Education Topic 9 - Factors within schools that impact on success


Labelling theory and self-fulfilling prophecy

  • Labelling is 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 an individual's identity

  • Number of studies in the 1970's described the way teachers form impressions of pupils and then perceive the behaviour and ability of that child in light of the label

  • Hargreaves (1975) described this progress in three stages

Hargreaves et al (1975)

1. Speculation - Teacher forms initial impression

2. Elaboration - Teacher tests the impression

3. Stabilisation - Teacher acts accordingly to the beliefs about the pupil

  • Hargreaves also explains teachers may be subject to the "halo effect"

  • So behaviours from pupils labelled as "good" will be accepted

  • Similar behaviours from "challenging" pupils will attract punishment

Labelling theory and self-fulfilling prophecy

  • According to Hargreaves and others, those labeled as "failing" or "naughty" tend to form friendship groups with similar students

  • They form groups within a "counter-school culture"

  • In these subcultures, status is gained by challenging teachers and not conforming to their expectations

Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968)

  • An Important element of the labelling process is identifying pupils as clever and likely to do well, or as less able and unlikely to succeed

  • Rosenthal and Jacobson focused on an experiment at an elementary school where students took intelligence pre-tests.

  • Rosenthal and Jacobson then informed the teachers of the names of twenty percent of the students in the school who were showing “unusual potential for intellectual growth” and would bloom academically within the year.

  • Unknown to the teachers, these students were selected randomly with no relation to the initial test.

  • When Rosenthal and Jacobson tested the students eight months later, they discovered that the randomly selected students who teachers thought would bloom scored significantly higher.

Criticisms of Rosenthal and Jacobson

  • Based on an experiment that cannot be repeated due to ethical grounds

  • It was very influential suggesting that teachers could have a powerful influence on education outcomes

  • However, concern about labelling contributed to the campaign to end "11 plus selection" and introduced mixed ability teaching

  • OFSTED noe states that teachers should have high expectations of all pupils regardless of their background

Institutional racism in schools

  • Labelling takes place when teachers respond to individual pupils and spark a process whereby anit-school cultures develop

  • There is evidence of institutional racism in schools, despite equality policies

  • Institutional racism is when the school as an institution acts in


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