Interactional accounts of school failure focus on the view that children are labelled by teachers indiviudally and by schools as organisations. These labels are absorbed by children into their sense of self, they accept these labels. If they're labelled as failures, they'll form anti-school subcultures. If they're labelled as successful, they'll go on to achieve good results, being approed by schools.
Ability grouping and class size
Some British schools are able to select pupils on the ability of talent. Those areas where grammar schools stil exist only accept those who scored highly at the 11+ exam. Interactionists would criticise this on the basis that those in the top streams gain confidence and do well, those in lower streams absorb the message that they're failures.
Ireson et al found no link between ability grouping and performance. Duckworth et al suggested that the effect of ability grouping on pupil attainment is limited. There's a powerful argument to support the idea of labelling theory, it suggests that:
- Children do absorb teacher labels
- Working-class children are more vulnerable to the labelling process
- Low expectations of pupils can result in poor teaching and preparation
- Selection on the basis of ability can damage a child's self-esteem
In schools which don't set, band or select, there's still differences in attainment between the various social groups that are generally seen as disadvantaged.
Rosenthal andJacobson adminstered an intelligence test to a number of children in a deprived inner-city neighbourhood in California. They picked names at random and then told the class teachers that those children would experience a sudden boost of intelligence and perform better. When tested again, some of the children did perform better on the test. The argument was that teachers believing something to be true, made it happen. Despite some very obvious problems with reliability, ethics and validity, this became an influential study. It was taken to prove that teacher expectations affect the outcome of children.
Gender and ethnicity
Feminists often used the techniques of labelling to look at gender. They discovered quite significant differences in the behaviour of teachers towards boys and girls:
- Jones and Dindia found that teachers praise boys more, sending unconscious messaged to girls that they weren't valued
- Stanworth found careers teachers offering strongly gendered advice
- Becky Francis recently found boys were less positively labelled in schools.
Many studies suggest that teacher racism is the cause of ethnic minority failure. Teachers have low opinions and label some cultural groups as failures. A great deal of evidence has suggested teachers are racist. Coard, Mirza, Sewell, Gilbourn and Youdell. When most of the major studies were carried out, attitudes to race in general society were very different from today, most modern schools are highly sensitised to the issues. Some of the work was conduced by researchers from ethnic minorities.
Evaluating interactionists approach
A strength of the interactionist approach is that it's based on evidence collected from inside schools and classrooms. The results of this research can then be used by schools and teachers to change what they do, providing a better experience for pupils. Its basis in evidence is in contrast to the theoretical emphasis of structural approaches, which aim to show how the education system fits in with their overall view of how society operates.
Crtitcs of interactionism suggest many studies are small scale, may not be representitive. Schools are not isolated from wider scociety, it's likely that teachers and pupils create social construction that don't reflect the ideas of society. The labelling of boys and girls reflects gender sterotypes that exist outside schools.