Sociology - Class differences in Education

Revision on Education

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Class Differences in Education...

Some explanations on class differences focus on external factors and others focus on internal factors.

Douglas identifies major external causes of w/c underachievement as cultural and material deprivation. His study traces working class failure to factors in child's home background such as lack of achievement motivation and poor housing conditions. Linguistic deprivation has also been identified as a cause. Bernstein distinguishes between restricted and elaborated codes of speech suggesting w/c children lack the ability to understand and express abstract ideas.




Inadequate socialization by the family is seen as the main cause of failure. Those who do fail are deprived of motivation which success requires.

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Compensatory education is seen as a way to reduce inequalities in education. Extra funds are provided for deprived areas to compensate children's inadequacies of their home backgrounds. E.g. Education Action Zones

Keddie argues that the myth of cultural deprivation blames w/c families for failure, but the education fails to meet their needs. Schools are m/c institutions and fail to recognise any other culture.

Becker's research shows teachers have an image of the ideal pupil that equates to m/c. Teachers perceived w/c lacking motivation and difficult to control.
The self-fulfilling prophecy affects children's self image and academic performance. Labelled negative - Deteriorate. Labelled positive - Improve.

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Keddie - Alongside the formal curriculum is a hidden curriculum that operates at an informal level. Hidden ways that pupils are meant to conform to m/c standards. E.g. Interested in knowledge.
Pupil sub-cultures
are another source of inequality. Lacy's study of Hightown Grammar shows how streaming can lead to the formation of an anti-school culture. Ball's study of Beachside Comprehensive found when streaming was replaced, teachers continued with low expectancy of w/c.

Rejects the idea of cultural deprivation. W/c at a disadvantage cause system judges by m/c.

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Criticise interactionalists for producing small scale studies without linking to nature of inequality in capitalist society. Marxists focus on the system reproducing class inequalities. Argue that processes are closely linked to workings of capitalist economy.

1988 Education Reform Act - increase in choice - who has benefited?

- A National Curriculum of compulsory school age accompanied by SATS.
- Local Management of Schools - Headteachers etc have more control over budget.
- Open enrolment.
- Schools allowed to opt out of local authority control and become grant-maintained.
-League Tables

Gewirtz et al found m/c parents exercise more choice about which schools their children attend. Have cultural and economic capital; can afford cost of travelling etc. W/c parents opt for local schools. League tables reinforce inequalities. Education since ERA reproduce advantages to m/c.

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Walford et al's study of City Technology Colleges and Fitz et al's study of Grant Maintained schools show ERA reinforced traditional and selective forms of education rather than extending diversity and choice. National Curriculum reinforces traditional education.

Bartlett and LeGrand observe market forces have led to cream-skimming and silt-shifting. Schools under more pressure to attract academically able pupils and shift less able pupils elsewhere. Whitty observes pressure to improve league table scores reinforced inequality. Popular schools screen out disadvantaged pupils, whereas under-subscribed schools are obliged to take them. These pressures have led to re-introduction of selection - w/c disadvantaged.

Since ERA - need to improve 'sinking schools'. However Mortimore and Whitty's findings suggest major cause of underachievement is poverty.

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Check Yourself in Class Differences in Educational

1) True of false? 'The gap in the proportion of students from different class backgrounds in higher education has closed despite an overall reduction in the number of students in higher education.'

2) Write a paragraph about the external causes of w/c under-achievement using as many of the following terms as you can: external factors; cultural deprivation; functionalist perspective; cultural deprivation is a myth.

3) Explain what sociologists mean by 'self-fulfilling prophecy'.

4) Suggest two ways in which schools put w/c pupils at a disadvantage.

5) Briefly identify three key features of the 1988 Education Reform Act.

6) Suggest two reasons why parents who are better off and better educated themselves have more choice within the state education system.

7) What do Bartlett and LeGrand mean by 'cream-skimming' and 'silt-shifting'?

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Ethnic Differences in Educational Achievement...

Ethnic differences in achievement reflect innate differences of intelligence and ability. Explanations of this emphasize environmental factors either in a child's home and cultural background, or within the education system itself.

Bereiter et al put forward cultural and linguistic deprivation as an explanation of the below average achievement of ethnic minority. The culture and language is seen as deficient and lack background knowledge and experience required for success at school.

Against this view, Baratz argue they are not culturally deprived, but culturally different. They are disadvantaged cause the education system fails to recognise their culture. Labov's study supports this view that the language spoken is different to standard english but not inferior.

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Explanations based on cultural deprivation don't distinguish between different ethic groups. Gillborn has found considerable differences in levels of achievement between ethic groups.

Pyrce suggests the different levels of achievement are due to cultural differences not cultural deprivation. He believes the African Caribbean culture, language and family life were damaged by slavery. By contrast, Asian culture and family structure remained stronger despite effects of British colonial rule. Driver emphasizes cultural differences and found in west Indian girls and boys, girls were more successful cause of the matrifocal family structure. This is also a link to gender achievement.

These explanations have attracted criticism. Lawrence argues Pyrce ignores the strengths of African Caribbean culture. Mirza argues the real explanation for low achievement is racism.

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Studies - Internal - Labelling, hidden curriculum and pupil sub-cultures.

Wright found primary school teachers were ethnocentric: assumed Asian children had language problems. Found African caribbean children as disruptive and a potential threat.

The Commission of Racial Equality's study of Jayleigh Comprehensive found Asian pupils were in lower sets cause of assumptions about their ability.

Studies of pupil sub-cultures challenge stereotypes of African Caribbean pupils. E.g. Fuller's study of black girls shows they keeps a positive self-image despite the negative way they are labelled.

Sewell's research shows the stereotype of black macho lads apply to a minority of pupils. Most were conformists. Racism is a more significant cause of under-achievement than membership of pupil sub-cultures.

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Mirza examined the effects of racism in education. Found evidence of negative stereotypes of black pupils dis not undermine their ambitions or self-esteem. However racism did restrict access to teachers' time, unbiased career advice and learning materials. Girls avoided racism by being selective of teachers but at a cost to their progress.

Teachers are a vital link in the transmission of social and racial inequality. E.g. Many black pupils have high aspirations - given career advice reflected by teachers' low expectations of them.

ERA believed parents and local communities should have more control. However Deem shows decision-making has stayed in the hands of the headteachers and financial experts. Hatcher et al found schools were unaware of racism and there was no channel for which ethic parents could express concerns.

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Ball describes the introduction of the National Curriculum involved a process of cultural restorationalism underlining the value of English culture, history and language and marginalizing the ethnic minority cultures.

All pupils should be educated. E.g. There is a lack of provision for minority languages and a strong emphasis on Christianity, with minimal recognition of other cultures. Gillborn describes this as depluralization: process that restricts the scope for multi-cultural education and reinforces existing inequalities.

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Check Yourself in Ethnic Differences in Education

1) Summarize what the chart tells us about the percentage of pupils from each ethnic background that gained five or more higher grade passes at GCSE.





2) Explain why it is important to distinguish between ethnic minority groups when examining differences in educational achievement.

3) How does Pryce explain the different achievement levels of African Caribbean and Asian pupils?

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4) How does Driver explain the higher achievements of west Indian girls compared to west Indian boys?

5) Give one reason why Wright describes the teachers in her study as ethnocentric.

6) Explain how racism limited black pupils' opportunities in the schools Mirza studied.

7) Write a paragraph about ERA and ethnic differences in education using as many of the following terms as you can:

Local management of schools; school governing bodies; decision-making; white social networks; National Curriculum; depluralization.

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Gender Differences in Educational Achievement...

Since the mid-1980s, girls have overtaken boys. GCSE results in 1992 show 46% of girls and only 37% of boys achieved 5 or more A-C grades. Arnot et al shows between 1984 and 1994, girls improved their performance at GCSE, but boys performed better at A level. In 2001 Girls achieved better.

The closing of the gender gap took place when GCSE and A level results improved considerably for both sexes. It is important to realise this as media coverage confused this as a problem of 'failing boys'.

Coffey argues we should look at gender in education in relation to:
- Gender Routes: differences in the subjects that boys and girls study in schools
- Gender relationships: the role models available to boys and girls in schools
- Gender regimes: the way social control operates along gender lines in schools.

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Arts-science divide - also considerable overlap.

Early studies - reasons for girls underachieving

Lobban's analysis of school reading schemes showed hidden messages about gender-appropriate behaviour - Female world of housework and childcare - Male world of work and activities outside the home.

Hidden curriculum - The girls Spender interviewed believed natural boys demand questions and girls get on with the work. Teachers gave priority to boys and what girls said was less interesting and less important.

Stanworth found boys dominated the classroom. Girls - perceived lower in sexual hierarchy or worth - less attention and discrimination - undermined girls' self-confidence. This explains why the girls under-estimated their ability and the boys over-estimated theirs.

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Psycho-social explanations of gender differences focus on gender socialization. Maccoby and Jacklin's explanation of differences in math ability. Boys and girls acquire abilities through socialization of the home - primary socialization. Boys taught to be active and expect change, where girls are rewarded for conformity. This is why boys develop an aptitude for maths and problem - solving and why girls get better results in tests of verbal ability.

Arnot et al - girls improvement - feminism.

Welner notes feminists have played an active part in changing attitudes in education and society. Efforts supported in 1980s by opportunity initiatives funded by LEAs. Teachers challenged gender stereotypes. E.g. Removing sexist images from materials and encouraging girls to want careers. More women in senior positions are positive role models to girls.

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Girls benefited from the introduction of GCSE - new assessment and coursework. National Curriculum reduced the influence of gender by making some subjects compulsory. Pressure to increase league table results has made schools keen to recruit girls who are seen as high achievers.

Broader social and economic changes have also had an influence. Jobs in manufacturing have declined, male unemployment. Women's employment has increased - Undermined the traditional role of breadwinner. Girls less likely to see role as housewife.

Interviews conducted by Sharpe shows girl's priorities have changed, In 1974 they were 'love, marriage, husbands and careers' but by 1996 they were 'job, career and being independant'.

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Gender routes - reasons why boys perform better at math subjects and girls at art subjects. Gender preferences - not cause of different abilities but from learned differences in motivation. Browne and Ross suggest subject choices are due to early childhood experiences make them more confident about activities that fall in their own gender domain. Reinforced by teachers.

Epstein explains girls achieve more better in English cause more familiar with imaginative and story based material. More successful at English coursework as demands descriptive writing. Boys - Information texts. Murphy and Elwood found boys are more confident with - more likely to play with gadgets at home.

Gender relationships include different role models available. More women are recruited into senior positions, but men still occupy most of these posts. School governors are mostly men but 'dinner ladies' and most cleaners are women.

Mac an Ghaill describes how gender regimes in schools operate through an informal hierarchy which gives high status to heterosexual masculinity, but devalues femininity. Evident by the ways teachers control male pupils. E.g. Accusing boys in low streams of acting like girls. Gender inequalities in education remain significant.

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Check Yourself in Gender Differences in Educationa

1) True or False? 'The gender gap in achievement closed because boys' achievement deteriorated.'

2) Suggest two reasons why boys tend to dominate in classroom discussion.

3) Explain why Arnot sees the improvement in girls' achievements as 'progress against the odds'.

4) Suggest four changes within education that have helped to improve girl's achievements.

5) Give two reasons why girls are now less likely to see their future roles as housewives.

6) What do sociologists mean by gender routes? How do they explain gender preferences for arts and science subjects?

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Perspectives on the Role of Education in Society..


Based on the view that each part of society, such as the family, education system and economy, performs functions that maintain society as a whole.

Durkheim argues education creates social solidarity by integrating individuals into a shared culture. Education also prepares individuals for their positions in the division of labour by teaching skills required in work and industry.

Parsons identifies socialization and social integration as key functions, but puts more emphasis on the need for social selection and role allocation. Schools are agencies of secondary socialization that transmit skills and values. Like Davis and Moore he argues the education system is a meritocracy.

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Education must be understood in relation to the workings of the capitalist society.

Marxists Bowles and Gintis argue that education in a capitalist society reproduces and legitimizes social inequality. Firstly, schools reproduce a workforce with the skills that are needed at different levels of the capitalist economy. Secondly, they legitimize the inequalities they produce by making them seem fair and natural.

Bowles and Gintis put forward these key concepts:
- The correspondance principle: Education exists in 'the long shadow of work'. Schools resemble offices and factories. Schools, like factories, are based on a system of top-down control and the hidden curriculum rewards conformity.
- The hierarchical division of labour: Selection and streaming in schools reproduces workers for different levels of the production process.
- The myth of meritocracy: The education system is a giant myth-making machine, which convinces people that social positions are based on merit, when in fact they are pre-determined by class background.

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MacDonald criticizes Bowles and Gintis for ignoring gender inequality. From a FEMINIST perspective she argues that schools reproduce both capitalism and patriarchy. Gender divisions in schools correspond to gender divisions in employment. The school hierarchy mirrors the control of women by male managers in the workplace.

Willis' study of 'the lads' - a group of w/c rebels in a comprehensive school - is similar to Bowles and Gintis' approach in emphasizing the close relationship between education and work. Both adopt a marxist approach. However Willis stresses the importance of 'the lads' counter culture and the shop-floor culture it reflects. W/c resist dominant ideology. Unlike Bowles and Gintis who see the education system as all-powerful, Willis sees 'the lads' counter culture as evidence of class struggle and w/c resistance.

Bourdieu sees the education system as reproducing and legitimizing social inequality. However, he attaches importance to cultural capital. He argues the education system reproduces inequality for assuming everyone possesses cultural capital, but in reality only m/c do. Result - w/c families are eliminated. Education also legitimizes social inequality by making its origins appear to be based on individual ability.

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The New Right believe:

- Greater diversity of types of schools.

- Freedom of choice based on the rights of parents as consumers.

- Local control of schools without interference from state.

- Excellence achieved through competition.

These opinions are shared with Chubb and Moe who argue that parent power and community control will make schools more efficient.

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They argue that society has become fragmented and that old divisions and hierarchies have been broken down. There are many different and overlapping sources of of identity.
Usher and Edwards
argue that education is becoming more diverse and tailored to the needs of particular communities and groups. It no longer performs functions for society as a whole.

Whitty argues that we need to recognise both continuity and change in education. In common with Giddens, he uses the term late modern rather than postmodern to describe our society. He argues education continues to reproduce and legitimize social inequality.
Ball argues although ERA appear to give power to schools and local communities, it introduced new and subtler forms of control, including National Curriculum, funding formula and league tables. This encourages schools to be selective. As a result schools reproduce the advantages of m/c.

Walford suggests the ideology of consumer choice acts as a new form of legitimation. Failure is blamed on 'bad parenting' or 'failing schools', when the real reasons are social deprivation and poverty.

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Check Yourself in Perspectives on the Role of Educ

1) Read the statements and identify the perspective associated with them.
A: 'The main function of education is to promote social solidarity.'
B: 'Selection in education is based on merit; in other words effort plus ability.'
C: 'Society is now much more diverse and fragmented. Education means different things to different individuals and communities.'
D: 'Parent power and community control make schools more efficient and responsive to local needs.'

2) According to Bowles and Gintis, how do schools reproduce and legitimate social inequality?
3) Why do Bowles and Gintis describe education as being 'in the long shadow of work'?
4) What is MacDonald's main criticism of Bowles and Gintis?
5) Explain why Ball rejects the suggestion that ERA gave local communities more control of schools.
6) Explain Walford's argument that consumer choice in education is a new form of legitimation.

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