The Role of the Education System

Class, Gender, Ethnicity and Differential Achievement 

and Social Policy in Education.


Functionalism View of the Education System

Functionalists believe that education has three functions that helps society:

1) Education teaches the skills needed for work and by the economy

2)Education sifts and sorts people for the appropriate jobs. (allocation function)

3)Education plays a part in secondary socialisation, passing on core values

The functionalist perspective says that education is meritocratic. A meritocracy is when social rewards are allocated by talent and effort rather than because of the position someone was born into.

Talent+motivation+equal opportunity = qualifications and a high position in society

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Marxism View of the Education System

Marxists believe education legitimises inequality through ideology

1)Education prepares children for the world of work by giving them skills and values they'll need

2)Education justifies inequality

3)Education passes on ruling class ideology that supports capitalism

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Functionalists in Education

1) Durkheim said that education passes on norms and values in order to integrate individuals into society. 

Education helps to create social order based on cohesion and value consensus.

2) Parsons describes school as a bridge between family and adult roles in society. Schools pass on a universal value of achievement. Parsons says that education selects children into appropriate roles because its meritocratic (the best students rise to the top).

He agrees with Durkheim that education helps to make people agree about norms and values

3)Davis and Moore (1945) say that every society sorts its members into different positions. They think that there are rules for how education does this - called 'principles of stratification'.

They believe that there has to be a system of unequal rewards (more money or status) to motivate people to train for the top positions. 

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Marxists in Education

1) The neo-Marxist Althusser sees education as part of the 'ideological state apparatus'. In other words, it's a tool of capitalism which used to pass on the belief that society is fair. Althusser thinks education produces a docile and obedient workforce.

2) Bolwes and Gintis (1976) say that there is a close link between school and work (Correspondence theory)

  • Pupils are taught to accept the hierarchy at school. Work also has a hierarchy.
  • Pupils are motivated by grades to do boring work. Workers are rewarded with money to do boring work.
  • The school day is broken into small units. So is the work day.
  • At school and work, subservience (following the rules) is rewarded.
  • Bowles and Gintis say that the 'hidden curriculum' (things like being on time for lessons) prepares people for work. They also say that meritocracy is a myth which is used to blame individuals for not succeeding.

3) Willis (1997) says that education doesn't turn out an obedient workforce. Some kids form an anti-school subculture and cope with school and then adult work by mucking about. 

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Criticisms of Functionalism and Marxism

Evidence of differential achievement in terms of class, gender and ethnicity suggests that education is not meritocratic.

'Who you know' is still more important than 'what you know' in some parts of society. so the allocation function isn't working properly.

It can be argued that the education system doesn't prepare people adequately for work. for example, the lack of engineering graduates indicates education is failing to produce what employers and the economy needs.

Functionalism doesn't look at how education may serve the interest of particular groups in terms of ideology and values, and doesn't explain conflict.

Marxism assumes people are passive victims. It exaggerates how much working class students are socialised into obedience. Willis showed how students resisit authority.

Most people are aware of inequality in education,and dont believe society is fair.

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Feminists view on Education (patriarchal)

1) Some feminists argue the the hidden curriculum unofficially reinforces gender differences.

2) There are still gender differences in subject choice in schools. Gender stereotyping may still exist.

3) Girls are now outperforming boys at school-but boys still demand attention from teachers.

4)Men seem to dominate the top positions in schools (headteacher and deputy head) and even more so in universities.

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Class and Differential Achievement in Education

Links between Social Class and Educational Achievement

1) Pupils from professional backgrounds are significantly more likely to enter higher education than those from unskilled backgrounds.

2)Pupils from middle class backgrounds are more likely to leave school at 16 and less likely to start school being able to read

3)Pupils from unskilled backgrounds on average achieve lower scores on SATs and GCSEs and are more likely to be placed in lower streams or bands.

4) Middle class more likely to study A-levels and Working class are more likely to take vocational subjects.
Some sociologists have suggested that the relative intelligence levels of different socio-economic and ethnic groups account for disrepancies in educational attainment (Eysenck (1972) and others). But it is difficult to determine whether IQ or social factors are more important to educational attainment

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In-school factors-Labelling, streaming and subcult

1) Negative labelling can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.
Becker(1971) and Keddie(1971) say that teachers evaluate pupils based on apperance, personality, speech and social class (Ideal Student)

2)Negative labelling can mean students get put into lower streams or bands. Ball (1981) found that pupils in top bands were from higher social classes and teachers had high expectations of them. Keddie found that these people got access to higher levels of knowledge, which the working class students didn't get.

3) As a response to negative labelling, pupils formed anti-school subcultures. Hargreaves (1975) found that those in the bottom streams were more likely to be non-conformist. Woods (1983) responded saying that there are lots of different reactions to schools, but non-conformist reactions were more likley to come from from working class students.

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