Sociology - The Educational System

All information about the education system including theories and sociologists

Aiming for: B/A grade

  • Created by: Emma
  • Created on: 09-04-13 15:10

The History of the Educational System

  • After WWII education was restricted to males and the upper classes
  • Butler Education Act 1944 (triparte system) - Butler was a conservative, it meant that all children had the opportunity to education. "All students at the age of 11 would take an exam called the 11+. The 11+ determined what kind of school they would go in to." The top 20% were the most academic students who went to grammer school, and the majority 75% went to secondary modern. The other 5% went to secondary technical.
  • Triparte System was critisized: labour said it still favoured the upper classes (affluent students could afford private tutors) = class divide
  • 1960's comprehensive schools introduced by labour - all students from local area were taken on regardless of social class, gender or ethnicity. School leaving age increased to 16, GCSE's more standardised, introduction of O-Levels, vocational work encouraged in the 1970's. Reading, writing and arithmetic became a large priority
  • Problems/concerns with comprehensive schools - social divide still present with comprehensive and private schools, comprehensives performed at different levels (over and under achievement)
  • Thatcher then introduced marketisation - schools competed more for students to enrol, schools had to actively produce and manufacture a business plan to try and gain respect - influx in prospectuses and open days
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The History of the Educational System

  • 1988 education reform act -  Thatcher felt students should be tested throughout the year not just at the end of their education. Ofsted inspections increased, SATS for ages 7,11,14 and sometimes 5. League tables every year for schools.
  • Curriculum 2000 and the Tomlinson enquiry - A levels more modular and split into AS and A2, Blair made increase in people going to uni through grants and loands, TE was to increase choice of type of education (many different courses to choose from)
  • The current government from 2010 (lib dems and conservatives) plan to make the following changes to the educational system: higher uni fees to £9,000 a year, only upper classes available to afford uni, return to linear system to make A Levels harder, no more EMA 
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History of the Education System time-line

1870 - Education compulsory and free

1880 - Attendance compulsory until the age of 10 

1918 - Government gained control of the educational system, raised the age to 14 

1944 - BUTLER EDUCATION ACT (conservative) - Tripartite system: 11+ exam, grammer schools, technical schools, secondary modern, primary education til age 11, leaving school age to 15, further education at 15+

1965 - COMPREHENSIVE SYSTEM (labour) - all pupils schooled with no discrimination, emphasis on reading, writing and arithmetic,GCSE's replaced O-Levels, mixed ability teaching

1972 - School leaving age changed to 16

1979 - Thatcher (conserv.) came into power and increased testing and national reporting on schools

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History of the Education System time-line

1988 - THE EDUCATION REFORM ACT (conserv.) - all students to take the new GCSE's, SATS for ages 7, 11, 14, league tables for schools, increased OFSTED inspections, more vocational courses available, marketisation

1997 - Blair (labour) came into power

2000 - CURRICULUM 2000: a levels divided into AS and A2, more vocational choice (BTEC, NVQ), tomlinson enquiry introduced to increase diversity of choice and options within education, increase in amount of people going to uni, top-up fees introduced

2010 - Coalition government (Cameron): EMA ended, tuition fees raised to £9000, changing A-Levels back to linear, ex-military teachers to instil discipline, grants and loans to be cut, increased entry criteria for uni and places limited (sounds great doesn't it?)

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Left wing and Right wing beliefs

Key words - 

  • National curriculum: set by government, formal skills and practises which must take place e.g. Maths, English (reading, writing), homework
  • Hidden curriculum: informal skills learnt by being in school e.g social skills, respect, discipline

Left wing beliefs:

  • Grants for working class to go to uni (equal opportunities, no social class divide)
  • EMA for college and sixth form
  • Comprehensives for all
  • Aim 40% of adults with a degree
  • Far left - communism
  • Key group: Marxists
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Left wing and Right wing beliefs

Right wing:

  • Keep degrees under 10%
  • Individuals pay for uni themselves
  • Take EMA away
  • Meritocracy
  • Promote private education
  • Far right - capitalism
  • Key group: Functionalists
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Functionalism and the educational system

Key thinkers: Durkheim, Parsons, Davis and Moore

Functionalists say education has three functions that help society:

  • Education teachers the skills required for work and the economy
  • Education sifts and sorts people into the appropriate jobs - allocation function
  • Education plays a part in secondary socialisation, passing on core values


  • Socialisation: education prepares the individual with the norms and values needed to operate outside the family
  • Economic: education provides children with the skills required by employers
  • Education provides integretion and social solidarity - value consensus
  • We can organise human capital through role allocation (Parsons thought this too)
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Functionalism and the educational system


  • Education is a microcosm (small version) of the adult occupational world

Davis + Moore:

  • Those who put in the most effort will be rewarded with the best grades: meritocracy
  • Stratification: more academically gifted students will get the best grades and therefore best jobs. 
  • They believe there has to be a status of unequal rewards 


  • The theory assumes all people share the same educational values 
  • It assumes those who try the hardest will get the best results but this isn't necessarily true
  • Marxists would say it ignore the fact that class can influence educational success


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Marxism and the educational system

Key thinkers: Bowles + Gintis, Bourdieu, Althusser Key terms: Unfair class divide, correspondance theory, cultural capital, old boys network, superstructure

  • Education prepares children for the world of work by giving them skills and values they'll need
  • Education justifies inequality
  • Education passes on ruling class ideology that supports capitalism

Bowles and Gintis:

  • Correspondence theory - there is a link between unfairness in schools and unfairness in the workplace. School and work is similar e.g pupils are motivated by grades to do boring work, workers are rewarded by pay by doing boring work!
  • Schools teach heirarchy and keeps people within their social class
  • The upper classes get the best education through personal contacts (old boys network)
  • Education provides a subservient (follows rules) work force to obey instructions from the ruling class
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Marxism and the educational system


  • The more cultural capital a person has (upper class mannerisms) the more favourably they will be viewed within education
  • This is unfair because it is against the working classes


  • Education produces class differences through the superstructure (holding us in our social group) and ideological state apparatus (where a social institution can control our ideology(our ideas and beliefs)


  • The theory assumes there are only two social classes
  • It ignores social mobility - if you work hard, you can achieve anything!
  • The theory is outdated - education is different now, more modern
  • Ignores the positive aspects of education
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Class and achievement

  • Pupils from middle class backgrounds are more likely to study for A-Levels whereas working class pupils are more likely to take vocational subjects. A levels ---> Uni ---> better pay
  • Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to leave school at 16 and less likely to start school knowing how to read
  • Pupils from unskilled backgrounds on average achieve lower SAT results. More likely to be put in the lower streams (Ball said higher streams tended to be upper classes, and lower streams were lower/working classes) - negative labelling can lead to the pygmalion effect
  • The pygmalion effect is similar to self fulfiling prophecy, but it relates to labelling in schools in particular
  • Becker said that teachers can treat pupils based on appearance, speech and social class and label them accordingly
  • If teachers had high expectations they would give them further knowledge on the topic they were teaching (upper classes in general) which meant the working/lower classes didn't receive this knowledge
  • Hargreaves - anti-school subcultures (frustration from being in lower set) typically lower classes
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Class and achievement

  • Material deprivation outside of school can affect achievement
  • Douglas (1964) found that children with unsatisfactory living conditions e.g poor housing and nutrition didn't do very well in ability tests compared to kids with comfortable backgrounds
  • Unemployment and low income means less money for books, internet access and school trips. It also means no financial help for uni, nurseries and private schools
  • Cultural deprivation says that working class culture and parenting aren't aimed at educational success
  • Parental intrest has a big effect on educational success e.g upper/middle classes are more likely to go to parents evenings (this isn't just because they can't be bothered - they may have inconvenient shifts) 
  • Some styles of parenting emphasise the importance of education more than others
  • Leisure time - some parents may be more likely to take children places which help them educationally e.g museums
  • Bernstein and Bourdieu both investigated differences in achievement
  • Bernstein - working class people in East London prefered to use restricted code. Middle class students used elaborated code, the same as the teachers so working class pupils were disadvantaged
  • Boudieu - middle class students advantaged because they have cultural capital which means they had the right language, skills, attitude and knowledge.
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Private schools vs comprehensive

What advantages do private schools have over comprehensives?

  • Smaller classes
  • Better resources
  • Discipline due to improved teaching methods
  • More motivation because of the knowledge their parents are paying a lot of money!
  • Higher pass rate - 25% better

Note: Some comprehensive schools do equally well depending on the area, teaching skills, resources and so on.

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Interactionalism and the education system

Key thinkers: Becker, Hargreaves, Rosenthal + Jacobson


  • Pupils are often judged in education due to their teacher label: teacher's faith in the pupil and how much belief they have that the pupil can achieve

Rosenthal + Jacobson:

  • Pupils often perform to their label, this is known as the self fulfilling prophecy
  • This can be positive or negative


  • There are three parts of labelling: 1) speculation - teacher makes guesses about the type of pupil they're dealing with. Looks at appearance, enthusiasm to work etc. 2) elaboration - the teachers can change opinion or be proved right. They become more confident in their judgements. 3) stabilisation - the teacher knows what the pupils are like
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Interactionalism and the education system


  • The Lou-Anne effect shows how positive labelling can have a big impact (she went into a school typically known for the students to mis-behave, a lower class area. She had faith in the pupils and motivated them) This was made into a film called "Dangerous Minds" this is useful for revision! It's a true story.


  • Found that pupils were labelled as early as playgroup and this affected behaviour e.g tigers, cardinals, clowns


  • Suggests that some pupils some pupils such as black females often try to break the negative label attatched to them
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Aiste - Team GR





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