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


Cultural deprivation - Working-class culture is seen as inferior to middle-class culture

Cultural difference - Schools are middle class and do not understand the cultural differences between themselves and working-class pupils

Cultural capital - Working-class culture is not valued and the middle class have access to knowledge of social systems and structures that give them advantages

Working class underachievement 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 that young people spend more time outside of school than in school and so social factors outside of school can significantly influence school attainment

  • These factors include aspirations (or ambitions), cultural knowledge, quality of parenting and time spent doing homework

  • The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (a poverty charity) said that the issue was not aspiration but knowledge of the routes through education and employment to achieve ambitions

  • It is this that most likely to be missing in low-income families

Perspectives on culture

Whilst sociologists agree that there are cultural differences between the rich and the poor, the impact of those cultural differences is up for debate

  • Functionalists - Tend to suggest the poor fail for reasons to do with their own cultural values and lack of ambition - it is suggested that working-class children are culturally deprived

  • Marxists - Claim the cultural issue is one of power and influence - the culture required for educational success is middle-class culture - working-class culture is not deprived, but different and less valued

  • Interactionists - suggest teachers favour pupils who resemble the teachers in terms of culture and class

Norms and values and linguistic deprivation

Working class culture and education

There is an argument that the culture of the working-class is a major factor to underachievement through two main issues:

1. Inappropriate norms and values

2. Linguistic deprivation

Norms and values

  • Working-class culture has been said to not support the development of children's education

  • For example, working class homes tend to have fewer books and parents spend less time reading with their children

  • As a result, by the time children start school there is already a gap between the middle-class and working-class in terms of their readiness to benefit from education

Norms and values - Oscar Lewis

  • This thinking comes from Oscar Lewis who conducted studies of very poor people


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