Functionalism investigates institutions to consider the functions they perform in society. The functionalist premise is that if an institution exists, then there must be some reason for its existence. As regards education, functionalists assume that educational institutions serve some societal need. Educational institutions are examined for the positive contribution they make towards maintaining society. Education is seen as vital as regards socialization. All societies have to have ways of socialising new members, and some societies need specialist institutions for differentiating between people and allocating them to specific levels of economic activity within their society.
Functions performed by educational institutions:
1.General socialisation of the whole population into the dominant culture, values and beliefs of a society.
2.Selecting people for different types and levels of education.
Marxists agree with functionalists that education contributes to the working of industrial society, and economic organisation. But, since Marxists disapprove of the organisation of society on capitalist lines, it follows that they disapprove of education in its present form.
Louis Althusser argued that economic relations structure education so as to reproduce these same economic relations. Education is part of the system of the reproduction of labour power. Schooling, argued Althusser, is an 'ideological state apparatus'. Schools work to ensure that those who are to do the work will do so co-operatively, out of a belief that the situation is just and reasonable.
From this point of view, the failure of so many pupils in schools is not a failing of the system (as for liberals) but actually what the schooling system is designed to do. So working class children who opt out, or fail, or find schools alien, are indications that schooling is working successfully. This reverses functionalism. Education is not designed to develop human potential, but to limit it.