Key Sociologists


Functionalist perspecitves

Parsons saw education as providing a bridge between the particularistic values and ascribes status of the family and the universalistic values and achieved a status of society.

Durkheim saw the school as a society miniature, preparing young people for life in a wider society based on meritocratic values where everyone achieves their position through skills and qualification. 

Schultz sees education as developing human capital - a trained and qualified labour force, benefiting the economy. 

Davis and Moore see education as selecting and allocation people for roles in a meritocratic society in which everyone has equality of opportunity - fitting the ablest and qualified people into the hierarchy of unequal positions in society. 

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Marxist perspectives

Althusser argues the education system is an ideological state apparatus passing in ruling-class ideology justifying the capitalist system, selecting people for different positions in the class structure and ensuring they have the right conformist attitudes. 

Bourdieu argues the culture of education is the culture of the dominant class. The middle class and upper-class have access to cultural capital helping them to succeed. School devalues working-class culture, making it harder for those from working-class backgrounds without cultural capital to succeed in education.

Illich and Freire see schools as repressive, promoting conformity and passivity, discouraging criticism, and encouraging acceptance of existing inequalities and the interests of the powerful. Illich suggests abolishing schools- deschooling society. 

Bowles and Gintis argue schooling prepares young people for work by the hidden curriculum which operates in the long shadow of work. Pupil experiences and the hidden curriculum at school correspond with/mirrors the culture, values and organisation of the adult workplace. 

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Teacher stereotyping

Waterhouse found teacher labelling can create a pivotal identity for pupils, and influence how teachers interact with pupils and interpret their behaviour. This can lead to various pupil responses- conflicts, confrontation and formation of pro-school or anti-school subcultures. 

Becker found teacher initially evaluate pupils in relation to the stereotype of an 'ideal pupil' - e.g. conformist, hard-working.

Hempel-Jorgensen found many pupils share a similar stereotype of an 'ideal learner'. 

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Internal factors (streaming)

Rosenthal and Jacobson tested the self-fulfilling prophecy in which it showed pupils can bring their self-image and behaviour into line with teacher stereotypes and expectations, and fulfil the predictions teachers have of them. 

Ball found the top stream/set pupils were warmed up to achieve highly; lower-streams pupils were cooled out and encouraged to follow lower-status vocational and practical courses, and consequently achieved lower levels of academic success. 

Keddie found lower-stream pupils were not given the same access to knowledge as those in higher streams, further encouraging underachievement. 

Gillbron and Youdell found schools divide pupils into three groups: (Educational triage)

  • Those most likely to succeed without any extra help.
  • Those who might succeed with extra help.
  • The no-hopers who were unlikely to succeed even if they got extra help.
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Internal factors (streaming 2)

Becker shows teachers do not usually see working-class children as ideal pupils. They tend to see them as lacking ability to have low expectations of them. As results, working-class children are more likely to find themselves put in lower stream.

Gillbron and Youdell show how teachers use stereotypical notions of ability to stream pupils. They found that teachers are less likely to see working-class (and black) pupils as having an ability. As result, these pupils are more likely to be placed in lower streams and entered for lower-tier GCSEs.

Gillborn and Youdell link streaming to the policy of publishing exam league tables. These rank each school according to the exam performance. Publishing league tables create 'A-to-C economy' in schools, where school focuses on those pupils they see as having the potential to get five grade Cs and boost school's league table.

Gillborn and Youdell call this education triage.Teachers categorise pupils by using a stereotypical view of working-class pupils as lacking ability. As a result, they are less likely to be labelled as 'hopeless cases' and simply warehoused in the bottom sets.

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Internal factors (subcultures 1)

Lacey found the reactions often taken the form of pupil subcultures, which she called 'the process of differentiation and polarisation'

  • Differentiation- where pupils are ranked and categorised into different streams/sets.
  • Polarisation - pupils become divided into two opposing groups - those labelled as top-stream conformist high achievers, and those labelled as lower-streams failures.

The 'lads' in Willis study called this grou[ 'the ear'oles', and Mac and Ghaill found this among the 'Academic Achievers and 'New Enterprisers'. Such subcultures encourage peer-group support for success in education and are most likely to be found among pupils from middle-class or skilled working-class backgrounds. 

Woods found there was a range of responses between pro- and anti-school, and these change over time as pupils move through different stages of schooling, and may apply differently according to social class, gender and ethnicity.

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Internal factors (subcultures 2)

Hargreaves found a similar response to labelling and streaming in a secondary modern school. From the point, of a view of the education system, boys in the lower streams were triple failures; they had failed their 11+ exam; they had been placed in low streams, and they had been labelled as worthless louts. 

Ball found that when the school abolished banding, the basis for pupils to polarise into subcultures was largely removed and the influence of the anti-school subcultures declined.  

Furlong observes, many pupils are not committed permanently to any response but may move between different types of response, acting differently in lessons with different teachers. 

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Internal factors (labelling)

Becker carried out an important interactions study if labelling. Based on interviews with 60 Chicago high school teachers, he found that they judge pupils according to how closely they fitted an image of the 'ideal pupil'

Dunne and Hazeley argue that schools persistently produce working-class underachievement because of the labels and assumptions of teachers.

Rist's study of an American kindergarten shows that labelling occurs from the outset of a child's education career. He found that the teacher used information about children's home background and appearance to place them in separate groups, seating each group at a different table.

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Internal factors (pupils' class identities)

Archer focus on the interaction between working-class pupils' identities and school, and how this produces underachievement. 

He found that working-class pupils felt that to be educationally successful, they would have to change how they talked and presented themselves. Thus, for working-class students, educational success often experiences as a process of 'losing yourself'. 

Archer argues that the school's middle-class habitus stigmatises working-class pupils identities. Seen in this light, the pupils' performance of style are a struggle for recognition; while the middle class see their 'Nike' identities as tasteless, to the young people they are a means of generating symbolic capital and self-worth. He also argues that working-class pupils' investment in 'Nike' identities is not only a cause of their educational marginalisation by the school; it also expresses their positive preference for a particular lifestyle.

Ingram found that having a working-class identity was inseparable from belonging to a working-class locality. The neighbourhood's dense networks of family and friends were a key part of the boys' habitus. It gave them an intense feeling of belonging. 

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External factors (C.D. 1)

Douglas found that working-class parents place less value on education. As a result, they were less ambitious for their children, gave them less encouragement and took less interest in their education. 

Feinstein reachers similar conclusions. He argues that parents' own education is the most important factor affecting children's achievement and since middle-class parents tend to be better educated, they are able to give their children an advantage by how they socialise them. 

Bernstein and Young found middle-class mothers are more likely to buy educational toys, books and activities that encourage reasonings skills and stimulate intellectual development. Working-class homes are more likely to lack these resources and this means children from such homes start school without the intellectual skills needed to progress. 

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External factors (social class)

Bernstein suggests that there are two different speech codes/language for both classes. He said that working-class uses a restricted code, and the middle-class use the same elaborated code found in school e.g. exams, textbooks etc. This gives the middle-class advantages over the working class. 

Bourdieu suggested that working-class pupils have lack of cultural capital e.g. cultural assets like parents' education; books; visits to museums and quality newspapers; and social capital- knowing the right people to get advice and help from in making educational choices, e.g. choosing the best schools. This can lead to a culture clash between working-class homes and the school. 

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External factors (gender)

Francis points out that the schooling process reinforces and reproduces gender identities, and reinforces elements of patriarchal control by males over females. Fitting in at school and with your peers often involves adopting gender-appropriate behaviour linked to gender stereotypes. Bullying and marginalisation threaten those who don't conform. 

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External factors (ethnicity)

Teacher expectations, stereotyping, labelling and conflict in the classroom - Evidence from Bhatti, Wright, Connolly, and Gillbron and Youdell suggests some teachers hold negative racists stereotypes of some minority ethnic groups. This results in members of these being ignored, singled out for punishment unfairly or seen as 'trouble' and disruptive. Such labelling can result in lower teacher expectations, poor motivation by pupils, and the self-fulfilling prophecy leading to underachievement. 

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Educational policies (1)

Gillborn and Youdell identify four aspects of equality of educational opportunity:

1. Equality to access - everyone should have the same opportunities to access schools of similar quality without unfair selection. 

2. Equality of circumstances- everyone should start school at the same starting point in terms of their home and material circumstances. 

3. Equality of participation - everyone should have the same chances to participate on an equal footing in the everyday life of schools.

4. Equality of outcome - everyone should have the same chances of sharing in the eventful benefits of schooling. 

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Educational policies (2)

Ball and Youdell identify privatisation in education and privatisation of education. 

Privatisation in education: This involves making schools and colleges operate more like independent private businesses e.g. making their own affairs; competing with other schools for pupils; target-setting ad league tables to measure performance. 

The privatisation of education: This involves the opening up of state education to private businesses who design, manage or deliver education- e.g. private companies running the exam system. 

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External factors (C.D. 2)

Sugarmann argues that working-class subcultures have four key features that act as a barrier to educational achievement:

  • Fatalism- a belief in fate - that whatever will be, it will be and there is nothing you can do to change your status/
  • Collectivism- value being part of a group more than succeeding as an individual.
  • Immediate gratification- seeking pleasure now rather than making sacrifices in order to get rewards in the future.
  • Present-time orientation- seeing the present as more important than the future and so not having long-term goals or plans. 

Keddie describes cultural dep as a 'myth' and sees it as a victim-blaming explanation. She points out that a child cannot be deprived of its own culture and argues that working-class children are simply culturally different and not culturally deprived. 

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External factos (M.D)

Flaherty said that money problems in the family are a significant factor in younger children's non-attendance in school.

Howard notes that young people from poorer homes have lower intakes of energy, vitamins and minerals. Poor nutrition affects health by weakening the immune system and lowering children's energy levels. This may results in more absences from school due to illness and difficulties concentrating in class.

Blanden and Machin found that children from low-income families were more likely to engage in externalising behaviour, which is likely to disrupt their schooling.

Smith and Noble state that poverty acts as a barrier to learning in other ways, such as an inability to afford private schooling or tuition, and poorer quality local schools.

Mortimore and Whitty argue that material inequalities have the greatest effect on achievement.Robinson argues that tackling child poverty would be the most effective way to boost achievement.  

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Ethnic differences (external 1)

Bereiter and Engelmann consider the language spoken by low-income black American families as inadequate for educational success. They see it as ungrammatical, disjointed and incapable of expressing abstract ideas. 

Gillborn and Mirza note that Indian pupils do very well despite often not having English as their home language.

Moynihan argues that because many black families are headed by a lone mother, their children are deprived of adequate care because she has to struggle financially in the absence of a male breadwinner. The father's absence also means that boys lack an adequate role model of male achievement. He sees cultural deprivation as a cycle where inadequately socialised children from unstable families go on to fail at school and become inadequate parents themselves. 

Murray argues that a high rate of lone parenthood and lack of positive male role models lead to the underachievement of some minorities.

Scruton sees the low achievement levels of some ethnic minorities as resulting from a failure to embrace mainstream British culture. 

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Ethnic differences (external 2)

Pryce sees the family structure as contributing to the underachievement of black Caribbean pupils in Britain. From a comparison of black and Asians pupils, he claims that Asians are higher achievers because their culture is more resistant to racism and gives them a greater sense of self-worth.By contrast, he argues, black Caribbean culture is less cohesive and less resistant to racism. As a result, many black pupils have low-self esteem and underachieve.

Sewell argues that it is not the absence of fathers as role models that lead to black boys underachieving. Instead, he sees the problem as a lack of fatherly nurturing or 'tough love'. This results in black boys finding it hard to overcome the emotional and behavioural difficulties of adolescence.  

He also argues that black students do worse than their Asians counterparts because of the cultural differences in socialisation and attitudes to education. As he puts it, while one group is being nurtured by MTV, the other is clocking up the educational hours. 

Gillbron argues that it is not peer pressure but institutional racism within the education system itself that systematically produces the failure of large numbers of black boys. 

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Ethnic differences (external 3)

Lupton argues that adult authority in Asian families is similar to the model that operates in schools. She found that respectful behaviour towards adults was expected from children. This had a knock-on effect on the school since parents were more likely to be supportive of school behaviour policies. 

McCulloch found that ethnic minority pupils are more likely to aspire to go to university than white British pupils. This low level of aspiration and achievement may be the results of lack of parental support. 

Lupton found that teacher reported poorer levels of behaviour and discipline in the white working-class schools - despite the fact that they had fewer children on free school meals. Teachers blamed this on lower levels of parental support and the negative attitude that white working-class parents had towards education.By contrast, ethnic minority parents were more likely to see education as a 'way up in society'.

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Ethnic differences (external 4)

Driver criticises cultural deprivation theory for ignoring the positive effects of ethnicity on achievement. He shows that the black Carribean family, far from being dysfunctional, provides girls with positive role models of strong independent women. Driver argues that this is why black girls tend to be more successful in education than black boys.

Lawrence challenges Pryce's view that black pupils fail because their culture is weak and they lack self-esteem. He argues that black pupils under-achieve not because of low self-esteem, but because of racism. 

Modwood found that, while children from low-income families generally did less well, the effects of low income were much less for other ethnic groups that for white pupils. 

Mason says 'discrimination is a continuing and persistent feature of the experience of Britain's citizens of minority ethnic origin'. 

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Ethnic differences (internal 1)

Gillborn and Youdell found that teacher were quicker to discipline black pupils than others for the same behaviour. They argue that this is the result of teachers' racialised expectations. The found that teacher expected black pupils to present ore discipline problems and misinterpreted their behaviour as threatening or as a challenge to authority. 

Osler says that in addition to higher rates of official exclusions, black pupils appear more likely to suffer from unrecorded unofficial exclusions and from internal exclusions where they are sent out of class. 

Wright found that despite the school's apparent commitment to equal opportunities, the teacher held ethnocentric views; that is they took for granted that British culture and Standard English were superior. 

Archer says teachers' dominant discourse defines ethnic minority pupils; identities as lacking the favoured identity of the ideal pupil. He says dominant discourse create 3 different pupil identities:

  • The ideal pupil - a white, middle-class, normal sexuality, masculinised
  • The pathologised pupil- Asian, feminised, asexual/oppressed sexuality
  • The demonised pupil - a black.white working-class, hyper-sexualised.
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Ethnic differences (internal 2)

Fuller describes how, instead of accepting negative stereotypes of themselves, the girls channelled their anger about being labelled into the pursuit of education success. However they did not seek the approval of teachers, and instead, they were friends with other black girls from lower streams. They had a positive attitude to academic success and rely on their own efforts and the impartiality of external exams.  This highlights that pupils may still succeed even when they refuse to conform and that negative labelling does not always lead to failure. 

Mirza found that racists teachers discouraged black pupils from being ambitious through the kind of advice they gave them about careers and option choices. She identifies three main types of teachers racism:

  • The colour-blind - teachers who believe all pupils are equal, but in practice allow racism to go unchallenged
  • The liberal chauvinists- a teacher who believes black pupils are culturally deprived and who have low expectations of them.
  • The overt racists- teacher who believe blacks are inferior and actively discriminate against them.
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Ethnic differences (internal 3)

Sewell focuses on the absence of fathers and influence of peer groups and street culture to explain the underachievement of black boys. However, he notes that their response to schooling, including racist stereotyping by teachers can affect their achievement. He identifies four responses:

The rebels were the most visible and influential group, but they were only a small minorty of black pupils. They were often excluded froms chools. They rejected bith the goals and the rules of the school and espressed their opposition through peer group membership, conforming to the stereotype of anti-authority, anti-school 'black mach lad'.

The conformists were the largest group. These boys were keen to succeed, accpeted the school's goals and had friends from different ethnic groups. They were not part of a sublucture and were anxiour to avoid being stereotyped either by teacher or by their peers.

The retreatists were a tiny minority of isolated individuals who were disconnected from both school and black subcultures, and were despised by the rebels.

The innovators were the second largest group. Like fuller's girls they were pro-education but anit-school. They valued successbut did not seek apporval of teachers.

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Ethnic differences (internal 4)

Troyna and Williams argue that to explain ethnic differences in acheivement we need to go beyond simply examinng indiviual teacher racism. They make a distinction between:

  • Indiviudal racism: results from prejudiced views of individual teachers and others.
  • Insitutional racism: discrimination that is built into the way institiutions such as school operates.

Roitmayr sees institutional racism as a locked in inequality.

Gillborn applies the concepts of locked-in inequalty to education. He sees ethnic inequality as so deep roted and so large that it is a practically inevitable feature of the education system.

Gillborn also argues that because marketisation gives schools more scope to select pupils, it alos negative stereotypes to influence decisions about school admissions.

The Commission for Racial Equality noted that racism in school admissions prpcedures means that ethnic minority children are more likely to end up in unpopular schools.

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Ethnic differences (internal 5)

Ethnocentric descibes an attitue or policy that gives priority to the culture and veiwpoint of one particuar ethnic group, while disregarding others. Reflects culture of the dominant group.

Troyna and Williams note that meagre provision for teaching Asian languagges as compared with Europeans languages.

David descibes the National Curriculu,m as a specifically British, curriculum that largely ignore non-European languages, literature and music.

Ball criticises the National Curriculum for ingoring ethnic diversity and for promoting an attitude of little Englnadism (ignroing history of black and Asian poeple).

Coard explains how the ethnocentric curriculum may produce underachieveent. He argues that image of black people as inferior undermines black children's self-esteem and lead to thier failure.

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