Topic 4: Educational attainment and social class

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  • Created by: zoolouise
  • Created on: 19-05-16 10:18

Social class

Britain is a class-based society. Many people believe that everyone has an equal opportunity, but it is just a myth. Those who are born into lower and poorer sections of society have very limited chances of escaping from lives of relative hardship. Those who are born into wealthy privileged families will tend to succeed in life.

Sociologists aren't entirely agreed on definitions of social class, they accept that people who are professionals,educated and in good jobs make up the middle class, whereas those who work for others, less well education and are highly qualified in practical skills make up the working class. 

The link between parental education and work and children's success in school is absolutely clear. Those who are very poor affect the outcomes of schools in terms of expected examination results, this is well known and is factored into data analysis for schools by governments.

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Parents and attitudes to school

It's probable that most parents want thier children to do well in school. They recognize the link between a good education and good life chances. However, it's a huge generalisation that people with higher levels of education generally have better health, live longer, occupy better quality housing and have more opportunities. Parents are anxious to see if their children do well in life, qualifications are a route to succeed. The governments anxious as there's a wastage of working-class talent, and industry requires a highly skilled workforce.

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Causes of under-attainment

Sociologists have elaborated a range of theories, explaining why the working-class experience underachievement:

Functionalists claim that the working clas fail because schools are meritocratic, thus they must not be the best pupils.

Marxists believe that the education system exists to legitimise ruling class power, so the education system is biased against the working class, existing only to opress.

Interactionists tend to view that schools are middle-class instituions and teachers label working-class children as failures. The children live up to their laebls by failing.

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Material and cultural deprivation

Material deprivation refers to the lack of money to buy possessions. There's been a large amount of reseach linking poverty with low attainment. Smith and Noble (1995) found that poor parents can't afford additional resources. The impact of lacking money and resources is more significant than that, poor housing means poorer children take more time off school ill. Government data on Deprivation and Education (2009) suggested family stress was a significant contributor to school failure.

Cultural deprivation suggests that the working classes are not only 'different' from, but also not as good as the middle class. The theory says that working-class children have less culture than middle-class children. Basil Bernstein suggested that the problem is caused by language, working class children have lower language skills and don't think as well as richer children as a result of this. Douglas said working-class parents don't value education.

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Labelling theories and peer groups

The government has taken on the concept of the labelling theory, as it's easier to blame teachers for low expectations than to address the wider issue within society. The claim is that children gain identity from schools and that teachers label working-class children as failures. Becker (1952) supported  labelling. Ball (1981) said schools stream children on the basis of behaviour rather than ability. Goodacre (1986) found working-class children tended to be under-marked by teachers. Theory has been heavily criticised by Safia-Mirza who claim children can and do reject negative labels.

Many interactionists have worked with groups of children within schools, finding that children who find it difficult to succeed form social groups that reject the norms of school. They can gain status by being 'bad' rather than feel inferior. Jackson (2002) suggested that this type of behaviour is a form of self-worth protection as a response to over-testing and over-emphasis on educational success.

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