image, so received more negative labels, leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy of underachievement and failure.

However, labelling theory can be criticised as too deterministic. It assures people automatically live up to the expectations others have of them. This is not necessarily the case. A pupil may be more motivated by a negative label because they wish to prove it wrong. (BUT they can be fatalistic)

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The organisation of pupils

There are two ways of organising pupils at school:

Setting: pupils are put into groups on the basis of their ability in a particular subject

Streaming: pupils are put into one group on the basis of their overall ability and stay in that group for all subjects

Middle class  pupils are more likely to be in the higher sets or streams. This gives them a positive label as a an able pupil and teachers have high expectations of them. They are entered for the higher exam tiers and achieve high grades, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of success.

Working class pupils, on the other hand, are more likely to be in the lower sets or streams. This gives them a negative label as difficult or weak pupils and teachers have lower expectations of them. They are entered for the lower exam tiers and achieve lower grades, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of low achievement.

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Marketisation and class

Marketisation policies shape what occurs in schools. Schools want pupils who will get good grades to give the school a high league table position, attract more parents and receive more funding. This creates an A-C economy where schools concentrate on those pupils more likely to get 5 A*-C. This can lead to an educational triage where schools sort pupils into who will pass anyway, borderline pass/fail, and hopeless cases. The schools then focus on helping the borderline pupils. The hopeless cases are more likely to be from the lowest working class; thus, they are significantly disadvantaged by marketisation policies as they as they get less positive attention from teachers.

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