Sociological Perspectives on Education Summary Grid

Last Updated on October 4, 2022 by

A Level Sociology – Perspectives on Education Summary Grid

A summary of the Functionalist, Marxist, New Right, Late Modern/ New Labour and Postmodern Perspectives on the role of education in society – focusing on Key ideas, supporting evidence and criticisms. (Scroll down for ‘test yourself’ link)

NB grids don’t display particularly well online so I’ve put in two pictures of the grid itself, summarised the content in text form below, and you can buy the pdf colour version itself as part of the ReviseSociology education revision bundle!

The Functionalist Perspective on Education

Key ideas

  • Education performs positive functions for the individual and society:
  • Creating social solidarity (value consensus) through teaching the same subjects.
  • Teaching skills necessary for work – necessary for a complex division of labour.
  • Acting as a bridge between home and society – from particularistic to universalistic values.
  • Role Allocation and meritocracy

Supporting evidence for Functionalism

  • School performs positive functions for most pupils – exclusion and truancy rates are very low.
  • Role Allocation – Those with degrees earn 85% more than those without degrees.
  • Schools do try to foster ‘solidarity’ – Extended Tutorials – (‘cringing together’?)
  • Education is more ‘work focused’ today – increasing amounts of vocational courses.
  • Schooling is more meritocratic than in the 19th century (fairer).

Criticisms/ limitations

  • Marxists – the education system is not meritocratic (not fair) – e.g. private schools benefit the wealthy.
  • Functionalism ignores the negative sides of school –
  • Many schools fail OFSTED inspections,
  • Not all pupils succeed
  • Negative In school processes like subcultures/ bullying/ teacher labelling
  • Postmodernists argue that ‘teaching to the test’ kills creativity.
  • Functionalism reflects the views of the powerful. The education system tends to work for them. (because they can send their children to private schools) and it suggests there is nothing to criticise.

If you need to review this topic in more depth there are more detailed class notes here: The Functionalist Perspective on Education.

The Marxist Perspective on Education

Key ideas

  • Traditional Marxists see the education system as working in the interests of ruling class elites. The education system performs three functions for these elites:
    • Reproduces class inequality.
    • Legitimates class inequality.
    • The Correspondence Principle – School works in the interests of capitalist employers.
  • Neo- Marxism – Paul Willis – A Classic piece of Participant Observation of 12 lads who formed a counter school culture. Willis argued they rejected authority and school and just turned up to ‘have a laff’ (rejecting the correspondence theory). However, they ended up failing and still ended up in working class jobs (so supports the reproduction of class inequality).

Supporting evidence for Marxism

  • To support the reproduction of inequality – Who gets the best Jobs. And there is no statistically significant evidence against the FACT that, on aggregate, the richer your parents, the better you do in education.
  • To support the Legitimation of class inequality – pupils are generally not taught about how unfair the education system is – they are taught that if they do badly, it is down to them and their lack of effort.
  • To support the Ideological State Apparatus – Surveillance has increased schools’ ability to control students.

Criticisms/ limitations

  • There are many critical subjects taught at university that criticise elites (e.g. Sociology).
  • It is deterministic – not every child passively accepts authority (see Paul Willis).
  • Some students rebel – 5% are persistent truants (they are active, not passive!).
  • Some students from poor backgrounds do ‘beat the odds’ and go on to achieve highly.
  • The growth of the creative industries in the UK suggest school doesn’t pacify all students.
  • The nature of work and the class structure has also changed, possibly making Marxism less relevant today.

For more detailed class notes on this topic please see this post: The Marxist Perspective on Education.

The Neoliberal and New Right Views of Education

Key ideas

  • Their policies seem to have raised standards.
  • Created an ‘education market’ – Schools were run like businesses – competing with each other for pupils and parents were given the choice over which school = league tables.
  • The state provides a framework in order to ensure that schools were all teaching the same thing – National Curriculum.
  • Schools should teach subjects that prepare pupils for work: New Vocationalism!

Supporting evidence for the New Right

  • There has been a correlation between the introduction of New Right policies and steadily improving results all through the 1990s and 2000s, right up to the onset of Coronavirus distorted everything.
  • Their policies have been applied internationally (PISA league tables).
  • Asian Countries with very competitive education systems tend to top the league tables (e.g. China).

Criticisms/ limitations

  • Competition between schools benefited the middle classes and lower classes, ethnic minorities and rural communities ended up having less effective choice.
  • Vocational Education was also often poor.
  • There is a contradiction between wanting schools to be free to compete and imposing a national framework that restricts schools.
  • The National Curriculum has been criticised for being ethnocentric and too restrictive on teachers and schools.

For more in depth class-notes please see: The New Right View of Education.

The Late Modern Perspective on Education

Key Ideas

  • Government needs to spend more on education to respond to the rapid pace of change brought about by Globalisation.
  • People need to re-skill more often as – government should play a role in managing this. Schools are also necessary to keep under surveillance students ‘at risk’ of future deviance.
  • New Labour Policies – the purpose of school should be to raise standards, improve equality of opportunity, and promote diversity and equality.

Supporting Evidence for Late Modernism

  • All developed economies have governments who spend large amounts of money on education, suggesting more (not less like Neoliberals suggest) state education is good.
  • It is difficult to see what other institution could teach about diversity other than schools.
  • There did seem to be more equality of opportunity under New Labour rather than under the 2015 Neoliberal/ New Right government.

New Labour’s education policies are probably best described as Late Modern.


  • Postmodernists argue that government attempts to ‘engineer’ pupils to fit society kill creativity
  • Marxists argue that whatever state education does it can never reduce class inequalities – we need to abolish global capitalism, not adapt to it!
  • Late-Modern, New Labour ideas about education are expensive. Neoliberalists say that we can no longer afford to spend huge sums of money on education.
  • See also evaluations of New Labour Policies

The Postmodern View of Education

Key ideas

  • Stand against universalising education systems.
  • See Modernist education as oppressive to many students – especially minority groups
  • Believe the ‘factory production-line mentality of education kills creativity
  • Ideas of education which fit with a postmodern agenda include – Home Education, Liberal forms of education, Adult Education and Life Long Learning and Education outside of formal education (leisure)

Supporting evidence

  • Many people agree that schools do kill creativity (Ted Robinson, and Suli-Breaks)
  • Sue Palmer – Teaching the test has resulted in school being miserable and stressful for many pupils.
  • Do we really want an education system more like the Chinese one?
  • The National Curriculum has been criticised as being ethnocentric (potentially oppressive to minority groups).

Criticisms/ limitations

  • Late-Modernists – we need schools to promote tolerance of diversity.
  • Neoliberalism – we need a competitive system to drive up standards in order to be able to compete in a global free market!
  • Marxists would argue that home education would lead to greater inequality – not all parents have an equal ability – if we leave education to parents, the middle classes will just benefit more, and working class kids will be even further behind.
  • Liberal forms of education may result in the survival of the fittest’

For a more in depth look at this topic: Postmodernism and Education.

Signposting/ Find out More

This post has been written primarily for students revising for their A-level Sociology exams, specifically for the education topic which appears on paper SCLY1

This post focuses only on the knowledge, you also need to be able to apply it! For further help with revising for this paper, you can see my ‘essays and exams page‘ for examples of the kind of questions which may come up and help with analysis and evaluation skills.

Please click here to return to the homepage –

Test yourself:

Functionalist or Marxist? (Quizlet Test)

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