Durkheim argued that education performs the function of creating social solidarity: it unites and draws people together into one single community. Without this, there could be conflict. Education does this by transmitting the norms and values of society from one generation to the next to create a shared culture everyone understands. For example, teaching History give individuals a shared sense of belonging and heritage.
Durkheim saw school as a ‘society in miniature’ which prepares children for adult life. It makes children learn to cooperate with people who are not our family or friends: e.g. teachers/work colleagues. Furthermore, we learn that rules apply equally to everyone.
Durkheim also argued that education teaches the specialist knowledge and skills necessary to create an effective workforce in an industrialised society.
Parsons: education and authority
Parsons argued that education acts as a ‘bridge to the particularistic standards on the family to the universalistic standards of society’. In the family rules apply to that particular child, and their status as a son or daughter is ascribed: i.e. fixed from birth. However, at school and wider society we are judged by universal standards: e.g. school rules apply equally to all as do the laws of wider society.
In both school and wider society, a person’s status is achieved i.e. worked for through our own efforts. Education and society are based on meritocratic principles: everyone has an equal opportunity to achieve rewards based on their own effort and ability.
Davis and Moore: Role allocation
Education selects and sorts pupils through exams to identify the most talented. They are then allocated roles in wider society which reflect these talents.
This justifies social inequality because the most talented and able pupils get the best grades and the best paid, high status careers, which ensures society has the best people performing its various roles.
Education appears to offer equal opportunities for all, but achievement is greatly affected by factors such as class, gender and ethnicity. Furthermore, Marxists argue education in a capitalist society only benefits the ruling class, and only transmits the ideology of the ruling class.
Also, education does not always provide the skills for work, and many pupils leave school with few prospects of a job. This suggests the role allocation function is inefficient.