TOPIC 1 - Class differences in achievement - External factors

Social class background has a powerful influence on achild's chances of success in the education system. Middle-class children perform better on average than working-class children, and the class gap widdens when they get older. Sociologists are interested in why these class differences in education within the state sector itself.

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  • Created on: 29-03-11 08:19

TOPIC 1 - Explaining class differences in achievem

  • Middle-class children perform better on average than working-class children, and the class gap widens when they get older.
  • Sociologists have put forward a number of explanations for why these differences exist within the state education sector. These explanations are divided into two groups -  internal and external factors.
  • Internal factors are the factors within schools and the education system, such as interactions between pupils and teachers, or inequalities between schools.
  • External factors are the factors outside the education system, such as the influence of home,
  • there are three external factors that affect a child's educational achievement these are:

1. Cultural Deprivation 

2. Material Deprivation 

3. Cultural Capital 

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Cultural Deprivation

  • Cultural deprivation theorists argue that most of us begin to gain basic values, attitudes and skills that are needed for educational success through primary socialisation
  • This basic 'cultural equipment' includes things such as language, self-discipline  and reasoning skills.
  • according to cultural deprivation theorists working-families  fail to socialise their children properly. these children grow up 'culturally deprived'. That is,  they lack the cultural equipment needed to do well at school and so they under-achieve.
  • there are three main aspects to cultural deprivation:

1. intellectual development

2. language

3. attitudes and values

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Intelectual development

  • Cultural deprivation theorists argue that many working-class homes lack the books, and educational toys needed to stimulate a child's intellectual development.
  • J.W.B. Douglas (1964)found that working-class pupils scored lower on tests of ability than middles-class pupils. He argues that this is because working-class parents are less likely to support their child's intellectual development.
  • Bernstein and Douglas Young (1967) found that the way mothers think about and choose toys has an influence on their child's intellectual development.
  • middle-class mothers are more likely to choose toys that encourage their child's thinking and reasoning skills in order to prepare them for school.
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Compensatory education

  • Compensatory education is a policy designed to tackle the problem of cultural deprivation by providing the necessary resources to schools in deprived areas.
  • Programmes attempt to teach children early in the socialiation process to compensate children for the deprivation they experience at home.
  • Operation Head Start in the United States, a multi-billion dollar scheme of pre-school education in poorer areas introduced in the 1960s, aimed to develop learning skills and instil achievement motivation. It also included parenting skills and setting up nursery classes.  
  • Sesame Street was intially concieved as part of Head Start, providing a means of reaching young children and transmitting values and attitudes needed for educational success. This included the importance of numeracy and literacy.  
  • Educational Priority  Areas were created in the 1960s.
  • Education Action Zones were created in the late 1990s.
  • Sure Start a nationwide programme aimed at pre-school children and their parents, was launched 2000. By 2008, there were around 2,500 local Children Sure Start centres in Britain.


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Criticisms: The Myth of Cultural Deprivation?

  • Niel Keddie (1973)describes cultural deprivation as a 'myth' and sees it as a victim blaming explanation. She dismisses the idea that failure at school can be blamed on a culturally deprived background.
  • Keddie points out that a child cannot be deprived of its own culture, and argues that working-class children are not culturally deprived, just culturally different.
  • Keddie claims that they fail because they are put at a disadvantage by the education system that is dominated by middle-class values.
  • Keddie argues that rather than seeing working-class culture as deficient, schools should build on its strengths and tackle anti-working class prejudice.
  • Barry Troyna and Jenny Williams (1986)argue that the problem is not the child's language but the schools attitude toward it. Teachers have a 'speech hierarchy' they label middle-class speech highest, followed by working class speech and black speech.
  • Tessa Blackstone and Jo Mortimore (1994)say they attend fewer parent evenings not because of lack of interest, but because they work longer hours and are put off by the school's middle-class atmosphere.
  • Some critics argue that compensatory education schemes act as a smokescreen concealing the real cause of under-achievement, namely social inequality and poverty.
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Material Deprivation

  • The term 'material deprivation' refers to poverty and lack of material necessities such as better housing and income. 
  • Poverty is closely linked to educational under-achievement because: in 2006, only 33% of children receiving free-school meals gained five or more GCSEs at A* - C, as against 61% of pupils not receiving school meals.
  • Jan Flaherty (2004), money problems in the family were a significant factor in younger children's non-attendance at school.
  • Exclusion and truancy are more likely for children from poorer families.
  • Nearly 90% of failing schools are located in deprived areas.
  • Working-class families are much more likely to have low incomes or inadequate housing. Factors such as these can affect their children's education in several ways.
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  • Poor housing can affect pupils' achievement both directly and indirectly. For example, overcrowding means less room for educational activities , nowhere for homework, disturbed sleep from sharing beds or bedrooms and so on.
  • For young children especially, development can be impaired through lack of space for safe play and exploration.
  • Families living in temporary (bed and breakfast) accommodation may find themselves having to move frequently, resulting in constant changes of school and disrupted education.
  • Children in crowded homes run a greater risk of accidents.
  • Cold or damp housing can also cause ill health, especially respiratory illnesses.
  • Families in temporary accommodation suffer more psychological distress, infections and accidents. Such health problems mean more absences from school.
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Diet and Health

  • Marilyn Howard (2001) notes that young people from poorer homes have less intakes of energy, vitamins and minerals. Poor nutrition affects health, for example by weakening the immune system and lowering children's energy levels. This may result in more absences due to illness or difficult concentration in class.
  • Children from poorer homes are more likely to have emotional or behavioural problems.
  • Richard Wilkinson (1996) among ten year olds, the lower the social class, the higher the rate of hyperactivity, anxiety and conduct disorders all of which are likely to have a negative effect on the child's education.


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Financial support and the costs of education

  • David Bull (1980) refers to this as 'the costs of free schooling'.
  • A study in the Oxford area byEmily Tanner et al (2003) found that the cost items such as transport, uniforms, books, calculators, computers, music and art equipment , places a heavy burden on poor families.
  • Poor children may have to make do with hand-me downs and cheaper but unfashionable equipment, and this may result in being bullied by peers.
  • Tess ridge (2002) in her study of examining poverty from the child's perspective, quotes 12-year-old Bella: "I just want to fit into the group, 'cos it's like...people take the mick out of me because i can't afford things. Like my trainers are messy...and i need new trainers and clothes... I can't get decent clothes like everyone else does."
  • According to Flaherty, the fear of being bullied may also help to explain why 20%  of those eligible for free school meals do not take up their entitlement.
  • Audit office (2002) found that working- class students spent twice as much time in paid work to reduce their debts as middle-class students. 
  • These financial restrictions help to explain why many working-class pupils leave school at 16, and why relatively few go unto university.
  • Students from poor families starting university can expect to leave with substantial debts as a result of the introduction of fees for higher education.
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Cultural or Material Factors?

  • The fact some children from poorer families succeed suggests that material deprivation is only part of the explanation, for the differences in educational achievement.
  • The cultural, religious or polictical values of the family may play a part in creating and sustaining a child's motivation, even despite poverty.
  • The quality of the school may play an important part in enabling some poor children to succeed.
  • Geoff Whiffy (1997) argues that material inequalities have a greater effect on achievement than school factors.
  • Peter Robinson (1997) argues that tackling child poverty would be the most effective way to boost achievement.
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Cultural Capital - Bourdieu: Three types of capita

  • Pierre Bourdieu (1984) argues that both cultural and material factors contribute to educational achievement and are not separate but interrelated. he uses the concept of 'captial' to explain why middle-class children are more successful.
  • In addition to ecomic capital (wealth) Bourdieu identifies two more types: 'educational capital' or qualifications, and 'cultural captial'. He argues that teh middle class generally possess more of all three types of capital.
  • He sees middle-class culture as a type of capital  becuase, like wealth it gives an advantage tot hsoe who posses it.
  • Like Bernstein, he argues that through their socialisation, middle-class children gain the ability to graspa nd express abstract ideas. This is becuase the education system is not neutral but favours and transmits the dominant middle-class culture.
  • Working-class children find that school classify their culture as 'rough' or inferior. Their lack of cultural capital leads them to exam failure.
  • many working-class children also 'get the message' that education is not meant for them and respond by truantinig, early leaving and just not trying.  
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Educational and economic capital

  • Bourdieu argues that educational, economic and cultural capital can be converted into one another.
  • Middle-class children with cultural are better equipped to meet the demands of the schools curriculum and gain qualifications.
  • Wealthier capital by sending their children to private schools and paying for extra tuition.
  • Dennis Leech and Eric Campos' (2003)study of Coventry shows, middle-class parents are also more likely to be able to afford a house in the catchment area of the school that is highly placed in the exam league tables. This has become known as 'selection by morgage' because it drives up the demand for houses near to successful schools and excludes working class families.
  • Alice Sullivan (2001) used questionnaires to conduct a survey of 465 pupils in four schools. To assess their cultural capital, she asked them about a range of activities, such as reading and TV viewing habits. She found that cultural capital only accounted for part of the class differences in educational achievement, because where pupils of different classes had the same level of cultural capital, middle-class pupils still did better.
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Gewirtz: Marketisation and parental choice

  • Since the creation of 'the education market by Education Reform Act sociologists have been interested in the effect of increase parental choice that the Act introduced.
  • Sharon Gewitz (1995)conducted a study of class differences in parental choice of secondary school. She studied 14 London schools based on interviews with teachers and parents, and on secondary data such as school documents. She uses Bourdieu's ideas to explain her findings.
  • Gewitz found that differences in economic capital lead to class differences in how far parents can exercise choice of secondary school.
  • Gewitz identified three main types of parents:

1. Privileged-skilled choosers

2. Disconnected-local choosers

3. Semi-skilled choosers

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Privileged-skilled choosers

  • These are mainly professional middle-class parents who used their economic and cultural capital to gain educational capital for their children.
  • These parents possessed cultural capital because they knew how school admissions system work, how to approach schools, maintain pressure, make an impact and be remebered'.
  • They understood the importance of putting a particular school as first choice, meeting deadlines and using appeals procedures and waiting lists to get what they wanted
  • They saw choosing school as part of the process for planning their children's future, and they had the time to visit schools and the skills to research the options available.
  • Their economic capital also meant that they could afford to move their children around the education system to get the best deal out of it.
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Disconneted-local choosers

  • These were the working-class parents whose choices were restricted by their lack of economic and cultural capital.
  • They found it difficult to understand schoos admissions proceedures. They were less confident in their dealings with schols, less aware of the choices open to them and less able to manipulate the education system to their advantage.
  • Many of them attached importance to safety and the quality of school facilities than to league tables or long term ambiotions.
  • Distance and cost of travel were major restricitions on their choice of school.
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Semi-skilled choosers

  • These parents were also mainly working-class, but unlike the disconnected-local choosers, they were ambitious for their children.
  • They too lacked cultural capital and found it difficult to make sense of the education market, often having to rely on other people's opinions about school.
  • They were often frustrated at their inability to get their children into the schools they wanted.
  • Gerwitz concludes that middle-class families with econominc capital are better placed to take advantage of the available opportunities for a good education.
  • Those who possess cultural and economic capital have more choice than others.
  • Geoff Whitty (1998) notes marketisation has not led to more opportunities for working-class children. instead, it has allowedthe middle-class to use their wealth and knowledge even more effectively than before.
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