Social class and Education

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  • Created by: J.E.C.
  • Created on: 27-04-14 12:10

Reasons for differential educational attainment

Leech & Campos > House prices 20% higher surrounding good schools > Social class makeup of school shrinks

Working class children more likely to leave at age 16

> Parents did not stay on - follow their role models > Have to work to support family

Working class pupils are more likely to fall behind in reading, writing & numeracy skills

> Working class parents cannot afford to spend time teaching children / good pre-school

Material Deprivation - certain groups have less money than others so are less able to make the most of educational opportunities. >Cannot afford tutors/books/trips - live in poorer catchment area - smaller house no space to work - Ill health due to poor nutrition

Cultural Deprivation - WC parents fail to adequately socialise their children so they grow up culturally deprived. Basic cultural equipment for success = Language skills, Self-discipline, Reasoning skills.

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Facts and figures

Liklihood of gaining 5 or more GCSEs grade A*-C

Parents are higher professionals - 77%   Parents in routine jobs - 32%

Some poorer kids can be a year behind by the age of 3 - communication skills

By age 16 - only a half as likely to achieve 5 GCSEs at A*-C

Callender & Jackson - between 1995 and 2002 number of students taking loans increased from 59% to 81% and the size of the loan more than doubled.

Douglas - WC pupils score less on ability tests than MC pupils - WC parents do less reading/educational activities with their children.

Bernstein & Young - MC parents choose toys that encourage thinking and reasoning to prepare them for school.

Labelling & self-fulfilling prophecy - WC more likely to be put in lowers sets - behave more badly - not given opportunity to study some subjects.

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Case Studies


> WC parents place less value on education

> Less ambitious for their children  > Less encouragement

> Take less of an interest  > Visited their schools less


> WC parent's lack of interest was the main reason for their children's under-achievement

> More significant than financial hardship or internal school factors

> MC pupils are more successful because parents provide them with necessary motivation, discipline & support.

The Working classes act as a subculture with different goals, beliefs, attitudes and values.

Subculture = group whose attitudes & values differ from that of the mainstream culture.

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Case Studies


> The attitudes and values of lower class subculture create a slef-imposed barrier to educational & career success

> Believe they have less opportunity - little value on high-status jobs = see no point in education

> Less willing to make sacrifices and stay on at school > leave & take manual jobs

SugarmanFour features act as barrier to educational achievement:

> Fatalism - 'whatever will be, will be' - cannot 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 - present more important than future = no long-term goals

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Case Studies


Restricted code = shorthand speech in which detail is omitted and information is taken for granted

Elaborated  code = details spelt out, explanations provided and meanings are made explicit.

MC children socialised in both restricted and elaborated code but WC limited to restricted code. Teacher use elaborated code - WC at a distinct disadvantage - less likely to understand teacher  / exam & more likely to be misunderstood and criticised

Restricted code is not substandard but it is not the language of education

Results from interviews offer little hard evidence that WC are restricted to RC because carried out by MC adults on 5 yr old WC boys.


Children use more rich / diverse language when they feel comfortable. WC are capable of using the EC but use the RC in a more formal / uncomfortable setting.

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Case Studies

Bourdieu - Cultural Capital

> There is a dominant culture in society

> The higher your position in the class system the more cultural capital you have

> Children born into MC and UC families have a built-in advantage = their culture is closer to that of the school > more likely to succeed. 

> Dominant culture = cultural capital = can be converted into material rewards 

> Purpose of education = reproduce dominant culture > success & failure legitimates positions at the top and bottom.


> WC boys could see through ideological smokescreen >  aware system is not meritocratic > form counter school subculture. Gain pride and sel-esteem by being disruptive. Even though they knew how to achieve and get qualifications in school. Choose to fail.

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How we can overcome differential attainment?


Education Action Zones - disadvantaged areas that have been selected for extra assistance. Schools and LEAs work with local businesses and other industries. Extra funding.

Positive discrimination - more resources put into poorer areas / more funding

Excellence in cities - better resourcing / learning mentors / resources for those in danger of being excluded / resources to encourage G&T students to aim for higher education.

EMA - offset need for students to work - support parents (no need to pay out for food, equipment etc)

Sure Start centres - provides advice & support for parents/carers. Available from pregnancy to when the child enters primary school.

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