Labelling theory and the self-fulfilling prophecy
Labelling theories describe a social process that involves a person being given a label by others; this label then affects interaction and behaviour, with the label becoming part of the individuals identity. A number of studies in the 1970s described the way that teachers form an impression of a pupil and then percieve the behaviour and ability of that child in the light of the label.
Hargreaves et all described this process as consisting of three stages. He says teachers may be subject to the halo effect, behaviours from pupils labelled as good will be accepted, behaviours from challenging pupils will attract punishments. Those labelled as failing or naughty etnd to form friendship groups with similar students; counter-school cultures. These subcultures status is gained by challenging teachers, not conforming to their expectations.
Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968) suggested teachers could affect pupil attainment. Concerns about effects of labelling contributed to the campaign to end selection at the age of 11, and to introduce mixed ability teachers. School inspectors OFSTED have said teachers should have high expectations of all pupils, regardless of their background.
Evidence supporting labelling theory
- In the 1970s studies by Becker (1971) and Rist (1970) found teachers making educational judgements on the basis of social class and appearence and favoured middle-class children.
- Careers teachers gave different advice to working and middle class pupils, according to Cicourel and Kitsuse (1971).
- Pupil behaviour was a factor in placing children into ability streams in the comprehensive school studied by Ball (1981).
- Ethnciity affects judgements. Wright (1987) found teachers viewed Black Caribbean students negatively.
- More recent studies by Boaleer in Britain and the USA have found students taught in mixed-ability classes outperform those taught in streamed classs.
Criticisms of labelling theory
- Many of the studies are based on small-scale observational studies and so the evidence isn't reliable and may not be generalisble.
- Doesn't explain why the labels develop in the first place
- It's deterministic, implying that once labelled, children will act according to their labels. There's evidence that many children actively reject teachers' labels and decide to prove them wrong.
- By blaming teachers for children's performance, it ignores the fact that children are also active in making choices to work or not work.
- Marxists point out that it overlooks the importance of social structures, such as class, racism and sexism in creating school inequalitise
Institutional racism in schools and gender
Labelling takes place when teachers individually respond to indiviudal pupils and spark a process whereby anti-school cultures develop. There's evidence that institutional racism in schools, despite equality policies. Instituional racism is when the school as an instituion acts in a way that disadvantages some groups of people. Gillborn and Youdell found that Black minorities are more often found in lower sets in school. Swann report found systems in schools disadvantage some ethnic minorities. Exclusion rates are higher for Black Caribbean children.
Schools and teachers have different expectations about girls and boys. They may be expected to behave in different ways, to take on different subjects. These stereotypical ideas can form part of the laeblling process, which reinforce the attitudes found in wider society. One effect of this labelling is on career aspirations; a report of OSTED in 2011 found that, although girls were aware of the eqality agenda, most schools weren't doing enough to encourage girls and young women to challenge vocational stereotypes.
School improvement research
Governments can influence what happens in schools, recent policy has had the aim of making more schools effective. Politicians have drawn on recent sociology of education research which has helped identity the characteristics fo successful schools. The conclusion is that some schools underperform and that they need to reform themselves, and become better at encouraging disadvantaged children to do better.
The effect of school organisation on pupil attainment was the focus of much research in the 1990s. Poor oranisational structure and low teacher expectation were identified by Stoll and Fink (1998) as characteristics of sink schools. These schools are generally found in areas of poverty and deprivation. Many of these schools have been turned into academy schools as part of government policy.
Some critics said reforms have led to unequal provision and a fragmented education system. There's also a debate about how much actual difference schools can make when the social problems of some of their pupils, such as poverty, are so desperate.
Estyn in Wales and OFSTED in England, are external agencies that have responsibility for reporting on schools and judging how effective they are. There are some differences in how they perform their role, they share important features. Both of these oranisations base their approach on the assumption that schools and teachers can make a difference to how well children learn and this has an impact on the opportunities available for pupils. Judgements about schools are based on a range of evidence including exam results, and observations of lessons. They consider the quality and effectiveness of school leaders.