Functionalist Perspective on Education

Functionalist Perspectives on Education: including Emile Durkheim, Talcott Parsons, Davis and Moore and criticisms of Functionalist view.

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Functionalists see society as an interrelated whole. To Functionalists every institution in society performs one or more important functions or jobs and they assume that this helps society to run smoothly. For example,Functionalists usually see institutions in society such as Education, Religion, Government and Media as essential to society.

Functionalists see Education as having 3 Key Functions...

  • Socialisation (Durkheim and Parsons)
  • Skills Provision (Durkeim)
  • Role Allocation (Davis and Moore)
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Emile Durkheim 1925


Durkheim saw the main role of Education as the transmission of norms and values of society. Educations helps to unite all members of society, creating a sense of belonging and comittment to that society or what Durkeim refers to as social solidarity.

Durkheim saw schools as society in miniature in which individuals learn to interact with each other and follow a fixed set of rules. This provides preparation for later life in society when individuals will have to interact with people and follow the rules of society. Through the Hidden Curriculum, key norms and values are taught.

Skills Provision

Durkheim also argues that Education also provides the key specific skills necessary in an industrial society , with specific jobs (an advanced division of labour) which could not be taught by parents, who lack specialist knowledge.

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Talcott Parsons 1961

Universalistic Values

Parsons argues that education has three main functions;

  • It is a bridge between the family and wider society
  • It socialises children into the basic values of society
  • It selects people for their future role in society

Before going to school, children are socialised within the family where particularistic values are promoted, where children are treated as particular individuals. However in society as a whole, universalistic standards are used, in which people are judged according to the standards that applying to everyone, equally.

In the family; status is fixed by birth (ascribed status) however in society, status is fixed by merit and effort (achieved status). Parsons argues that education makes the transition from family to society as a whole, by getting people used to universalistic values and and achieved status.

Education socialises individuals into the major values of society, the belief in individual achievement and in the value of equality of opportunity.

For example: The exam system encourages these values because it judges people fairly and motivates them to be successful

The education system judges individuals fairly; assesses students' abilities so that they can be matched to suitable jobs, allowing them to make a major contribution to society.

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Davis and Moore 1945

Role Allocation

Davis and Moore viewed education as the means of Role Allocation. Educations sifts and sorts people according to their abilities so that the most able gain high qulifications and can progress to doing the most functionally important jobs in society. The most important jobs are more highly rewarded, thereby motivation the talented to work hard and achieve those positions. In this way education helps to ensure that competent people fulfill the most important roles in society and are motivated to work hard.

Davis and Moore view education as meritocratic; that is people are judged according to their ability and effort and not what background they come from (whether that be class, ethnicity or gender).

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Criticisms of the Functionalist View

Education benefits society as a whole

  • Marxists argue that Education benefits the ruling class
  • Feminists argue that Education benefits men in a patriarchial society.

Education promotes the norms and values of society as a whole (Durkheim and Parsons)

  • Marxists see Education as promoting the values of the powerful groups in society.
  • Hargreaves (1982) argues that education promotes competition and individualism rather than shared values.

Education promotes social solidarity (Durkheim)

  • Education can be devisive because of a hierarchy of schools and universities which can separate the social classes

Educational Achievement is based on merit

  • A great deal of research (Differential Educational Achievement) shows that class, ethnicity and gender influence achievement

Education selects the most approriate people to do particular jobs (Davis and Moore)

  • Other factors apart from qualifications influence the Labour Market e.g. social contacts (who you know)
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really really helpful thank you.

Ben Renshaw


Thanks this was brilliant! 

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