Sociology (Functionalist approach to education)

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The Functionalists believe that education has 3 fuctions:

  • 1) Education teaches the skills needed in work and by the economy
  • 2) Education sifts and sorts people for appropriate jobs (the allocation function)
  • 3) Education plays a part in the secondary socialization of children teaching them the value consensus and passing on key cultural values such as social solidarity. 

Secondary socialization- Socialisation that continues throughout life, through education, the media, religion ect.

Socialization - The process by which we learn acceptable cultural beliefs and behavior

Value Consensus - "To act morally is to act in terms of the collective interest" -Durkheim  In other words, this means the norms and values agreed by society. 

Social Solidarity- A feeling of identification with the group and responsibility towards others. Functionalists believe this is important where society is becoming more secular i.e where religion has less influence over peoples lives. 

Durkheim acknowledged that inequalities in society exists but viewed them as inevitable. He believed that everyone has their own role (or function) in society, and that education is meritocratic

Meritocratic- rewards are given on the basis of achievement i.e effort ability and intelligence

According to the functionalists:

Talent+Motivation+Equal Opportunity = Qualifications, and a high position in society 


  • Durkheim's views may not be relevant today
  • Durkheim does not suggest that schools should challenge inequality
  • Durkheim's work takes on a structuralist approach; his ideas on education are linked to class structure 
  • Differential achievement in terms of class, gender and ethnicity may suggest that education is not meritocratic
  • Who you know is still more important than what you know in some areas of society
  • The education system may not prepare people adequately for work e.g a lack of education graduates indicates that education is…


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