Theorists: Education



Speech Codes - Differences in speech codes put working-class children at a disadvantage because the elaborated code is used by teachers, textbooks and exams. Early socialisation into the elaborated code means that middle-class pupils are already at an advantage.

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Parents' Education - Working-class parents place less value on education; they are less ambitious for their children and give them less encouragement to participate in educational activities, such as homework. As a result of this, many working-class parents do not attend parents evening.

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Working-class Subcultures - Sugarmann identifies 4 key acts that act as a barrier to educational achievement for working class pupils:

  • Fatalism- there's nothing you can do to change your status

  • Collectivism - valuing being part of a group more than being 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, therefore having no long-term goals

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Middle-class children with cultural capital are better equipped to meet the demands on the school curriculum. Parents can convert the cultural capital into economic capital, for example, they can send their children to private schools.

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Teachers judge and label pupils according to how closely they fit the “ideal pupil”. This would therefore dampen the motivation of students who did not suit the ideal pupil, due to how teachers deferred their time away from them and were unwilling to help.

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Rosenthal and Jacobson

When students are given a positive label, they react to it by creating a positive self-concept, which means they are motivated to work hard and improve their grades. This also works in reverse, with negative labels leading to negative self-concepts and less motivation-> Self-fufilling prophecy

They studied this by informing teachers of students who scored highly on an IQ test and would be a quick learner. The catch was that these test results were fabricated. Teachers treated those who were falsely identified as 'spurts’ differently. 47% of those who were identified to ‘spurt’ had made significant improvement due to how teachers paid more attention to them by giving them more feedback.

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Gillborn and Youdell

found that teachers labelled working-class students as unintelligent, resulting in them being placed in lower streams and sets.

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Lacey found that there were 2 ways in which pupil subcultures developed: polarisation and differentiation. Polarisation is when pupils respond to streaming by either moving to a pro-school subculture or an anti-school subculture. Differentiation is a form of streaming, those who are placed in higher streams gain a higher status.

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Hargreaves found that boys in lower streams were triple failures: they failed their 11+ exam; had been placed in lower streams; and then labelled as “worthless louts”- their solution to this was to form a group which provided status to those who flouted the school rules and guaranteed their educational failure.

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Archer et al.

Archer et al found that working-class pupils invest in ‘nike’ identities, leading to self-exclusion from education because it does not fit their identity and way of life; they see it as unrealistic (it is for richer and cleverer people) and they also see it as undesirable (it does not suit their habitus).

Archer believes that many working class girls are faced with a dilemma of either gaining symbolic capital from their friends or gaining educational capital by rejecting their working class identity and accepting and conforming to middle class habitus.
Archer believed that these two identities are in conflict with each other and although girls may view themselves as “good underneath” despite negative views of them by teachers, they underachieve due to the acceptance of symbolic capital over educational capital.

Archer’s study found that having a boyfriend often lowered a girls aspirations and got in the way of their education. Archer Found that when the girls in her study got a boyfriend they often lost interest in attending university or studying what was considered masculine subjects such as science and maths. Instead their aspirations changed to settling down, having a family and having local feminine jobs such as child care.

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McRobbie studied girls magazines and found that in the 1970s, they emphasised the importance of getting married. However, nowadays, they contain images of strong, assertive and independent women.

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Sharpe interviewed girls and found that their ambitions in the 1970s were to marry and have children, and saw their future in terms of a domestic role. However, in the 1990s, the girls priorities had changed to careers and wanting to be independent.

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Mitos and Brown

Mitos and Brown found that girls do better than boys in coursework because they are more conscientious and better organised.

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Gorad found that the gender gap in achievement increased sharply when GCSE was introduced in 1988.

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Swann found that boys dominate class discussions, whereas girls are better at listening and cooperating. Teachers respond more positively to girls and give them more encouragement.

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French and French

French and French found that teachers paid boys and girls similar amounts of attention for academic reasons, but boys received more attention overall because they were disciplined more often.

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Durkheim identifies two main functions of education: social solidarity and specialist skills.  The education system helps to create social solidarity by transmitting society's culture from one generation to the next. Schools also act as a ‘society in miniature’ preparing us for life in wider society.

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Parsons argues that schools are meritocratic. This is the belief that all pupils have an equal chance to succeed through talent and abilities, irrespective of class, gender, ethnicity etc.

Parsons also sees the school as an agent of socialisation, acting as a bridge between the family and wider society. 

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Davis and Moore

Davis and Moore believe schools perform the function of selecting and allocating pupils to their future work roles by assessing individuals aptitudes and abilities, schools help to match them to the job they are best suited to. 

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The education system performs two functions for the ideological state apparatus:

  • Reproduction - the education system reproduces class inequality by failing each generation of working-class pupils

  • Legitimation -  the education system tries to convince people that inequality is inevitable and failure is the fault of the individual, not the capitalist system

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Bowles and Gintis

Schools create the new generations of workers to serve the capitalist system.

There is a hidden curriculum in schools (lessons that are 'learned' but not taught), which is used to serve the capitalist system  (Eg. pupils accept hierarchy, competition, alienation)

 The functionalist idea of meritocracy is a myth; success is based on class background, not ability or educational achievement.

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Pupils can see through the ruling class ideology and resist attempts to indoctrinate it in school.  Male working class pupils formed a distinct counterculture that flouted school rules.

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Chubb and Moe

Chubb and Moe argue that the introduction of market forces into education, known as marketisation, is beneficial to the education system as it helps improve standards and efficiency.

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Developing Human Capital -This suggests that investment in education benefits the wider economy. Education can provide properly trained, qualified and flexible workforce. They argue that education makes sure that the best and most qualified people end up in jobs that require the most skill.

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Rejects the view that WC passively accept their position to become compliant workers.
Existence of anti-school subcultures, truancy and exclusion suggest both the hidden curriculum and correspondence principal have failed.
Marxists often fail to acknowledge that gender and ethnicity often combine with class to produce success or failure.

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Morrow and Torres

Morrow and Torres claim the students create their own identities rather than being constrained by traditional structures like class. In postmodern societies students are able to make their own choices about their identity e.g. increasing numbers of trans students

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Fuller’s research on black girls in a London comprehensive school found that the black girls she researched were labelled as lowachievers, but their response to this negative labelling was to knuckle down and study hard to prove their teachers and the school wrong.

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Completed a study to assess students cultural capital. She used questionnaires and got 465 pupils across 4 schools to complete them. She found that those students who showed greater cultural capital were children of graduates and more likely to succeed at GCSE, however cultural capital was only part of the reason for differences in educational achievement by social class, access to resources and greater aspirations also have a big impact.

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Hidden Cost of Education- Tanner points to the costs of transport, books, computers, uniforms, equipment and field trips can place a heavy burden on working class families.

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Hubbs and Tait

It is suggested by Hubbs-Tait that parents who challenge their children to evaluate their thinking are more likely to have higher cognitive ability.

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Feinstein suggested that this is more likely to happen in families where the parents are educated and therefore middle class.

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Howard notes that children poorer families have poorer diets and nutrition which leads to lack of energy and higher absence rates.

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Wilkinson also points out that there is I higher rate of hyperactivity and ADHD  amongst 10 year old who are from lower income backgrounds which can lead to issues with education.

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Weiner shows that since the 1980’s there has been significant change with teachers and textbooks challenging the traditional stereotypes which has led to greater achievement in girls as they are presented with more positive images of what they can achieve.

Women are hugely underrepresented in the curriculum, Wiener calls history a Women Free Zone.

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Slee points out that boys are more likely to have behavioural issues and four times more likely to be excluded which reflects badly on a school in the competitive nature of education today

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Jackson links the desire for high achieving girls to a self fulfilling prophecy. League tables have created greater opportunities for girls and they fact they are more desired by schools means that girls take on a self fulfilling prophecy and master status of higher achievement.

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Evans points out the although W/C girls are more likely to underachieve there are those who do achieve academically and go on to higher education. In her study of 21 6th form girls in South London she found that the girls wanted to go to university to increase their earning potential but it wasn’t for themselves but to help their families.

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Skeggs points out that caring is a crucial part of working class girls identity  and although living at home during university can be an economic decision it is also a positive caring decision with girls wishing to stay close to family in order to continue to help out.

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Boys see themselves as more capable than they really are. This belief runs through to their GCSE exams where they fail to do as well as thy imagined but blame everyone but themselves. This overconfidence to come from living in a patriarchal society where men assume they will always succeed over women

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Norman notes from an early age girls and boys are dressed differently and encouraged to take part in different activities which inform their ideas of what it means to be a boy and a girl. This initially starts with families but is reinforced in schools.

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Murphy and Elwood

Murphy and Elwood point out that this socialisation leads to different reading styles with boys choosing hobby books and girls preferring fiction which can explain why boys tend to go for technical subjects and girls more arts based ones.

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Browne and Ross

Children create gender domains around what they see as male and female roles based on early experience of what they see adults doing

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Kelly argues that science is seen as a boys subject for a number of reasons including that there are more male teachers, textbooks often use illustrative which focus on boys interests such as sport and in lessons boys dominate by monopolising the equipment and acting as if this is there domain.

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Paechter found that sport is often seen as part of the male domain so girls will often opt out because being sporty is contrary to gender stereotypes.

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Leonard found that compared to pupils in mixed gender schools girls are more likely to choose science and maths subjects and boys are more likely to choose English and Languages showing that the genderisation of subjects in a social construction

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African Caribbean Lone-Parenthood to blame for low educational achievement. Lack of male role-models means that mothers struggle to socialise children adequately. • Scrunton 1986 - Low achievement is the result of ethnic minorities failing to embrace & conform to British culture.

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