Topic 8: Cultural differences as a cause of under-attainment

HideShow resource information
  • Created by: zoolouise
  • Created on: 19-05-16 18:58

How advertisers see us

Social grade A - upper middle class within higher managerial, administrative or professional occupations.

Social grade B - middle class within intermediate managerial, administrative or professional occupations.

Social grade C1 - lower middle class within supervisory or clerical, junior managerial, administrative or professional occupations.

Social grade C2 - skilled working class within skilled manual workers occupations.

Social grade D - working class within semi and unskilled manual workers occupations.

Social grade E - those at the lowest level of subsistence, these are state pensioners or widowers, they're casual or lower grade workers.

1 of 7

Working class underachievements and aspirations

In 2014, the Association of School and College Leaders presented evidence to Parliament that working-class underachievement was linked to social factors. They suggested young people spend more time outside school than in school, social factors outside school can significantly influence school attainment. These factors include aspirations, cultural knowledge, quality of parenting and time spent doing homework. 

  • Functionalist views tend to suggest that the poor fail for reasons to do with their own cultural values and lack of ambition. It's suggested that in some ways, working-class children are culturally deprived.
  • Marxists claim that the cultural issue is one of power and influence: the culture required for educational success is middle-class culture. Working-class culture isn't deprived, but different and not as highly valued.
  • Interactionists tend to suggest that teachers favour those pupils who resemble the teachers in terms of culture and class.
2 of 7

Working-class culture and education

Working class culture doesn't support the development of children's education. Oscar Lewis studied poor people in Mexico in the 1940s and 1950s, identified culture of poverty. They had a fatalistic approach to life: what happens is seen as outside their control. This helps them cope with poverty. It focusses on the present rather than planning for the future, they don't take control of their own lives. Children absorb the social values of their families, and repeat them.

  • The poor were seen as responsible for their own failures, known as 'blaming the victim'.
  • Parents were seen as offering poor socialisation to their children.
  • Policymakers could argue that interventions to help the poor, such as education, were of no value.
  • It influenced the thinking of New Right policymakers who claimed that the culture of the urban poor created crime and social problems.

Current government thinking suggests that working-class failure is due to working-class parential inability to support children. 

3 of 7

Linguistic deprivation

Basil Bernstein sugegsts there's different ways of using language. Restricted code is a type of spoken shorthand, using short sentences and a limited vocabulary; meaning is implicit, relying on the context. Elaborated code is more explicit and less dependent on the context; a wider vocabulary is used. Restricted code is used wtihin families or groups of friends, elaborated code is a more formal way of using lanauge.

Bernstein says working-class families rely on restricted code, the middle class can make use of the elaborated code when required. Bernstein suggested working-class children couldn't access the information in schools as teachers use an elaborated code. Schools demand the elaborated code the majority of the code. The restricted code limits cognitive development; it doesn't allow for the exploration and expression of abstract ideas.

4 of 7

Cultural difference theory

Willis in the 1970s suggested that working-class boys weren't interested in education.

In reaction to the functionalist view that working-class culture is inferior, many Marxists and others denied that the culture of the working class causes failure. Keddie claimed working-class culture isn't inferior, but different; the response to the culture by teachers is the problem. Rose, Gerwitz, Francis and Hey, Reay andBauman have pointed out that by looking at cultural failings in the working class, the government can safely ignore issues of funding, social deprivation and material deprivation. Interactionists suggest that the focus on cultural deprivation also directs attention away from school processes that contribute to working-class failure.

5 of 7

Cultural capital

Within the education system, governments, teachers and examiners decide what knowledge is worth having and this forms the basis of the curriculum.

Marxists see this control of knowledge as a form of social control, it's linked to social inequality. Those who have the approved knowledge gain qualifactions that lead to higher rewards and more power than those who don't. Pierre Bourdieu pointed out that some children enter education already having access to the approved knowledge: mdidle-class families possess 'cultural capital' which helps ensure the success of middle-class children. They know how the system works and have already succeeded in it.

Gillies (2005) found parents with high levels of qualifications are able to use their knowledge and influence to benefit their children. They focussed on teaching social skills and used their professional knowledge to prepare their children for the demands of schools and teachers. Gillies found working-class parents were more likely to offer strategies to cope with disadvantage and bullying.

6 of 7

Culture of masculinity and laddishness

A further development of cultural theory is applied to gender rather than to social class. Many commentators have argued that males and females experience different cultural pressures, boys are the victims of cultural pressure to fail. Typical cultural suggestions include:

  • Mitsos and Browne who suggested that boys are less inclied to be conscientious in schools
  • Mac an Ghaill said masculinity isn't clear for boys as girls have challenged their assumption that to be male is to be superior. Changes in the workplace mean boys no longer know what is to be a man, they experience a crisis of masculinity. This involves a rejection of femininity.
  • Ruddock found boys tended to have a different approach to exams, preferring not to be seen to work. 
  • Carolyn Jackson refers to laddishness and the tendency of boys to be more disruptive in class. They feel pressured by exams and respond by bcoming part of a macho culture, undervaluing education.
7 of 7


No comments have yet been made

Similar Sociology resources:

See all Sociology resources »See all Education resources »